Monday, April 26, 2004

Mr Eurofighter

Heseltine speaks out

It was inevitable that they would drag him out of semi-retirement to make the case for “Europe”. Yet it says something for the “yes” campaign that Heseltine is probably the best they have.

And how good is that?

Michael Heseltine is the man who in 1985, overtaken with enthusiasm for “Europe” signed us up to take part in the “European Fighter Project”, later to become known as the “Eurofighter 2000”. The “2000” was quietly dropped when it became clear, 15 years later, that the aircraft was not going to make it on time and it will be 2005 before it hits squadron service – if at all.

With something like £20 billion spent on it, it makes new Labour’s waste of money on public services seem like small beer. And while we do at least get some “schools ‘n’ hospitals for our money, for the mega-squllions we have spent on Eurofighter, we get an aircraft which was obsolete before it flew – its technology at least three generations behind the US Raptor.

So detached from reality is our former golden boy that, in his 1987 book, “Where There’s a Will”, extolling the virtues of “Europe” that he claimed the project had saved the defence budget £100 million. Strangely, that claim was not repeated in his autobiography.

And this was by no means Heseltine’s only financial disaster. As the man behind the Westland scandal, it was he that promoted the Anglo-Italian EH101 helicopter project, now known as the Merlin.

It at least entered service, albeit five years late – rendered operabale only with the technical assistance of the US Lockheed Martin company. Even then, it managed to break a new world record for the most expensive helicopter ever built – the Navy versions costing £100 million per airframe. Currently, the fleet spends much of its time being grounded, either because bits keep falling off, or for seemingly intractable gearbox problems.

This is the man who writes in The Daily Telegraph today warning about the “rubbish” we will hear from anti-Europeans about the constitution in the months ahead. Mr Heseltine wants us to “stick to the facts”.

But which facts, Michael?

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