Monday, November 23, 2009

Dinner with David Trimble.

We had David (Lord) Trimble down in Devon this weekend for a fund raising dinner for my election campaign.

Held at the Orestone Manor Hotel, our palates were stimulated with a gourmet dinner of ribeye steak with Merlot sauce or fillet of guilt head bream, while our intellects were stimulated by a Nobel Peace Prize winning politician.

I have hosted or arranged many scores of these events both here in Torbay and formerly as the Chairman of Windsor conservatives.

Usually the guests are all dedicated political activists and the speech is often simply a tub-thumping call to arms.

To be fair pitching the speech at the right level is difficult at the best of times. Most experienced politicians can 'read' the audience mood, and give them what they want (but not all, - I remember in particular an excruciating 'We are on the verge of a great victory' monologue from Jeffrey Archer at the Windsor Guildhall in 2001 shortly before we went down to our second worst election result in history and he went off to prison.)

What made Friday evening so very different was that it was not a members event, so many of the guests were not necessarily Conservative voters. Although he now takes the Conservative Whip in the Lords David Trimble was there to talk about his time as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and his negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement which paved the way for the lasting peace enjoyed by the province ever since, and it was not a party political speech at all.

The early foundation of these talks was laid while John Major was PM and the deal was done with Blair so uniquely for one of our dinners Trimble could tell us about the workings of both a Conservative and Labour administration.

There were fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes about discreet direct talks with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes which were in places both amusing and revealing.

What came across the most to me about him is the incredible courage and determination he showed in leading his very reluctant Unionist peers from supporting confrontation and violence to instead supporting the talks that led to peace.

Weak politicians merely parrot the prejudices of their electors, strong politicians show us that there is a better place; but it requires a truly great politician to actually lead you there.

Like Churchills Tories in 1945, he paid a high political price for his historic achievement, the UUP were routed by the DUP and in the 2005 election David Trimble lost his seat.

He has not stopped working to embed peace in the Province. He believes that the next phase of normality in Northern Ireland politics will come when the political choice is framed the same there as it is in Scotland, Wales and England.

He is optimistic that the merger deal recently announced between the UUP and the Conservatives in Northern Ireland will for the first time enable voters there to focus on the same question as the rest of the British Isles at the General Election namely: do they want Gordon Brown or David Cameron for PM?

If Northern Irish voters feel able to vote freely - on issues like lower tax, better education and investment in our hospitals - and not on religion - it will be the very best evidence possible that normal life has returned for good.

I am very grateful to him for coming down to see us, it was a brilliant and very illuminating evening and a great success.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Summing up Labour in a single phrase.

"The state would be the ultimate authority in allocating resources to the population" - this is a direct quote from my opposite number David Pedrick Friend in todays local paper. He claims this is what his Labour Party stands for.

It says in elegant simplicity what Labour represent, the view that 'the population' are to be the passive recipients of resources from the all-powerful state; that we are all here as mere cogs in the mighty state machine.

It's everything I went into politics to oppose.

In my view the state should be there to serve it's citizens, not the other way round as envisaged by Mr Pedrick Friend.

Gordon Brown went to elaborate lengths yesterday via the Queens Speech to create a political divide, to draw the battle lines for the next election with a plethora of meaningless bills.

But his local representative has summed it up far more elegantly, and truthfully.

He also said "Labour's 1945 government signed a contract with the British people that for the first time in British history the era of the rich man in his castle and poor man at his gate would end."

But under this Labour Government the gap between rich and poor has grown, the number of jobless has risen, the opportunities for young people fallen, and the burden of debt tripled.

Socialism serves only to impoverish everyone.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The War of

This is a snippet from a Labour Party leaflet doing the rounds in a by election constituency recently. Politics doesn't get much less subtle than this.

