Newsletter Edition 50
The highlight of the last few weeks has, of course, been the local elections. I managed to visit some thirty marginal wards in about twenty councils and 'boxed the compass' in different parts of the region. As usual, I campaigned with scores of Tory activists and was hugely heartened by the enthusiasm, hard work and good humour of all concerned. Thank you for your contribution to the Party's success.
The results were well worth waiting for. I was particularly delighted with the victory in my former constituency, South Ribble, and was very pleased for all those who had campaigned so expertly in Chester. And Blackpool will now host the Party Conference with a Tory verve that was not there under a Labour administration!
We gained 90 seats at the elections - which is a steady improvement - but we need to do still more to ensure that those marginal Parliamentary seats come our way at the General Election. The extra good news since May 3rd is that we have managed to take minority control in three councils which have been Labour bastions for years, namely Allerdale, Blackburn and Preston. This is a great tribute to skilled local leadership and will provide the opportunity to demonstrate Conservative efficiency in Labour's own backyard.
I came back to Parliament to the last meeting of the Equitable Life Investigative Committee where the conclusions were debated and voted upon. This Special Committee, which I was instrumental in setting up, has been very critical of both the British Regulatory Authorities and the British Government for their collective failure to oversee and control a long-established company which effectively was defrauding many of its policy-holders. The UK Parliamentary Ombudsman is due to report in the Autumn on her detailed inquiries into the same case and if she is as critical as the European Parliament - and we have reason to believe that she will be - then the Government will have serious questions to answer. I have called on HMG to provide the resources to help those, who, through no fault of their own, have suffered financially and emotionally and I hope that MPs will press the same case when the Ombudsman's Report is brought before the House of Commons.
With Chairman, Mairead McGuinness, at the Equitable Life Press Conference
We have had some interesting visitors to the Foreign Affairs Committee recently. First some Iraqi MPs presented an "all-party, all-religion" case for a greater European commitment to resolving the intractable problems of the Middle East. They were four brave foot-soldiers in the cause of Iraqi democracy and members were impressed with them and the case they presented.
Then the Foreign Minister for Palestine was with us, offering an articulate and cogent argument for greater US pressure on Israel to negotiate in depth and for resources to help with the dreadful conditions now rampant in Gaza. À propos the above, I had earlier in the month lunched with the US Ambassador to the EU and, subsequently, the Jordanian Ambassador and had discussed these topical issues with both of them. The former was wholly in agreement with the thesis but suggested that little would change under the Bush Presidency. The latter was worried that Iran would be the subject of a US military strike and pressed for the cause of diplomacy to resolve the difficulties.
The Prime Minister of the Ukraine also presented himself to the Foreign Affairs Committee and a very forbidding throw-back to Iron Curtain days he appeared. A saturnine figure, who never smiled once, he gave us a lecture reminiscent of tractor production targets in Communist days. No natural Democrat he! But we listened politely and feared for the future of this former satellite of the USSR, which is torn between moving westwards politically or reverting to the sinister embrace of Mr Putin.
Former World Chess Champion, Gary Kasparov, came to Strasbourg this week, in his guise as one of the leading political opponents of President Putin, and told us some alarming facts about politics in Russia. He goes in fear of his life, merely for speaking out in critical terms, and has already been imprisoned on more than one occasion. What price democracy under Putin now?
I spoke at a Rotary Club dinner near Bolton recently and, in an attempt to abide by their traditions, was as non-political as possible. I posed the question as to why politicians are so reviled, given that our commitment to public service was just as great as that which motivates Rotarians. It made them think and they were inclined to agree with my concern, especially as this attitude leads to apathy, low turnout, lack of public responsibility and, ultimately, complete contempt. Is it just the media? Or do we just like to hate anyone in authority? Answers on a postcard, please!
I had the pleasure of addressing the 6th Form of Lancaster Girls G.S a week or so ago and the phrase “all things bright and beautiful” springs immediately to mind. The girls - all about to sit their A-Levels - were extremely well-informed, articulate and very easy on the eye. I had really to be on form and I was reminded of the cut and thrust of Parliamentary debate during my Ministerial days. An impressive bunch indeed.
The President of Parliament held a special session earlier this month, when he celebrated the achievements of fifty European Nobel Prize winners and invited them to Brussels. They all made brief speeches and I realised the great diversity and range of expertise - genius even - that they offered. I was pleased to see David (Lord) Trimble there (now, of course, a convert to the Conservative Party) sitting alongside that remarkable man, Lech Walensa, who did so much to free Poland from the yoke of communism.
Lord Trimble Addresses Parliament
The Leader of the Opposition
David Cameron came to Preston last Thursday, to thank Party workers for the achievements on May 3rd and to demonstrate just how important is the North West to his victory objectives. He is excellent with people and they warmed to his presentation. Of course, there are - and will continue to be - differences of opinion about his methods and policies but I believe that he is on the right track and the more we debate the future policies of our Party, the more chance there is of getting them right.
During the election campaign, I met a charming elderly man and his wife in Chadderton, Oldham, living in sheltered accommodation and it was only when we got talking that he introduced himself as Jack Crompton, the Manchester United goalkeeper in the winning 1948 FA Cup side. Like so many great sportsmen, he was diffident and unassuming and it was a real privilege to make his acquaintance. And he was a Tory!
Last, but not least, I have been invited to become President of Garstang Cricket Club this season. As many of you might guess, given my love of the game, I consider this a signal honour and privilege since it is local clubs who provide the foundations for cricket's success at higher levels. I am truly proud of this new role.