The Cornerstone website will not be active for most of the parliamentary summer recess, but will resume in time for the Conference season, with early notification of speakers at the Cornerstone fringe events.
We always knew that the Brown honeymoon would be difficult. It is, however, without panicking, a good time to take stock.
Some plus points. Brown is obviously about as new as those old-fashioned re-tread tyres that looked so smashing for about five minutes before falling apart.
David Cameron clearly would provide change. He’s as bright, attractive and articulate a leader as you’re likely to find.
Also, don’t panic. Stay calm. Let the wave pass over you, is good advice in politics. I suspect that the giant fist can clunk hard at first, and then the old heavyweight will start to lose some steam.
But equally we can’t be complacent.How can you be when two years into a parliament and ten years into opposition we’re back behind, however temporarily, in the opinion polls? The more worrying thing is the grossly unfair electoral system, which means we have to run a mile and a quarter in a one-mile race to win.
We can use this period to learn from our mistakes. First Conservatives must give up self-loathing and self-flagellation. We are not the nasty party. And if some people think we are, it’s not because we’re right-wing, but because sometimes we’ve been nasty to each other.
Second, we must stop self-obsessing and worrying too much what people think of us. No doubt they’ve always thought we were toffs, or out of touch, or on the make. But they also used to think we were competent. All that changed on Black Wednesday. But Black Wednesday was fourteen years ago. For God’s, sake move on! Most of the electorate has, but we still agonise about what someone failed to do in our Conservative family fourteen years ago. Families do that sort of thing. No one else cares. So throw all the tedious Central Office presentations which tell us how much we’re despised in the dustbin. Be confident.
Don’t worry too much about polls and focus groups. They just relay an instant popular perception gleaned from the newspapers, which, like high streets, now all seem much the same.
You’ll never win a match if filled with self-doubt, so let’s clear it from our mind.
I was delighted to see David Cameron recently annunciating the ‘And’ theory of politics. I’ve been recommending it for some months now. I hasten to add I didn’t invent it. It means you can talk about global warming, Third World poverty – softer issues – and talk about more traditional Tory themes.
Social responsibility is clearly one. I think of it as individual responsibility. But we need a theme.
This is what I suggest. A simple mantra: ‘We believe in prosperity based on low taxation and de-regulation. We believe in security based on strong defence and immigration control. We believe in stability based on marriage and social and individual responsibility. We believe in freedom based on consumer choice in education, health and pensions.
You will say ‘How hackneyed! We’ve heard it all before.’ But that is Conservatism. The Conservatism of all successful Conservative governments anywhere in the world over the last fifty years.
So we do need to talk more about immigration, low taxes and Europe, both to enthuse our activists and because whilst Old Labour policies were bad for the country, old Conservative ones, such as lower taxation, are the reality in the world’s most successful dynamic economies.So – be confident and stand up for what you believe in. Ultimately the country will respect us for it. Otherwise they will wonder where we stand, what we believe in. The public have to know what you believe in, otherwise you’ll never win.One final point. Someone put the valid question to me recently ‘Is David Cameron a traditional Conservative?’ Of course he is. Cultural and social attitudes often determine our personalities more than policies. Look at his attitude to hunting, for instance, or the monarchy, two things most Labour MPs – apart from Quentin Davies – despise, secretly or not so secretly. Cameron is strongly in favour. He’s to the right of me on both Trident and Iraq. I voted against the war. He voted for. I would go for a cheap cruise missile option for our nuclear renewal. He favours the £20bn Trident option.He’s obviously a Eurosceptic, opposed to the single currency and agreeing to a referendum on the EU Constitution posing as a treaty. His background and social milieu is all High Tory and traditional, as is his own family life. Where does he choose to send his daughter? To a faith-based school.
And he has warmly endorsed the findings of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy group in favour of marriage.
No, David Cameron isn’t a Tony Blair, clambering to the top of the Labour Party whilst despising its ethos. Our David in his heart of hearts is a High Tory. He just needs to show it more, as well as showing that he cares about the environment and the poor. But then weren’t Lord Shaftesbury and Wilberforce High Tories?
