Back on the election trail
With just around 70 days to go before the general election (assuming the 6th May rather than a snap earlier one) I have been out and about in London canvassing with our excellent local candidates (both borough councils as well as our PPCs) as we seek to oust this unpopular and discredited Labour government. I’m cautiously optimistic about the mood on the streets. I’ve met many people who tell me they intend switching straight from Labour to the Conservatives, so it seems as though things have come almost full-circle since the difficult days of 1997.
The mood was also cautiously positive at the Spring Forum, which I attended in Brighton at the end of February. Despite the opinion polls, which tend to represent a snapshot of opinion at any given moment, MPs and activists were still upbeat about our chances. National polling does not reflect the polling in our target seats that will decide the actual outcome of the election, and where Conservatives are doing much better.
Of course, we have an electoral mountain to climb but in David Cameron we have the makings of a great Prime Minister. David has been honest and straightforward with the electorate about the challenges ahead, which is what voters want to see after years of incompetence under Gordon Brown. As polling day approaches I shall be redoubling my efforts to secure a Conservative victory and I’m sure our committed activists throughout London will be doing so as well.
Team Wandsworth: Charles with Mark Clarke (Tooting PPC), Justine Greening MP (Putney) and Jane Ellison (Battersea)
Auschwitz – a haunting and disturbing place
I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps in January to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camps by the Allies. I was visiting in my capacity as vice-president of the European Friends of Israel. I didn’t quite know what I expected to encounter but nothing can prepare you for the starkness of the landscape, the sight of the snaking railway tracks that carried millions of Jews to their deaths and the sinister
‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign over the entrance (thankfully restored to its place having been stolen).
We met a number of Holocaust survivors, who were obviously very aged but whose memories had not at all been dimmed by the passage of many decades. We trudged around in the deep snow, trying to imagine what life must have been like in the depths of winter for the ‘lucky’ few who were not immediately gassed but instead pressed into slave labour for the Nazis. I am certainly glad I was able to go to see this terrible place for myself. I wrote a short article about my visit on the Conservative Home website.
Supporting the enlargement of the EU
As a keen supporter of an enlarged European Union covering the western Balkans I have travelled recently to two countries aspiring to join the EU. In February I was in Macedonia, which is struggling to overcome Greek opposition to using its constitutional name. Instead, Greece insists on the country calling itself The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Not only is this a mouthful and somewhat humiliating for a sovereign state, it reflects the belief among some in Greece that Macedonia has territorial ambitions on the northern Greek province of Macedonia. I was very critical of this stance in a recent speech during a debate on enlargement in the European Parliament. I also managed to get the Macedonian Foreign Minster on a visit to the Foreign Affairs Committee to publicly state his small country has no designs on its neighbour's territory, which should reassure my Greek MEP colleagues.
Just before Christmas I travelled to Montenegro, a small and beautiful country with a coastline on the Adriatic Sea that decided four years ago to separate from Serbia. As the European Parliament’s ‘rapporteur’ on Montenegro I am responsible for drawing up reports on the country’s progress towards EU membership. I have been very impressed by Montenegro’s determination to enact reforms in order to meet the exacting requirements of the EU and I am convinced the country will soon become an official candidate.
Charles in Kiev, Ukraine, on 7 February monitoring the final round of voting in the presidential election as part of an official delegation from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament
I was also in Ukraine recently as an official observer monitoring the presidential election run-off between Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich. Ukraine is a country very close to my heart and I very much hope to see it in the EU one day. Given Yanukovich’s narrow victory – and I certainly saw nothing to indicate it was fraudulent – I am concerned that he will slow the pace of Western-oriented reforms in favour of a closer relationship with Russia. However, it’s important that the EU keeps the door open for Ukraine.
Defending Christians in Egypt
I was honoured recently to be invited to address an audience from London’s community of Egyptian Christians, or Copts. The Copts are very prosperous and industrious people who have integrated well into the British mainstream and do a great deal for their local communities. In Egypt they comprise up to a fifth of the population but for decades they have been subject to persecution, discrimination and marginalization from public life – hence the fact that so many of them have emigrated from Egypt.
