Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

Cameron is again putting party before country

There is a wise adage in politics that leaders, representatives and their parties should listen and respond to the questions the people, their electorate, are asking rather than matters which endlessly fascinate professional politicos but leave virtually everybody else (99.999 per cent of the population) cold.

Enter the torrid and seemingly endless Tory debate on Europe. Begun in earnest under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the Conservatives remain in utter disarray over whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union. As Janan Ganesh  of the Financial Times succintly put it, the Tory Party is suffering from “a single-issue neuralgia that knows no equivalent in any major party in the west”.

And nobody except professional politicians actually cares. Opinion polls consistently show that whether or not Britain remains a member of the European Union is not central to people’s lives. According to YouGov they are far more concerned about jobs and prices, schools and hospitals. Although it pains me as an MEP to say it, EU membership is little more than peripheral in terms of voters’ priorities.

All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that those Tories who fight in such a relentless and unremitting way to get Britain out of the European Union are not answering any question asked by those who voted for them. Instead they are reinforcing their own strange view of the world whereby the EU is seen as the source of almost all that is wrong with Britain and we would all be massively better off without johnny foreigner telling us what to do.

This could be understood and forgiven if it were just a few misguided backbenchers banging the drum. While this may have been the case prior to William Hague’s disastrous four years as Conservative leader from 1997 to 2001, the Tory tide most definitely turned during the first years of the 1997 Labour Government. Local Conservative Associations selected ever more anti-EU candidates while those already in Parliament gained ground. The only comparable episode in recent British politics was the Labour Party during the 1980s when Labour lurched to the left espousing causes such a unilateral nuclear disarmament which the majority of the British people did not want.

Yet the Tories in 2013 are very different position on EU membership. While Labour was in opposition in 1983 when the party wrote “the longest suicide note in history”, the Conservatives are in government, albeit in a coalition, the other part of which, incidentally, does not share their EU phobia. It’s one thing not to listen to the people when the only damage will be that the opposition party does not get elected. It’s quite another not to listen when in government and the party can make a difference to people’s lives.

David Cameron’s unseemly haste to publish the EU Referendum Bill surely indicates that he, the Prime Minister, is not listening to the people. Instead he is putting what he perceives as his Party’s interest first, both internal – pacifying his rabid Eurosceptic backbenchers and external – doing something about UKIP. Cameron is running scared yet in incapable of showing leadership. He appears more like a headless chicken in a mire-filled farmyard than the world statesman he wanted to present during his visit to the United States and meeting with President Obama.

Tragically for David Cameron his strategy of appeasement – appease UKIP and they will not take any more Tory votes and appease the anti-EU backbenchers so that they will pipe down – is patently not working. He is our Prime Minister and as such he would do well to learn basic lessons. Appeasement does not work. Cameron should listen to the people rather than try and maintain an impossible position on something a large majority of the population does not rate as a priority.

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Lawson’s tragedy is to be the next in line to try and out-UKIP UKIP

Now that UKIP looks like the protest party of choice, the anti-EU bandwagon is predictably growing apace.

The Tory knee-jerk reaction to UKIP’s gains makes interesting viewing for those of us not directly in the firing line. With 60% of UKIP’s local election support coming from ex-Tory voters and only 7% ex-Labour, according to ex-MP and electoral reform campaigner Martin Linton, it’s the Conservatives who should be (and clearly are) truly worried.    

Hence the intervention in today’s Times by Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor for six years and a Tory grandee of considerable standing. In common with most of the Conservatives who have spoken out in the UKIP debate, Lawson has decided he doesn’t like the EU. Maybe this is just the prevailing fashion in Tory circles, maybe these anti-EU Conservatives really believe the way to tackle Farage etc is to fight UKIP on their own territory by being more UKIP than UKIP.

The Tories are clearly running scared. Flawed logic, in this instance, the way to combat UKIP is to provide a Tory version of more of the same, is often a response to such fear. The Tories now have it in spades. They didn’t win the 2010 general election and they are now very firmly on course to fail again in 2015.  

