La Treizième Étoile: 25/04/10 - 02/05/10 Blog Archives
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The UK MEPs hoping to become MPs: an overview of their chances on May 6th

Saturday, 1 May 2010
In case you missed it, there is a General Election planned in the United Kingdom for Thursday 6th May in which Gordon Brown’s Labour Party is widely expected to lose its status as the governing majority. But amongst the candidates seeking election in the 650 constituencies that currently compose the country, are 11 current Members of the European Parliament.

Here I give a short overview of their election battleground in which they are campaigning to exchange their seat in Brussels and Strasbourg for one in Westminster.

With the exception of UK Green party leader Caroline Lucas, it hardly comes as a surprise to note the other declared standing candidates all campaign for the UK to leave the European Union…

AGNEW, Stuart (EFD/UKIP) – Broadland

Broadland is a new constituency at the election, replacing the new abolished Mid Norfolk seat and also includes part of the North Norfolk and Norwich North seats. In 2005, the seat as it was then was won by the Conservatives with a majority of 6,573 and is one of the Liberal Democrats’ targeted seats. UKIP polled only 4% of the vote last time so a large swing is required for Agnew to win the seat.

BATTEN, Gerard (EFD/UKIP) – Romford

Romford is a very safe Conservative seat reclaimed back from Labour in 2001. The Conservative majority was increased further in 2005 to 12,120 accumulating 59% of the vote. The UKIP candidate in 2005 received only 2.2% of the votes so an ever larger swing is required for Batten to win the seat.

BRONS, Andrew (Non-attached/BNP) – Keighley

A Liberal seat until 1918, the Yorkshire seat of Keighley has since regularly changed hands between the Conservative Party and Labour. In 2005, Labour polled 44.7% of the vote to win the seat ahead of the Conservatives (34.3%). Mr Brons will be standing in the seat his leader Nick Griffin fought for in 2005, finishing last with 9.2% of the vote. The BNP vote increased by 9% that time around but an even bigger increase is needed for the right-wing party to gain their first seat in Westminster.


Suffolk South is a very safe Conservative seat in which the incumbent minister first secured a majority of 11,269 at the 1983 election. Although this was cut to 4,175 votes at the 1997 election, and to 6,600 in 2005, it is unlikely to change colour. An ambitious target seat for the Liberal Democrats this time around, UKIP polled 5% of the vote in 2005 and is unlikely to poll better.

CLARK, Derek (EFD/UKIP) – Northampton South

Mr Clark is standing again in this constituency which has switched between Conservative to Labour and back to Conservative in 2005. The incumbent MP won the seat then with a majority of 4,419 votes, which is four-times the amount of total votes Mr Clark polled for UKIP in 2005. He will hope to increase his vote this time around even though the result last time was lower than the previous year.

FARAGE, Nigel (EFD/UKIP) – Buckingham

Breaking with Parliamentary convention, the former leader of UKIP is standing against the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow in Buckingham. The convention is that no party puts up a candidate against the Speaker so Mr Farage is the most notable opposition candidate. There are plenty of other independent candidates standing but it is still considered a safe Conservative seat (although Bercow is no longer officially Conservative since becoming Speaker). In 2005, when he was not the Speaker, the Conservatives won 57.4% of the vote, compared to 3% for UKIP. While not expected to lose, Mr Bercow has clearly been fluttered by Mr Farage’s candidacy so there could be a surprise here. One to watch.

GRIFFIN, Nick (Non-attached/BNP) – Barking

Barking has been a Labour seat since 1945 and is the current seat for veteran Labour minister Margaret Hodge. However, this time around she faces a tougher breed of candidate in Mr Griffin of the BNP. It is certainly possible for Griffin to do well here with the BNP in 2005 out-polling the Liberal Democrats with 16.9% of the vote to take third place and were only 27 votes behind the Conservatives. Former boxer Frank Maloney is standing here for UKIP, but it is Griffin and the BNP vote to watch out for here – it is the BNP’s best chance of winning a seat in Westminster.

LUCAS, Caroline (Greens) – Brighton, Pavilion

Once a traditional Conservative seaside town, 1995 Labour won the seat and has held it since despite the majority falling in both 2001 and 2005. However, the story in 2005 was provided by the Green Party who ran the Conservatives very close for second place. This time around its leader Caroline Lucas is fighting the cause in what is a three-way marginal seat. Despite polling 22% in 2005, the Greens are highly expected to claim their very first seat in UK Parliament thanks additionally to the ‘Cleggmania’ which could transfer votes from Labour and the Conservatives to the Green ‘alternative’. Again, one to watch closely.

