Newsletter Edition 58
Georgia on My Mind
Much has happened since I last wrote to you and the summer recess has produced its usual share of surprises. My holiday was wrecked by a family bereavement (not unexpected) and illness (happily recovered), so I spent a great deal of time at home contemplating the media. Russia’s invasion of parts of Georgia caused me most concern and demonstrated only too clearly the follies of the EU’s so-called Common Defence and Security Policy. There was little or no agreement by European leaders on how to react and, as a result, nothing much happened. That says it all, really! Parliament called an emergency session in Brussels and fulminated about the events. An anodyne declaration was “agreed” and, again, nothing much else happened. That recorded, there is no doubt that Russia has “crossed the Rubicon“ and the implications are worrying. Will she do the same with the Ukraine if NATO membership is offered? And how unrealistic is it to assume that she will not take action in an EU member state like Latvia or Estonia? What would the EU do then? We have a controversial petition in front of my Committee at present from Russian-speaking, former Soviet residents of Latvia demanding that they be allowed not to speak Latvian and not to abide by Latvian customs before they become full, voting citizens - something which is anathema to indigenous Latvians - and the Russian Ambassador to the EU has already pronounced the Latvian refusal to entertain this request as “provocative”. Would you prefer, as I asked a Russian expert at a recent Foreign Affairs Committee, to cope with a hungry or a well-fed bear?
The Roof’s Fallen In!
Whilst on the subject of Parliament, we have had our September sessions in Brussels rather than Strasbourg. This is because the ceiling of the chamber in Strasbourg collapsed during August, causing substantial damage, not least to French pride! (The building is only ten years old) If Parliament had been in session, it is certain that at least six Tory MEPs would have been killed or injured. Needless to say, the French authorities are moving heaven and earth to get the damage repaired as soon as possible, since they are terrified that MEPs will find some way of not coming back ever again. That is, of course what a majority of us want but are prevented from implementing by the will of our respective governments.
The Chamber at Strasbourg
The town of Garstang, where I live and where Dulcie is a Borough and Town Councillor, has two current claims to international fame.
Garstang’s “Bloomers” with the Gold Award
It is the first “Fair Trade” town in the world and it has just won Europe’s top “Gold Award” for the quality of its “Towns in Bloom“ displays and environmental commitment. The latter was in competition with hundreds of other villages/towns throughout the whole continent of Europe and came about from consistent victories in the “Britain in Bloom“ contests at local, regional and national level. Garstang achieved the highest marks in the contest and was one of only three gold winners. A blooming European success - many congratulations to all concerned!
The Cut - and Cuts!
Our intermittent holiday (!) was on a narrowboat on the NW canals and, like everyone else, we endured many hours of rain. You see the region from an entirely different perspective on a canal at 4mph, both environmentally and historically. And you realise that the contrast between the leisure predominance on British canals and the highly industrial usage of continental canals is very marked.
Leaking locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
I had Ministerial responsibility for the waterways in the 1990’s and I saw just how much this tourism opportunity could expand and develop into a substantial economic resource. It is folly and ineptitude of the highest order for the present government to have slashed the British Waterways budget by £12 million, just when maintenance, renovation and expansion are so badly needed. Our European colleagues, who value their inland waterways so highly, cannot believe our stupidity. I agree with that judgement.
Money! Money! Money!
The financial crisis that caused so much drama earlier this month is a sharp lesson to everyone in Europe. The US sneezes, so they say, and we catch cold. For many people - including me and my family - the very real threats to pensions, savings and economic well-being are truly frightening. But it is essential that the authorities do not over-react. The natural tendencies of Brown and the Labour Party are to interfere, to regulate, to create more bureaucracy - the Prime Minister is a control-freak, after all is said and done - but I am sure this is not the solution. It can be argued that capitalism, like water, finds its own level and that the difficulties of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, HBOS etc are as a direct result of the mess that they got themselves into and they are paying the price. The market rumbled them! That said, co-operation and market intelligence has to be better managed within EU member states and the excesses must be controlled. But the driving force will always be the desire to achieve, to make money, to gain promotion, to secure one’s future and so on. Some call it greed, I prefer the word ambition.
Some Bye-elections during the last few months with particularly good results in Blackpool (Tory gain), Barrow (where control of the Council depended on holding the marginal seat of Newbarns) and Wyre (Great Eccleston).
Blackpool, Grange Park
Wyre, Great Eccleston
The Real Old Trafford!
Since the season is over now, I must end on a cricket note.
The grass goes at Old Trafford
Huge and exciting plans are envisaged for Old Trafford over the next few years, to bring it into the 21st Century and, as Chairman of the Club’s Development Association, I am delighted to welcome the support and encouragement of Tory Trafford MBC. The whole pitch is being dug up and re-laid with new drains and the construction of new facilities, stands and catering outlets will make Lancashire CCC a great place to enjoy more than just the game of cricket. Perhaps we might even get back an Ashes Test Match!
Reform of Expenses
As of September 1st, all Tory MEPs have been subject to a stringent new expenses regime. Despite some media scare stories, a lot of which were simply wrong, we have been at the forefront of the campaign to reform Parliamentary expenses, especially in auditing and publishing the annual returns. Our expenditure will be published every six months - as now happens at Westminster - and our constituents will be able to see clearly how and on what we spend our allowances.
“Daily Telegraph” Apology
Last Thursday the “Daily Telegraph” published an apology for a libellous article about me and my family which appeared in the newspaper during the summer. They have also paid my legal costs.