At the UPS Offices in Atlanta, with an early UPS delivery van. May 15th. CHH, Syed Kamall, RFH
The media’s theme of the week seems to be MEPs’ junkets — foreign trips on which they have a marvellous time and do little work — in fact little more than holidays at the tax-payer’s expense. The News of the World has given pages to it, and the BBC featured the story on the Today programme. So I thought I ought to hold up my hand and admit that I went to America, largely at the tax-payer’s expense, last week. While I was there I ate several meals, and visited no fewer than three tourist attractions: The White House, the Margaret Mitchell Museum (as in “Gone With the Wind”) in Atlanta, and the Coca-Cola Museum, also in Atlanta. I also worked my socks off.
We flew out to Newark, New Jersey, on a budget airline on Sunday May 11th, and took a taxi to Washington, arriving at our hotel at two o’clock in the morning. On Monday, I lunched with Microsoft. Microsoft has a substantial operation in the East Midlands, which I have visited. They also have big competition issues with the European Commission. After lunch, we split the bill.
On Monday afternoon I met with Tim Shriver (of the Kennedy clan), who runs the “Special Olympics”, an organisation which provides sports facilities and opportunities to people with learning difficulties. We discussed their plans for a major event in Leicester next year. Then at six o’clock I addressed a reception at the Margaret Thatcher Centre at the Heritage Foundation, alongside Senator Jon Kyl (Republican, Arizona). The reception was attended by senior business figures, politicians and think-tankers. Dinner with Heritage folk, to discuss the next day’s seminar (and again we split the bill).
On Tuesday morning I and other colleagues appeared on a panel alongside Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas) at a seminar at Heritage, on the theme “Does America have friends in Europe?”. That afternoon we visited former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who now runs a conservative lobbying organisation called “Freedom Works”. (“Armey’s Axiom Number One: The market’s rational, the government’s dumb!”). We also visited senior administration officials in the office of the Vice-President, in the Old Executive Building opposite the White House, and discussed the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, and why it might damage the transatlantic relationship. Then we did the tour of the White House. We dined with DC Tories, a group of ex-pat Conservatives in Washington.
On Wednesday I attended the famous Wednesday Meeting, run by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. This is a Washington Institution, attended by all the movers and shakers from the conservative side of politics — politicians, administration officials, think-tankers and policy wonks. I had an interesting exchange with Carly Fiorina, formerly CEO of Hewlett Packard, and now running Senator John McCain’s Presidential campaign, on the subject of “Cap’n’Trade” — emissions trading systems. Then on to meet Senator Jim DeMint (Republican, South Carolina), to talk defence issues again, and after that to the Cato Institute, where I and other colleagues sat on panels dealing with security issues, and with Transatlantic Economic Relations. This event was organised by the Adriatic Institute with support from Cato, Heritage, Americans for Tax Reform and the European Enterprise Institute. Then we flew to Atlanta — no time for dinner, so we had a burger at the airport.
On Thursday we visited the headquarters of CNN in Atlanta, and did the tour of the studios. Then a short visit to the Margaret Mitchell Museum. We spent the rest of the day discussing a range of issues with UPS, the courier company, who have major assets in the East Midlands at Nottingham/East Midlands Airport. On Friday, we visited the Coca-Cola company. After a tour of their museum (old ads and Norman Rockwell paintings), we discussed a range of issues, especially EU plans for regulating labels on consumer products, with the CEO of Coca-Cola and his senior colleagues. After lunch in the boardroom, we headed for the airport, where our flight was delayed three hours. Fortunately, we just made our connection in Newark, and flew home, arriving in London-Luton mid-morning on Saturday.
If that was a junket, it was a very tiring one. But hugely worthwhile.
In the White House Press Room, May 14th.