April 2012

Another €uro rescue fails
It seems no time at all since the Greek default (or “haircut”, as they say — but let’s call a spade a spade), and the second Greek bailout. As usual, it bought a few weeks’ grace in the markets. But no more.

Last week we saw new and serious jitters about another eurozone country, Spain — which is too big to fail — yet too big to bail out. Stock markets across the EU, and especially in the faltering ClubMed economies, took a serious knock. It’s looking as though Spanish banks can no longer borrow on the markets, and have to turn to the ECB. And new loans from the ECB are a bail-out in all but name.

The ECB was praised for easing the crisis by turning on the spigot recently and providing huge loans for European banks — which they largely used to buy eurozone sovereign debt. But now interest rates on those bonds are rising to the pain threshold again — and the value of the bonds is therefore dropping. This amounts to a stealth bail-out of eurozone governments. But it’s going sour, because stretched banks are piling up losses on those bonds, and are now even deeper under water.

Meantime there’s increasing comment about the US Fed, which involved itself by making available enormous dollar loans to European banks. US Republican Presidential hopeful Ron Paul has highlighted the issue. The EU banks had made the classic mistake of borrowing short-term but lending long-term (remember Northern Rock?), leaving themselves hugely vulnerable if short-term funding dried up — as, of course, it did. The Fed claims that this exercise was “a free lunch” for US taxpayers. But that’s (partially) true only if the loans are repaid. And the effect on the dollar is likely to be inflationary.

Sadly European leaders are failing to deal with the fundamental problem — the €uro itself. The agony won’t go away until it’s dismantled. Ambrose Evans Pritchard makes the point powerfully, as does Jeremy Warner:“Time to put the doomed €uro out of its misery”.

Whom to trust? Standard and Poor? Or Sarkozy?

I was struck by two contrasting news stories at the weekend. It’s traditional for French Presidential candidates to attack les rosbifs, and this time round was no exception. Sarkozy started his campaign saying “Britain no longer has any industry” (try telling that to Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Jaguar). Now he’s saying that Britain is in a worse economic state than France. Contrast that with Standard and Poor’s, who have just confirmed Britain’s AAA rating (thanks, you guys!). I’d prefer to go with S&P myself.

I wrote a blog piece recently on the European Commission’s hatred and resentment of the ratings agencies like S&P and their attempts to strangle them with regulation.

That said (and while I’ll leap to the defence of Britain against France at any time), I don’t suggest for a moment that things are good at home. There’s a popular myth that George Osborne and the Coalition are getting our debts under control. In fact while the annual deficit is scheduled to fall — slowly — the total national debt is set to rise by 40% by the end of this parliament. We’re not out of the woods yet by a long way.

Spokesman on Industry & Energy

One of the greatest changes I have noted since joining UKIP is that previously, my views on climate change, wind turbines and green policies were an embarrassment to the Conservative Party (though not, I am glad to say, to a number of Conservative MEPs), while as soon as I moved to UKIP I found not only that my views were exactly on-message, but that I was invited to speak for the Party on Industry & Energy. And in this new role, I seem to have had a pretty good week in Mid March.

First of all, on March 20th I attended the European Energy Forum in Brussels where I heard a presentation from the EU’s German Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. You will find a more detailed account of the evening, and my question to Mr. Oettinger. Suffice it to say that he remains wedded to the Great Carbon Myth, and that he appears to have no answers to questions about the impact of Brussels’ green policies on energy security or on the competitiveness of EU economies.

Then two days later I attended the 16th Coal Round Table, intended (I believe) as part of a dialogue between the coal industry, energy companies and European parliamentarians — although sadly very few parliamentarians bothered to go. I counted only three, including myself, in a room full of perhaps a hundred folk. It’s clear that the EU institutions have mentally written off coal, and feel it’s no longer worth thinking about. Which is a shame, because there are few things that voters are less likely to forgive than politicians who allow the lights to go out. I offered a few trenchant comments which seemed to me mere common sense, but were greeted rapturously by the industry representatives.

EU apparatchiks still imagine, apparently, that European economies can be largely sustained by expensive and intermittent renewables like solar and wind. They have forgotten that coal delivers over a quarter of European energy production — at a time when nuclear power stations are being phased out because of age, or anti-nuclear hysteria. In central and eastern Europe the coal proportion is much higher — indeed Poland is so dependent on coal that it has threatened to derail plans for a tougher EU clamp-down on CO2 emissions. The EU is wedded to the dream, not the substance. The sizzle, not the steak. Green orthodoxy, not the real world.

They will find out, in due course, that they have made a terrible mistake. But their folly will leave a wasteland of economic devastation in their wake.

Andrew Lansley and the Nanny State

Not content with the ban on tobacco displays in large shops, Andrew Lansley now wants to force a public consultation on whether plain packaging should be introduced for all tobacco products. Indeed, his assault on smokers and the tobacco industry is so intense that he says he hopes the time will come when tobacco companies have no business in the UK. Not only is he using public money to fund billboard posters urging motorists to support his “Plain Packs Protect” campaign, he’s also commissioning a series of shock-tactics anti-smoking adverts. And now the Department of Health wants to wreck the tobacco industry – with inevitable costs to advertising and marketing – in this economic climate. We’re talking about a major industry employing some 5000 people directly in the UK. It’s estimated that altogether a total of 80,000 UK jobs depend on the industry (it would be more but for the punitive taxation that promotes a thriving black market). One of the major tobacco companies, Imperial, is on my patch at Nottingham.

