The Mail on Sunday's headline presentation of my book is a travesty. Nowhere do I denounce 'most MPs'. The book has many affectionate tributes to admired colleagues. I was warned by Chris Mullin about the 'headlines'. I saw the intended extracts but not the untrue headlines. They attacked the Council of Europe this morning. In my book I did balance my criticism of some of the excesses of a few of its members with praise of the majority.
"It was a pleasant surprise to discover that most COE UK delegates
were serious and hard working. Some were drunks and expenses gluttons
who behaved scandalously. But they were irrelevant to the political
panjandrum of the COE’s progress to promote human rights. Debating
and legislating with MPs from 47 other countries is a bewildering but
rewarding stimulus. There are the repeated absorbing clashes of cultures,
ideologies and languages. At best it’s an exotic revealing window into alien
ideas. At worse, it’s a collision with an impenetrable cliff of ignorance and
There are often new insights on domestic policies when viewed from
abroad. I was once told, ‘Your government’s policy on asylum seekers is
crazy.’ My informant told me his constituents are milking our system.
‘They rent out their homes for a year, continue to receive social security
payments here, then go to Britain and get another income there.’
My prize for courage goes to Lord Judd for standing up to the abuse,
curses and threats from Russians over Chechnya. As Frank Judd, he
was a minister in Harold Wilson’s government and later ran Oxfam. In
Strasbourg he was the truthful voice on the dreadful Russian atrocities
in Chechnya. Frank remained steadfast against a united attack from the
post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States politicians and the
Russian media. He was called a liar and accused of taking bribes from
the Chechens. While many politicians from Eastern Europe are subtle
and of high quality, their politics are still marked by the brutal imprint of
their communist past.
The strength of the Council of Europe is the knowledge of members. We
meet socially, dine together and know each other’s characters intimately.
Frank is known to possess saintly integrity beyond the reach of any form
of corruption. In Moscow he became a media hate figure. In Chechnya he
will be long remembered as a brave politician whose testimony lightened
their terrible burdens."
Liverpool MP Eddie O’Hara stunned his fellow Brits into admiration on a visit to Crete.
The apres-meeting event was a dinner in a club. The always sober Eddie
took over the microphone and told the appreciative audience a joke – in
Greek. He followed that with a half an hour singing popular Greek songs
in his pleasant light baritone voice. Fellow Europeans were impressed.
They are resigned to their view of Brits as monoglot language cretins.
Eddie was the brilliant exception. He is also acquainted with ancient
Greek. Before he became an MP he was a teacher of teachers. Eddie is
unknown in the UK. In Greece, he is a legend.
The British contribution to the COE and the WEU peaked with
the election of the splendid Birmingham MP Terry Davis as Secretary
General in 2004. In his five-year tenure he has done a magnificent job. In
his acceptance speech, he affirmed the highest ambitions of the Council
and especially its British members.
" I have a vision of Europe as part of a world where men and women
are treated fairly and equally, a Europe where people live in peace
on the basis of mutual respect without any discrimination based on
gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or religious belief a Europe
with no borders, no visas, no passports - a Europe where people have
the time and opportunity to enjoy not only their own culture but the
cultures of other people. The Council of Europe is the best way to turn
that vision into reality. "
Within days of Terry standing down at the end of a four-year term,
the reforms he introduced were being dismantled by an institution that
was deeply hostile to Anglo-Saxon ways. A linguistic fog and national self
interests confined the Europe-wide stages of the COE and the WEU.
But contemporary politicians now enjoy new platforms, without
boundaries or limits, in the novel world of cyberspace. "
From 'The Unusual Suspect'