Boris Johnson's fantastic victory over Ken Livingstone is a wonderful result for London and a vindication of the Conservatives' strategy nationwide. Such a crushing victory in London raises the exciting prospect of a fourth Conservative MEP being elected in 2009. As someone who was involved from the start in selecting our candidate for Mayor I was convinced that Boris was the right person to lead the challenge against Livingstone and I can't be the only Londoner to have had a celebratory drink at the demise of a politician who has done our city so much damage over the years.
From all the canvassing I did on behalf of Boris and assembly candidates around London I got a definite sense that many people who previously supported Livingstone were fed up with the state of the city. They had had enough of his mismanagement, left-wing cronyism, politically correct agenda and divisive sectarian approach. They voted for safer streets, better transport and an end to waste. I hope that the London party can now rally behind Mayor Boris to ensure that his ambitious plans for our city come to fruition.
Previously when I've been out canvassing and told people I'm an MEP, they often took me to task on Europe. But I am now finding more and more that people on the doorstep want to talk about uncontrolled immigration. This is a subject that we are somewhat nervous about taking on as a party but it's clear to me that if we are to respond to voters' genuine concerns we need to confront the matter and I believe David Cameron has made a good start in addressing the issue in a non-confrontational fashion which is also non-inflammatory. Certainly the fact that UKIP did so pathetically and the BNP won a seat on the Assembly (and three times the UKIP vote) would tend to back up my experience.
I am bitterly disappointed for my friend Bob Blackman, who lost his seat on the Assembly. I was also sorry that we failed to win Enfield and Haringey, which we expected to take. I also pay special tribute to Angie Bray, who will be sorely missed as an Assembly member, and I wish her well in her parliamentary career. Anyone who knows these two dedicated local politicians knows how hard they have worked on behalf of their constituents. However, I am delighted that we got three top-up seats, one of which was won by Andrew Boff, a fellow European candidate alongside me in 1999. I also want to extend my congratulations to Victoria Borwick, who won an Assembly seat and will strengthen our team considerably in City Hall. Given our party's determination to boost the number of women in elected positions her victory is especially welcome.
Reselection of London MEPs
I'm delighted to have been reselected at the top of the regional London list for the 2009 European Parliament election. Thanks to all those who voted for me. The reselection process certainly came in for a lot of criticism from rank-and-file members, much of which I can understand. However, now we have a strong and united team to take our campaign forward. I'm sure the 13 months that remain before the election will pass very quickly so we need to start building the campaign in London straight away. I would like to express my appreciation to my colleague John Bowis for his ten years as an MEP, who is retiring at the next election, and I wish him and Caroline well for their future. I look forward to working again with my colleague Syed Kamall and I would like to welcome the newly elected team of MEP candidate colleagues.
Why we should take the European Parliament more seriously
This was the subject of an article that I wrote for the excellent and free-spirited grassroots blog ConservativeHome. It was prompted by what I think is the prevailing tendency within the Tory Party to belittle the role and status of MEPs compared to their Westminster colleagues. Most articles on ConservativeHome about Europe seem to spark of an interminable debate about the pros and cons of EU membership, and this one was no exception. I'm frequently surprised by the level of personal abuse that seems to pass for debate among Tory activists!
Read the article and its responses
When the Derek Conway story broke earlier in the year most of the attention focused on Westminster but slowly the media's attention began to turn to Brussels and MEPs. Then, when a report into irregularities found in MEPs' expenses was first kept secret and then leaked, MEPs became the primary focus of public and media concern. I received plenty of letters asking about my opinions about this matter and asking me to confirm my own staffing arrangements. I feel that the unacceptable behaviour of a minority of abusive MEPs risks tarring us all with the same brush, and it's frustrating for those of us - the overwhelming majority - who stick to the letter and the spirit of the rules. For the record, I employ a firm of certified chartered accounts to administer my allowance for employing staff, the details of which are publicly available on the European Parliament's website, and I returned unspent money from my secretarial allowance at the end of the last parliament. As from April this year Tory MEPs will also have their general expenses certified by an independent qualified accountant
The issue of animal rights prompts many constituents to write in. At the moment one of the key issues is the campaign for an EU ban on Canadian seal fur and products. I support a ban. Also, constituents have been lobbying me on ways to protect the ever dwindling numbers of wild tigers, and through my role as president of the European Parliament Friends of India and other parliamentary initiatives I have been able to raise these concerns.
I have also received many letters asking for my support for a campaign launched in the wake of the Madeleine McCann case for an EU-wide alert system and telephone hotline. Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate visited Brussels recently to launch this initiative and I am fully behind it.
I'm looking forward to welcoming the famous London headquartered diamond company De Beers to the European Parliament in May for an exhibition all about the company's diamond mining, cutting and marketing operations. De Beers has taken the lead in addressing concern over the issue of so-called 'blood diamonds' - stones mined from war zones often sold to fund arms purchases.
De Beers and like-minded companies are fully involved in the Kimberley process, an ethical system of certification designed to end the blood diamond trade and which is named after the South African town where De Beers first began operations more than a century ago.
My work as Conservative foreign affairs spokesman continues to keep me very busy across a whole range of issues. I participated recently in a seminar to highlight Taiwan's exclusion from participation in the World Health Organisation, and I have been active in raising the more general issue of the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan, a flourishing democracy and successful economy, which should be a natural ally of the EU.
Taiwan's situation has been brought into sharp focus also by recent events in Tibet. The brutal crackdown on dissent there has shocked the world and brought more pressure to bear on Beijing in this Olympic year. I helped to negotiate a European Parliament resolution on Tibet, which, despite all the efforts of China and its many supporters in the European Parliament, was highly critical of the communist dictatorship.
The situation in Bangladesh continues to concern me and I receive plenty of letters from Bangladeshis living in London who ask me to use my position to urge the caretaker government to hold elections as soon as possible. I also recently participated in a meeting of Indian Kashmiris from all over Europe who are looking to the European Parliament to provide leadership in resolving the decades-long conflict there. I said in my remarks to them that resolving the conflict in Kashmir can only come through Kashmiris themselves but that the vigour and prosperity of the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir contrasts significantly with the lack of democracy and poverty of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Russia's recent presidential election went according to expectations - some might say according to plan - and I don't anticipate much change in the often fraught relationship between Russia and the EU once new President Dmitriy Medvedev moves into the Kremlin. One of the easily predictable problems of Kosovo's recently declared independence is that Russia will use it as a precedent to support similar declarations from secessionist areas of Moldova and Georgia.
Gordon Brown's shameful U-turn on the EU constitution - now repackaged as the Lisbon treaty - has denied us the referendum we were promised by all the major parties in 2005. Conservative MEPs held a demonstration in Strasbourg back in February lamenting the Prime Minister's lack of courage and demanding a national vote. I supported calls for a referendum and I have much sympathy for the argument that any future further integration with the EU should be sanctioned by the British people, not least because it would go some way towards settling an issue that so divides the country. All eyes are now on the Irish, who are constitutionally obliged to give their assent to the Lisbon treaty in a referendum.
I am pleased to say that Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Affairs, personally assured me during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee that if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, EU missions in third countries will not be referred to as embassies. This is a welcome concession because the term 'embassy' should be reserved only for sovereign states.
I will be in touch again before the summer break to update you on political goings-on in London and Brussels.