The reselection process is now over. I pay a very special tribute to the officers and party officials who successfully organised the event and ensured its smooth execution. In particular to our ACD Christine Bedier and Regional Chairman Dirk Hazell who worked so hard on our behalf.
The new London team is well-balanced representing a spread of professional and ethnic backgrounds and including three women. We have already had two meetings as a team and are planning our strategy for the campaign under Theresa Villiers' able chairmanship. With my interest in the subcontinent I hope to make a bid to target the Hindu and Sikh communities (in coordination with Ashok Kumar) and will also look at ways of approaching the very large number of EU residents in London and I believe my language skills may come in useful here.
I have been active in my role as Foreign Affairs Spokesman in a number of areas. I have been spearheading a campaign to raise signatures to launch a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry into the persistent disturbing allegations that EU taxpayers' money has been diverted by the Palestinian Authority to fraudulent and, even worse, terrorist purposes. This mirrors the successful committee held on the British Government's handling of the Foot and Mouth disease crisis which highlighted its inadequate response in a number of areas.
My campaign has unfortunately incurred the wrath of Commissioner Patten who regards this initiative as a direct challenge to his authority and credibility. I have been astonished at his attitude as my sole purpose is to clear the air once and for all and I have always maintained a balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine question favouring a peaceful settlement based on the two state solution. In the Parliament I have been unfairly accused of conducting an Israeli agenda, whereas my sole purpose is to hold the Commission to account over the spending of taxpayers' money which is what I have been elected to do. So far we have gathered 100 signatures out of the required 157 which will be difficult to achieve given the hostility of the left but it has been an interesting and worthwhile project.
I sponsored an exhibition of East Timorese photographs, arranged and hosted by John Bowis and was pleased to receive their Speaker in the House. The survival of this small war-torn, newly independent Christian country is a testimony to its courage and resistance to an alien occupation for over a quarter of a century before it achieved its goal of liberation from the brutal Indonesian occupation.
I was privileged to be invited in October, shortly after his appointment, to meet the new Indian Foreign Minister, Yaswant Sinha, at the magnificent London residence of the Indian High Commissioner in the presence of a cross-party gathering of senior UK Parliamentarians. A lively debate ensured mainly focusing on the welcomed easing of tension between the two neighbouring nuclear powers of India and Pakistan at the Line of Control. Recent election results in Pakistan, resulting in unexpected gains for the Islamist grouping of the MMA, were also discussed and what consequences this might have for the American led war on terror and the stability of Afghanistan, as the neighbouring provinces of the North West Frontier and Tribal Areas are now under MMA control and there are fears these areas might give sanctuary to Al Quaeda and Taleban operatives. It was a full and frank discussion and I came away with the impression that India's foreign policy was in experienced and wise hands.
In the October plenary, I spoke in the debate over North Korea's admission to possessing nuclear weapons in clear breach of their agreement to dismantle these in exchange for free oil and the construction of a western built nuclear power station which was less capable of having nuclear material being siphoned off for military purposes. Not surprisingly I called for the suspension of the EU's contribution to the KEDO aid programme till this rogue state under dictator Kim II Sung realises the folly of its ways.
I recently attended the Petitions Committee (under Roy Perry MEP's Chairmanship) where the petition was given a hearing that I presented on behalf of Sutton Conservative Councillors complaining that the local Lib Dem Council policy of fortnightly domestic rubbish collection was causing smells and a health hazard. Unexpectedly this was found by the Committee to be possibly in breach of an obscure 1975 Directive and the Commission have been instructed (they were very reluctant to do so) to take it up with the British Government. It would be amusing that the Lib Dems who regularly champion more powers to Brussels are now on the receiving end of its powers at local government level!
The EU Constitutional Convention is carrying on with regular meetings in our Parliament in Brussels. Somewhat alarmingly and almost without comment the first draft discussion document uses the word "federal" to describe the constitutional structure of the Union. I could perhaps accept "confederal" but federal is a clear indication of the long-term goal of the project. I have listened carefully to the debate between Blair and Giscard D'Estaing on the one hand and Prodi on the other over the beefing-up of a EU President of the European Council favoured by the former two and unsurprisingly increased power to the supranational Commission President favoured by the latter and elected by the European Parliament.
I accept the arguments that the current rotating six month Presidencies are nonsense after enlargement with many small states not having the resources (eg Embassies abroad, trained civil servants etc.) to perform this function. Besides the Union needs fixed visible leadership from the big players to compensate for the increased powers given to the small new states joining. We shall see which view prevails but it is an interesting debate. The old Nice Treaty was ratified in a referendum in Ireland at the second attempt and enlargement is on track to be endorsed at the December Copenhagen summit. I will devote more space to examining this key issue in my next newsletter and was privileged to attend as a speaker the annual Wiston House Conference organised by our Party with sister parties from candidate countries where these issues were debated at length.
I wish you and your families all a very Happy Christmas and New Year.