 I think it’s rather sad that Lord Lawson has joined the anti-EU cheerleaders, not least because his main arguments are nonsense. Lawson “strongly” suspects there would be a “positive economic advantage to the UK in leaving the single market”, claiming you do not have to be in the single market to export to the European Union. Lawson strategically omits to say that the EU single market helps to bring down barriers, create more jobs and increase overall prosperity in the EU.  It’s also worth noting that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the UK signed up to the Single European Act in 1986.

Predictably Lawson also claimed that withdrawing from the EU would save the City of London from a “frenzy of regulatory activism”. It is really quite extraordinary how Tories defend bankers and by definition the huge bonuses which have done so much harm to the financial industry. The main reason they object to EU regulations is that it will hit the bankers where it really hurts – in their pockets.

The noble lord is, however, right on one matter, namely that any repatriation of powers secured by David Cameron will be inconsequential. He can at least see that clearly.

The answer is not to withdraw from the EU all together, as Tories scared of UKIP and, of course, UKIP themselves maintain. That would be madness, a huge national fit of pique cutting off a very large nose to spite a face not yet out of joint. The UK would lose the valuable and irreplaceable European single market and we would no longer be part of cross border initiatives to cut crime and improve the environment, to name but two major areas where EU action is very beneficial.

The answer is to get fully stuck in and reform the EU from within, not by attempting to repatriate powers in the teeth of opposition from nearly all the other member states, but by playing a constructive and active role at the top table. The huge waste that is the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament would be a good place to start followed by a concerted effort on the Common Agricultural Policy where the latest round of reform has failed to deliver anything very meaningful. There is much to do. It’s just a huge shame that Prime Minister Cameron is so involved in batting off his own backbenchers that he can’t see the wood for the trees, let alone act in a responsible and statesmanlike fashion.

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Tory MEPs defy Cameron on EU carbon market vote

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.

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Repatriation of powers really is smoke and mirrors

France and Germany have refused to participate in Prime Minister David Cameron’s much-vaunted examination of whether some EU powers should be returned to member states.

Reported in the Financial Times on 2 April, this extremely significant development has unfortunately received little attention in the British media. Since the story broke before the Thatcher demise, there was no excuse for ignoring such important news.

David Cameron’s flagship policy is now in tatters, as predicted many times on this blog. I first mentioned the impossibility of repatriation of powers as long ago as March 2010, before Cameron achieved the highest office. It was blindingly obvious to those of us engaged in European politics that there would never be the agreement required from the 26 other EU member states for repatriation to happen.

According to the FT, Paris and Berlin consulted with one another before concluding that the exercise known as the “balance of competences” was about serving Britain’s domestic political interests and not an EU issue as such. The two countries took this view even though the British government sent letters to each of the 26 other EU countries explaining the approach would be even-handed.

Cameron, of course, wants to use the results of the balance of competences review to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union. Now that France and Germany have refused to participate in Cameron’s little scheme, renegotiation looks less and less likely. The Franco-German axis seems to be at one on this. The previous position where Hollande was against what he called “cherry picking” , (ie the UK keeping what it wanted such as the single market while opting out of European social legislation) while Merkel seemed to be more sympathetic to the UK position has obviously hardened into that of opposition to Cameron’s impossible policy.

Indeed, the FT was quite clear that most EU governments have indicated extreme reluctance to re-open the EU treaties. It is, moreover, unclear whether Cameron has enough political sympathy among his EU partners to engineer a one-off deal for Britain.

So it’s all ending in tears for Cameron and his side-kick William Hague. Fortunately for Mr Cameron and the Con-Dem government the end of one of the major promises in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 general election has gone virtually unnoticed. Shame on all those who seek to cover up Tory incompetence and their lack of understanding on EU and international matters.

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My piece for Total Politics: Do EU policies serve our economic interests?

The latest issue of Total Politics magazine has an article wrote about whether or not the European Union still serves our economic interests. I have pasted my argument here in the blog, and it is available in the latest issue (February) Total Politics.

