By Tim Montgomerie
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Over on his blog Dan Hannan MEP is rightly angry but not lost for words:
"For three generations, the badge of the Soviet revolution meant poverty, slavery, torture and death. It adorned the caps of the chekas who came in the night. It opened and closed the propaganda films which hid the famines. It advertised the people's courts where victims of purges and show-trials were condemned. It fluttered over the re-education camps and the gulags. For hundreds of millions of Europeans, it was a symbol of foreign occupation. Hungary, Lithuania and Moldova have banned its use, and various former communist countries want it to be treated in the same way as Nazi insignia. Yet here it sits on a poster in the European Commission, advertising the moral deafness of its author (I hope that's what it is, rather than lingering nostalgia)."
Communism was not as nakedly racist or evil as Nazism but it was at least as murderous. More people have died under communist tyranny than Nazi tyranny. Many of today's EU states suffered horribly under communism. It is repugnant than an EU poster should bear the Soviet Union's symbol.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Lord Ashcroft's latest megapoll found that 10% of the people who supported the Conservative Party at the last election are now supporting UKIP (see item three). Peter Kellner has warned that the rise of UKIP could cost the Tories the next election. If Nigel Farage wins 2,000 to 3,000 unhappy Tories in each of the key marginals, he has written, the party could lose thirty seats and install Ed Miliband in Number 10 Downing Street.
On Friday evening I spoke alongside Dan Hannan* at a meeting of Surrey Conservatives and the region's popular blogging MEP painted an even more gloomy picture. He reminded his audience of what happened in 1993 when Canada's Tories were all but wiped out and they were devastated, in part, because the Right was split. The Reform Party had emerged from Alberta and other parts of conservative Canada and a long period of Liberal Party rule began. Dan Hannan didn't quite say that the same fate awaited the British Tories but he urged David Cameron to unite the Right if he is to have a chance of victory at the next election. 'Uniting the Right' has been a persistent theme of his recent blogging for The Telegraph.
It won't be long before Tory MPs start to pursue their own arrangements with Nigel Farage's party if Tory HQ stays above the fray. The UKIP leader was profiled in The Observer today and kept the door open for some sort of arrangement with Tory Eurosceptics. "It's not completely impossible there will be some SDP-type moment," he said, "a coming together of different people over this one issue. Eventually, this question will have to be resolved."
Tory MPs have been willing to rebel in record numbers during this Parliament. Many might ignore CCHQ instructions and forge deals with UKIP. Would the Conservative leadership then deselect such candidates? It would get bloody if they did.
* I was talking about the ideas of Majority Conservatism in general rather than Europe/UKIP.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Project Maja is the Conservative Party's social action project in Bosnia and Bangladesh. This year it has returned to Bosnia and is involving a number of Tory activists and elected parliamentarians. They include MPs Stuart Andrew, Eric Ollerenshaw, Tobias Ellwood, Jacqui Doyle-Price, Iain Stewart, Brooks Newmark, Jessica Lee, Chris Skidmore and David Tredinnick.
MEPs include Dan Hannan and Syed Kamall. Dan wrote about his experience on his blog:
"I'm in Sarajevo where I've spent the past couple of days wrestling ineptly with saws, hammers and paintbrushes. The AECR and the Conservative Party have co-sponsored the refurbishment of a day centre for children with special needs. Centre-Right MPs from across Europe – from Iceland to Turkey – have been painting walls and building climbing frames... Initiatives of this kind do far more for European harmony than any number of EU directives. It can't be repeated too often: you don't have to be pro-Brussels to be in favour of European collaboration."
The photographs below are of Conservative Party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi, leader of Project Maja, remembering the tragedy of Srebrenica.
Baroness Warsi laying a wreath on behalf of the Conservative Party at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide.
Baroness Warsi looking at one of more than 8,000 graves of the victims of the massacre.
The photographs were taken by Andrew Parsons.
By Matthew Barrett
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Earlier today, on Comment, Daniel Hannan MEP wrote:
"Today, the People’s Pledge announces the most ambitious campaign ever to secure an In/Out referendum. It aims to show MPs in all parties that there is a premium in doing the right thing: that supporting a referendum carries an electoral reward. It is backed by supporters of every party and none, and by prospective ‘Yes’ as well as ‘No’ voters. I am confident that it will succeed: the momentum is now wholly one way."
In a LabourList post this morning, Director of Communications for the People’s Pledge, Ian McKenzie, gave details of the "most ambitious campaign ever" for a referendum. McKenzie explained that the People's Pledge would hold an in/out referendum in a single constituency early this year, followed by ten later this year, and 100 next year.
