Thursday, 26 February 2009


To Burnley, for a meeting with the Lib Dem council leader, Gordon Birtwistle, who has a chance of becoming the town's first Lib Dem MP. I'm a born Lancastrian, but Gordon is born and bred. He's blunt, dry as a bone, and he creases me.

We stand outside the General Hospital, and he tells me of the campaign he is running to get an A&E facility restored. "What's the service like at Blackburn?" I ask. "Shocking," he replies. "A man ended up there in a body bag the other week. He wasn't even dead. And he puts up a poster for us at election time!"

Apparently the BNP have reported him to the Standards Board. "It's the fourth time," he explains. "I said their councillors were lazy and never contributed anything at meetings. Bunch of idiots."

I want this man on a party political broadcast.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


The most stupid words of 2009 have already been written. They come from the pen of Hamid Ghodse, president of the International Narcotics Control Board, in his foreward to its latest report.

He writes: "multilateral drug control should be considered one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century."

The Board adminsters the prohibitionist policies of the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotics and its various additions; 95 per cent of UN member states have signed up to the rules restricting the use of 119 narcotic substances.

The result has been an unmitigated disaster. Demand for narcotics has not diminished but soared, fuelled by an unregulated criminal trade worth hundreds of billions worldwide. Corruption has muliplied, police forces and governments have been subverted, British troops die in Afghanistan, millions of users have been imprisoned for doing something that caused no problem to others, and harm reduction policies have been given little room for development.

I have no reason to believe that Mr Ghodse is in the pay of the drug barons, but like their 1920s US predecessors in the era of alcohol prohibition their immense profits depend on the application of the Narcotics Board's control policies.

They don't have to pay him; he is their dupe.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Not being able to attend this week's meeting of Parliament's environment committee got me out of a dilemma.

Europe's prime ministers agreed last year to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs from 2011. Their replacement by low energy, long life bulbs is a quick and easy way to reduce total energy consumption by a per cent or two. While these are not perfect in every situation I suspect that the manufacturers will quickly address many of the deficiencies as their market expands hugely.

On the environment committee agenda was a German-inspired motion to halt the ban. I don't know the motives of the movers but one argument would have been subsidiarity. A CO2 reduction target has been set for every member state and surely it is up to them to decide how best to meet it.

So which way to vote? In favour of an EU regulatory instrument (in this case a ban), which have a track record of successfully achieving their objectives, or in favour of the subsidiarity principle at the cost of upsetting environmentalists?

I think I would have registered a principled abstention. I wouldn't want to oppose an effective measure to combat global warming but as the individual targets have been agreed I think the EU should always try to avoid being over prescriptive.

But note how this ban came about in the first place. It wasn't Brussels bureaucrats trying to undermine national independence. It was the 27 prime ministers, seeking a quick headline, who agreed without dissent to introduce a tough new EU-wide measure.

By the way, the MEPs who were there threw out the proposal to reject the ban on incandescent light bulbs by a majority of 3 to 1.

Friday, 13 February 2009


UNRWA has been looking after us all of our time in Gaza, ferrying us around in 3 cars. We stop for a brief meeting with the boss, Karen Abu Zayd, who is American. She has quite a job.

Given that UNRWA is so crucial to the survival of people in Gaza I wondered how it worked with the civil administration. The answer was that it doesn't, but seems to work in parallel. The UN Sec-Gen is part of the Quartet and its policy opposes contact with Hamas. No doubt there are informal contacts. She confirmed my impression that rubbish was being collected more effectively by the administration and said that crime was almost non-existent. "They are well organised and disciplined."

Naturally we discussed the pressing need to open the crossings and let normal economic activity recommence. You do wonder just what it will take to persuade the Israelis to do this.

Besides distributing humanitarian aid, UNRWA runs more than 200 schools for the children of refugees, while the Palestinian Authority runs 300. The curriculum of both is the same. I expressed surprise, given the social agenda of Hamas, that attempts had not been made to change it, but she assured me that this was not the case.

She claimed that Hamas has been surprisingly positive towards the political involvement of women. In some ways they had been better than Fatah which was rather male and old fashioned in its attidues.

A final note. The Israeli actions seem to have stirred huge hostility and cries for action to secure a change in policy from across the world. I asked whether she had detected a similar change in attitude amongst the political decision takers she met. "Oh yes," she replied.

"Well," I said, "that's the best news I have heard in the past 3 days."