I have worked a lot with the Coptic community during my time as an MEP and have sought to highlight some of the abuses that they habitually suffer in Egypt. I have also written about the plight of the Copts on Conservative Home. The other day I had the Egyptian ambassador in my office trying to convince me otherwise, which is obviously a good sign!
More generally, I hope that defending Christians and other minority religions worldwide will continue to be a focus of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which does an excellent job highlighting abuses around the world. I will be meeting shortly with its chairman, Tony Baldry MP, to talk about how the European Parliament’s work on human rights can contribute to the party – another example of effective cooperation between London and Brussels.
Strengthening links with London's diverse communities
Charles discussing the human rights situation in Bangladesh with David Burrowes MP (Enfield Southgate), Nick de Bois (PPC Enfield North), Andy Charalambous (PPC, Edmonton), Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, joint Secretary-General of the Bangladeshi National Party and Kadar Uddin, President of the Bangladeshi National Party in the UK
Linking Westminster and Brussels
My friend Greg Hands MP, who is a shadow treasury minister, was recently in Brussels. All shadow ministers have apparently been instructed by the Westminster whips to come over to Brussels to touch base with their colleagues in the European Parliament to improve coordination and familiarisation with EU institutions as we prepare for government.
This welcome initiative is not before time, given that the laws we make in Brussels now account for something like 60 per cent of all legislation enacted in the UK, and post-Lisbon the European Parliament has co-decision powers in almost all of these laws.
Greg was especially concerned about the impact of the package of legislation being proposed by the European Commission to regulate financial markets.
As a London MEP I echo his concern and have been following this dossier closely, even though it is not directly my brief, in order to ensure that the City’s voice is clearly heard. I am sure that Greg, who will be contesting the new Chelsea and Fulham seat at the election, and is a rising star in the parliamentary party, will be a tremendous asset to an incoming Conservative government.
A coat of arms for London
I discovered to my surprise that since the creation of the GLA in 1999, London has been a combined capital city and administrative region with an incorporated authority but has no coat of arms, which is unusual among great European cities. The old GLC had arms (as did the LCC before it), but these arms have been redundant since 1986. The creation of the GLA should have been accompanied by the transfer of the old GLC arms or the creation and grant of a new design.
Thus while the Cities of London and Westminster and every London borough has a coat of arms, the capital itself, viewed as a regional metropolis, does not. All over western Europe including republics such as France and Germany (and much of the rest of the world) a coat of arms, consisting at the least of a shield with a civic crown over it, is recognized as the standard mode of formal visual identity for a city.
It seemed to me that this was a matter that ought to be resolved in time for the Olympics in 2012 by the latest, ideally with separate but related coats of arms for the London Assembly and LDA (curiously the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority proudly possesses and uses one). Therefore I raised this in a letter to Boris Johnson and wrote a piece for Conservative Home. I'm now delighted that the Mayor is now favourably considering rectifying the matter with the College of Arms.
Holding the EU to account
One of the most effective ways of holding the EU to account is by asking parliamentary questions. In recent weeks I have tabled questions on a whole range of different subjects including: animal rights such as elephant poaching in Africa and WTO rules on labeling and welfare of rearing pigs, the persecution of homosexuals in Malawi, standards in Romanian orphanages, human rights in countries as diverse as Vietnam and Eritrea, hotels ripping off customers through overpriced phone calls and the rights of indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forests.
Hard at work...
I was slightly surprised but of course delighted that an independent website (www.MEPranking.eu) assessing overall volume of activities of all MEPs ranked me as the second most active MEP in the entire Parliament out of 735 MEPs and top across all parties in the UK. The only problem of this meteoric rise is I can now only go downhill for the remainder of this parliament! And of course, I attribute it mainly to the hard work of my staff in London and Brussels.
Staying in touch
I'll be back in touch with you again in the summer, when we will hopefully once again have a Conservative government in the UK – what an exciting prospect! In the meantime, you can always contact me at my London or Brussels offices, contact details of which are available on this website