Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The fallout from Typhoon Hayain continued in the Philippines this week. The huge storm – which is the second largest the area has ever seen – struck on Thursday 7th and raged for several days, stretching into the start of this week. More than 11 million people have been left homeless by the disaster, and the official death toll is now well over 3,000 – although aid workers say the real figure could be three times this.

Located inside the so called Ring of Fire – a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes – the Philippines is no stranger to extreme weather. However, as a country comprising over 7,000 islands it remains a place where coordinating infrastructure and communications is difficult. Although the storm has now relented, the crisis is by no means over, with the challenges of tackling diseases and housing displaced people just beginning.

The Philippines’s UN Envoy Naderev Sano, who comes from the devastated city of Tacloban, made a tearful statement at the start of the UN’s two week Warsaw summit, blaming the typhoon on climate change and calling for decisive action. He described it as an “extreme climate event” and said he would not eat until an environmental consensus was reached.

The priority, of course, has got to be dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis in the country. On this front it was good to see international aid donations flooding in, and I was particularly pleased with the EU’s decision on Tuesday to increase its contribution from €3 million to €13 million. However, Sano is right that as once the dust finally settles it will be time to have a more serious discussion about climate change.

At present we are still a long way away from a consensus. In April of this year Tory MEPs voted against the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – even though the proposals had been specifically designed as a free market solution to the problem – and back in 2011 they blocked calls for tougher environmental targets. David Cameron may have spoken on Sunday of the need to “prevent and mitigate” climate change, but on this issue the Conservatives are liable to say one thing and do the opposite.

Speaking of the gap between words and actions, it was interesting to see the Tories attempt this week to remove all pre-2010 speeches from online spaces. Ironically, many passages from the deleted material focused on commitments to transparency, with George Osborne, for example, having pledged (in a speech back in 2007) to end the “asymmetry of information between the individual and the state”.

Aside from being politically counter-productive (the news of course prompted an immediate re-examination of the Tories’ pre-government policies) this ‘year zero’ approach is profoundly undemocratic. It is important to the already fragile relationship between public representatives and the electorate that voters and commentators can compare rhetoric with reality, so the deletion of material like this undermines basic standards of political accountability.

With their liberal pre-government rhetoric having been replaced by harsh and socially divisive policies in office, it is no surprise that the Tory high command want to conceal the promises they made in opposition. I am pleased, on behalf of everyone who believes in politics, that on this occasion they have been caught out.

Tory MEPs defy Cameron on EU carbon market vote

Labour Party

Yesterday in a tight vote in the full session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, most Tory MEPs chose to vote with climate sceptics , thereby going against their own government.  The cost of carbon trading permits in Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) has sunk due to the economic crisis. Yesterday’s vote was intended to allow the release of fewer permits for auction in the short-term to try to get the price back up again.

By voting against this important element in both British Government and EU climate policy, Tory MEPs put their fanatical euro-scepticism ahead of British jobs and our environment. All three Conservative MEPs for London, Marina Yannakoudakis, Charles Tannock and Syed Kamall, voted with the climate change sceptics against the UK’s best interests. Amazingly, Tory MEPs ignored the strong views expressed by their own Ministers in London.

It is now confirmed that Members of the European Parliament voted 334-315 against the measure.  After the vote, the EU carbon price immediately fell 44 percent to a new record low of 2.63 euros a tonne.

My colleague Linda McAvan who leads for the Socialist and Democrat Group on climate change described the vote in the European Parliament as “a catastrophe for the environment,” adding “”The UK carbon floor price for the power sector came into force at the beginning of this month, so UK electricity providers are currently paying an extra £4.94 per tonne of carbon they emit. This is more than double the current ETS price for carbon, and it’s set to rise to five times the projected ETS price by 2015.”

 Even as former Tory Ministers who worked closely with Mrs Thatcher said publicly that she was the first head of government to recognise the science of climate change and would have warmly welcomed the free market solution offered by the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), Tory MEPs blithely voted not to support the pan-European solution. It’s yet another case of the coalition setting themselves up as the ‘greenest government ever’ while their MEPs in Brussels vote against environmental measures.

Not only have the Tories snubbed their own leader, but they’ve also dismissed the views of a huge range of experts and businesses who believed this change would have been good for the environment, the consumer and industry.  Those who supported the proposal included the CBI, Shell, Philips, Tesco, Unilever, Kingfisher, Johnson & Johnson, SSE, E.ON, UKEnergy, UK Green Building Council and the UK Corporate Leaders Group.