Liberalism doesn’t win elections. If not, why are we still waiting 101 years after the last Liberal victory for a Liberal government? This country is conservative, with a small ‘c’. We can again become the natural party of government.
Edward Leigh MP
This article was first published in the Parliamentary Monitor
And what of their treatment of women or their use of torture? In 2006 the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that a Turkish national could not be extradited back because there was a risk of torture. Neither is Turkey prepared to accept responsibility for past wrongs. How about the genocide of over a million Armenians during the First World War or the deaths of 30,000 Kurds in more recent campaigns?. The Kurds are still denied fundamental rights by Ankara.
Even without its human rights record, official support for the accession would still fly in the face of much European opinion. In 2005, the average support among EU citizens for Turkish membership was around 35%. Polls in France and Germany have shown that less than one quarter of people support the bid, while in Austria, opposition has been as high as 82%. Nevertheless, with their typical disregard for democracy, most EU member governments are officially supportive of Turkish accession. Yet even some of the Union’s greatest advocates are set against it. Former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing is among them, telling Le Monde that Turkish membership would be the “end of Europe”, and that those supporting the membership bid were “the adversaries of the European Union”. Can he mean the EU commission? He continued, “Its capital is not in Europe, 95% of its people live outside Europe, it is not a European country”. Resistance is so strong in France and Austria that referendums have been promised on the issue. But we know from the recent Dutch and French experience the respect such things are accorded in Brussels.Turkey as a nation is much poorer than most European countries. Accession would inevitably see a repeat of the migration rush that followed the joining of many former Eastern Bloc countries. Cheap labour could threaten wages, while Turkey would need a huge amount of EU funding to bring its infrastructure into line with other member-states. British taxes would help pay for this. 20% of Turkey’s population is below the poverty line; that is a huge financial commitment.
Lastly, but perhaps most important of all is the unresolved issue of Cyprus. Invaded by Turkey in 1974, this European Union member is not even recognised by the aggressors from Asia Minor. Turkey still refuses not only to open up its ports to Cypriot vessels in defiance of EU demands but to even recognise the state. Simultaneously it demands recognition for its own self-declared province on the north side of the island, born of an illegal occupation.
In the short term, all may be well. President Sarkozy is a well-known opponent of the plans. In his own words, “Turkey has no place inside the European Union”. Angela Merkel’s Germany is also hostile. If the French and Austrian governments were, in a surprise move, to honour their commitment to referenda then the prospect of Turkish entry would be destroyed. But the EU has a habit of deathbed revivals. A privileged partnership with Turkey makes sense. But the EU is more than a market place in the long term. It is a union founded on common cultures and histories. Sarkozy perceptively said “Enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union”. There is a part of me that starts to warm to the Turkish membership bid!
In the frank words of Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, the Turks would be joining an “Empire”, an empire they are neither ready nor right to join.
Edward Leigh MP
Demographics is destiny, or so the saying goes. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the current controversy surrounding the Turkish membership bid for the EU. Turkey’s population is over 70 million, and is rising fast. Over 25% of the Turkish population is under 16. In fact, on present trends, it will be more populous than Germany by 2020, and would have the greatest voting strength in the EU Even as it is now, Turkey would be the second largest nation by votes, dramatically reducing the influence of current member states in critical institutions and permanently altering the EU’s character.
There are other concerns too. Colonel Gaddafi once claimed “Turkey will be an Islamic Trojan Horse inside the European Union if it is allowed to join the bloc, to the advantage of Al Qaeda terror chief Osama Bin Laden and other extremists”and while I do not often look to the Libyan dictator for advice, on this occasion, he is right. Islamic extremism is on the rise in Turkey, as is more mainstream political Islamism. The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) recent electoral success shows a renewed traditionalist and religious agenda. Many Turks themselves are worried, as is the Army, which is entrusted with maintenance of the secular establishment. Human rights applications in Turkey would grant such extremists enormous liberties of speech and movement within the Union, itself a major concern. A few more Abu Hamzas per chance?
