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.

No comments

As I understand it, an EP group has to have at least 25 members from 7 different states.
The fact that the Tories’ new group consists of groups from only 3 countries, then single MEPs from a further 5 means their continued status as a group will continually be under threat os a couple of these loners re-considering their decision.
The Conservative group is effectively at the mercy of these fringe elements.

by Brian Robson on June 23, 2009 at 3:33 pm. Reply #

I do not see anywhere in this article an acceptance that Conservative views on Europe are pretty much in tune with public opinion in this country. That is why very few people outside of a circle of political anoraks will be bothered by this.

by Richard on June 23, 2009 at 3:42 pm. Reply #

I’m not absolutely certain but I think the 7 states rule has gone.

Nonetheless, the UK Conservatives are now way out in the wilderness.

By contrast, the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) have 75 MEPs, 9 Commissioners, 4 Prime Ministers, ministers in 20 Member State governments, the Sec-Gen of NATO and a much brighter future.

by Antony Hook on June 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm. Reply #

Excellent day to bury bad news yesterday, wasn’t it…

Cameron won’t get a honeymoon. There is no real appetite for a Conservative government, just an appetite to get rid of Labour. He has been heading the Tory boat for nearly 4 years now and it will be getting close to 5 if/when he gets into No.10.

But there is no doubt that Cameron is a trojan horse for a lot of right-wing nasties, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was viciously culled after a few years of premiership.

by Different Duncan on June 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm. Reply #

Good points made in James Oates item, he could at least send it to Liberal Democrat News? It deserves a wider readership.

by Philip Young on June 23, 2009 at 4:13 pm. Reply #

I agree with some of Different Duncans points and also share his concerns about the right wing nutcases in the Tory Party.

In their favour the Tories are being a little more honest with their opposition to the federalist group they were in before.

I think comparing the Tories to Le Pen is a cheap shot but apart from that the OP is on the money too.

by Meandyew on June 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm. Reply #

Odd that nobody thought fit to respond to Richard’s post. While it would be nice to think the Tories will struggle with this policy the fact is there a greater division within our members and support.

Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what proportion of our members voted UKIP or Green in the Euros? The poll figures for people who voted for us in the last general election should be required reading.

Alas there are many in our party who would still like to dissolve the people and elect another.

by Jon on June 23, 2009 at 4:29 pm. Reply #

Dan Hannan has called them “a coalition of moderate Centre-Right parties”. There’s nothing moderate about the anti-gay, anti-feminist, racist views expressed by his new colleagues – people voted for them, fine, but the Tories should have the honesty to admit “we don’t like everything they stand for, but have more in common than we do apart”. That, we could at least respect. As long as they desperately lie about them, we have to wonder who they’re trying to convince – the wider public, or themselves.

by Greg on June 23, 2009 at 4:49 pm. Reply #

It is clearly the case that Cameron has jumped into bed with this rag tag group of right wing nutters in order to keep his own right wing on board and to reduce leakage of votes to UKIP.

However we would be folling ourselves if we believe this is going to be a major issue with the public at large. Most of them won’t give a tinker’s toss which EP group Tory MEPs are members of.

by Liberal Neil on June 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm. Reply #

“However we would be folling ourselves if we believe this is going to be a major issue with the public at large. Most of them won’t give a tinker’s toss which EP group Tory MEPs are members of.”

That’s because they’re trying to bury the news. If it’s not buried,the public will care.

by Alex on June 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm. Reply #

“That’s because they’re trying to bury the news. If it’s not buried,the public will care.”

Not so. Most members of the public have no idea in which grouping the Lib Dems sit. They didn’t know who was in the EPP (some of whom were pretty tawdry), whereas the ERC is a pro-EU membership group with an anti-Federalist and Euro-sceptic/critical/realist agenda.

The “rag tag group of right wing nutters” includes the parties of the presidents of Poland and the Czech republic, and as grown since its inception to include 56 members from 9 countries, which makes it the fastest growing grouping in the EU.

by Mark Williams on June 23, 2009 at 6:30 pm. Reply #

“I do not see anywhere in this article an acceptance that Conservative views on Europe are pretty much in tune with public opinion in this country.”

That’ll be because the tories are completely split on the issue of the EU.

However I am intrigued by the description of uniformly pro-EU views jointly held by every other political grouping as ‘mainstream’.

