By Matthew Barrett
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Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.
Origins of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party - there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 - so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director.
Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.
Timothy Kirkhope and a number of the Conservative MEPs have posed for this photo in order to highlight the increase in regulations emanating from Brussels, drawing on recent research by Open Europe (available here and here).
The think-tank found that 100,000 extra pages have been added to the EU's "Acquis Communautaire" since 1997 - so Mr Kirkhope and his colleagues sought to show just what that much paper looks like.
Mr Kirkhope said:
Chris Heaton-Harris and Roger Helmer are both MEPs for the East Midlands. Together they have put out a press release urging the scrapping of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This would have to be done by national governments, and last week Timothy Kirkhope wrote to Gordon Brown (who was in Strasbourg this week) on the matter.
Twelve times a year MEPs travel 250 miles from Brussels to Strasbourg (on the Franco-German border). Mr Helmer and Mr Heaton-Harris estimate the cost at £180 million annually, and say it causes tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 to be emitted.
Mr Helmer said:
"Moving the European Parliament from one country to another is completely pointless and a huge waste of taxpayers' money. There is no practical reason why we should go to Strasbourg as we have all the facilities we need in Brussels.
The two-seat operation of the European Parliament is a small amount of money compared to the vast debts being run up by our government this year, which are now larger than the entire EU budget; but scrapping it would send an important message that the EU is serious about cutting waste."
Mr Heaton-Harris added:
"Conservative MEPs have led the campaign against the Strasbourg parliament. It is time for Gordon Brown to finally raise the issue with his European counterparts and demand they end this profligacy.
We need strong leadership from our Prime Minister if we are to end this unacceptable situation. For all his bluster and lecturing on the economy, he has failed to seize on one important piece of waste in the EU budget that could be slashed tomorrow."
This is a worthy cause, but I doubt it'll be successful any time soon ... not when Franco-German pride is at stake!
Timothy Kirkhope, who leads the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has written to Gordon Brown in advance of the Prime Minister's speech to the Parliament next week.
"Dear Prime Minister,
Next week, you intend to travel to Strasbourg supposedly to lecture the European Parliament on the economic downturn. Given your previous disinterest as Chancellor in attending European meetings, I am not sure that your presence now as Prime Minister will be greeted very warmly.
I also doubt many MEPs will be prepared to heed your economic advice given that the IMF now predicts that Britain's recession will be deeper and longer than in most other parts of the World. In addition, in January the European Commission forecasted that the UK economy will contract by one percent above the EU average. Several European ministers have also criticised your economic policies - including notably the German Finance Minister, Peer Steinbruck.
The British people will no doubt ask why their Prime Minister continues to seek international fora on which to grandstand when he should surely be focusing on the myriad of problems at home.
However, at this difficult time, there is one simple but concrete action you could take at the European Council to show that the EU is serious about cutting down on its own waste: scrapping the European Parliament's two-seat operation.
Such a proposal would save European taxpayers several hundred million pounds and save the environment tens of thousands of tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions. While this in no way equates to the tens of billions of pounds Britain has spent on bank bailouts and ineffective VAT cuts, it would at least send an important and positive signal.
Why not demand that the item be placed on the summit agenda in lieu of the planned debate on the Lisbon Treaty? It really is time for the council to resist the ongoing duplicitous and distracting efforts to revive the Lisbon Treaty, and finally focus on areas where 27 nations working together can indeed bring value - particularly in relation to the financial crisis and climate change and in curbing unnecessary expenditure like that incurred in relation to the Strasbourg parliament.
Timothy Kirkhope MEP
Conservative Leader in the European Parliament"
Timothy Kirkhope, who leads the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has put out a press release in light of the failure of Heyday, a membership organisation of Age Concern. Heyday had brought a case to the European Court of Justice to challenge the legality of the compulsory retirement age.
Employers are allowed to fire staff - without redundancy pay - when they reach 65 or the mandatory retirement age set by the company. Heyday unsuccessfully challenged on the grounds that the law contravened EU equal treatment laws.
"This is a sad setback for age equality in Britain. It is wrong to force people who want to make a contribution to the economy to hang up their boots, particularly during a recession.
Too many companies undervalue the expertise and experience older people can bring to the table. We need a sea change in our attitude to older people in the workplace.
The problem of age discrimination is a cultural one that would not be changed by the European Court, but a ruling in favour of fairer employment practices would have been a good place to start.
Fortunately the High Court has pre-eminence in this matter. It must exercise its own authority by rejecting the ECJ's opinion and supporting an end to compulsory retirement age in the UK.”
This is a tough one. On the one hand, I agree with Mr Kirkhope that we treat older people very shabbily. I can think of some very sprightly pensioners - and Ronald Reagan was older than 65 when he became one of America's greatest ever Presidents. On the other hand, I don't like supra-national law, especially in the area of employment, and I do think businesses need some legal scope to be able to say that someone is no longer capable of doing their job. Back to the first hand again though, should they not have that scope regardless of someone's age - even if age is sometimes a factor?
"It is not in Britain's interest for the Euro to fail, but it would also not be in our interests to sign up to it either. Britain can be a leading member of the EU without signing up to the Euro.
The Pound's recent fall in value in no way strengthens the case for Britain to give up our currency. The weak Pound is a side effect of Labour's recession and a weak economy.
We do need a change in the management of our economy, but only a Conservative government can deliver it. Just because our own government has lost control of the British economy, that does not justify handing over control to the EU."
This is the correct position.
In light of the news that the Irish will be asked to vote again to approve the Lisbon Treaty, the leader of Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope, has put out a statement:
"There are no real substantive changes between the treaty the Irish rejected before, and only a few cosmetic changes from the European Constitution, which the French and Dutch people also did not want.
Irish, French and Dutch voters must not be deceived by this constant tinkering around the edges of the European Constitution. At what point will Europe's leaders realise the meaning of the word 'no'?
Although making the Irish people vote again is undemocratic, at least they have had an opportunity to voice their concerns, some of which the Irish government has sought to address. The British people have been totally voiceless over this treaty, and the concessions made to the Irish make the case for a referendum in the UK all the more compelling.
Gordon Brown hypocritically puts pressure on Ireland to hold a second vote, whilst denying the British people any say."
Voters throughout the European Union are being pushed beyond endurance by their political masters. This can't go on. The worm may turn.