After 13 long years, a Conservative Prime Minister once more…
Four-and-a-half years after he decisively won the Conservative leadership, David Cameron has finally begun work to transform this country as Prime Minister after more than a decade of nightmares under New Labour. The election result was a vindication of David’s determination to refocus our party as a modern political force in touch with the concerns and aspirations of ordinary people. I wish him all the luck in the world at the start of what I hope will be a lengthy and successful period as our national leader. But David has shown that luck has relatively little to do with political success – it was down to commitment, vision and simple hard work.
Charles with Rt Hon David Cameron MP, then leader of the Opposition, in 2006. Charles and his colleagues are hoping the PM will return soon to the European Parliament to discuss the government’s EU policy with them.
Campaigning the length and breadth of the London region
In the run-up to the election I visited 25 different parliamentary constituencies across the London region (which, after all, is all part of my own constituency). Campaigning with our excellent candidates enabled me to see at first hand the great strengths of our local organizations and it also allowed me to hear the concerns of Londoners first hand.
Charles campaigning before the election with Mary Macleod, who was subsequently elected Conservative MP for Brentford & Isleworth
Unsurprisingly, and just as was the case last year during the European election campaign when I was also pounding the streets relentlessly, I hardly heard the EU mentioned at all at the doorstep. Crime, immigration, council tax, business red tape, deficit reduction and public transport all figured heavily in my discussions while out canvassing…but not the EU. This tends to confirm my suspicion that generally there is no significant new groundswell of opinion opposed to British membership of the EU. And if proof were needed, we got it in the shape of UKIP’s share of the national vote – a paltry 3.1%. I believe David Cameron’s policy of firm but constructive engagement with Europe is the right one.
The victors…and the vanquished
I was delighted to see seven new Conservative MPs from London sitting on the green benches. This result is testament to their tremendous dedication as candidates, and the unstinting support of activists and volunteers in the various constituencies.
I am wary that by naming some individuals I will inevitably exclude others, but I was especially pleased to see my old friends Bob Blackman (Harrow East) and Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) win their seats. On election night itself I was alongside Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth), another good friend, whose years of energetic campaigning were rewarded with victory. I was pleased and proud to have campaigned alongside so many excellent candidates in London ’s constituencies including Nick de Bois (Enfield North), Jane Ellison (Battersea), Zac Goldsmith ( Richmond Park ) and Matthew Offord (Hendon).
Charles in pre-election mode with new Enfield North MP Nick de Bois
Sadly in any election there are worthy and able candidates who would have made excellent MPs but who, for one reason or another, could not quite make the breakthrough. Having campaigned with the likes of Joanne Cash (Westminster North), Mark Clarke (Tooting), Shaun Bailey (Hammersmith), Tim Archer (Poplar & Limehouse), Philippa Stround (Sutton & Cheam), Deborah Thomas (Twickenham) and David Gold (Eltham), I am well aware of the personal sacrifices candidates make when they stand for election and the disappointment they feel when they miss out on election. Their chance will come again.
Thoughts on the Con-Lib coalition
Of course, we all wanted an outright Conservative victory at the election. That was what we had all been working towards for years. The fact that for many months a working Conservative majority seemed assured – if opinion polls were to be believed – suggests that perhaps our nationwide campaign and its theme of the ‘Big Society’ did not fully resonate with voters, who were perhaps focused on a more pragmatic and somewhat less abstract approach to sorting out the mess left behind by New Labour.
Questions have and will continue to be asked about the campaign. But we are where we are. And to my mind, things could have been a lot worse. As David Cameron himself said, the idea of a minority Tory government appeared so uninspiring, and thankfully he tasked the party’s best minds to sit down with the Lib Dems and hammer out a deal, which was closed in record time.
Having lived in Europe for many years in my younger days, and having spent 11 years as an MEP, I have seen how many countries in continental Europe thrive with coalition governments of up to half a dozen different parties. Compromise and consensus are also central to the workings of the European Parliament.