With such conformity there is no definition and little debate of the issues, so it’s no wonder that the public is confused about the specific issues the institutions face and the alternative ways we could deal with them. And with so little practical debate to participate in it’s also no wonder that so many people feel powerless and voiceless.

But then the EU has no direct tax-raising powers and the legitimacy of the European Parliament must be questioned while the council of ministers holds all the trump cards.

So that’s two counts on which I’m pleased Cameron has sacrificed his principles for expediency.

by Oranjepan on June 23, 2009 at 6:56 pm. Reply #

“…the legitimacy of the European Parliament must be questioned while the council of ministers holds all the trump cards.”

Lisbon will give the Parliament far greater legislative power in relation to the Council.

by Antony Hook on June 23, 2009 at 6:59 pm. Reply #

“I do not see anywhere in this article an acceptance that Conservative views on Europe are pretty much in tune with public opinion in this country. That is why very few people outside of a circle of political anoraks will be bothered by this.”

Few people outside a circle of ecologist anoraks care about the effect of clothianidin and other neonicotinoids upon honey bee populations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The level of importance isn’t relative to the number of people who care about an issue at any one time.

Neither are the rights and wrongs of deliberately taking over a third of the UK’s MEPs effectively out of any position of power in the EU relative to how many people think it’s a good idea. It’s a bad idea for the UK, and that’s not dependent on whether it’s in line with public opinion or not.

by Douglas Thomson on June 23, 2009 at 7:05 pm. Reply #

Perhaps it is not such a bad thing. If the Conservatives form the next government, their ability to influence issues in the EU will be reduced by leaving the EPP. It will mean that it will be more difficult to promote their ultra free market vision of the EU.

I think I am correct in saying that Cameron is in favour of admitting Turkey to the EU. I would doubt that his Polish and Czech friends would be happy with that.

At least Germany, France and BeNeLux do acknowledge some responsibility to social conditions in the EU.

So long as the UK is obsessed with EU phobia and has little interest in the political issues dealt with by the EU parliament, this issue will have minimal impact.

Sadly the Liberals alone are unlikely to make much headway trying to convince people that debates in the EU parliament matter.

by Martin on June 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm. Reply #

“it will be more difficult to promote their ultra free market vision of the EU. ”

So you are a not liberal at all liberal. I forgot, in UK and USA it means social-democrat

PD: German and French conservatives strongly oppose to admit Turkey

by qwerty on June 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm. Reply #

The European Union makes for many strange bed felllows that do not agree on specific internal policy items. Otherwise you would be suggesting that Gordon Brown and the Labour Party agrees with Martin Schulz who accused the Dutch Prime Minister of being a Nazi for simply suggesting more EU Nations should have had referenda on Lisbon. Or are you implying that the Labour Party agrees with the Theo-Dems inside the Italian “Democratic Left”, who are very strongly anti immigration, anti abortion and want heavy restrictions on artificial insemination.

Nor would the Labour feel completely at home with some of the Communist members of the PES.

I have not looked at who the Lib Dems sit with, I am sure that they are not comfortable with all of their policies and I could probably guarantee to find some nutty religious Christian Democrat of one kind or another.

The new alliance does not exclude the Conservative Party from working with or voting with the EPP. It simply highlights that there is a difference inside the EU Parliament between The European Socialist Movement and the EPP, who both want to drive further with integration and those Parties that do not.

Internal Party difficulty solved.

by TheBigotBasher on June 23, 2009 at 9:20 pm. Reply #

Aha,
The reason that I ignored my membership renewal was the peculiar desire amongst our party members for further federalist integration. We are no longer liberal and certainly not democratic if we support this nonsense. Cameron and his mob have made a brave move it would take guts to admit it.

Henry P.

by Henry Phillpott on June 23, 2009 at 9:38 pm. Reply #

To qwerty: a free market requires regulation to ensure not only that it is fair, but also that people are not unfairly exploited. Freedom should be maximised for the many rather than the few.

by azerty on June 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm. Reply #

Given the weirdos in the Liberal and Socialist groups, you might want to keep quiet. Oh and by the way, did the Lib Dems keep their manifesto promise on the EU constitution?

Thought not.

by Rob on June 24, 2009 at 4:17 pm. Reply #

I just wonder how several groups of disparate xenophobics can work together?

by Roger Shade on June 25, 2009 at 9:46 am. Reply #

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