NATTRASS, Mike (EFD/UKIP) – South Staffordshire

Containing no major towns, this rural constituency has been Conservative since 1997. In 2005 the death of the Lib Dem candidate during the general election campaign caused the poll to be postponed until a deferred poll in June. Nonetheless the majority of 8,346 was enough to re-elected Sir Patrick Cormack, the second longest-serving MP, who is not standing this time around. In 2005, the UKIP polled 10.4%, an increase of 6% from 2001 which is why they are expecting another good result, although very unlikely to gain the seat.

NUTTALL, Paul (EFD/UKIP) – Bootle

Bootle, in Merseyside, has been a safe Labour seat since the outbreak of World War II. Incumbent Joe Benton took hold of the seat in 1990 and has remained MP ever since although his majority was cut in 2001 and 2005, and still stands at more than 16,000. Mr Nuttall is again standing for UKIP after obtaining only 4.1% of the vote in the first time it contested election in that seat.

SINCLAIRE, Nikki (Non-attached/Independent) – Meriden

The now independent MEP after her expulsion from the UKIP party is standing in the ‘centre of England’ constituency of Meriden which is safe Conservative with a majority of over 7,000. The biggest fight here will come from the Labour party which polled 33% in 2005, so Ms Sinclaire will have to fight hard to keep her deposit standing for Solihull and Meriden Residents Association (SAMRA).

Ones to Watch: Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion), Nick Griffin (Barking) and Nigel Farage (Buckingham).

Most likely to become an MP: Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion).

Is Peter Mandelson behind the Lady Ashton 'resignation' rumours?

Friday, 30 April 2010
Less than six months into the job as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the ‘respected’ British broadsheet newspaper Daily Telegraph published an article in which it revealed it had learnt that European colleagues believe Lady Ashton, the best paid female politician in the world, is "on the verge of resignation". But is Peter Mandelson, a former British Commissioner himself, behind these ‘rumours’?

Peter Mandelson (right) with Gordon BrownIn truth, it would not surprise me at all. Mandelson, pictured above right with Gordon Brown, virtually single-handedly orchestrates the Labour election campaign in the UK at the moment and certainly has a reputation for this kind of 'activity'.

The Telegraph reported that senior officials predict that the Labour peer "could step down later this year after being politically damaged by accusations that she is too inexperienced and weak to be EU foreign minister", a post created by the Lisbon Treaty.

It quotes a European Commission official remarking that "every day is an uphill struggle… no-one predicts she can stay five years, not even she."

"She has been heard voicing her frustration and has expressed her desire to walk away," said another quoted EU source. "She obviously finds some of the personal criticism to be almost unbearable."

Baroness Ashton at the European Parliament (Photo: Times Online)However close aides to Lady Ashton, left, currently in China, have dismissed the "rumours" and emphasised that she intends to be a "stayer".

Nonetheless Baroness Ashton has come under fire from a whole host of powerful countries led notably by France, for allowing the Commission to seize too much control of a new EU diplomatic service that she is building from scratch. It was also the French who led the charge of heavy criticism in the last three months for not visiting Haiti in the wake of the earthquake in January.

Other officials have complained that she has lacked suitable leadership abilities for as post that comes with an annual salary and perks package worth £328,000 a year – and that she cannot even speak the other two official languages of French and German.

As a former leader of the House of Lords, Lady Ashton succeeded Lord Mandelson as Trade Commissioner when he returned to British politics in 2008 but kept a far lower profile than her media friendly predecessor, now a Lord himself, who has been accused of being behind a whispering campaign to bring down his successor.

An Ashton aide has reportedly told another euro-sceptic British newspaper that she “
completely refutes the media report that she is stepping down” and that “Mandelson's fingerprints are all over it."

Allegedly, the Labour peers’ media team started the Ashton resignation rumour by placing it in an Italian newspaper, La Stampa, in the knowledge that it would be followed up in Britain, and that Mandelson wants to force Lady Ashton to resign and hand over the EU job to David Miliband, although he did turn down the job when it was available saying he did not want to spend "years on a plane".

But even if indeed the eldest Miliband brother has now decided he fancies the EU’s top diplomatic role himself, with dreadful results for his party expected in next week’s General Election and the maintaining unpopularity of the party leader and PM Gordon Brown, surely Miliband would be best encouraged to become party leader than get involved in such rumours?

Could it happen? Kaczyński twin to run for Polish presidency

Tuesday, 27 April 2010
It could yet be one of the strangest sights in the political arena ever – could the recently-deceased Polish president be succeeded in the post by his identical twin brother?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (right) wants to replace his deceased twin Lech as Polish President (Photo: the tragic plane crash earlier this month in which Poland’s president Lech Kaczyński was amongst those to lose their lives, the country is in need of a president and Lech’s twin Jarosław (pictured above on the right - I think) has declared he will be a candidate for the coming election on 20th June.

However, despite the increase in sympathy for the Kaczyński family, the opinion polls conducted for the local media show the acting-president Bronisław Komorowski of the centrist Civic Platform as the most likely election winner.