The debating chamber of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City is full of light. But then it would be, one wall is completely missing - the place has been devastated by Israeli shells.

We meet instead in a marquee in the compound grounds, 6 of us and 20 PLC members (two of them women), all of them I think elected as representatives for Change and Reform (Hamas). The only government member is the Minister for Justice who arrives late.

The primary purpose of our visit to Palestine is to explore the prospects for reforming a government of national unity. Prime Minister Fayyad in Ramallah exuded positive thoughts that were encouraging. This meeting has less substance. For one thing there are too many people present, and they all want to denounce the Israelis, which is not unreasonable in the circumstances but pointless given our known sympathies. After an hour our chairman tries to steer the subject towards specifics. Many leave at this point though whether because of the time or the agenda is not clear.

Those who remain emphasise the need for unity, but when we ask for details of what might stand in the way of this there is an undercurrent that suggests we are not being told things that are difficult or may be unwelcome. A member suggests that President Abbas is working to an agenda dictated by Israel and the Americans that requires the exclusion of Hamas people under any circumstances. She may be right.

In the evening, at the Commodore Hotel, we meet with an even bigger group of people (one woman) representing the PLO and non-Hamas parties. This is uninspiring to say the least. The same understandable mantra about Israel's evil ways and appalling behaviour is repeated, but there are no new ideas for Palestinian initiatives to seize the agenda, and when we eventually bring the subject around to unity I think the unwritten agenda was again present and the body language shifty.

All very discouraging. It is to hoped that those who meet in Cairo from Feb 22 will have the vision to take the bigger picture into account, and remember that George Mitchell will have enough to do without reconciling Palestinian divisions.

Best hope at present looks like a government of technocrats. But trying to take the politics out of politics can surely only be temporary measure.


There was a railway through Gaza. It ran from the north through to Sinai in the south, easy to build across flat countryside of sandy soil. The old maps show a station with sidings and a turning triangle in Gaza City.

I didn't get the chance to see what was left on the ground, but 250 metres to the east of the road leading to Erez crossing there is a line in the fields that looks suggestive of disused railway.

I found it again a short distance on the Israeli side. It looks long gone, unrecognisable as a railway line unless you're looking for it, but if you are, there are clues like the remains of ballast, a bit of old wooden sleeper, and the sides of what may have been a bridge over a drain. It was single track I presume.

A kilometre further on and the Israelis are in an advanced stage of rebuilding it as a modern railway, but I assume its course will diverge from the old route well before it meets the Security Wall that imprisons the Gaza Strip.

If anyone knows anything of the history of this line, or of the latest developments, I'd like to hear from them. It would be nice to think that the railway will one day be rebuilt, locking Gaza into the wider economy.


Everyone in Gaza who speaks of the Israeli assault refers to war crimes. A commission has been established to collect documentation that can be used in prosecutions. They say they now have detailed reports of 100 cases.

We meet with surviving members of the Samouni family, talking in the open on the ruins of the house into which 97 members of an extended farming family, living in the countryside on the edge of Gaza CITY, were allegedly herded by Israeli troops.

The building ended up being bombed or shelled in the early hours of one morning. The attacks came one after another after another, at 8 minute intervals. Those who tried to get out were shot down in full view of their families and left bleeding to die outside. No ambulances were allowed in. Children were left amongst the dead for days and days. The case has been well reported in the media.

On the north side of Gaza we walked through the scorched and blackened rooms of a house hit by a shell of white phosphorous. Members of another family died here. Israeli ground troops had been very active here. Again, ambulances were not allowed in and those attempting to help the injured were shot. Bodies lay in the streets for weeks, attracting the attention of hungry dogs.

There are so many stories of this kind. They provide a sort of response to those who say: "But what could Israel do, with rockets being fired at it?"


This is a dark city, which will come as no surprise, but the centre at least is not quite as dark as you might imagine. Sure, it doesn't have the brightness of Tel Aviv up the coast, but there are a few streetlights working, some private buildings have lights over public areas, there is light from the windows of some homes, and passing cars in early evening emit a mixture of helpful shine and blinding glare. The London blackout it is not, and one light a distance off can be very helpful. But away from the main highways are pools of blackness, and in the suburbs I am sure this is very often the case. There was no electricity cut during my night in the city.

