A tough campaign but a great victory
First of all, a big thank you to everyone involved in what was a very successful European election campaign. I am delighted not only that I was re-elected as number one for London to the European Parliament for a third term but also that Conservatives maintained their overall leading position with 27% of the vote in London and three elected members. Overall we returned 26 MEPs with representation in every region of the UK. I now very much look forward to working with Syed Kamall and Marina Yannakoudakis, our newly elected MEP colleague, to promote and defend our great city's interests in Europe.
The campaign was difficult, coming as it did at a time when the media were whipping themselves into frenzy over MPs' expenses. There can be no doubt that many voters chose to make a protest vote, resulting in better than expected or deserved results for UKIP (13 seats), Greens (2), and BNP (2) but at least Labour got the good kicking it deserved, falling from 19 to 13 seats.
I encountered some anger on the doorstep regarding the evident abuses that had taken place, although people were reassured by the immediate response and resolute stance of David Cameron. I was also able to contrast the situation in the House of Commons with the work that Conservative MEPs had already undertaken some time previously to make their own expenses much more transparent via the online publication of the "Right to Know" form and a raft of new reforms to the European Parliament's own expenses system which will start from 14th July.
For our party's vote to have held up throughout the UK in such adverse circumstances is a glowing tribute to the work of so many people behind the scenes. In particular as head of the London list I should like to thank our campaign director Ian Sanderson and our volunteer diary coordinator Sally Roberts, who both ran the operation throughout the London region like clockwork. Our regional chairman Caroline Roberts also did a fantastic job, building on the sterling work of her able predecessor Matthew Carrington.
Whether we like it or not, the EU has an increasing influence on all our lives, from the quality of air we breathe to the price of mobile phone calls, and Conservatives are committed to making that influence a positive one. It's vital that we engage within the EU to get the best possible deal for Britain and for London, and that was very much part of the winning Conservative message we put across at the doorstep during the campaign. Our victory comes on the back of Mayor Boris Johnson's superb triumph last year in the Mayoral election, and our control of the GLA. This shows the personal popularity of our leader David Cameron, who has taken one step closer to the door of Downing Street. It shows the collapse in support for this discredited and decrepit Labour government, which is surely now on its last legs. It shows that people responded to our campaign pledge to hold a referendum on the controversial Lisbon Treaty- a promise that Labour and Lib Dems reneged on. And perhaps most of all, it shows that the people now demand an immediate general election so that Conservatives can deliver the fundamental change our Country desperately needs.
The fact that Conservatives have done so well at the ballot box indicates that our vision of Europe - an EU that does less but does it better - corresponds to what the electorate has cried out for. Central to our commitment to work for your interests is our formation of a new Conservative political grouping.
New allies, old friends
When David Cameron stood for the party leadership four years ago he made a firm commitment to end Conservative MEPs' alliance with the EPP Group and to form a new parliamentary group of like-minded, Atlanticist, free-market, anti-federalist partners, keen on championing the nation-state within the European family. It's taken quite some time but that group has now finally taken shape in the form of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
The group is mainly built around three main national delegations - British Conservatives, the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party and the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS). The group is already the fourth largest in the European Parliament, with 55 members so far from nine different EU member states. We anticipate more members coming our way as the new legislature begins work and as we develop a track record that proves we are a permanent part of the centre-right political landscape of the new European Parliament.
It would be fair to say that the issue of Conservative MEPs' political partners in the European Parliament has been somewhat controversial for years within the party, although this discussion hardly resonates with the public at large. From my own point of view, I am glad that a coherent and influential group is finally taking shape with - in all likelihood - a leader from among UK Conservative ranks, and that the doomsday option of sitting as unattached members, with no influence whatsoever, has not come to pass. I am also glad to say that David Cameron is committed to working closely with our old friends in the EPP on the many issues of mutual interest.
Supporting London's diverse communities
During the lengthy campaign I spent an afternoon with the West London Somaliland Community group in Ealing to celebrate Somaliland's national day. Somaliland is a former British protectorate that was independent for a few days in 1960 before becoming part of the Somali Republic. However, while the Somali Republic has since descended into chaos and jihadi brutality, Somaliland after a brief military struggle withdrew from the Republic of Somalia de facto in 1991 and has become a relative oasis of stability and democratic progressiveness. I am therefore supportive of Somaliland's quest for greater participation in the international community and I have forged strong links with the Somaliland diaspora in London, which has a strong community network. I met the opposition candidate for this autumn's presidential election and discussed with him how to enhance Somaliland's position on the international stage. I hope that when in government, Conservatives will look more kindly on this territory, which is so important to UK interests in fighting the scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa as well as stopping the advance of Islamist terrorists.
Standing up for human rights
Many of my parliamentary questions to the Council and the Commission in the past few months have focused on human rights. I monitor the human rights situation closely as a member of the European Parliament's human rights sub-committee, but I also receive many emails from campaigners in London asking for help in raising specific cases.
Some of the issues that I have raised recently include: the trial of a Catholic priest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the disappearance of another priest in Colombia; the shooting of two human rights activists in Kenya; the EU's ongoing support for the efforts to bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities in Sierra Leone; the persecution of Ba'hais in Iran and Ahmadis in Pakistan; the murder of albinos in Africa for their body parts; the Kimberley process in the diamond industry, which is designed to stop the trade in so-called 'blood diamonds' from conflict zones; and, in the UK, an anomaly in company pensions law which discriminates against people in a legally recognized same-sex civil partnership compared to marriage.
Immediate Challenges before the recess
On 14th July the 736 MEPs of the new European Parliament will reconvene, together with outgoing members, to elect a new President (the role played by the Speaker in the House of Commons). The contest will probably be between British Liberal Democrat Graham Watson and former Polish PM Jerzy Buzek, representing the centre-right EPP.
I know Graham well. He obviously comes from a different political family and has a very different vision of Europe from us Conservatives, but he is admittedly a very competent and fair politician who would no doubt make a good President. Mr Buzek is a very senior and experienced politician and a great Anglophile. We will meet as a UK Conservative delegation to discuss who we will be supporting. On paper Buzek looks the favourite to win. The other important vote will be whether to re-elect Jose Manuel Barroso to President of the European Commission for another five years.
Conservative MEPs will also vote to decide their own candidate for the new ECR Group leadership. The two MEP candidates are Geoffrey Van Orden and the incumbent interim leader Timothy Kirkhope.
I will also hear what committees I will be sitting on for the first half of this legislature and after that will finally be heading off for the summer recess with my family when I will doing a language course before heading back to Brussels for the real start of the new legislative period at the end of August.
We will face several big issues including the result of the Lisbon treaty referendum in early October in Ireland, the instability in Iran, the Middle East peace process and the challenges of EU enlargement to Croatia, Macedonia, Iceland and Turkey. All of this will inevitably keep me busy if I remain on the foreign affairs committee but more on these important issues in the next newsletter.