Coupled to this would be the new EU borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. Challenging terrain and difficult neighbours would make policing the Unions borders all the more difficult. And where will this border expansion stop? Morocco? Russia? Lebanon maybe? After all Lebanon is more culturally European than Turkey, as in a sense is Israel, the only middle eastern democracy, which already takes part in the Eurovision song contest.
Turkey then, is culturally different. The fact that it is a Muslim country is not the primary problem. Although the EU is often seen as a “Christian Club”, Brussels is fundamentally secular, as is much of the Turkish establishment. But, on issues such as freedom of speech, Turkey appears distinctly un-European. It prosecutes writers and journalists who do not toe the national line. In 2005 a man was tried and imprisoned for challenging compulsory military service, for which all other European nations have an alternative option.
Turkey’s position is in breach of European Human Rights norms, and although I have many reservations about the premises upon which human rights are based, the EU is so obsessed with them, it only seems right to cross-examine Turkey’s record. In the same year, best-selling author Orhan Pamuk was tried under Article 301 for insulting the national character, an incident even the EU described as “regrettable”. Turkish journalists have often protested at what they see as limited freedom of speech. As the imposition of democracy in Iraq has shown, cultures don’t change overnight. With that in mind, is it sensible to invite Turkey into the fold in the hope that one day they might change, conveniently forgetting they will control a fifth of the EU’s voting power?
More on this tomorrow.
Edward Leigh MP
Last Monday I asked a question to the Defence Secretary:
16 July 2007 : Column 11 (Commons Hansard)
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent comments of Lord Inge in the House of Lords that our involvement has been a strategic failure? The fact is that our troops are now dying at a greater rate than the Americans: they can expect to be attacked within 20 minutes of leaving base. After giving up the Basra palace, those gallant men will have to retreat to the airport. How can they effectively run a country or conduct peacekeeping operations from an airport? What is our strategy, apart from staying there just to prove that we have a strategy? We should get out and get out now.
Des Browne: I can only suspect that the hon. Gentleman has only recently entered the Chamber as I spent some time, in answer to an earlier question, explaining our strategy—explaining the logic of it and why it involves assessments of the security situation, the Iraqis’ ability to respond, our ability to support them and the political support that the security forces are receiving from the Iraqis. The commission suggests that we are mistaken in thinking that the goal can be achieved by military means alone, but we have never suggested that the future of Iraq was dependent on military means alone. It is fundamentally dependent on the ability of the Iraqis themselves to stand up properly their organisations and the level of political support for those organisations in certain parts of the country. That is their challenge, and we can do only so much to help them. However, that analysis of the situation gives no support to the assertion that the hon. Gentleman has just made.
(Hansard extract ends)
Having voted against the Iraq war, I have consistently questioned the price we have been paying for that decision and what precisely the sacrifice of our young men has achieved. I would much rather have been proved wrong by events than see my fears for our military realised. But it is too late for such regrets.
Two grim facts emerge from recent studies of the conflict: first a higher proportion of our soldiers than of the American force are now being killed.
This is due to the second fact that, after ‘temporary gains’ in April by our troops in reducing the level of violence, insurgents have since then been able to ‘destabilise [Basra] with relentless attacks against British forces.’ Clearly, in the bland words of the Iraq Commission’s report ‘the security situation is not improving’.
What this means on the ground is that more of our young men are being killed, mainly by roadside bombs.
The Commission thinks our troops should only stay ‘as long as they have a job to do.’
But it also says our current policy has ‘stalled, has no clear end-point and the objectives and length of time for over-watch are unclear.’ Of greater concern, it says the policy ‘cedes decision-making to the insurgents.’
If our policy depends on their activities, they are effectively dictating policy to us. In short, far from having the upper hand, we are now in a blood-soaked mess partly of our own making.
The Defence Secretary has said in a parliamentary answer that 80 per cent of attacks in Basrah province are targeting the force we lead.
The former Iraqi Minister for Finance told the Commission that ‘international forces are not significantly suppressing the violence, but that they are suppressing a capacity to be able to grow home-grown institutions to deal with the issue.’