Now there is even talk of a pre-watershed ban on advertising junk food.

The economic costs are obvious but what really strikes me is that a Tory-led government who in their 2010 manifesto promised to protect civil liberties, put an end to the nanny state and stop treating adults like children is now assuming that grown-ups are powerless to resist pretty packaging. This is not only damaging and patronising but profoundly illiberal. As Allister Heath notes, the problem that comes with treating adults like children is that they will start to behave like children. It is the first step of a self-fulfilling prophesy that results in a culture of irresponsibility and entitlement.

Regardless of the economic damage of these absurd proposals, will they actually do any good? Very few people start smoking by walking into a supermarket and buying a packet of cigarettes, and it is deeply unlikely that current smokers are drawn to the habit because they rather like the colour scheme of the packets. All we are doing is undermining human intelligence, giving a huge boost to the black market and exporting jobs and investment out of the country at a time where we should be deregulating to encourage growth. There is a parallel with our climate policies here – we would be damaging our economy while achieving very little, and we’re merely exporting emissions.

Maybe Lansley should spend a little less time on health fascism, and a little more time thinking about how to sell his health-care reforms to a sceptical public.

Charity donors are the new pariahs

We all know that the Coalition, and the Conservative Party in particular, are not very good at public relations and explaining their decisions — remember the mess of the NHS reforms, the proposed selling off of forests, and the Big Society? But it seems that the recent row over changes to the amount of tax relief available on charitable donations may be down to a little more than Cameron’s inability to judge the mood of the country. No 10 has the voluntary sector, including John Low, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, and numerous notable philanthropists — including the Conservative Party’s own Treasurer Lord Fink — up in arms over this demonisation of charitable givers as self-interested tax avoiders.

Equating charity donations with tax avoidance is not only rather nasty but it is unbelievable stupid. (And even tax avoidance is perfectly legal, but so frowned on that it looks certain to thwart Ayatollah Livingstone on May 3rd). However, the blame does not all lie with Cameron. There are other factors in play that have led to the decision. You guessed it — the EU.

Godfrey Bloom, one of our MEPs, is right to say that the EU is no friend of charities. From April 2013 tax relief will be given only on donations that (including Gift Aid) are under £50k or 25% of a person’s income — whichever is higher. This is happening because a 2008 judgment by the European Court of Justice made it illegal for the Government to protect the income of UK-based charities, forcing it to use the 2010 Budget to extend tax relief on donations from UK charities to charities anywhere in the EU.

It seems that the government considers some EU charities to be rather dodgy and there are serious concerns that the Treasury is losing more money than it can afford.

As the government cannot check the activities of EU charities it has the choice to either accept a certain amount of tax dodging and protect philanthropy in the UK or bring in donation restrictions for British charities. Of course, there is another choice — but this government of committed Europhiles would rather harm charities than give it a second thought. As Allister Heath rightly pointed out in City AM last week, surely the answer is to have the Charity Commission do its job properly.

Did the Big Society ever stand a chance against the huge EU?

Coming to a town near you: lots of Turkish immigrants

I understand that there was a Commission decision taken during the last two weeks in Brussels that has not been the subject of any vote amongst MEPs and has received very little coverage from the media. This is pretty standard for Brussels, but the result of this decision could have massive effects on the daily lives of Europeans. On March 30th a working group appears to have approved a decision to grant Turkish citizens the same residency and labour rights in Europe as existing EU citizens. This repeals the 1980 Ankara Accord between the EEC and Turkey, replacing it with major changes to the rights of Turkish citizens in the EU and essentially brings Turkey into the EU entirely under the radar.

Why on earth has this not received any coverage? If I had not seen this blog I might have been none the wiser.

The report adds that ‘a first package with similar proposals… was adopted by the Council in October 2010’, detailing plans to extend the same rights now being accorded to Turkish citizens to Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, Israel and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Interestingly, while making their decision, the working group concluded “There was no need for external expertise”.

There’s a big debate on whether Turkey should join the EU, with many pros and cons. But I come down against it on democratic grounds — it would further reduce the limited say we have in making our own laws.

Making matters worse, the proposed decision would allow Turkish workers and their families access to all the welfare benefits available to EU citizens. The cost would be frightening.

The conclusion is clear: as long as we remain EU members, we in Britain have no control over our borders or our welfare budgets.

The UKIP Spring

It certainly has been a good month for UKIP. Since I joined the Party over a month ago we’ve seen a number of people join us from across the political spectrum. From Windsor & Maidenhead, husband and wife Councillors Tom and Cat Bursnall, who made the national press last year as Britain’s youngest mayor, came across after the budget proved the ‘last nail in the coffin’.

In a joint statement they claimed “the Conservative party is no longer the party for the aspirational ‘go getter’… UKIP is now the natural home for those aspirational folk who want a party that seeks to remove state interference from everyday life, lower the tax burden for everyone, and restore out country as a competitive player in the global arena”. Spot on.