Sadly, their efforts fell on deaf ears as the Tory MEPs sided unscientific climate change deniers in the face of reasonable arguments from all sides.

Tories block plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Labour Party

When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party, he promised that he would push the environment up to the top of the political agenda. He has stated time and again that climate change is an issue his party feels strongly about. He has also made it clear that the Coalition’s position is to support an increase from 20% to 30% of the EU’s targets for reducing C02 emissions.

Despite these assurances from their leader, 16 Tory MEPs yesterday voted in favour of an amendment which sought to water down the European Parliament’s commitment to a 30% target. Two further Tories abstained.

The amendment in question called for a commitment to a renewed climate target for 2020 ‘if and when the conditions are right, as well as setting long-term targets to restore and give more emphasis to the incentives for innovation’. By giving in to pressure from the strong lobbying of Business Europe, and supporting the introduction of conditions to the 30% target, the Conservatives have shown a lack of understanding of the importance of fighting against climate change. With the help of the Tories, the centre-right parties in the EP managed to swing yesterday’s vote.

Unlike the Conservatives, my Labour colleagues and I fully supported the 30% target. Sticking with the old 20% target to reduce emissions from the current rate of 17.4% (a mere 2.6% increase) by 2020 is not a credible aim if the EU has genuine ambitions to lead the world in the fight against climate change. Many people agree with me on this point. In the run up to the vote I received literally hundreds of emails from my constituents calling for all MEPs to fully support the 30% reduction target.

Since the Socialist group is strongly against imposing unwelcome conditions on the EU’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we opted yesterday to vote against the report as a whole. We refuse to bow to pressure from the centre-right MEPs, who, it is clear, are not committed to tackling climate change. Their action has undermined both the EU’s credibility in global climate change negotiations and the EU’s economic recovery.

President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

Labour Party

You may be forgiven for all the misconceptions you probably have about Herman Van Rompuy, the newish President of the European Council.  He didn’t get much coverage in the UK when he was Prime Minister of Belgium, and most of that written and said about him since becoming President has been negative, sometimes even insulting. 

 President Van Rompuy spoke to the Socialist and Democrat Group this morning, and believe me he is far from lightweight.  His knowledge of economics is outstanding.  What is more, he is capable of strategic thinking and has a genuine vision for Europe, a vision much more in line with British views than you may expect.  President Van Rompuy sees the EU as a grouping of sovereign states with certain common objectives.  I’d certainly buy into that, as I’m sure would the vast majority of people in the UK, except perhaps those on the extreme margins of politics.

 The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.  It was his support for the tax on financial transactions which finally convinced me that he is a man we could do business with.  When answering a question from fellow Belgian, Marc Tarabella, it became clear that President Van Rompuy not only supports the “Tobin” tax in principle, but as Belgian Prime Minister he implemented it on a national basis.  You may also be interested to know that the G20 is looking at such a tax and the IMF is preparing a report.    

 The economic issues obviouly revolved around the current downturn.  The President was unrepentant about the EU’s policy of protecting the internal market and the euro and the pursuit of inflationary measures.  He was, on the other hand, clear that we all need to return to balanced budgets in order to pursue social goals such as sustainable pensions and improved health care.  While I would not necessarily support his contention that we need balanced budgets to carry out a social programme, the President does, at least, believe in the social dimension of Europe.  He was also clear that the EU needs to ensure that the new EU 20:20 strategy is successful, unlike the previous Lisbon Strategy which did not achieve anything very much.

 Climate change was the other big topic.  Since Copenhagen has not moved anything forward, Europe needs to keep on working at this agenda.  There were several calls, including one from EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott, for green, sustainable jobs which President Van Rompuy supported wholeheartedly.     

Herman Van Rompuy is an engaging speaker, though like many Europeans he lacks some of the rhetorical flourish so beloved by the British. He gave his presentation in English, he then answered questions in French and understood German as well as his native Dutch.  I wonder how many of us are fluent in at least four languages.  He also listens and made a promise that he would take seriously all the points raised at the Group meeting.

 It’s a real tragedy for us that both President Van Rompuy and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, our own Baroness Ashton, get such a bad press in Britain.  They are both excellent at their jobs.  One socialist MEP said today that Herman Van Rompuy is the right person in the right place.  The same is true of Cathy Ashton, and we would do well to take a leaf out of the books of many other countries in the European Union and support our national appointees.  