If this coalition can make politics in Britain a little less partisan and a little more constructive then I think it will have achieved something significant. All the media commentators on the day after the election were saying that the British people won the election. That may sound a little bit trite, but I do think that the electorate clearly expressed its view for a less antagonistic and more mature style of politics.
It was gratifying to see that the coalition government’s programme reflected sound Conservative principles and largely reflected our manifesto. The eclectic programme was also clearly a response to the election result because it made clear that electoral and political reform would lie at the heart of the government’s approach over the term of this parliament. As a supporter of electoral reform, and in particular a fully-elected second chamber, I hope very much that the government’s enthusiasm for reform is matched by its actions.
At a European level, Conservative and Lib Dem MEPs are also forging new links in order to give the government’s EU policy a sense of coherence, balance and direction. We sit in different political groups in Brussels but we are increasingly coordinating our approach, for example through meetings of our respective Whips’ offices on a monthly basis.
None of this means that we are the same party. I look forward to campaigning against Lib Dems in future elections. But perhaps in future we will focus more on the positive aspects of our own campaign as much as we denigrate the position of others. The call for a more grown-up, less confrontational, political atmosphere – that seems to be what voters want to see above all.
Strengthening links with London's diverse communities
Charles with Luis-Felipe Barrios (visiting Colombian MP) attending an award ceremony in Elephant and Castle organised by the Ibero-American community of London . Richard Barnes AM, deputy mayor of London (centre) is receiving an award. As a fluent speaker of Spanish and Portuguese, Charles takes a special interest in Latin America and its diaspora communities in London .
How do democracies respond to terrorism?
This was the question at the heart of a hearing I recently chaired in Brussels . Democracies by definition have legal safeguards regarding the detention of suspects, fair trials and the rule of law more generally. Democracies therefore automatically place terrorists at an advantage because democracies reject the arbitrariness, violence and illegality that are the ruthless hallmarks of terrorism.
London has suffered grievously from terrorism over the years, and unless we create a virtual police state we will never be able to eradicate entirely the danger that terrorism poses to our city, and more generally our democracy. Preventing and responding to the threat of terrorism while maintaining a liberal democracy is a tough job, and perhaps the seminal challenge of our time.
The meeting was attended by around 100 MEPs, officials and diplomats. The keynote speakers were Efraim Halevy, the British-born former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and Vikram Sood, the ex-chief of India’s secret service, RAW. Both gave valuable insights into how democracies can combat terrorism and the threat of terrorism while remaining true to their values.
Mr Halevy made some insightful comments on the recent Gaza flotilla incident, asserting that intelligence was Israel ’s primary weapon in resisting terrorism. Mr Sood talked about Pakistan ’s half-hearted ambivalent efforts to combat terrorism and terrorist training camps on its territory. The meeting was rounded off by a hard-hitting speech from Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator.
Foreign affairs and human rights
Life has been busy thanks to my role as coordinator for the ECR Group on the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, and I also serve as Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs and human rights.
Recently Israel has taken quite a bashing in the press and from MEPs too, so I, as a vice-chairman of the European Friends of Israel, have been at the forefront of efforts to restore some rationality and proportion to the debate. As a democracy that shares the EU’s values, Israel needs to be supported in its fight against its enemies.
I’m also a strong supporter of Tunisia, whose secular and progressive government has created a society in which women enjoy rights unprecedented in the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds. I was pleased to meet the Tunisian Foreign Minister, Kamel Morjane (in picture above), during his recent visit to Brussels to launch the European Parliament-Tunisia Friendship Group.
I met Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and Foreign Minister Milan Rocen (in picture below) when he passed through Brussels recently. I am the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Montenegro, which means that I am responsible for drafting reports on EU-Montenegro relations and the country’s progress towards being made a candidate for EU membership, which is its goal. I shall be returning to Montenegro in the autumn to prepare my first report.
