I have recently announced my intention of leaving the European parliament at the year-end, and while several factors were involved in my decision, I have made it clear that my dissatisfaction with a number of areas of Conservative Party and/or Coalition policy played a major part. These areas of course include my "hobby-horses" of Europe and climate/energy, but there is much more besides.
I have written extensively, over many years, on Europe and on climate/energy issues, so I will mention them only briefly here.
The EU: The Party leadership, and Cameron in particular, have failed to understand either the damage that EU membership is doing to Britain, or the opportunities that would be available to an independent UK with a more global stance. Nor is the Party responding adequately to growing calls from Tory MPs, Party members and activists, and from the public generally, for a radically new relationship with the EU. I've been waiting fifteen years for a Conservative administration to get a grip on these issues, and I am profoundly disappointed with the Coalition's performance.
Most recently, the government has failed even to make a submission to the ECJ on the Brussels/Strasbourg "travelling circus" issue, despite the "single seat" being a policy of both Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
Climate/Energy: I suppose I am not surprised at the leadership's obstinate refusal to consider the growing doubts over the Al Gore/CO2theory of climate change. But our energy policies are wrong even in their own terms. A policy based primarily on gas and nuclear could deliver reliable and competitive electricity with low emissions for decades. Chris Huhne's obsessive over-dependence on intermittent and unpredictable wind has three key effects:
- Dramatic increases in domestic electricity prices are already driving millions of families into fuel poverty, and forcing pensioners to choose between eating and heating. These households are unlikely to vote Conservative next time
- We are undermining the competitiveness of the British economy and delaying economic recovery. Energy intensive businesses will move off-shore, taking jobs with them, and new investment will go elsewhere.
- Security of supply: By relying on an intermittent and unpredictable power source and failing to provide adequate conventional back-up, we condemn our country and our economy to a very high probability of supply failures and blackouts by the end of the decade. This policy is profoundly illogical, ill-considered and irresponsible. If unchanged, it will lead to the de-industrialisation of Britain.
But my concerns are much more widespread than just the EU and climate, and include:
Taxation: I am appalled at Osborne's insistence on maintaining the damaging 50% tax rate (and the clumsy claw-back of personal allowances) a moment longer than necessary. He knows that it collects no extra revenue, and depresses economic growth, yet he keeps it for presentational reasons, and for fear of giving ammunition to Labour. He should have the courage do what's right, and get out and defend his decision. Taxes on the rich cost jobs for the poor.
Growth strategy: I applaud Osborne's fiscal consolidation, but as everyone says, we need a growth/stimulus package, and this must focus on supply-side initiatives, primarily on tax and regulation. I know that winding down regulation is difficult (see "EU" above), but we hear too much talk and see too little action. The government has been weak and ineffectual in this area — for example, on the Temporary Workers Directive.
Foreign Aid: Voters simply cannot understand why in these times of financial stringency we continue to shovel borrowed money into Foreign Aid. Neither can I.
Military spending: The defence of the realm must be the government's first priority. We must avoid overseas adventures where our vital national interest is not at stake. We should cut (for example) foreign aid before we cut defence. And we absolutely must not commit our forces if we can't afford to support and supply them adequately.
Policing: Similar comments apply. Security in our homes and on our streets is a top priority. There may have to be some trimming, but it's been handled badly.
Penal Policy: Michael Howard was right, Ken Clarke is wrong. Prison works — not as rehabilitation, but by reducing crime by keeping serial offenders off the streets. We hear that many of the recent rioters had multiple convictions but had never been to jail. Cutting prison places is a false economy, and the bill comes in the form of policing costs, criminal damage and insurance rates.
University admissions: I am horrified by the government's approach to "broadening access" to higher education. Cameron talks about supporting élitism, but the whole policy is designed to prioritise social disadvantage ahead of ability, achievement and excellence. It makes a nonsense of our talk of "localism", and it undermines the quality of our universities.
Grammar schools: Graham Brady is right, Cameron is wrong. We talk about free schools and diversity of provision, yet we are prejudiced against the most successful model of school of the last hundred years — the schools that did more for social mobility than a raft of government tinkering.
Transport (Aviation): Boris is right, Cameron is wrong. London needs more airport capacity, and lack of it will stifle economic growth. I don't mind if it's Heathrow runway three or Maplin Sands, but we must have more capacity. Failure to provide it puts our economy at serious risk.
Transport (High Speed Rail): I'm not convinced yet by HSR: it's clearly less relevant in a small, densely populated island than (say) in France. We should ask if we could spend the same money more effectively in other ways. But I am convinced that the government's theory – that passengers from Manchester will take the HSR to Heathrow for intercontinental connections – is nonsense. They'll fly from Manchester to Amsterdam, or Brussels, or Paris, and connect there. HSR is irrelevant to the need for London airport capacity.
The Hunting Act: We have a clear commitment to action on this, but it's been put on the back burner. We have a debt of honour to all those hunt supporters who turned out for us in 2010. We must fulfil it.
I'm afraid I have such widespread disagreements with Conservative policy that I no longer feel justified in sitting in the European parliament as a Conservative MEP.