 And finally… it was good to see former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sitting at the top table with President Van Rompuy.  Richard is now head of the President’s Cabinet.  Congratulatons Richard.  You deserve your success and we all know you will do exceptional work  for Herman Van Rompuy and, by extension, for all of us involved in the EU.

Some Tories just can’t help it

Labour Party

What planet do those who deny the existence of man-made climate change really live on?

To get some idea, you may like to read this recent post on the ConservativeHome site.

It is really quite extraordinary that so may seeminly intelligent Tories seek to deny climate change science.  Climate change exists and is caused to a large extent by human activities.  The fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, representing 192 governments across the globe, accepts the man made nature of climate change should be enough to convince us all.  I for one am inclined to believe that something which has such overwhelming support is correct.  When you add to this another fact – that the vast majority of scientists in the field (University of East Anglia e-mails notwithstanding) also agree that climate chage is almost exclusively man-made – the proposition becomes incontrovertible.

Now stand up Roger Helmer, he who would challenge all the evidence.  In response to the post on Conservative Home Roger Helmer proclaimed the following:  

Hmmmm. “Those qualified to comment on the science”. How about Prof Fred Singer, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Virginia, a hugely respected climate scientist with a CV as long as your arm. He is a member of the IPCC panel, and wears the IPCC Nobel lapel pin with conscious post-modern irony. He does not deny that CO2 may have some effect, but believes that if so, the effect is so small that its signal is lost in the “noise” of other factors. I’m inclined to trust him on that.

Well, I’m so pleased that Roger trusts someone.  It’s just a shame for him that he doesn’t trust the vast majority of the experts. 

European Liaison Meeting with the House of Lords and the House of Commons

Labour Party

Top of the bill at the Tripartite meeting between the House of Lords, House of Commons and the European Parliament was the ever present climate change talks at Copenhagen.  This is undeniably the most important issue facing the world.  This did not, however, stop the two UKIP MEPs present coming out with what were rather feeble attempts to deny the man-made nature of the climate change we are currently suffering.

Although I don’t often attend these Tripartite meetings which are held two to three times a year, I strongly believe they are a good idea.  The meetings keep us all in touch and prevent the two parliaments occupying completely parallel universes where there is no contact whatsoever.

The debate on climate change was a case in point.  The MEPs were able to tell the Lords and MPs that Commission President Barosso intends to fund climate change to the tune of 30 – 50 billion Euros.  A lively debate followed, focusing on developing alternative energy sources and energy saving measures.  Although the economic downturn is making the former more difficult, it is probably helping the latter in which, incidentally, the UK has a good record.

The meeting moved on from climate change to the hugely problematic regulation of hedge funds.  80% of hedge funds in Europe are in the City of London, making this a substantially British issue.  The general feeling of the meeting was that since hedge funds only risk their own money, they are not a problem in the way the banks have shown themselves to be.

And finally, we looked at what seem to most people outside parliamentary procedures the arcane processes used in the European Parliament.  It is, of course, worth noting that since there is a high turnover of MEPs, over half the European Parliament elected earlier this year are new, and may also be struggling with some of these matters.

European Parliament Committees will, of course, be interviewing Commissioners in the middle of January, and there is no cast-iron guarantee that all Commissioners will be confirmed.  It will be made more complicated in that President Barosso has redrawn Commissioner portfolios to some large extent.

One of the main conclusions of this Tripartite meeting was that the Lisbon Treaty has changed the landscape.  Lisbon gives the European Parliament much greater power.  As one of the members of the House of Lords on the Committee succinctly put it, “The Lisbon Treaty has ended the democratic deficit at a stroke.”

A Review of the Honeyball Buzz

Labour Party


Having started my own regular blog reviews, I recently came across one for this particular blog. Politics.co.uk, who have a complete list of political blogs, are too kind – they have reviewed the Honeyball Buzz and summarise it as:

“One of our favourite MEPs’ blogs, the excellent Mary Honeyball provides us with an informed, witty commentary on life in Labour.”

Thank you very much! I appreciate the 8/10 rating.

As an aside, I am certain that the majority of people who read political blogs would prefer my views to those MEPs who think the NHS makes you iller, and deny the existence of man-made climate change.  They, and I’m sure some of you, know who they are. 

 If you would like to read the full insightful analysis from politics.co.uk, please click here.

Live blog from Labour Movement for Europe Fringe meeting

Labour Party

lme 001Climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century along with the battle against global poverty.  So it was with a mix of interest in the subject and sadness about the results of the European Elections last June that I went to the Labour Movement for Europe (LME) fringe meeting at the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton this lunchtime.