In April I travelled to Lyon, France, to participate in the Somaliland Societies of Europe (including many from London) annual conference. Somaliland is the former British protectorate that was briefly independent in 1960 before joining with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia . But since Somalia began to collapse in the early 1990s Somaliland broke away and developed a functioning secular democracy characterized by relative stability. Somaliland recently held a presidential election, and I hope that the government will do more to support Somaliland ’s efforts to carve out a distinct place for itself on the international stage.
Charles speaking at the annual Somaliland Societies Europe conference in Lyon
Iran’s foreign minister recently came to a hearing of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament. Iran’s nuclear programme, which appears to be a ruse for making an atomic bomb, was once again under the microscope. The minister obfuscated and avoided MEPs’ searching questions, as he normally does. But it was not so easy for him to avoid us as we held up pictures of Neda Soltan, the young protester shot by an Iranian government militiaman while she was peacefully demonstrating against Iran's rigged election of June 2009.
On the human rights front I have made speeches on many subjects recently: torture in Nepal , killings in the Congo , executions in Libya, lack of religious freedom in Pakistan and political repression in Burma . Often when I raise issues – either within parliament or with the other EU institutions – it’s as a result of a constituents’ letters.
Asking awkward questions…
Submitting parliamentary questions to the Commission and the Council appears to be one of the best ways to make yourself a nuisance as an MEP! It’s also one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to hold the other EU institutions (particularly the unelected Commission) to account, and to raise directly the concerns of our constituents.
One of the most interesting cases I’ve dealt with in the past few months was that of a constituent who was falsely arrested in Portugal and held in prison for days because he was on the Schengen database as a wanted man. In fact, his name was on the database because his passport had been stolen by somebody who was later put on a ‘wanted’ list by German police under the name of the stolen passport. The story was covered by the Daily Telegraph.
I’ve submitted questions on a wide range of issues including: the use of €500 notes by organized crime; religious minorities in Pakistan; the accuracy of climate change data; companies relocating outside the EU to lower their tax bills; lead poisoning of children in Africa who use discarded TV sets from Europe; discriminatory land ownership laws for Britons who have bought property in Bulgaria; employment law; and the EU’s rules of engagement in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.
If you have any issues you’d like me to raise in this way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Charles in Brussels with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Michal Kaminski MEP, President of the ECR Group. Charles takes a strong interest in the South Caucasus region and is on the Board of the European Friends of Armenia.
NATO and the EU
As vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) I recently attended a meeting of the Assembly in Riga , Latvia .
The NATO PA brings together national parliamentarians from all the NATO member states, including UK MPs, and parliamentarians from other countries (and in my case, other parliaments) attend as observers.
The choice of Riga as a venue for this latest meeting was an interesting one. Latvia is one of the newest members of NATO and borders Russia .
Many commentators in the West question the rationale for NATO in the post-Cold War world but Latvia , having been a part of the Soviet Union until 20 years ago, sees NATO as the ultimate guarantor of its security. It is certainly interesting to see how NATO’s new strategic vision is being shaped enthusiastically by new member states, from the former USSR , such as Latvia .
The meeting itself focused on the burgeoning relationship between NATO and the EU. For many years the EU’s ambitions to develop a military capability separate and distinct from NATO was seen as a threat to the Alliance . Such thinking still prevails in parts of the Conservative Party.
I don’t share that view. I believe NATO and the EU can complement each other. They have very different histories and raisons d’être, but they are ultimately founded on the same bedrock – building and maintaining peace.
In Afghanistan, the EU has a highly successful civilian mission that consolidates the marvellous work of NATO troops on the ground, many of whom are British.
And around the Horn of Africa, where there is a serious threat of piracy to merchant shipping, the EU’s Operation Atalanta – led by the Royal Navy – is working alongside NATO operations there.
Operation Atalanta is also bringing on board other key powers such as China and India in a way that NATO can’t – partly because the US is a member state of NATO, but obviously not of the EU.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Americans are encouraging the EU to develop its own military capability, independently of NATO. The coalition government, which is broadly supportive of such developments, is also clearly forging its policy on EU security and defence policy in the national interest.
Richard Ottaway’s consolation prize
Richard Ottaway MP works as hard as anyone I know on behalf of his constituents in Croydon.