Do EU policies still serve our economic interests?

by Mary Honeyball MEP and Michael Fabricant MP / 17 Jan 2013

Mary Honeyball MEP warns against the dangers of ‘single market-lite’, but Michael Fabricant MP believes our economy is too different from those of other member states

This article is from the February 2013 issue of Total Politics

Yes, says Mary Honeyball

Certain elements of the British political class have for too long treated the European Union as a scapegoat for our economic woes. Always a simplistic view, this attitude to the EU is becoming increasingly untenable.

As far as the broad economic argument is concerned, the essential point is that much of the western world is in recession. We are, inevitably, all in this together. Britain’s economy and that of the eurozone are inextricably linked.

The eurozone is the UK’s biggest trading partner, and the decline in the bloc’s fortunes – the 17-nation eurozone contracted by 0.1 per cent between July and September 2012, following a 0.2 per cent decline during the previous three months – contributed to our falling back into recession earlier in 2012.

It is the eurozone, and by extension the EU single market, that really matters to the UK. The majority of our exports go to the single market, and as a result any dip in the eurozone economies will have an adverse effect on Britain.

Given the single market’s importance, it seems extraordinary that anyone in government would think about upsetting the balance so necessary for the UK’s prosperity, yet this balance would be utterly undone if our much-vaunted repatriation of powers were to be applied to the single market. The government, along with London mayor Boris Johnson and assorted eurosceptics, think they can negotiate a “single market-lite”. What they mean is bringing EU employment law, health and safety regulations and anything else to do with working conditions back to the UK, presumably with a view to reducing these social provisions once they are safely restored. And it’s not only employment legislation. Trying to negotiate this single market-lite would have serious implications for London’s financial services. More euros are traded in London than Paris and Frankfurt combined, but would this still be the case after a ‘Brixit’?

EU leaders have made it clear they don’t see an attempt by Britain to repatriate powers as a plausible action. French President François Hollande has already insisted EU member states must comply with the terms of EU treaties they have signed and ratified, saying: “Europe is not a Europe where you can take back competencies. It is not Europe à la carte.”

The single market agreements and treaties serve a very real purpose and are not simply a means for the EU to impose its will on recalcitrant member states. For the single market to function, there needs to be a level playing field. This is the reason employment law and other work-related matters need to be broadly the same across the EU. If one country were able to have an easier time than the others, it would have an unfair advantage and undermine the power of the single market and its ability to function.

Given that the EU single market, which Britain entered under the premiership of the eurosceptic Margaret Thatcher, is so important for our exports, attempts to repatriate powers from this economically beneficial part of the EU seem like a prime example of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Britain’s economy needs a fully functioning single market – it is the most crucial reason Britain needs the EU.

What is more, any proposals for repatriation of powers would need the agreement of the 26 other EU member states, an unlikely scenario if the French president is anything to go by. The fact that there is little likelihood of any new treaty negotiations happening before the European Parliament elections in 2014 just adds another layer to a misguided fantasy.

The UK is one of the big players in the EU. German chancellor Angela Merkel does not want a ‘Brixit’. A source close to her recently said: ”The chancellor and her closest advisers are trying very hard to make it easy for Britain to keep the EU door open. The chancellor does not belong to the school that is fed up with Britain; she believes it is essential Britain remains at the heart of Europe.”

Given that there is still such goodwill towards Britain, it would be sheer folly to throw this away in a desperate bid to attempt to repatriate powers from the single market and thereby undermine Britain’s economy. We should, instead, take stock of where our economic interests lie in relation to the European Union before it is too late.

Mary Honeyball is Labour MEP for London

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History should be taught well to all school students

It was good to hear that the House of Commons All Party History Group wants more teaching of history in schools.

While I would not necessarily like to see citizenship classes axed to allow more time for history, I most certainly agree that history should have a major place on the school curriculum. Students should generally be expected to study it to GCSE.

As many of you will know, my degree was modern history, called “modern” to distinguish it from “ancient” or “classical”. In fact, I did British and European history from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1939. For “A” level I followed the various ups and down of the Tudors and Stuarts, Francis 1 and the following French kings up to Louis XIV as well as the fortunes of Spain and the multitude of German and Italian states plus anything else that added to the mix such as the Ottoman Turks.

