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Richard Ashworth MEP: Don't pre-judge me, don't pigeon-hole me

Screen shot 2012-03-23 at 17.43.14Richard Ashworth is an MEP for the south-east of England and new leader of the Conservative MEPs.

I was honoured and very proud to be elected by my fellow Conservative MEPs to be their leader.

I was also amazed how many people - even before I had settled behind my desk to get on with the job in hand - had decided what kind of a leader I was going to be and exactly what I was going to do.

Of course this is always the way when someone new takes the helm. Those who think they know best will chart exactly where he is heading. For them the script is written.

People in the politics just love pigeon holes; but real life isn't that tidy. If you take a barometer of Conservative opinion, you might find me at one end of the scale on one subject and at the opposite on another. I refuse to be pinned down, and I really think it is time for the party to move on from routinely bracketing people.
We should be uniting behind David Cameron to confront the challenges that confront us for the future.
If you look back, Europe has achieved a great deal in underpinning our peace, security and stability. But the world moves on, and when we consider the things we want for our children and grandchildren there are three key factors:
  • The competitiveness of the European economy as it comes up against the new power-houses of China, India and Brazil.
  • Energy security
  • Food security

On the economy, the Prime Minister has it spot on when he says the priorities must be jobs and growth. Cut the red tape that is stifling enterprise, invest in small businesses and be serious about deregulation.

On energy, we must invest carefully in new technologies and couple that with interconnectivity of infrastructure. Then we must move to a genuine single market in energy that will increase competition, improve consumer choice and drive down prices.
Food security is an issue we ignore at our peril. The European Union can play a key role both in ensuring that our own 500 million people do not go hungry and in promoting food security across the globe.
There is an awful lot in Europe we don't approve of and we are prepared to say so. There is too much done that adds no value and Europe's leaders need to stop contemplating their navels and concentrate on growth, trade and prosperity.
The Greek euro-tragedy is a sideshow which we must not allow to distract us from Europe's underlying crisis of competitiveness.  That country represents only two per cent of the EU economy and now it has a straight choice. It can grow up into a properly-run, properly-taxed, responsible western economy with a balanced budget. It can knuckle down to pay its way (and at the same time hand its sovereignty over to the European Central Bank) - or it can quit the euro. But it is a matter for the Greeks to decide.
I firmly believe that history repeats itself. Margaret Thatcher's first term was spent sorting out the mess she inherited from Labour. That was unavoidable. But in her second term she made a massive contribution not only to Britain but also to Europe. She more than anybody was responsible for the two most beneficial reforms of the EU in the form of the single market and the push for enlargement.
Thirty years later another Conservative government in its first term is again faced with the task of clearing up Labour's mess. But I believe in its second term this government has the ability to drive through real reform in Europe, and I will welcome that.
It will be about limiting the size of the EU, getting it to do less but do it better, ensuring that it addresses the issues that affect real people and not the preoccupations and pet projects of a political elite.
The acid test will be whether the man on the Clapham omnibus sees Europe as something that can benefit him. At present he would never think that because sees it as too bureaucratic, remote and irrelevant.
Those fundamental weaknesses are where we must must focus our firepower. This is why we must put our trust and support behind David Cameron, and that I pledge to do.


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