The European Parliament delegation stayed in the Commodore Hotel with its views over the sea (not for me). Its a normal business or tourist hotel, as good as any 3* you might find anywhere, albeit short on supplies with bread, salad and hummous dominating the menu. My room was comfortable. I slept well and had a warm shower in the morning - not what I had expected. Shame about the swimming pool. It is not very big, but empty and half filled with rubble from a nearby bomb blast it didn't look very inviting. Remember, this is a normal city experiencing a very abnormal situation.


Sometimes the results of the bombing look awesome. A large complex of buildings around the Ministry of Finance completely, and I mean completely, destroyed - just piles of concrete rubble.

Sometimes it is shocking. Office blocks and apartment blocks that have had their sides blown off, with floor after floor left tipping drunkenly. Some areas of flat complexes appear untouched while others have been devastated.

And sometimes the results look almost commonplace: block after block of 8-10 storey apartments, still very much lived in, with chunks taken out, walls of individual flats missing and the space gaping open, black marks from fire scarring the wall above.

"It's a picture of total destruction," says one radio interviewer. But that's not the case: 80pc and more of the buildings are untouched, but some areas suffered much worse than others, and around every corner bad scenes might be visible.

Destroyed buildings are lifeless things though. It is human tears and grief that injects the emotion. People have to live, so they gather what belongings survive, and move away to find a space somewhere where their difficulties are hidden from sight. Their former homes lie derelict, awaiting the bulldozer.

This morning (Friday 13 Feb) the sun shines and there is quite a lot about Gaza to like. Things now are terrible, but this could be a good place to live. It has so much potential.

Thursday, 12 February 2009


From the press centre on the 9th floor of an office block, Gaza City looks pretty good, a normal metropolis with a few green spaces and a football stadium between the buildings. It gets even better as I leave because it takes me a couple of minutes to get through the traffic to cross the road. In truth this is exceptional, and the cars are ancient, but it gives the appearance of normality. And why not? Gaza is a modern city, albeit one on a site inhabited for 4,000 years, and in different circumstances it could be thriving. Instead it exists on the life support of aid. UNRWA alone employs 11,000 here.

A meeting with the Palestinian Businessmen's Association. The cry from all is "get Israel to lift the blockade and open the crossings." But it is amazing just how much stuff is obviously being smuggled in through the hundreds of tunnels to Egypt, at a price. Those involved in smuggling, and those being bribed to turn a blind eye, must be coining it in.

The businessmen highlight the hundreds of factories that have been systematically destroyed, and the need for concrete to enable rebuilding. More than 85% of the concrete production facilities have been destroyed. They say they raised this with Tony Blair yesterday. "Here?" asked a colleague, "No, he has never been to Gaza. By videoconference. Frankly he has achieved nothing since he took on his role."

A young man, full of drive, says the situation is very grave but that people in Gaza could spring back quickly. "This is not a backwards place. People here are skilled and educated. We can rebuild, but only if we can get Israel off our backs." He expresses concern about concentration on humanitarian needs. "Israel uses it as a cloak to hide the fact that they are not dealing with us on all other things."

There is a gallows humour about the meeting. These are educated, middle class men, less than enthusiastic about Hamas but forced together by Israel. "Prosperity is one way of avoiding conflict," says one man, "but there is not much sign of prosperity. Good workers will end up joining the militias. Is that what the West wants?"

"Did you know that the American school was targeted 3 times by extremists here, but it ended up being destroyed by American rockets fired from an American plane. It was not a school for the kids of extremists, they couldn't afford the 5,000 dollar fees!"


"Disunity is our worst enemy," the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad tells us, and EU spokesmen would say the same thing. We want to deal with a single Palestinian negotiating partner.

The Egyptians have invited 13 factions (13!) to meet on 22 Feb to discuss the principles of dialogue, with the aim of holding a conference on 2 March to bring it all together. Fayyad says a technical government supported by all factions could emerge, or a government of the factions.

"If dialogue doesn't work then we have at least to try and freeze the animosity with Hamas," says Fayyad. "let us calm things down and set a date for elections."

But if the object is to form some kind of Palestinian government of unity, or at least co-existence, what will be the attitude of the EU? Our failure to deal with the shortlived unity government of two years ago didn't exactly help its survival.

"What benchmarks are being set by the EU?" I ask the Commission in Jerusalem. The silent response spoke for itself. Apparently the issue is not on the agenda of the General Affairs (foreign ministers) Council. It looks like the Czech Presidency is keeping it that way, sucking up to the Israelis as usual by avoiding any suggestion speaking to Hamas ministers.

