Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Is the threat of Nick Griffin getting elected to promote his racist agenda really as great as people say? I know it wouldn't take much but I'm not entirely convinced. Seems to me that the press is talking up their chances beyond the reality. There's always someone on the TV ready to say that they are voting BNP, but mostly they don't look as though they have ever been into a polling station or would know what to do if they got there.

Gordon Birtwistle took advantage of my latest visit to Burnely to add to my scepticism with one of his tales:

"I saw this old guy in Burnley on the TV, and he said he was voting BNP. "No you're not," I thought, "you're voting Lib Dem, and I know because I've got your proxy vote!"

Monday, 25 May 2009


To find out what’s going on in Brussels it’s best to get hold of ‘European Voice,’ a weekly newspaper that provides the most comprehensive coverage of the EU institutions. A recent edition reviewed the European Parliament over the past five years, highlighting “top moments” such as the rejection of the software patents’ directive, and “worst moments” like the refusal to publish auditors’ reports revealing MEPs’ abuse of expenses.

I missed the reference to “star performers” until it was pointed out to me later. Just four MEPs got a mention, and only one was British: “Chris Davies – UK, Liberal.”

Why I was singled out for special mention I have no idea. I’d like to think it was because I introduced a key mechanism to finance carbon capture and storage projects, but just as likely it was for leaking details of the auditors’ reports. It’s unfair to colleagues who have each done so much, but I’m pretty chuffed all the same.

It counts for nothing though in the ‘real’ world. I may be a “star performer” in Brussels but hardly a voter in the region I have represented for 10 years will know my name. Month after month I’ve worked to try and communicate what I do as MEP to the newspapers in my region, and maybe I get 15 mentions a week, but it’s an uphill struggle. The North West has a population bigger than 10 European countries but there is no regional media worth mentioning. The stories MEPs have to tell may be of interest, but they are not ‘local’ enough for the local papers.

“How is the European election campaign going?” friends ask. Members in more than 20 of my region’s 75 constituencies have worked their socks off to get freepost leaflets labelled and out. I’m charging around trying to get a few column inches here and there. But as for the media? One single local radio station has organised phone-ins so that candidates can be asked their views, and no newspaper has written about the elections in depth.

It’s sometimes claimed (wrongly) that 80% of British laws are made in Brussels. So why since 2004 has the BBC not had a single MEP other than Farage and Lucas on its ‘Question Time’ programmes? Why do the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Express newspapers not have a single reporter between them working in Brussels? Why is it that MEPs often have greater legislative influence than our colleagues at Westminster yet the work we do is totally ignored?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


I came into politics to do things not to be something. A good income (and these days a VERY good income) is a welcome change after years of debt and forsaken career opportunities, but it doesn't provide my motivation. I would do the job for half as much.

I don't expect to be popular, except perhaps with party members; I've been hearing people say "you politicians are all the same, out for what you can get," for 35 years now. But I do like people thinking that the position I hold should be given a grudging degree of respect. Outright scorn I really can do without, especially as my conscience is pretty clean and I know that I have declined opportunities taken by other MEPs to make shedloads of money.

Yesterday I was touring the North West by train, stopping at stations for a quick photocall with party members while displaying my "MEPs' expenses - Make them Open and Honest" petition. At each halt I was happy to tell colleagues how relieved I was that when a journalist phoned to ask about expenses I didn't need to cower in fear because they usually started with the words "we hear you are one of the reformers...."

But it's a sad day when I am embarrassed to be in the company of someone displaying party colours ("Look mum, there's a politician!). But I was. Joined by my fellow candidate Neil Corlett, who was (bravely) sporting a yellow rosette like every candidate proud of their party should have the confidence to do, I behaved like Peter disowning Jesus, manoeuvring him into positions where he was least likely to be seen, or so that I was best able to pose as being entirely independent of the "looney" on the same station platform.


The polls say that voters want to punish Westminster politicians for their abuse - or in some cases only apparent abuse - of expenses.

So they may vote for UKIP, which want to give those same Westminster politicians more power than they have at present.

Or they may vote for the BNP, which blames immigrants for all the country's problems.

Or they may vote for any other anti-European party, even though I haven't heard anyone blaming the EU for the economic depression or the abuse of expenses at Westminster.

But once elected representatives of all these parties will immediately claim a specific electoral mandate for their particular views.

It's all nuts.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


The Parliament is meeting in Strasbourg and I have an evening meeting with the Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, to talk about carbon capture and storage.

Strasbourg is a good place to meet with European Commissioners. A meeting of 'the college' takes place whenever the Parliament is in session here, and they often have a bit of time on their hands as they wait around to take part in a debate.

His office is five floors above my own, and I am there in 2 minutes. As usual with Commissioner's offices here it is stark, furnished only with a desk, a table and a few chairs. The walls are bare, there is nothing to give it any sense of being 'lived in', it feels unused. Of course, Commissioners just pass through here briefly each month so it would be a waste to spend on furnishing. Even so, it is not what most people would imagine.

People complain about the waste of time and money incurred because the European Parliament meets in two places. If a poll of European Commissioners was conducted I bet a huge majority would vote to say goodbye to Strasbourg.

Monday, 4 May 2009


My speech on Israel-Palestine was made under the one-minute rule, a procedure that allows members at the opening of parliament to speak briefly on any subject they choose. It's amazing how one minute can be used to good effect if words are chosen well, which sadly is all too rarely the case.

My contribution was far from my best. In mitigation I was put off my stride by having previously heard Ashley Mote make his last ever speech. Elected for UKIP he now sits as an independent, but the denouncement of all aspects of EU finances and the value of the Parliament was vintage stuff.

No one in the visitors' gallery will have known that he spent 4 months of his 5-year term in prison - for benefit fraud.


I've made my last speech in the European Parliament, of this session at least - my 78th since 2004 I think.

I returned to the Israel-Palestine issue, pointing out that the near total blockade of Gaza continues and amounts to collective punishment of innocent people.

"Enough is enough," I said.

Israel's behaviour is shocking. Far from upgrading the EU-Israel agreement we should be suspending it entirely.