The whole question of fox hunting has been in the news again because it is five years this week since the hunting ban was passed. The decades of bitter protest against hunting followed by years of equally bitter protests in favour have largely been put behind us. Much of the Armageddon promised by the pro-hunt lobby has failed to materialise, thousands of dogs were not put down, the countryside has not become an economic desert and we are not overrun with packs of marauding foxes. Some animal rights activists continue to complain that the law is being abused, and the Countryside Alliance continue to vociferously campaign for restoration; but drag hunting has become an acceptable subsititute, and most people seem content with the new status quo.

Our opponents are trying to show the offer to hold a free vote by David Cameron as a party political divide, as the Labour poster above clearly demonstrates. The Lib Dems, too are trying to indicate that a Conservative Government will definitely support the re-introduction of fox hunting (and by implication, suggesting I support it, too) as this snippet from a local Lib Dem leaflet shows.

Labour devoted several hundred pointless hours in debating this topic for years and ended up with a class-based divisive law that pleased no-one. I am certain Conservatives will not make that mistake, David Cameron has rightly offered a fresh debate on a party free 'vote with your conscience' basis because he respects that passions run very high on this question.

I think many members of the public will think us wrong to re-open the debate at a time of economic and social crisis like this, but if the hunting issue is debated as part of the much wider issue of our loss of freedom and liberty in many areas of our life, or as part of the questions surrounding protecting our countryside way of life, that objection would not be fair.

If I am elected I have said that I will not vote to re-instate hunting. This caused disbelief (or was it -perish the thought- disappointment?) when I was approached and asked about it by the League Against Cruel Sports earlier this year. I have since found out that several of my fellow PPC's across the country are inclined -like me- not to vote to abolish the ban now that we have one. Some people are surprised by this, wrongly imagining all Conservatives to be supporters of hunting as the kind of stereotype put about by our political opponents.

While it is true that in the current Parliament a majority of Conservatives have rural constituencies where many residents are passionate supporters of the sport, if we win in 2010 we will be adding hundreds of new Conservative MP's from urban and city constituencies where opinions may differ.

Until we know the make-up of the next House of Commons, and know the terms and details of a future Bill to legalise hunting with dogs, guessing the outcome of a vote is pointless. But the slogan Labour put on the poster above is both misleading and dishonest.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A sobering moment

As usual I attended the rememberance day service in Torbay yesterday.

As usual it was a sobering moment.

While the service calls on God to give wisdom to our leaders and politicians we are standing in rememberance of the terrible aftermath of collective failure of wisdom which is modern warfare.

Most wars in modern times have been the result of a failure of leaders (often, on all sides) to lead wisely.

Even the Second World War, where we had a clear moral purpose and an urgent need to go to war to defend ourselves is a conflict that Winston Churchill thought could have, and should have been prevented. In his own memoir of WW11 written in 1947 (Volume 1 The Gathering Storm) , he makes clear that he felt that had the Western leaders shown more determination in the 1930's to oppose German re armament, and also resolve to ensure their own defence remained strong, Hitler would have not had the confidence or the military ability to set out on his deadly course.

Even then, had the leaders of Great Britain and France stood resolutely against his early incursions and aggressions it is highly likely that the world war could have been avoided.

But much more on every one's mind yesterday - and the reason the number of attendees was sharply up this year - is Afghanistan.

Incredibly this conflict has now outlasted not only the two World Wars but also post-war conflicts in Palestine, Malaya, Korea, Suez , Kenya, Cyprus, Borneo, Aden, Radfan, Oman, Dhofar, The Falklands War and the two Gulf Wars.

After so long it is hardly surprising that the public are confused and vague about just why our soldiers are there. The purported reason - that otherwise the streets of London will be awash with terrorists - not surprisingly fails to strike with people and the secondary reason, that the alternative is 'instability in the entire Middle East' prompts the question 'Just when was the Middle East stable to begin with?'

The conflict is hard for soldiers because the Labour Government have become so mistrusted by the public on this (mainly because of the mess that was the argument for going after Saddam and the whole WMD fiasco) that declarations by ministers that we need to stay are just not believed by even senior military people any more.

