On Tuesday March 12th, during a rather long speech in the Strasbourg Hemicycle from Israeli President Shimon Peres, I’m afraid I inadvertently and momentarily dozed off. As it happens, I was in the parliament that day for fourteen hours, and next day for twelve, so I don’t think I necessarily have to apologise for a quick mid-day power-nap (except perhaps to President Peres).
But someone rather disobligingly took a photograph of me snoozing. I’m not sure who it was, although I suspect Tory Chief Whip Julie Girling — at least, it was she who Tweeted it, and of course it went viral. I first saw it on Guido’s front page.
Not content with that, my old sparring partner and Lib-Dem MEP Bill Newton Dunn saw fit to send it out to the East Midlands press, as a sort of impromptu press release. And BBC Radio Nottingham invited Bill and me onto their morning show at 7:50 a.m. next day. So I was there at my desk and on the phone at that early hour (having left the building the previous evening around 10:20 p.m.).
Bear in mind that the BBC had invited me to talk about sleeping on the job, while Bill was there in an attempt to ridicule and humiliate me. And I have to say (without undue modesty) that what followed was a master-class in how to turn around a political attack and dump on the attacker. I was reminded of Tolkien: “The biter bit, the hawk under the eagle’s foot”.
The interviewer started the good work, asking if Bill thought I was working.
BND: Well I think it is true, he works for UKIP so he is opposing everything, but I suppose he is working. He is there. Yes we can all nod off, I can understand it.
INT: But you sent out a press release saying: “Roger and the team hard at work again”.
BND: Well I give him the benefit of the doubt, but it’s for the public to decide, not me.
INT: Well that’s not the benefit of the doubt, sending out a press release with a photo of him asleep…that sounds very much like you’ve made your mind up, Bill.
BND: Well Roger does work very hard, that’s what I’ve decided.
In fact I had already checked the stats. Bill and I are both assiduous about attending and voting, and our figures are very similar, so he could scarcely accuse me of slacking without accusing himself as well. But I didn’t need to quote the numbers. Bill’s response begs the question: “If you agree that Roger works very hard, Bill, then exactly what point did you think you were making when you sent out the photo?”.
But in the next breath I suggested that instead of talking about a joke photo, we ought to be talking about the reforms to the CAP, and the vote on the EU budget multi-annual framework, both of which were to be voted later that day. And I demanded to know why Bill was going to vote to increase the budget. He started to flannel. The conversation continued:
RFH: Today we have really important votes. I’m always really happy to talk to you about a photograph that’s on twitter, but I would much rather talk to you about what’s going on in the Chamber. I’m going to be voting against an increase in spending in Brussels, and I want to know what BND is going to be doing.
BND: It’s nice to talk serious politics, but the Parliament is going to be voting today on a mandate to go and talk to the 27 leaders, representatives. There is some talk about rearranging the spending, because we think that the deal the leaders made over 30 hours was a total mess. It should be improved, and we don’t know what the final outcome is going to be yet, until the negotiations have been undertaken.
RFH: But the Parliament is going to be calling for higher spending, and you’re voting for that, yes?
BND: No, no, we’re not voting for higher or lower spending. We’re asking for different lines on the budget. Let’s wait and see what happens.
RFH: If you’re voting for the Parliament position you’re voting for more spending in Europe, that’s absolutely clear. If you haven’t read the document, then perhaps you should.
INT: Guys… Would you like to respond to that?
BND: It’s absurd; Roger is taking a position that doesn’t yet exist- let’s wait and see. We do these things in a proper methodical way.
RFH: It does exist and we’re voting on it today.
In fact Bill did indeed vote for the parliament report, which calls for higher EU spending, an end to the British rebate, new EU-level taxes, and for the proceeds of the proposed Financial Transaction Tax to be paid directly into Brussels’ coffers.
But I’d like to pick up another of Bill’s points. He says I am “opposing everything”. And I guess he’s right. I’m against everything, except maybe independence and self-determination and democracy. And free markets, and enterprise, and prosperity. And hard work and self-reliance. And limited government and low taxes. And property rights and enforceable contracts and the rule of law.
I’m in favour of education, and grammar schools, and our great universities. I’m in favour of secure and affordable energy supplies — currently put at risk by EU policies.
And of course I’m in favour of history and culture, art and architecture, music and opera and ballet, literature and poetry and drama. I’m in favour of food and wine, of real ale and country pubs, and walks with friends along canal towpaths. I’m in favour of travel and fast cars. And though I’m a bit past it now, I was certainly in favour of distance running and marathons and sailboards, in my time. I’m in favour of dogs and cats and horses, of the English countryside and country sports, of country fairs and county shows.
Above all, I’m in favour of freedom. And that’s something that the EU institutions know little about.