What do you think of the Tories' new European Conservatives and Reformists group?

by Stephen Tall on June 23, 2009

The announcement of the Tories’ formal establishment of the new anti-federalist grouping in the European Parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists group – was (deliberately) buried by the party yesterday on a day when they realised political attention would be focused on the election to be Commons Speaker.

Ever since David Cameron’s panicked and rash promise in 2005 – at a time when his leadership bid was seriously flagging – that the Tories would desert the mainstream centre-right coalition, the European People’s Party (EPP), the Tory party has been grappling with how to achieve this without finding themselves isolated save for a handful of fringe right-wingers. The rather muted and embarrassed way in which the Tories buried announced the news shows better than anything else the extent to which they think they’ve succeeded.

The new grouping of 55 MEPs is principally drawn from three parties: the 26 UK Tories, 15 from the Polish Law and Justice Party, and 9 from the Czech Civic Democratic Party. There are lone MEPs from a further five countries.

Here’s what Ed Davey, the Lib Dems’ shadow foreign secretary had to say about the Tories’ decision:

This announcement confirms that the Tories have left the mainstream of European politics and joined forces with a rag-bag of parties with extreme views. The Conservatives have opted to throw away influence in Europe in favour of ideological isolationism.

“Conservative political leaders in Paris, Berlin and Rome must be shaking their heads in disbelief, while President Obama will be shocked that a party that hopes to be the government of Britain would associate with a range of fringe parties, most of which have minimal influence in their home countries.”

Lib Dem blogger James Oates is even more scathing over at his Cicero’s Songs blog:

It is, of course, a total joke.

The Tory allies consist of the most marginal and irrelevant parties in the EU. They could not even get Bulgarians to join them.Their major allies are the PiS- Law and Justice party- in Poland: led by a man who proudly admits to not having a bank account, just before he says he would like to send gay men, like Alan Duncan and Iain Dale to jail, but only because he can’t hang them. Even in Poland Jarek Kaczynski is a joke: in Britain he is, and should be, a ridiculous laughing stock.

As for the Czech ODS: their former leader has been photographed showing his shortcomings to some attractive female in Signor Berlusconi’s villa. (noticeably even Berlusconi’s party find joining up with the Tories too embarrassing). The Czechs too are headed for electoral oblivion, indeed that does seem to be the uniting thread amongst these marginal, excessively right wing, parties which the Tories prefer to the real right wing parties that actually run their countries and, indeed, the European Parliament itself.

The successful right wing parties of Estonia and Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Romania, and France, amongst others, now recognise that British Conservatives have more in common with Jean-Marie Le Pen than with any mainstream Christian Democrat party.

Cameron needs help in Europe: but he will get nothing and deserves nothing. In fact this contemptible joke would be hilarious, if it were not so serious.

If Mr Cameron had a free hand, he would not have invested as much time, effort and political capital as he has done in this piece of right-wing gesture politics, which cuts off Tory influence from his centre-right allies in the rest of Europe. But this, of course, is the point. The Tory leader is just as much a captive of his party’s right-wing as John Major was in the 1990s. He knew there was no wriggling out out of his much-regretted leadership pledge: his MPs would not have accepted it; more importantly neither would ConservativeHome. It is clear for all to see where the real power in the Tory party resides: and it is not in the mainstream centre.

The Tories can get away with this for now. The electorate and media have so given up on the Labour party that the Tories seem marginally preferable to the ‘current lot’ no matter what. But expect a lot more scrutiny if and when Mr Cameron finds himself in Number 10 – many more days like yesterday, with Tories behaving childishly both in Europe and in Parliament, and his honeymoon will be even more short-lived than Gordon Brown’s.