Even as I write the first meetings are taking place to decide what should be in the Conservative Party manifesto for the European Elections in June 2009. Of course, the final decisions won’t be made until much nearer the time so there is plenty of time for us all to have our say, put our oar in and generally let the great and the good know what we would like to see in the document.
Now, everybody has their own opinion about what the purpose of a manifesto should be. And what should be in one depends very much on the job that you think it needs to do.
Some think a manifesto should set forward the party’s policy on the subject in hand – in this case Britain’s relationship with the EU. That might lead to an overlong document so packed with data that it would stand no chance at all of being read by anybody.
Others see a manifesto as being a statement of intent by those standing for election – setting out promises of what they would do if elected. The problem here is that the EU Parliament deals with the intricacies of policy in fine detail and has little to do with the big issues facing Britain about the EU and our relationship with it. The Conservative MEPs might be able to promise to campaign to streamline the CAP, but could not deliver on a pledge of a new relationship between Britain and the EU.
Still others believe that a manifesto should be a glossy brochure
filled with photos of attractive people saying lovely things about the
Conservative Party and that it sole purpose is to maximise the
Conservative vote at the coming election. But that is just cynical.
In reality any manifesto must be a blend of all three. It must be
attractively designed and written in a style so that people will
actually read it. It must contain promises of action that those
standing to election will seek to fulifil and it must state the party’s
policy on the subject of the election.
When it comes to the EU, there will be the added problem that hostile
pundits will on the lookout for anything that they can use to trot out
a hackneyed old story about “Tory Splits”. No doubt they will try to
find somebody with a grudge to say something to back up their story.
No wonder those drawing up the European manifesto are having headaches. It is not a job that I envy them.
But as an MEP candidate I am going to have to stand on the manifesto
that results, so I suppose it is time for me to offer them some advice.
Whether they take it or not is up to them.
There is one thing that I would like to see included. I would like the
party to commit itself to funding a clear and impartial audit of the
costs and benefits of Britain’s membership of the EU. This should
include not simply the amount of cash Britain pays in and what we get
back, but also the more intangible issues of red tape, regulation,
access to markets and the elusive “influence” we hear so much about.
Once that has been done the Conservative Party – and the British people
as a whole – will be in a much better position to judge what our future
relationship with the EU should be. We can have a properly informed
debate – which might make a nice change from the invective fuelled
speeches that come from both extremes on the debate at present.
You may agree with me, or you may want something else included.
But whatever you want to see in the manifesto, it won’t be included
unless you let people know what you want. That is why we are organising
a Fringe Meeting on precisely this topic at the Party Conference. The
venue is outside the security cordon, so you won’t need a Conference
pass to get in. Just turn up and enjoy.
The meeting will take the form of an open panel discussion – so there
will be plenty of opportunity for you to have your say – and will be
chaired by Roger Helmer MEP. On the panel will be:
- Dan Hannan MEP
- Stuart Wheeler
- Plus the following MEP Candidates: JP Floru (London),
Therese Coffey (Southeast), John Flack (Eastern), Zehra Zaidi
(Southwestern) and myself from the East Midlands.
We are hoping that
Douglas Carswell MP will take part as well.
The meeting is being held on Monday 29 September at 11.15am, at the The
Kingston Theatre, Austin Court, 80 Cambridge Street, Birmingham B1 2NP
(4 minute walk from the ICC). To find a map of the place, go to my