General Election Special 2005
Well it's finally over! I was correct in my prediction of a May 5th election and have spent every weekend for the last 5 weeks out on the London campaign trail. Midweek I had to attend to EP matters as important issues are on the EU agenda right now but my staff were active throughout. It was a huge task as it was left to John Bowis and me to cover the top 20 London Region target marginal seats as Theresa Villiers was otherwise successfully and rightly engaged in her new Westminster Constituency of Chipping Barnet! So I took the northern 10 but in the end covered 14 Constituencies by crossing over when I had spare time.
I was absolutely delighted on election night to hear of the remarkable success story in London, with a regional swing 4.9% in our favour, which was far better than the national average of 2%. We enjoyed this time winning results in 21 Constituencies -a far cry from the 11 we held after the 1997 meltdown, which increased to only 13 in 2001 (the Upminster and Romford gains). This time we scored another 8 net gains and held on to all our 13 existing seats including Orpington where John Horam was defending a majority of only 269 from 2001. There were some surprises such as gaining Enfield Southgate and not the more marginal Enfield North and my congratulations to David Burrowes and commiserations to Nick de Bois, both excellent candidates whom I canvassed alongside. I was delighted for GLA member Andrew Pelling who must have had an anxious time having won Croydon Central after several recounts with a slender 75 majority. All this was particularly pleasing as having been out canvassing personally in 6 constituencies out of our 8 gains I was well aware of how hard all our excellent candidates and their support teams had worked making their victories so deserved.
I extend my congratulations to Justine Greening (Putney), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Lee Scott (Ilford North), Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham), Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central), James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) and David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate) who will make excellent new MPs with very experienced former MP David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) returning to the House on what must be a record 3rd time lucky attempt. I was not surprised as I was down in his patch shortly before the campaign started for a Question Time event when I sensed the mood was very upbeat in his Association. In Ruislip Northwood which we held we have new MP Nick Hurd who succeeds the much respected John Wilkinson where I recently attended their AGM and I wish John and Cecilia a happy retirement in Chile. I was a guest of John and Cecilia at their wedding in 1985, which makes me realize how long I have been active in London politics! I welcome Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a political heavyweight to replace Michael Portillo on an increased majority in Kensington and Chelsea and our paths will inevitably cross frequently as we share Constituency offices. Otherwise incumbents held all our previous seats with increased majorities compared to 2001 and I congratulate all the London Conservative MPs for this. I also commiserate with the 53 unsuccessful Tory candidates elsewhere in London and wish them every success next time.
A very special mention must be made about my indefatigable colleague Theresa Villiers who succeeds Sir Sydney Chapman who was much respected and will be sorely missed. Theresa will be a huge asset to the House of Commons bringing a wealth of experience on City Financial matters and how the EU institutions work. I like all my UK Conservative MEP colleagues will miss her and her talents as she contributed so much to our delegation over the last 6 years and we will watch her political career with great interest develop in the House of Commons.
I believe that we had under Michael Howard good campaign policies that resonated at the doorstep in his majoring on crime and controlled immigration as well as tax and public services. Particularly so in outer London where we gained seats and the 16.9 % BNP vote in Barking reminds us that we must listen to our citizens even in delicate areas like immigration control as otherwise the extremists will fill the vacuum. It is also alarming to witness George Galloway's Respect victory in Bethnal Green and Bow, which challenges mainstream political thinking. This demagogue whose party is an unholy alliance based on hatred of America and global capital will nevertheless be a thorn in the side for Blair. Although it would have been great to have seen the removal vans at No. 10, we have now built a serious base with 33 gains nationally and only 3% points behind Labour in the popular vote from which to bring down the Government in four or five years time. However something seems to be wrong with the system which rewards Labour with 355 seats against our 197 with Labour taking only just over a third of the popular vote at 36%. I hope the Boundary Commission will look at this and draw some conclusions as otherwise in 2009 or 10 our task will be no easier to win government. We actually won the popular vote in England with far fewer seats allocated. Winning London will be key to winning the next general election.
I, like many activists, was saddened at the announcement by Michael Howard of his intention to resign after selection rule changes and this will no doubt be a complicated affair if there is an intention to disenfranchise the party membership. Last time round in 2001 although MEPs were bizarrely canvassed by the leading contenders, in part recognition of our rising role in the party, and they even came over to visit us in Brussels, we play no direct role in the process. The Labour and Liberal Democrats have an Electoral College which gives equal weighting to MPs as to MEPs in the selection process on the basis that we are true elected legislators making binding laws affecting the entire UK (unlike MSPs in Scotland) but that our manifesto is principally determined not by our delegation leader or by us but by our national party leader over whom we have no say in the election of beyond that of our ordinary party membership. I would welcome feed back on this controversial issue from those activists interested in party Constitutional matters. Curiously MEPs are part of the party Constitutional Convention on an equal basis to MPs and this body must ratify any proposed changes!
Future Direction of Europe
With the General Election behind us the EU Constitution ratification process comes back into serious focus as it was scarcely debated during the election campaign by any major party including ours. We were right in this strategy as it did not work for us in 2001 and by not talking about the EU we faced down the UKIP and Veritas threat, so disastrous to us last June in the Euroelections, but who got nowhere now with UKIP at 2.35 % of the vote nationally. In fact the EU Constitution faces a huge hurdle in overcoming the views of Eurosceptic publics in Holland, The Czech Republic, Denmark and even in traditionally integrationalist France where the polls are very close and although the Yes camp is now moving ahead as the big guns like Chirac and Jospin are being rolled out a No vote is still possible. Of course a No vote will unfortunately get Prime Minister Blair off the hook as he withdraws his Referendum offer so a Yes vote in France will at least enable us to have an open debate and Referendum campaign over here. If that comes to pass I hope that you will look upon your Conservative MEPs as a resource to draw upon.
Lastly I enclose a slip to be completed by any of you interested in coming on a subsidised trip to Brussels to see how the EU institutions work, do a bit of sightseeing and enjoy Belgian cuisine and meet your MEPs in their place of work.