Jenkin: confidence the key for Tories

SINCE the General Election, would-be Tory successors to Michael Howard have been queuing up to rubbish the party following the lack of any significant progress, outlining where it's gone wrong and giving dire warnings of a gloomy future unless it is somehow re-invented.

SINCE the General Election, would-be Tory successors to Michael Howard have been queuing up to rubbish the party following the lack of any significant progress, outlining where it's gone wrong and giving dire warnings of a gloomy future unless it is somehow re-invented.

Enter Essex North MP Bernard Jenkin, one of the leading Conservatives not trying to become leader but who nevertheless has set out his stall on how the Tories must reshape its policies.

Speaking to the influential Policy Exchange in Westminster, he said the debate between those who claimed to be modernisers and those who called themselves traditionalists was superficial, "This divide may entertain Westminster villagers, but it alienates real voters, because neither position says much about how we will actually govern."

Mr Jenkin said: "The idea that we must choose either to widen our appeal or to return to Conservative core values is of course ludicrous. Most of us are both modernisers and traditionalists.


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"I was one of the first Conservative MPs to vote to equalise the homosexual age of consent at 16, long before such views become a political fashion statement. But I also believe the Conservatives need a distinctive philosophy – a commitment to freedom and personal responsibility, to free enterprise, family, community, nationhood, and to care for the vulnerable – a philosophy that draws on Thatcher, Churchill, Disraeli and Burke."

Mr Jenkin said British society seemed to be characterised by a fatalism about lawlessness and contempt for private property, failing schools, long waits for NHS treatment, state dependency enforced by means tested benefits and tax credits, illegal immigration, bureaucracy and waste.

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"Decent people, above all in the inner cities, feel their aspirations crushed by failed government initiatives and family and societal breakdown. They are powerless to uphold their values, while the police seem resigned to drugs and the yob culture."

Mr Jenkin said: "It has become one of the Conservatives' clichés that people like our policies, but not when they come from us. Cynicism of our motives is hard-wired into the imagination of the voters.

"We should have learned by now that policies cannot be founded on sound bites mined from focus groups and that unity cannot be bought by blurring differences of opinion. Indeed, such opportunism breeds disunity."

He said younger generations, sometimes referred to as Thatcher's children, were more committed to personal and national freedom than the post-war generation.

"They also want our country to play a full and positive role in the world. All we need is confidence that a Conservative government will best realise their ideals and ambitions."

EU SUGAR REFORMS UPROAR

TWO East of England Euro MPs joined an estimated 5,000 farmers this week in Brussels protesting against planned 40% cuts in European Union sugar subsidies.

UKIP's Tom Wise and sugar beet farmer and Conservative trade spokesman in the European Parliament Robert Sturdy were among those demonstrating outside talks on the proposals by EU farm ministers.

Mr Sturdy said the cuts, part of EU sugar regime reforms, would not only hit sugar farmers in the developing world, but would also drive up to 100,000 sugar beet farmers in the EU out of business.

"This response from sugar farmers across Europe has been outstanding. I hope EU ministers have now got the message that this reform needs to be taken back to the drawing board," said Mr Sturdy.

"The Commission's plan would hit farmers in the poorest countries as hard as it would hit European farmers. It's a lousy deal for farmers, it would damage the environment and consumers won't see any benefits from it."

The proposals include a 39% cut in the guaranteed price of white sugar and a 42% cut for sugar beet, phased in over two years from 2006. One aim is to remove the incentive for EU sugar beet farmers to dump their surpluses on developing world markets.

EU farmers hit hardest by the changes would receive 60% of their subsidies in compensation to adjust to the controversial changes, the first since the current sugar regime was introduced in 1968.

Luis Morago, head of Oxfam's Brussels office, said: "Reform is urgently needed but these proposals are unacceptable. They will not end EU overproduction and export dumping. The steep, sharp price cut will hurt poor countries that depend on selling their sugar to Europe and small producers in Europe. Member states should reject this package and call for reforms that help poor farmers at home and abroad.

"Agriculture ministers must listen to the developing world about the impact of these changes on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of poor sugar workers and their families."

SUPPORT for the European Union has reached a new low in the UK and is falling in almost every other EU member state, a Eurobarometer survey revealed this week. Only 36% in the UK think EU membership is a "good thing" - a 2% drop compared with six months ago.

European Commission vice-president Margot Wallstrom said the figures showed the need for a new sense of direction for the EU: "The support the public give to the EU should not be taken for granted. The people of Europe and the organisations that represent them must have more say and we, the decision-makers, must learn to listen to people's hopes and expectations."

The survey involved interviews with more than 29,000 people in 30 countries – the EU 25 plus Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia and Northern Cyprus.

THE WIT OF SIR EDWARD HEATH

DURING Commons tributes to the former Prime Minister who died on Sunday, Tony Blair said: "I remember that I first met him at a parliamentary reception in the mid-1980s shortly after I became a Member of this House. He said: `Are you an MP?' `Yes.' I said. `Which party?' `Labour,' I said. `Well, you don't look like it or sound like it. What's more, as an Opposition, you're bloody useless.'"

Sir Stuart Bell MP recalled: "As an international lawyer, I represented Hermes, the tie company that makes the best of ties. I could recognise a Hermes tie a hundred yards away. I saw Ted Heath in the Smoking Room wearing a Hermes tie. I said to him: `Sir Edward, you're wearing a Hermes tie. I am their lawyer.' He looked at me and said: `I often wondered why they were so expensive.'

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