Cllr Christopher Quinton, another former Conservative Party Councillor, has also joined us for similar reasons along with Cllr Lister Wilson, an independent County Councillor (and former Tory) in Cambridgeshire and Cllr John Short in Swindon. In Derby, former leader of the Tory Group, Cllr Martin du Sautoy, and former Labour, then independent Cllr Alan Graves, have joined UKIP – showing how our common sense policies appeal to more than just disillusioned Conservatives.

Last weekend saw a Survation poll put us at 11% and – perhaps more importantly – this week two polls put UKIP in 3rd place, ahead of the Lib Dems. A poll by Opinium put us at 10% while The Sun’s yougov poll has UKIP at 9%, overtaking the Lib Dems who are faltering down on 8% in both. According to the same poll, 17% of voters over 60 are most likely to vote UKIP at the next election.

It’s heart-warming to see that despite the best attempts of the establishment, people are listening and starting to realise that UKIP is not a single issue party. The forthcoming local elections will prove very interesting.

How much more are we sending the IMF?

£10 billion, for now, which seems a lot in these ‘times of austerity’. To put this in context, the “granny tax” that is currently causing lefties heart problems across the country may increase the Treasury’s revenue by up to £3.5 billion. George Osborne has the authority to commit up to £10bn without a vote in Parliament!

The IMF has been pushing to increase its resources from $400bn to around $1 trillion – apparently economists hope that the bigger the bail-out fund, the less likely it is to be used. Read it here.

Tim Geithner, US Treasury Secretary, has understandably told Ms Lagarde that the US will not make further contributions until the Eurozone has sufficiently padded its own bail-out fund. The 17 members have agreed to contribute €150bn, on top of its own €800bn bail-out fund, and the UK has pledged £29.5bn to the IMF, £5.5bn of which has already been ploughed into Eurozone rescue packages. It’s time to put the €uro out of its misery and concentrate all available funds on fixing our own economy.

Regulating cabbages

This dropped into my in-box a few days ago. It tells you a lot about the EU:

Pythagoras’ theorem 24 words
Lord’s Prayer 66
Archimedes’ Principle 67
Ten Commandments 179
Gettysburg Address 286
US Declaration of Independence 1300
US Constitution with all 27 amendments 7818
EU Regulations on the sale of cabbages 26911

UKIP: An MEP’s First Impressions

The word amongst my former Conservative colleagues is that UKIP is hopelessly disorganised — a group of amateurs playing at politics. Cameron famously dismissed UKIP as consisting of “cranks and gadflies” — a description which led directly to a rather nice UKIP tie featuring graphics of (motor car) cranks, and gadflies, and also to the name of UKIP’s informal Strasbourg dining club — the Gadfly.

So I have been pleasantly surprised by the reality. I found that the UKIP delegation keeps a much better handle on a range of administrative matters — and provides much better advice to members — than is the case with the Conservative delegation. And UKIP Members’ briefings on Straz voting sessions are also very much superior. We hold a short meeting before each Straz plenary voting session, where the staffers concerned run us through the voting lists, and explain their recommendations. As a result, I have a much clearer idea of what I’m voting on (and why) than I ever had before. I’ve written elsewhere about the way that UKIP can generate an audience of hundreds for a public meeting, even in a small town, something I’ve never seen before in my political career. Read my blog piece here.

All in all, quite a bit to be very pleased with.

And a new office

With curious irony, I find myself in my new office — 4F151 on the UKIP corridor — which was formerly the office of David Campbell Bannerman, who made a move in the opposite direction. It’s already looking like home. I have Van Gogh’s cornfield (sadly only a reproduction, not the original) on the wall straight ahead of me as I sit at my desk.

The great oriental inlay-and-lacquer-on-wood artwork, all four wooden panels of which I hand-carried out of Saigon twenty years ago, is up in the staff office, as is the facsimile of the American Declaration of Independence, a parting gift from Joe Bono. The original oil painting of the Palace of Westminster by Spanish artist Francisco Silue, dated 1970, that I bought near Leatherhead in 1972 from an out-door art sale, is up on my left.

The bust of Thomas Jefferson that I received from the American Legislative Exchange Council when I got their “International Legislator” award is on the shelf, as is the bust of Churchill given me by Emma McClarkin. All that remains to go up is the reproduction of Barry Clark’s superb painting of a Spitfire against an angry sky. We’ll fix it up soon.

Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership

On March 26th we were glad to welcome a delegation from the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership in Brussels. It was headed-up by Jim Harker, Leader of the County Council, and included both business people and trade officials from London. We maintain a close relationship with the County Council’s man in Brussels, Richard Woods, who is a real expert on the workings of the institutions and especially the EU funding streams available.

Air Ambulance Petition

I received an email asking me to sign a petition to help the Air Ambulance claim back VAT on fuel. I think this is a worthy cause and urge you to sign the petition.

Conclusion

That’s it from Straz for the April session. Please remember to visit this website, my blog at http://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com, and follow me on Twitter: @RogerHelmerMEP