The referendums will be independently administered by Electoral Reform Services Ltd and conducted by full postal ballot. The People's Pledge will next week chose the first referendum seat from one of the following shortlisted constituencies:
By Tim Montgomerie
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Dan Hannan MEP is most categorical:
"December's 'veto' turns out to be nothing of the kind; at best, it is a partial opt-out. Britain had asked for concessions in return for allowing the other member states to use EU institutions and structures for their fiscal compact. No such concessions were forthcoming, but we have given them permission anyway. The only difference is that, because the deal was done in a separate treaty structure, the PM doesn't have to put anything through the House of Commons. We had a generational opportunity to improve our relationship with the EU. That opportunity has passed."
"There is no doubt that the Government's position has altered since the December summit when they were insisting the Institutions could not be used. I blame a combination of appeasing Nick Clegg (who is desperate to sign anything the EU puts in front of him) and the practical reality that this pact is actually quite hard to prevent. The Government would have to ask the ECJ to rule against itself having a role! Any action could easily take 2 years, we would probably lose and, if the Euro collapsed in the meantime, the UK would get the blame. It's particularly ironic when the EU lectures developing countries about the importance of good governance and the rule of law!"
By Paul Goodman
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I wrote yesterday evening about William Hague's apocalyptic warning at the conference of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) that "The jobs and the life savings of tens of millions of people in Europe may be at stake."
And promised in doing so to write an account of the rest of the conference, which I will divide into a brief mix of reporting and comment. It took place in London and those present were welcomed by Jan Zahradil, the AECR's President. Zahradil is a member of the Czech Civic Democratic Party (CDS).
Jonathan Isaby reported the fact on 2nd December but this morning's Guardian, in a Christmas stocking filler, revisited the Coalition's intention to press ahead with plans to give voters the right to demand debates on certain hot topics. It is expected that MPs will be required to debate issues if approximately 100,000 voters sign an online petition.
Dan Hannan wants MPs to vote on whether Britain should stay a member of the EU.
Guido Fawkes wants MPs to be put on record for supporting or opposing "capital punishment for child and cop killers".
No doubt the NUS will want to force MPs to vote on their preferred alternative to tuition fees.
Archbishop Cranmer lists other Bills he expects popular petitions to force MPs to debate:
Cranmer predicts that disaffection with MPs will become greater as they repeatedly reject motions that they are forced to debate.
Douglas Carswell MP welcomes the initiative (one he and Dan Hannan proposed in their 'Plan' manifesto). He rejects the idea that voters can't be trusted with direct democracy:
"What direct democracy would not do is lead to mob rule. If you give adults responsibility, they tend to behave not only responsibly, but in a fair-minded, liberal way. It is worth reflecting that the death penalty has more often been abolished by plebiscite, than it has been introduced."
> On a poor phone line I had a ninety second slot on this morning's Today programme to welcome the petitions idea. Labour MP Paul Flynn responded by predicting that the mechanism would be "dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.” Such respect for voters!
By Jonathan Isaby
The Comprehensive Spending Review has naturally dominated the news agenda and the ConHome threads today, so I only got the chance earlier to post a quick link to a blog post by Daniel Hannan MEP about the latest outrageous activities of the European Parliament. He reported that MEPs had spent the morning pushing through what he reckoned was an increase in EU spending that will cost Britain £880 million.
I have now noticed the blog post by his colleague, Vicky Ford MEP, who enlarges upon the details of what has been going on during a Strasbourg sitting of the 736 MEPs:
Today in Strasbourg, I (and my Conservative colleagues) voted for a freeze in the EU budget because it is unacceptable for EU institutions to keep spending more taxpayers´ money when national governments are having to rein back spending at home. We voted to reduce the expenses of MEPs and to reduce the costs of Parliament. We also voted against increasing maternity pay to 20 weeks because I believe that this sort of decision should be taken by national governments not international parliaments (especially given the dire economic times).
Sadly colleagues from other countries and other groups did not agree. The Parliament voted to increase the EU budget by 5.9% (£843 million gross contribution for the UK). The vote on maternity leave was lost by just 7 votes (327 to 320)- this is predicted to add costs of £2.5 billion a year to UK businesses and government.
These are not yet final decisions as national governments will now get their say. Let's hope some sense prevails.
Amen to that.
I hope to establish tomorrow whether Labour and Lib Dem MEPs joined the Conservatives in doing the right thing...
Last Thursday, on the orders of William Hague, the ECR group in the European Parliament, that includes Tory MEPs, voted to support the formal creation of the European External Action Service. I write formal because the EEAS has been in effective existence for some time. The EEAS is a deliberately bureaucratic name for what is the EU foreign service. It has, blogs Dan Hannan, a budget twenty times larger than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It has 7,000 staff members, operating in 130 global embassies.