The Commission recommends we ‘progressively cease offensive operations’, switching our priority to completing the training of Iraqi security forces. As we complete this, it proposes, we should gradually withdraw.
My own opinion is that we have already given enough in terms of soldiers killed, maimed and traumatised. Military courage and sacrifice are noble when they achieve a greater good, but, whilst we can but admire the bravery of our troops, their lives are being wasted.
‘One of the Army’s most senior commanders’, echoing previous comments from the likes of General Sir Michael Rose, told the Sunday Telegraph that the war was now seen by our top brass as a ‘lost cause.’
Let us withdraw without delay
2) The EU Treaty
It is claimed that the EU Constitution, to which, thinly disguised as a treaty, the Government has now signed up, preserves our ‘red line’ on control of our borders. In the light of my comment yesterday on immigration, it remains to be seen whether this will be breached by qualified majority voting.
The European High Commissioner, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the other day he thought of the EU as an ‘empire’. Such refreshing frankness only confirms what people like me have said for many years, as does today’s report of our old friend Giscard d’Estaing’s admission that the differences between the treaty and the former Constitution are ‘few and far between and more cosmetic than real.’
David Cameron’s call for Labour to honour its manifesto commitment to a referendum on the EU Constitution was clearly right and proper. In the past we have seen the wisdom of turning down the volume on Brussels and immigration. In current circumstances, keeping quiet about these issues would not just be electoral folly; it would be a derogation of our patriotic duty as Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Returning to the ‘Dad’s Army’ theme with which I started on Monday, if you say there’s no need for a referendum just because the Treaty was not the same as the Constitution ‘just who do you think you are kidding, Mr Brown?’ Certainly not your own Foreign Secretary. He has already admitted that the EU Treaty gave away more powers than Maastricht.
I applaud William Hague’s relentless harrying of the Government over this. Keep up the good work, William!
Tomorrow, I will talk about Turkey as a contender for EU membership.
Edward Leigh MP
Of course, if your welfare policies discourage marriage, you increase the need for housing, as cohabiting couples are five times more likely to split up than married ones. The current rate of family breakdown is both a major national crisis, and a huge driver of the over-consumption of housing-stock, as obviously a couple formerly living together need twice as many dwellings when living apart. So that is another of the many good reasons for David Cameron to highlight the vital importance of marriage, as he has done.
But there is another, more pressing, problem eating up the housing-stock in this country.
Could it be that one of the main reasons Brown is having to ‘go large’ on housing is that the Government he co-premiered from the Treasury for the last decade went ‘supersize’ on immigration? They let in so many that, Migrationwatch calculate there could be as many as 870,000 illegal immigrants in the country (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4733777.stm
I was the first MP to raise this with our new Prime Minister (Hansard Wed 11 July).
‘Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What proportion of the 240,000 new houses to be built every year are accounted for by the move towards smaller households, and what proportion are accounted for by net migration? If the Prime Minister cannot give an accurate reply now, I would be grateful if he would write to me later.
The Prime Minister: The biggest increase will be in respect of housing for single people, where there is clearly a deficiency at the moment. The hon. Gentleman should view the figures not as an attempt to create more houses out of the same sites, but as an attempt to increase the number of sites available. I said earlier today that we had identified 500 additional public sector sites where the land can be released and housing can be built. I hope that within that development, the amount and proportion of affordable housing will be very high. This is an attempt to release more land in order to get the housing market moving, and to increase the supply in a way that I believe both sides of the House should welcome.’
As we have come to expect from this Government, he failed to answer my question.Migrationwatch estimates that – there needs to be an increase of ‘about a quarter’ in the number of dwellings provided over the next 20 years. And that is just in London and East, South-East and South-West England – areas which already have the shortest supply of empty homes, the highest house prices and the smallest ration of formerly developed sites.
Not to mention that London and the South-East are already the two most densely populated areas of England. At least the Home Office – which thinks the ceiling for unauthorised (i.e. illegal) immigrants is about 570,000 – is reported to have turned down the proposal by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) for an amnesty for half a million.
But I can’t help thinking of bolted horses and stable doors.
Edward Leigh MP