Greens adding to Labour's blues

AS Labour steels itself to be battered at the European elections in June, the last thing it needs is an attack on its left flank from a born-again environmental anti-Euro party.

AS Labour steels itself to be battered at the European elections in June, the last thing it needs is an attack on its left flank from a born-again environmental anti-Euro party.

But that's just what's about to happen as the Greens make an all out pitch for traditional Labour voters with a conscience.

The Greens have rebranded themselves the party of "real progress" and are confident they can end up with six MEPs across the United Kingdom as well as more London Assembly members.

Here in the East Of England Euro constituency, they will be competing on much of the same territory as Martin Bell, the war correspondent turned politician who is standing on a "Mr Integrity" ticket opposing EU corruption, the single currency, the closed list voting system for European elections, and the war in Iraq.

The Greens are also against genetically modified crops, "racist" asylum polices, the nuclear industry, hunting with hounds, and rail industry privatisation.

A key pitch is being made to disillusioned Labour Party members. A leaflet showing Labour's wilting rose symbol is one of the most telling and potent political statements of recent years.

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This weekend, the party is holding its conference in Hove Town Hall and one of the keynote speakers will be Margaret Wright, the Greens' lead candidate for the East of England region in the European elections.

"At this conference, we will get ready to defend our seats in the European Parliament and the London Assembly and we're determined to win extra seats in both and in more local councils around the country," says Ms Wright.

She believes success can be built on last year's local elections when the Greens saw councillors elected in the South West, South East and North West regions.

In 1999 in the Euro elections, the party polled just 61,334 across the six counties of the East of England out of a total vote of 996,588. They were 27,000 behind the UK Independence Party and received 380,000 less than the triumphant Tories.

And with Martin Bell announcing his candidature, the battle for the anti-EU vote is getting rather crowded. To various degrees, the Conservatives, UKIP, Greens, British National Party and Mr Bell will be battling for those who oppose the single currency and the European constitution.

INCIDENTALLY, at a European Parliament Press briefing at Stansted Airport to mark the countdown to the European elections, Labour MEP Richard Howitt kept sniping at my remarks in last week's column which suggested the electorate thought Euro MPs were "shadowy figures," that voters cared little for the Parliament, and that turnout in June's elections would be down.

Perhaps I was hasty about the turnout – it was written before Martin Bell announced his intervention, which I concede will ensure higher media interest, thus leading to more people voting.

But I don't withdraw the word "shadowy" – MEPs may believe they do a valuable job, but until the electorate can readily identify them and are allowed to vote for them by name rather simply putting a cross alongside a list, they will remain unknown to the vast majority..

Unless, of course, the Independent Martin Bell wins, when he will become instantly recognisable to the voters of the East of England as Our Man in Brussels.

Who has most to fear from his intervention? I suspect every political party will lose votes, and Mr Bell will pick up support from those who would not otherwise have bothered to go to the polling station on June 10.

But it's far too early to predict how effective a campaigner Mr Bell will be, especially if he ignores four of the six counties and only concentrates on Norfolk and Suffolk.

CHELMSFORD West Tory Simon Burns clashed this week with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott about house building targets being imposed on Essex, claiming a Government diktat would being about an extra 131,000 extra homes in the county.

Mr Prescott retorted that the "undoubted shortage of houses in the South East has affected prices and it is therefore right for us to increase that number." He then turned the tables on Mr Burns.

"The East of England regional assembly is taking that into account. It is dominated by Tories, including a Tory chairman," said Mr Prescott. "Does he have no faith in the decisions made for the region by the East of England regional assembly?"

Andrew Mackinlay (Labour, Thurrock) added: "Every week at my surgery, there are people who are looking for low-cost accommodation in an and around the areas where their families live and where they have been brought up. We welcome the additional houses."

TRADE justice for the developing world was the subject of a Tory inspired debate in the Commons to mark Fairtrade fortnight. Suffolk Coastal's John Gummer, as Chairman of the Marine Stewardship Council, said it was vital that Third World fisheries communities were sustainable.

Because of depleted fish stocks, the rich reached out "to buy other people's fish stocks, while the huge proportion of the world's poor who depend on fish for their protein will lose it in order that we have it in our shops."

Consumers should be reminded that when "they buy products, they should do it to the advantage, not disadvantage, of those who produce them." Mr Gummer said European Union fishery deals with Africa were not sufficiently policed "which allows rich nations to take more from the seas than is safe for next year's harvest."

Agreeing, junior trade minister Nigel Griffiths acknowledged the "pressing need to ensure that EU agreements on fisheries are fair and equitable to the countries of Africa and do not become yet another opportunity for despoiling the sea stocks."

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