Last week's ECR votes were decisive in seeing the EEAS motion pass*. Without ECR support, reports EurActiv, there would have been no decision until the autumn - time, some believe, that could have been used to dilute the EEAS' powers.
Charles Tannock MEP, the ECR's Foreign Affairs spokesman, told EurActiv:
"We were opposed to the creation of the EEAS but we are now reconciled to engaging constructively within the new architecture in the best interests of our countries."
That is an EU-constructive rather than an EU-sceptic position. This is the latest example of the Coalition government engaging with the EU in what it calls a "constructive" rather than "sceptical" way. The ambition is to make arrangements work better rather than delay or frustrate.
This morning's Telegraph reports that the EU desk will be moved to the centre of the UN General Assembly as part of a "back down" by William Hague:
"Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign minister or "High Representative", will be given a special seat alongside a new European UN ambassador with "the right to speak in a timely manner, the right of reply, the right to circulate documents, the right to make proposals and submit amendments (and) the right to raise points of order". EU sources told The Daily Telegraph that William Hague, the foreign secretary, was forced to "back down" and accept the plan as part of the creation of a Brussels diplomatic service under the Lisbon Treaty."
"Supporting the EU in having enhanced rights in the UN General Assembly is a good example. We want the High Representative to be able to do what the rotating presidency used to do: to speak and act in support of an agreed common position. The Foreign Secretary explained that policy in more detail in a written ministerial statement earlier today. If the General Assembly agrees, the High Representative will have the rights necessary, and no more than the rights necessary, to fulfil the representational role previously carried out by the rotating presidency. That includes the right to speak after the member states have spoken, but not the right to a seat among individual UN members and certainly not the right to vote in the General Assembly. These arrangements will not give EU delegations enhanced rights in United Nations agencies or in other international organisations."
Mr Lidington was also warm about the relationship that the Coalition wants with Baroness Ashton, the "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy":
"The High Representative has made a very good start to her challenging role. She has an impossible job-almost three jobs, in fact: High Representative, British Commissioner in Brussels and chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. She has been criticised for not being at two different ministerial meetings that were held in two different countries at the same time, but that seems more than a little unfair. I am told that she has 400 days of appointments in the year, and she does not yet really have a proper department to help her. The Conservatives wished her well when she embarked on her task and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are already working closely with her."
Labour MPs were delighted at Mr Lidington's contributions yesterday. Labour's former Europe Minister, Chris Bryant welcomed Mr Lidington's "conversion". And this from Michael Connarty MP:
"I am sensitive about intruding on private grief, but I am witnessing the acting out of a scenario in which a Minister who takes a very positive approach to issues relating to the European Union is surrounded by a large number of Eurosceptic Members of Parliament who had previously imagined that they were serving under a Eurosceptic Government. The words "a cosy consensus" have been used, but I am not sure that what is happening. I see it more as the sweet breeze of EU realism blowing through the Conservative Government."
"I regard this whole decision as a triumph of European aspirations and European parliamentary ambitions over reality. I am deeply worried about the manner in which this game of multidimensional chess will play out, and I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Minister my concern about the overlapping functions and the contradictions that will emerge between the necessity of maintaining our bilateral relations with other countries and the extremely ambitious proposals in this decision on global reach. It is phenomenal to imagine an external action service on this scale that would in any way be regarded as not interfering with our domestic diplomatic service."
* Not all Tory MEPs voted for the EEAS. Dan Hannan, Nirj Deva and Roger Helmer, for example, voted against. I also understand that Geoffrey Van Ordern MEP abstained.
South East MEP Daniel Hannan has made another speech, on the sovereignty of national parliaments.
Mr Hannan ends almost every speech with the words: "Pactio Olisipiensis Censenda Est" - "The Lisbon Treaty must be Put to the Vote". He tells me this is in homage to Cato the Elder who would end his speeches with the words “Carthage Must Be Destroyed”. Mr Hannan adds:
"Senators used to mock him, imitate his voice, shout him down. But you know what? In the end, they sacked Carthage!"
The European Parliament has just voted to ban (with a few exemptions) seal products from Canada.
South East MEP Daniel Hannan (who thinks that such decisions should be made by national parliaments) has commented on his blog:
"What is it about baby seals? Why do they excite our sympathy in a way that seagulls or scorpions or slugs do not? After all, they're hardly an endangered species: on the contrary, there are many millions of them, and they are extremely efficient hooverers up of fish. Canadian seals chomp their way through 1.5 million tons of cod every year. They have played a cameo role in the collapse of the Labrador and Newfoundland trawling industry.
[O]ur objection to Canadian seal-clubbing is aesthetic rather than ethical.
