The local and EU elections gave me the opportunity to visit more doorsteps and talk to more people in their homes. Parliament has taken a break between sessions to allow MPs more time in their constituencies.
The doorstep conversations were very varied, with numerous local issues that matter to people that are the task of the new Council to sort out. There was little change in the composition of the Council, with the addition of one new Labour member and the gain of one seat in Woodley by the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats. I congratulate all those who won on May 22nd and wish them well in dealing with a wide range of issues in planning, transport, education and social services. They need to take up the plans for Wokingham Town centre and respond to changed circumstances and local views. They need to develop their ideas to combat future flooding, and to ease congestion on our roads. I also thank all who fought and lost. They worked hard to give us all a choice and are a necessary part of our democracy.
The EU election brought to the fore the issue of whether we should be in the EU at all, and if we wish to remain in it, how should we wish to change it to meet the UK’s needs? At one end of the spectrum of debate the Liberal democrats campaigned for staying in on current terms, a view which proved to be unpopular. At the other end of the spectrum UKIP campaigned for immediate exit, a view which attracted a lot of support. The Conservatives set out the offer to the electors which we will repeat in the 2015 General election. We think the current relationship does not work in the UK’s interest, but think we should negotiate with the rest of the EU first before deciding whether it is best to leave or whether there is a new relationship that makes sense for the UK. Labour largely accepts the current relationship, like the Liberal Democracts, and is not in favour of withdrawal. However, in the light of the EU election results they seem now to be saying they too think some features of our current relationship need to change.
There are two main reasons why I want to see a major change in our relationship. The first is the EU has been given far too much power under the Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon which Conservatives opposed at the time. The second is the Euro area is gathering power to the centre and needs to form a common government over many things. As a non Euro member we have no wish to be dragged into this centralised system which would stop us having our own policies for prosperity and economic advance. I want to trade with the rest of the EU and be friends with them. We need agreements with them over various matters ranging from flight paths and airport access through ferry links to pipelines and power connections. That does not mean we have to be governed by the EU, or let them decide our immigration policy, our criminal justice system or our energy policy.
Much of the debate for the EU elections was about these fundamental matters which do still get settled at Westminster. Only the Westminster Parliament can order a referendum on our future on the EU. Only our national Parliament can vote to take us out of the EU, if that is the wish of UK voters. The EU elections sent messages. The 2015 General Election will make the decisions on whether we want to negotiate a new deal, and whether we want an In/Out referendum or not. So far only the Conservatives are offering an IN/Out referendum. Let’s see how others respond to the mood of the country as expressed on May 22nd.