Chaired by former MEP Richard Corbett, one of the select band who have kept the LME going over the years, we discussed the Copenhagen targets on climate change, including the contribution made by Gordon Brown. Glenys Kinnock spoke first, and was as passionate and lucid as ever; she is an excellent Minister for Europe respected by all of us.

It is regrettable that President Obama has shown very little commitment to climate change and  no firm commitment on levels of finance.  On the other hand the European Union has promised a  20 per cent cut in greenhouse emmisiions by 2020, and the  EU will up this if the Copenhagen discussions come up with higher targets.  The money for this must be new money – Gordon Brown in very clear on this.  Europe must also act together.

Glenis lme2 001Willmott was the second speaker with Richard Howitt with his purple tie taking the fouth slot.  Where else would you fiind a platform of two Richards and two Gleni(y)ses?  Is this a metaphor for Europe hedging its bets or maybe an example of European consensus?

Glenis told us how Labour has taken the lead on climate change  and has worked to persuade the other parties to come on board.  The Heads of EU Governents eventually agreed their targets, including 20 per cent of EU energy coming from renewable sources.  This was no thanks to the Tories who would almost certainly not have pursued the climate change agenda.  The Tories have, as we all know, left the mainstream EPP to join a bizarre group of right-wing misfits, including climate change deniers from the Czech Republic.  Tory MEPs do not support measures to deal with climate change when voting in the European Parliament.

And finally, Richard Howitt.  All of us were with Richard when he siad just how much he misses Richard Corbett in the European Parliament.  Along with Glenis Willmott, Richard paid tribute to Linda MacAvan who led for the Socialist Group on the climate change negotiations, making a real impact on our behalf in working to introduce the EU targets.  As the Labour MEP for the East of England, Richard explained how European money had hepled Lowestoft with its water shortage problems, showing how Europe has a concrete effect at local level.

As EPLP Spokesperson on Foreilme2 003gn Affairs, Richard explained how Foreign Affairs is becoming more and more about climate change.  Conflict now is as much about water as oil or security issues.  The European Global Climate Change Alliance working with developing countries shows the way things are moving.   The EU has come into its own over climate change.  Global problems require international solutions.


Media, Ofcom

Last year a Conservative MEP organised a screening in the European Parliament of the discredited Channel 4 documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle”.

The documentary caused a huge controversy when it was broadcast on TV and it caused a similar stir when it was shown in Parliament.

Following Channel 4’s broadcast of the programme last year, there were some 265 complaints to Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator. Ofcom have just ruled that the documentary did break broadcast rules and was “unjust and unfair” in the way it represented individuals’ views in the documentary. The ruling went on to say that “the programme made some significant allegations without offering an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”

Whilst some of the complains were upheld, Bob Ward, the former head of media at the Royal Society said that “The programme has been let off the hook on a highly questionable technicality”.

He was complaining because Ofcom defines a misleading programme as one where the audience is “materially misled so as to cause harm or offence” and the ruling said the programme didn’t meet that test.

However, Channel 4 has been ordered to broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s findings about the programme. I don’t expect the Tory MEP to acknowledge the programmes’ errors though.

It’s a shame that some Tory MEPs are still questioning the existance or cause of climate change.

On balance I think I’ll take my scientific advice from Britain’s Royal Society rather than a bunch discredited Tory MEPs!

You can read more about Ofcom’s ruling at the following links:




Budget, Child Poverty

The days when the budget was one of the highlights of the parliamentary year attracting huge news coverage and whipping up strong emotions are long gone. Today the budget is one event among many, but no less important for that. Alistair Darling did a good job yesterday, declaring: “Even in today’s difficult and uncertain times, we are determined that we will not be diverted from our long-term aim: to equip our country for the challenges of the future, confront climate change and end child poverty in this generation.”

The £1.7 billion package to lift a further 250,000 out of child poverty is extremely good news. The higher vehicle excise duty for higher carbon emissions, the 10% increase in air passenger duty and the plan to make all non-essential buildings carbon neutral by 2019 are significant proposals to tackle climate change. Equally important was the £575 million for higher winter fuel payments for pensioners. The little reported lifeline to registered charities allowing them to keep the current rates of tax relief on Gift Aid donations also showed the Government’s commitment to improving life for everyone in this country.

I have no problem with the extra 4p on a pint of beer, 14p on a bottle of wine and 55p on a bottle of spirits, which strike me as a good way of raising revenue. All in all it as the budget we need at the moment – prudent and equitable making sound financial sense.