My “O” level syllabus was very interesting for a 16 year old, comprising as it did the period from the industrial revolution to the First World War. This took in the beginnings of industrialisation, the Victorian reforms this brought about such as those concerning working conditions and public health as well as major changes in the electoral system, compulsory education and the expansion and regulation of local government.

It is important that people in general understand their past, both collectively as a continent and as a nation as well as on a more local and personal level. It may just be that knowledge of recent history could in a few instances prevent the same mistakes being made again. It is also true that understanding history may help with present day identity.

Knowing what happened in the past, in any event, adds richness to life. It’s good to know about your grand parents and even great grand parents. In the same way, there is value in knowing who was Prime Minister in, for example, 1945 and what Party was in office (Labour) and that the National Health Service was introduced during the course of that government. Likewise you may like to know that unemployment rose to over 10% of the population under Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 until 1990. Facts such as these may well help to shape ideas.

The old debate about whether pupils at school should learn history chronologically apparently still rages. The main question here is one which is rarely raised, namely practicality. It’s not very feasible to do 1066 to 1945 between the ages 11 and 16 in amongst all the other demands of the curriculum. It would therefore be better to identify key historical periods for study in chronological order to give the overall subject an intelligent framework.

Apparently the All Party History Group is concerned that there are not enough history teachers for a full history curriculum. The answer may well be to pay extra to encourage teachers of history as has been done for other shortage subjects. We need a commitment to teaching history well in all schools. It is not an optional extra, but an important part in understanding the way we live today.

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Congratulations to Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski

You may have seen this article in yesterday’s times by Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

A veteran of the Solidarity generation, Mr Sikorski ticks, in his own words, “every box required to be a lifelong member of the Eurosceptic club”. He is even acknowledged by his heroine Margaret Thatcher in her book “Statecraft”.

Yet he believes in the modern European project and emphasises that Poland will do its utmost to make it succeed.

Mr Sikorski is, of course, in the European mainstream. This is yet another example of just how isolated the British Conservatives find themselves.

Mr Sikorski goes much further in his article, busting seven myths about the EU regularly peddled in Britain.

Myth 1 – Britain’s trade with the EU is less important than its trade with the rest of the world.

In fact half of UK exports go to the EU. Until recently Britain traded more with Ireland than Brazil, India and China put together. In 2011 the UK trade deficit with China was £19.7 billion. Between 2003 and 2011 Britain’s exports to Poland increased threefold.

Myth 2 – The EU forces Britain to adopt laws on human rights that are contrary to the British tradition

In fact these rulings come from the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU but part of the Council of Europe, originally set up by the UK and pre-dates the EU.

Myth 3 – The UK is bankrupting itself by funding Europe

In fact, the EU budget is a mere one per cent of the GDP of all EU member states. The UK’s annual net contribution to the EU is £8 – 9 billion a year, similar to that of France and less than Germany. It equates to just £150 a year for each person in Britain. Moreover, UK companies have benefitted enormously from EU cohesion fund investments in Central and Eastern Europe. These are new markets for this country. The British Government estimates that every household “earns” between £1,500 and £3,500 from the single market – between five to fifteen times the UK’s budget contribution.

Myth 4 – The UK is drowning in EU bureaucracy

In fact there are 33,000 people working for the European Commission compared with 82,000 at HM Revenue and Customs. Spain has nearly three million bureaucrats.

Myth 5 – Britain is being taken over by EU legislation

In fact EU Directives are not imposed on high from Brussels. British elected representatives and officials in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers approve and sign off EU legislation.

Myth 6 – The European Commission is a hotbed of socialism

In fact there are many examples of the EU helping to dismantle monopolies and maintaining competition regulations, for example the Open Sky and the subsidies to business.

Myth 7 – The EU stops hardworking Britons working longer hours than feckless continentals

In fact the average Pole works 40.5 hours a week, the average Spaniard 38.1 and the average across the EU is 37.2. In the UK we are slightly under the EU average at 36.2 hours a week.

Mr Sikorski has given us valuable information on the reality rather of the EU rather than the fantasies we hear all the time. Maybe we are also seeing the beginning of a more mature and sensible attitude to the European Union by some of those sections of the British media who have in the past been somewhat economical with the truth about our membership.

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