So no benchmarks, and we decide our conditions for talking only when Palestinians have jumped through many hoops. Maybe it's some kind of revenge for the fact that we spend so much time ourselves jumping through hoops set up for us by Israel.

Seriously, will we never learn?!


You know, this place could be alright. The sun is shining. The view over to the blue sea is fine. The donkey carts are quaint. The streets are packed with school kids (mainly girls). There is less litter than I remember though maybe that's because there aren't many things that can end up as litter as much as through organised collection. Fruit and veg seems plentiful judging from the stalls.

Pity about the bombed buildings. You come across them everywhere. Have just been looking at the ruins of the American International School, utterly destroyed in a targeted operation: "They want to keep Palestinians uneducated," we were told. "There were no militants here." A group of 16 year old girls from another local school join us to take pictures of the ruins, as fascinated by the destruction as ourselves.

A family are still living in a first floor room that can be reached only across slanting concrete; the building all around them has been reduced to rubble. In the surrounding area nothing stands. Devastation everywhere.

The UN Relief and Works Agency is core to the provision of basic supplies. I have just left a supply area packed with people using ration cards to collect supplies - just staples, flour, rice, milk powder, a bit of meat.

In what used to be the commercial and industrial zone we are shown scores of destroyed factories. Bombing a biscuit factory wasn't enough for the Israelis. Once they had finished the troops drove over it with bulldozers to finish the job. "We have lost millions," says the company chairman, a smartly dressed businessman. "We employed guards to keep out any militants, but the Israelis just wanted to destroy the economic infrastructure. We used to export to Israel. Any buildings left standing were burnt so we could not use them."


This place is such a farce. Fortunately I have a good long book with me.

Erez is the pedestrian crossing into Gaza. It was revamped a year or two ago so now consists of a very modern, spacious 'terminal' building. But it's almost deserted at 9am as usual. Hardly anyone gets to cross.

It takes an hour for the 11 people in our party to have their passports processed by the Israelis. One of our number gets sent back, then is allowed in. The whole process is deliberately arbitrary and intimidating. Or maybe the Israelis are hopelessly inefficient.

Then it's through the turnstiles and down the passageways and into Gaza, where we are met by guys anxious to carry bags (it's work) for the 600 metres past the bombed factories to the UN cars.


My telephone lights up with a new message: "Jawwal welcomes you to Palestine. Smell the jasmine and taste the olives." Sounds great.

I'm in Ramallah, with the European Parliament's Palestine Delegation, specifically to explore the possibilities for recreating some kind of government of national unity. It's the day after the Israeli elections.

The Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit brings us up to date with the latest details of the dismemberment of what so many in the world want to become a Palestinian state. The Israeli land grab proceeds apace with the expansion of settlements, house demolitions, extension of the Wall, building of new roads for Jewish settlers, and growth of military areas. On current Israeli plans the 22pc of original land left for Palestinians before 1967 will now be reduced to 14pc. The system of identity cards means that no-one, including the Prime Minister, has a right to exist outside Israeli control.

Meanwhile in Gaza 4,000 homes have been completely destroyed and 17,000 partially so - along with 1,314 killed (412 children) and 5,300 injured (1,815 children).

In Jerusalem we meet with representatives of the European Commission. They know it all but can't say it all. Even so they succeed in only half hiding their frustration with EU policy. They want Israel's blockade of Gaza to end. Only 15 items are being allowed in, everything else is banned: concrete, glass, paper, nappies, water purifying tablets, spare parts for hospital equipment, plastic bags for dividing up sacks of basic food - all banned. 500 lorry loads a day are needed but only a third of that number are being allowed through.

We talk of the EU funding priority, which is to support the development of Palestinian institutions (paying wages) that could provide the basis for statehood. We talk of the cost of Gaza reconstruction.

"Tell me," I ask, "why is EU taxpayers' money being used to support institutions when Palestine is under military occupation, is being dismembered by the occupiers, and when the occupiers refuse to state what the limits are of their expansionist plans? It's like pouring water into a bath with no plug." The Commission confirms that under the Geneva Convention the occupier should provide humanitarian assistance.

The situation is mad. Israel will never change its behaviour until we make it responsible for its actions, and that means making it foot the bill.