This is his second stint as an MP, having previously represented a constituency in the Midlands . And before that he was a Royal Navy officer, so he has dedicated many years to public service.
To my mind, therefore, he was a very strong candidate to assume the mantle of chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.
Unfortunately Richard, who ran a campaign portraying himself as a moderate, unifying force, was narrowly defeated. But, as he said to me shortly after, that’s democracy.
And as is the case for talented, persistent people, Richard has received that he described to me as a pretty good consolation prize…the chairmanship of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
I have already been in touch with Richard about strengthening links between the respective foreign affairs committees in Westminster and Brussels .
This is particularly important because the Lisbon treaty gives national and the European parliaments an important right of scrutiny of the EU’s civilian and military CSDP missions.
Arise, Sir Merrick and Lady Ritchie…
When someone next tells me that the honours system is devalued and pointless, I shall refer them to Cllr Merrick Cockell as a precise example of the type of person whose contribution to society and public service should be formally recognised.
Merrick is currently leader of my local council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He assumed the leadership in 2000, when I stepped down as a RBKC councillor due to my recent election as an MEP.
Having served alongside Merrick for a couple of years on the Council I have first-hand knowledge of his commitment, energy and leadership skills.
Indeed, he has also served as Chairman of London Councils and Chairman of the Conservative Councillors’ Association. He is also a member of the Conservative Party board.
Well done, Merrick ! Your knighthood is richly deserved.
I also wish to heartlily congratulate Cllr Shireen Ritchie on her elevation to the peerage as Baroness Ritchie for her public service and in particular advancing the role of women in political life. She too was my former RBKC fellow Council colleague and I wish her well in the Lords.
Protecting the City
One of George Osborne’s first major challenges as Chancellor – beyond, of course, the fact that Labour left us bankrupt – was the Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive, a draft EU law designed to tighten regulation of the more risky investment vehicles such as hedge funds.
At the moment the Council, Commission and Parliament are holding discussions on this burdensome legislation and it looks as though it may be delayed for a few months more, which would give the City and those of us who represent its interests to lobby for a more realistic and commonsense approach to regulation.
This dossier is being handled admirably by my London MEP colleague Syed Kamall, who has become one of the Parliament’s foremost experts on financial services legislation.
I write frequent articles for ConservativeHome, the party’s primary activist-led website. Since my last newsletter I’ve written on whaling, the development of the EEAS (the EU diplomatic service), the coalition government’s EU policy and the danger of airport body scanners.
London Council setbacks
The delight of winning seven parliamentary seats in London, taking us up to 28 Conservative MPs overall across the capital, was somewhat marred by defeats in council elections recently.
Conservatives lost control of Ealing, Harrow, and Enfield councils, and Brent went from no overall control back to Labour.
We must not let the triumphs of the general election campaign distract us from the need to refocus on these key boroughs and win them back. Also, with the London mayoral election now less than two years away it's vital we pursue a positive and coordinated campaign across London 's boroughs.
My commiserations to those who lost their seats.
It’s nice to be in demand
The change of government means naturally that Conservative MEPs are slightly more ‘in demand’, so to speak, for the UK Permanent Representation to the EU, or UKREP as it’s known.
UKREP has the challenging task of keeping the government in touch with all the developments across the whole range of EU policymaking including what MEPs are up to. It’s a task that is generally done with aplomb and understatement.
I’ve noticed since the election that UKREP is seeking me out more often, though less to solicit my views and more to "inform" me of the views of the government! I am also regularly approached by UKREP to submit amendments to legislation, but perhaps that’s simply a sign of how important the previous government took UKREP as a channel to develop its policies.
The cynic in me would say that it’s a hangover from the days when Labour MEPs were frequently at odds with their own government and Tony Blair needed to crack the whip!
Staying in touch
I'll be back in touch with you again after the summer In the meantime, I hope you have a relaxing and refreshing break. You can always contact me at my London or Brussels offices, contact details of which are available on my website -