The Government need to establish with us all that we are not there simply as a fig-leaf to the Americans. We need to be reminded that being dragged into this conflict was not simply a knee-jerk revenge action caused by the 9/11 attacks but a properly though out strategic move to introduce democracy and in so doing hopefully eliminate Muslim extremism.

The snag is that even if we succeed in delivering elections the problem is not ended. Extremists flourish when democracy fails people. Leaving President Karsai in charge of Afghanistan looks increasingly about as sensible as leaving Leslie Phillips in charge of a girls boarding school sixth form.

When citizens think their politicians are corrupt, self interested, tribal and inept they can easily become attracted to the ideologue, the zealot and the bigots that spring up offering clear cut alternatives. One reason that the political and religeous extremists are flourishing is the collective disillusion with the honesty, integrity and wisdom of the existing, usually elected, politicians of many countries.

And that -very sadly- includes this one.

Which is why we urgently need to put our own political house in order.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

We were told
the truth in 1975 -
but did not hear

It is fascinating doing some research into the whole EEC/EU debate from the early 1970’s as I did as part of yesterdays post and the likely announcement by David Cameron tomorrow (that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty means we won't be having a referendum on it).

So much of the ire about Europe today is based on the modern 'fact' that people at the time ‘weren’t told’ that the project was to create a federal superstate.

I get this from UKIP people on the doorstep all the time, they say that Heath ‘misled the nation’ over the EU. I have always believed they were right, I have said many times that people thought we were just joining the a free trade area, not a superstate.

In common with the majority of the British People I was not able to take part in the debate at the time, so I cannot say I can remember. But the documentary evidence still available that I have turned up this week flatly contradicts this sentiment, much to my surprise.

On holiday recently I read Heaths autobiography and in that he says he always made clear what the scope of the project was. In just a few days searching I have found scores of references in speeches and leaflets at the time from both proponents and opponents of the EEC that we would indeed be agreeing to become part of an eventual single, unified 'United States of Europe' with ambitions to unify and have one currency as far back as 1969.

"At the Hague Summit, on 1 and 2 December 1969, a decision was taken, on a proposal from the German Chancellor and former Finance Minister, Willy Brandt, to draw up a step-by-step plan with a view to creating a European economic and monetary union. On 6 March 1970, the Council instructed the Luxembourg Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Pierre Werner, to chair a committee mandated to pinpoint the fundamental options for the gradual creation of an economic and monetary union among the then six Member States."

I knew we tried and failed to agree terms to join the EEC in 1962, but I didn't know that Wilson had begun talks again in 1967, and yet again failed to find enough common ground.

Here is the climax of a speech Ted Heath gave in 1972 in Brussels at the ceremony to mark the end of negotiations, and before Parliament debated and then ratified the accession treaty :

“What design should we seek for the New Europe? It must be a Europe which is strong and confident within itself. A Europe in which we shall be working for the progressive relaxation and elimination of east/west tensions. A Europe conscious of the interests of its friends and partners. A Europe alive to its great responsibilities in the common struggle of humanity for a better life.

Thus this ceremony marks an end and a beginning. An end to divisions which have stricken Europe for centuries. A beginning of another stage in the construction of a new and greater Europe.”

This makes it abundantly clear what Heaths vision for Europe was - he saw the EEC as a building block for a much wider, and much closer union.

And in the leaflet that went to every home in Britain in 1975 the very main page stated in bold print:

The aims of the Common Market are:

* To bring together the peoples of Europe.

* To raise living standards and improve working conditions.

* To promote growth and boost world trade.

* To help the poorest regions of Europe and the rest of the world.

* To help maintain peace and freedom

The fact is people were told it was going to be a union that went far beyond a trade area, but weren’t worried about this in 1973 or 1975 when we were nationally bankrupt and an international laughing stock.

Politicians and the voting public of the time had seen Britain win a war and promptly lose an empire and then slide from the worlds main power to a third-rate and still contracting economy by the early 1970's. They thought a 'merger' was the best way to stay relevant on the world stage.