Monday, 9 February 2009


A hostile writer hiding behind a nom de plume attacks me in a local paper. Why am I not concentrating on my region? "Is Chris Davies the MEP for the North West or the MEP for the Middle East?"

I could respond by saying that it's not my fault. I never intended to get involved in an issue which commands such attention or which I find so emotionally draining.

Every MEP serves on one delegation that meets at least annually with legislators from a country or region outside the EU. In the last parliament I served on the Cyprus one, which was not without interest given the political divisions of the island. But then Cyprus, or at least the Greek Cypriot administration, joined the EU so the delegation was wound up.

Environmental legislation occupies so much of my time that I opted for an easy life at the beginning of this parliament, seeking a delegation that would involve only one overseas visit every two years. First choice was Australia, but it was fully booked. Second choice was Canada, but that was the same.

So I ended up with my third choice, Palestine, but intended to be involved only to the minimum extent. Then I paid my first visit to the place to be present at the launch of a movement called Combatants for Peace, bringing together former Palestinian fighters and Israeli Defence Force soldiers seeking a better way forward. I returned seething with anger at the injustice I saw, and the way in which Israel has changed the facts on the ground to make the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state almost impossible.

I shouldn't have to apologise for my interest. It was not for nothing that the Palestinian president was on Barack Obama's list of first calls to foreign leaders. Palestine arises passions that affect the security of us all.

That won't convince my letter-writing critic though. And I'm about to upset him even more.

Friday, 6 February 2009


The first cold winter in Britain for a few years and the cry goes up that man-made climate change is just a myth. An MEP from the UK Independence Party was voicing the usual scepticism of his colleagues this week in the European Parliament. .

But while we have been throwing snowballs at each other in Britain the fires have been burning in Australia, with people dying in record temperatures of 47 degrees that have given rise to both flash floods and forest fires. Wild extremes of weather are expected to become more and more common with global warming.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s new energy secretary warns that unless climate change is curbed the agricultural production of California will collapse and the cities face extreme water shortages.

There is good news. Much of the technology to reduce global warming emissions already exists, and the costs of introducing it are affordable. According to consultants McKinsey the price could be just one half of one per cent of world GDP.

All credit to my Conservative opposite number in the European Parliament, John Bowis, who rebuked another Tory MEP last Wednesday by declaring in debate that even if there was some remaining uncertainty about climate change the possible consequences of doing nothing were so great that action was essential.

What action is required? We need to curb our wasteful practices, invest in means of producing energy that neither pollute nor use up the Earth's resources, and reduce our dependence on foreign sources in the process. Surely even UKIP's climate change deniers would want to sign up to that!

Thursday, 5 February 2009


It was a wasted opportunity. The Palestinian president addressed the European Parliament, reminded us of the military occupation of his land, of the humiliations of his people at the hands of Israelis, and of the suffering of people in Gaza. All true enough but, so low is the interest threshold of politicians, all too routine and familiar a mantra.

He thanked the EU for the payments it makes to the Palestinian authority but urged us to play a more political role - a good point. He called for support to be given to the Arab peace plan that will give Israel peace and recognition in return for a two state solution. But he could have said so much more.

Abbas could have confronted the EU with its double standards, its failure to take any action at all to support our criticism of Israel and its slavish following of American leadership - that would have shaken us up. He could have made a single mention of Hamas. He could have said what sacrifices he will make to bring Palestinians together.

In a brief meeting later I told him he had been too nice to us. Leila Shahid, the EU 'ambassador', came up to me later and said "you know his style. He is polite and nice to everyone." I do know, but I don't see evidence that it accomplishes very much. In private, amongst Palestinians, I suspect he also takes a very tribalist view in favour of Fatah that does nothing to enhance prospects of Palestinian unity.

Still, next week Netanyahu will likely emerge as the winner in the Israeli elections, backed by the outright racist Lieberman. Resolutely refusing to give up any of the land stolen from Palestinians they don't look like proving the best partnership to win friends in a world outraged by Israeli killings in Gaza. Maybe being 'nice' will prove an advantage with the likes of George Mitchell.

Off to Palestine myself on Tuesday evening.


Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas arrives to address MEPs in the vast debating chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Our own president, Hans Gert Poettering, stands besides him. The European anthem from Beethoven's ninth is played. MEPs stand - well, most of them, some UKIP members and fellow travellers stay seated at the back of the classroom (sorry, chamber), giggling and chatting.