Then again, since when did emotion invalidate the democratic process? People have just as much right to object to something on irrational as on rational grounds. To take a recent example, the campaign to admit former Gurkha soldiers to Britain, in plain defiance of what they had clearly understood when they joined up, was not strictly logical. But it represented a sincere and generous national instinct and that, in a democracy, should be the trump argument.
So with the cute baby seals. Who am I to say that the voters are wrong? In a democracy, the voters are never wrong. They may be inconsistent, sentimental, mercurial; but not wrong. If I were to say: "People are being sappy about seals", I would be in the same category as those MEPs who say "People are being emotional when they vote against the European Constitution, and we who understand their true interests should therefore disregard their stated views"."
Mr Hannan has also posted a video of his speech on the subject.
South East England MEP Daniel Hannan had made another speech, this time on the financial crisis, and invoked the Bard.
It seems most readers will be pleased to note that Mr Hannan was dressed in a suit and tie! (Although his colleague Roger Helmer went tieless.) And I promise that this is the last sartorial observation I will make on these pages for some time.
We recently featured a tieless Dan Hannan in action in the European Parliament but his open neck casual look would be against the rules in the House of Commons.
The Telegraph reports that Labour MP Graham Allen "was criticised by Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Deputy Speaker, because although he was wearing a suit, his shirt collar was open with no tie.":
"Sir Alan told the MP: "It is not appropriate to address the House without being properly attired." It is traditional for men to dress formally in the Chamber. Erskine May, the Parliamentary 'bible', states: "It is the custom for gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties.""
Yesterday South East England MEP Daniel Hannan addressed the Strasbourg Parliament on the subject of justice. Here is his typically eloquent speech.
I was delighted to see the absence of neckties in the chamber. Perhaps the UK Parliament could follow suit and dispense with the preposterous notion that a man is ill-attired if he doesn't have a length of silk or polyester around his throat.
Update: Daniel Hannan is also outraged at the democratic deficit.
Alan Duncan, Shadow Leader of the House at Business Questions, and Anne Main, Julie Kirkbride and Christopher Chope later, all pressed yesterday for full parliamentary scrutiny of the Bank of England's momentous decision to start printing £75bn of extra banknotes:
Alan Duncan: "Why are we not being given a statement, even today, on the economy? Can we not have a statement from the Government and a full debate on quantitative easing, so that Members can question the Government on how they intend to steer a course through inflation and deflation? The decisions being taken today are of the utmost gravity and will have profound effects on the economy for many years to come. They are desperate measures designed to address economic failure and collapse. When can we be told in clear terms exactly what the Government are doing and why?"
Harriet Harman: "The hon. Gentleman asked for more opportunity to discuss the economy. There will be a written ministerial statement later today about the decision by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to ensure that the inflation target is met and that the economy does not fall below that target by putting extra money into the economy, which is described as quantitative easing. There will be an opportunity to debate the economic situation in Government time next Monday, as well as an Opposition debate on Tuesday on unemployment and a debate on business rates on the following Wednesday. On Monday week there will be a debate on industry and exports and on Tuesday week there will be a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill. There will be a great deal of further discussion on the economy in the next week or two."
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just had an update from the Leader of the House that we have now gone to £75 billion quantitative easing, which is uncharted territory. I ask the Leader of House to consider arranging an emergency statement on the matter so that the House might debate it. Frankly, I am surprised that we are not at least being offered a topical debate on the matter, given that it was widely trailed on all the radio programmes this morning and is now a reality.
Mr. Speaker: I am not responsible for as and when Ministers come to give statements to the House, except when hon. Members ask for an urgent question. I can then call the Minister—
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: If I can finish. I can then call a Minister to the House. I have no doubt that the deep concern that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) has mentioned will be noted.
Miss Kirkbride: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The announcement was only made at 12 o’clock, although it had been widely anticipated. Clearly, it is possibly the most significant economic move that any of us will see carried out by the Government and the Bank of England in our lifetime. Can you tell us whether Treasury Ministers have said that they are prepared to come to the House either today, or at the very latest tomorrow, to explain this enormously significant economic move?
Mr. Speaker: These things are up to Treasury Ministers. The matter has been put on the record by both hon. Ladies.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We sympathise with the position in which you are placed by the arrogance of the Government, but can you give us an indication of whether you would be prepared to consider an urgent question for tomorrow? The House happens to be sitting this Friday and there will be a lot of public interest in the major announcement that was made by the Government today.
Mr. Speaker: I am not suggesting that I will grant an urgent question, because it would be wrong of me to do so at this stage. Matters have been put on the record and the deep concern of hon. Members has been conveyed, and it will percolate through to Treasury Ministers. An application for an urgent question can be made in the usual way—[Interruption.] The Clerk reminds me it has to be done for 11 am. I used to work to a stopwatch when I was at Rolls-Royce.