A snap opinion poll conducted after Kaczyński's announcement yesterday showed Komorowski in the lead with 46% against 32% for Lech’s identical twin.

Krzysztof Bobinski, the head of the Unia & Polska Foundation, a Warsaw think-tank has been quoted by EUActiv as saying "In reality, it won't be him [Jarosław Kaczyński] running, it will be his brother. His campaign team will play on sympathy for his brother.

"Kaczyński would have a chance to win only if other candidates make mistakes. This is a difficult situation for everybody. This is not a normal election campaign but I think political attitudes generally have not changed among voters."

Jarosław Kaczyński, a former Prime Minister who also heads Poland's main opposition party, the right-wing eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS), said he wanted to continue his brother's conservative mission.

"Poland is our great shared obligation. We are required to overcome our personal pain and to take on this mission despite the personal tragedy. That's why I have taken the decision to run for the presidency of Poland," he said in a statement.

Where now for EEAS after agreed blueprint faces legal action by NGOs?

Monday, 26 April 2010
Posted on Th!nk3At a meeting in Brussels today EU member states reached political agreement on the future shape of the EU's new diplomatic service, but within hours the European development NGO community have launched a scathing attack on the plans and threatened to take legal action.

They claim the latest blueprints will make development a “mere pawn of foreign and security policy” and that this is illegal under the Lisbon Treaty.

So what is the British Baroness Ashton putting on the table?

Another headache for Catherine Ashton (Photo: European Parliament)Well as it stands, the formation of the European External Action Service as agreed by the political leaders will see what the NGOs describe as "unprecedented control over development cooperation and its budget" fall within its purview.

Concord, the umbrella group of all European development groups together with CIDSE, the alliance of European Catholic development charities, Aprodev, Oxfam International and Eurostep, the secular aid coalition, together sought legal advice from UK law firm White & Case LLP whose analysis came back saying: "the EAS may be in breach of objectives and competencies laid down in the Lisbon Treaty."

In a joint statement they say that this will inevitably “mix intergovernmental and community policy” and “make poverty reduction objectives subject to foreign policy interests”.

"The role of the EAS under the EU treaties is restricted to the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP),” it continues, “which represents only part of the EU's external action."

To that end, the development groups are calling for a complete review of Baroness Ashton’s proposal which will involve taking the plans back to the drawing boards of all the stakeholders including the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, and civil society.

Their goal is to ensure that “the spirit and letter of the Lisbon Treaty are fully respected”, that the European Commission “takes full control over the development budget” and that the “binding objective of ‘poverty eradication’ towards developing countries is fully respected.

As it stands the European Commission has been the sole agent responsible for development policy and implementation until now, with that responsibility falling into the job description of the Commissioner for Development who is currently the Latvian Andris Piebalgs.

Generally speaking, the Development NGOs view the Commission as an organisation that in principle is supposed to stand above national interests and represent the interest of Europe as a whole. Because of this it is a better manager of development policy and the funding allocated to it.

Their worry now is that with the control over development being placed instead in the hands of the EAS, the member states will now have their proverbial fingers in the pie and will give less prominence to tackling poverty in the third-world in favour of other foreign policy objectives.

The director of Eurostep, Simon Stocker, has for instance warned of a "politicisation" of EU aid.

However, an EU official close to the High Representative has been quoted by the EUobserver explaining that after having read the document, he was convinced the proposals are compliant with the Lisbon Treaty.

"The [NGOs'] legal advice overlooks one basic fact: development policy yesterday, today and tomorrow will be based on the [main] instrument adopted on development policy, the European Development Fund [EDF], which is based on rules that very much puts poverty reduction at the forefront of what we want to obtain,” he said.

The same official however defended the need to place development within the framework of foreign policy: "we are unfortunately living in a world where development depends on political factors. You do not make development in the Sudan or Somalia and forget that there is a political context."

"That is what the EAS is about,” he continued, “it is not a way of trying to divert development money to so-called political purposes. It's about how you best promote the interests of that particular country."

But it should be stressed the plans are far from the done deal. After all, formal agreement on this blueprint can only be given by the member states once the Commission gives its consent - seen as likely - and MEPs give their opinion on it.

Seen now as the biggest obstacle, the Parliament has already shown itself to be not particularly happy with what it sees as an intergovernmental approach to the EAS rather than EU ‘community' approach. One MEP, the Bulgarian Socialist Ivailo Kalfin has come out stating that the decision to put the EAS in charge of strategic planning on development issues and the commission in charge of its implementation will blur the lines of responsibility which he says will lead to “great difficulties”.

The European Parliament has previously sent cases to European Court of Justice to challenge the legality of EU decisions and the misspending of the EU development money, and it could do the same here if the NGOs message is received and understood. That said, if MEPs do not take legal action, the groups themselves may do so.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.