The notion of a European anthem was included in the Constitutional Treaty (not adopted), dropped by the Lisbon Treaty (not yet adopted), but adopted by the European Parliament. This is the first time I have heard it used.

Standing for an anthem is an unusual experience for a Brit these days. I have no objection, and will do so happily in the UK as well as here, but I do feel a touch embarrassed.

The ceremony might be more solemn if the music coming over the PA system didn't have the tinny sound of someone holding a microphone to a transistor radio. It comes over fine on TV I am told.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


“British workers need protecting from foreign labour, and British industry needs protecting from foreign imports....The country has been plunged into a full scale depression precisely because of globalisation and the government’s refusal to protect British interests. We say that protectionism is the only solution."

These are the words of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party. Translated into deeds they would spell calamity.

Hundreds of thousands of British citizens are working elsewhere within the European Union. They benefit from one of the EU's core principles, the freedom we all have to live and work in any one of the 27 member states.

Bringing down the barriers, opening up opportunities to trade, and allowing the movement of people has brought huge benefits to Britain, not least through broadening experience and boosting economic prosperity in ways not simply fed by house price speculation and artificial banking booms.

Think of the miserable alternative. Shut the doors. Raise the barriers. Close down trade. Try and protect our own interests in a world where the majority of major private sector employers are not British companies. Watch us shoot ourselves in the foot.

My sentiments are reinforced by my party leader, Nick Clegg, who has refused to play a populist card: "pulling out of the labour rules in Europe would be a huge, self-defeating step too far," he has declared.

There are said to be up to 1.5 million people from the UK working in other EU countries. Maybe the same number of other EU citizens working here. Many more Brits, often retired, live in other member states. Maybe there is a tendency for people from Britain to work abroad in higher paying jobs, while a higher percentage of others working here will be in low paid agricultural or hotel jobs that have not been in demand.

Given that a total of 29 million people are employed in the UK the row about jobs at the Lindsey oil refinery might not be regarded as very significant. Here is a plant owned by a French company that let a contract won by a South African company that has subcontracted to an Italian business - all at a site where many employees are working for contractors of different kinds. This is the world in which we now live. But despite the corporate and Mandelsonian reassurances I doubt if the Italian workers living on a barge in Grimsby dock are being paid just as indigenous workers would expect.

European law was never intended to prevent there being a level playing field. It expects jobs to be advertised and be available for local people with the necessary skills. It is weaker on ensuring that local agreements about pay and conditions negotiated through collective bargaining should be respected. The pendulum has swung too far and needs to be corrected.

The publicity of recent days may have sent a warning shot over the bows of international companies that seek to circumvent local terms. If this ensures that in future they avoid giving reason for dispute that will be good. In the longer term UK employment law may need to be strengthened to ensure that greater respect is paid to collective agreements, and the EU Posted Workers Directive needs to be reviewed and clarified to strengthen the level playing field requirements.

But don't expect anything too soon. The wheels of EU law-making turn very slowly. There is no certainty that 26 other Member States feel the same about the need for some change (although it is certain that a good many will do so), and a very high probability that others will point the finger at the UK and say "but it was you who wanted to keep employment rules weak in the first place!"

Monday, 2 February 2009


I will give a prize to anyone who can give me a good reason why anyone who cares not a jot for notions of civic responsibility should vote in the June european elections.

It is a fact that MEPs can have more influence over the shaping of laws than MPs possess. It's a consequence of the separation Of powers and of the personally non-combative nature of the institution. But the Parliament is not an executive body and has no say over taxes or foreign policy. At best it is worthy not exciting.

We need to give people some positive reasons for voting in the European elections, and we need to attract their interest. So I am glad that Nick Clegg is keen to take the fight to the EU's opponents.

I've met with Dunfermline MP Willie Rennie who is in charge of messages. He wants clear differentiation between our policies and those of our opponents.

Let's give them a fight, and if we can't do that let's give them a show. Lot of work to do to agree the messages but the campaign might be more interesting than I had grown to expect.


My press and communications officer warns me that my last blog may lead to my being targeted by 'pro-life' groups. Time to circle the wagons. Mossad attacking on one side and SPUC on the other.

To deter the pigeons we had some spikes put on the window ledges of my office in Castle Street, Stockport, a while ago. I suppose the pointed wooden stakes now erected around the doorway are a touch more ostentatious.