No-one foresaw that possibility that we would soon elect a Government that would reshape Britains economy and make the country independently powerful enough to manage outside the EU if we wanted to.

That is why the debate has emerged in the way that it has, not that we were misled in 1973 or in 1975 but we joined the EU at the very nadir of our national fortunes, and had we not joined in 1973 we probably would have remained independent to this day.

Either way I remain of the view that the public are overdue to have a say on our EU membership, whatever we were or weren't clear about in 1973 we have the information now and a new generation of Britons, brought up in a different era, need to have a voice on this.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Lisbon, now we have arrived at the bridge - are we going to cross it?

It looks almost certain that the Lisbon Treaty is about to be ratified.

From that moment onwards it becomes binding on all the members, ourselves included.

Up to now David Cameron has been relying on his promise, made 26 months ago to Sun readers, that if the treaty wasn't ratified by the time of the next election we would offer the public a referendum on the treaty if elected. The big issue has always been 'yes, but what will you do if the treaty has been ratified by then?' and the answer has been 'we will cross that bridge when we come to it'.

Well here we are, the Treaty is about to be ratified and we have arrived at the bridge. In the next few days my party has to say what we are going to do about Europe if we are elected.

Many Conservatives feel that we should go ahead and have a referendum on the treaty anyway - but in my view this would be meaningless, we can't leave just the treaty we would have to leave the EU entirely. The referendum would in the end be about staying in or leaving the EU - the Liberal Democrats proposal. This is the most appealing option on the surface, we would have a vote and put the issue to bed for the next thirty years or so.

Why won't there be a vote like that? because all research showns that voters are very afraid of leaving (or being chucked out) of the EU. It looks very likely that an 'in or out' referendum would overhwelmingly say 'in' - and of course that would also then validate Lisbon - which is why the very pro EU Lib Dems suggested it in the first place.

The real challenge for those fighting the growing EU octopus is to win the hearts and minds of the British public over to the fact that all would not be lost if we left. They need to establish that far from having something to fear from leaving the EU there could be economic advantages, as evidenced by two of of the worlds wealthiest (per head of population) nations -Norway and Switzerland- neither of whom are in the Union. But that is not where we are today and a referendum that endorsed the status quo would in effect make the EU influence over British policy even greater than it already is.

So I am reliably informed that Cameron will instead propose that we pledge in our next manifesto to repatriate several important powers from Europe, possibly returning the opt-outs that John Major negotiated for instance, which backed with a win at the general election would give him the authority to go in and give the EU a Mrs Thatcher style hand-bagging.

ConservativeHome the very Euro-sceptic website run by Tim Montgomerie says "One member of the shadow cabinet told me that 'we don't need a mandate to renegotiate from a referendum... A manifesto mandate will be just as good'. CCHQ is worried that a referendum could easily become about issues other than Europe. 'Imagine,' said one key official at CCHQ, 'if we are in the middle of very, very difficult budget cuts. The unions and our political opponents would urge voters to use the referendum to kick the Tory government in the teeth. A manifesto mandate is safer, cleaner, less distracting."

If this does turn out to be the strategy it is a high risk one, but it might work. It will provide just enough to push the issue past the General Election (though it will add to suspicions amongst the UKIP tendancy that Cameron may - like many predecessors - fudge the Europe question and it will do nothing to encourage their support).

Everyone knows how explosive the EU issue has been for the party in the past and there is little appetite for a fight now, however the next generation of Conservative MP's looks likely to be the most Eurosceptic ever, and in the longer term they may well be unhappy with any Government that is not going to fully and openly consult with the British public over the whole Europe issue.

I believe that for this plan to work it will need some pretty instant results. If David Cameron as Prime Minister turns out to be as nationally self-interested and hard-nosed as Mrs Thatcher was and if he wins a big mandate at the election and then wins big concessions from the EU then much of the heat on this topic will probably dissipate. But there are a lot of 'ifs' there.