by Stephen Tall on July 15, 2009
Oh dear. How must David Cameron rue the day he caved into his party’s right-wing and promised to withdraw the Tories from the centre-right EPP in the European Parliament and establish a new anti-federalist right-wing grouping. At the time it was a last-gasp roll of the dice solely calaculated to pep up his then faltering leadership bid. Four years on, and something he might have been able quietly to drop – risking the wrath only of his most headbanging Europhobes – has become a running sore which reflects badly on Mr Cameron’s leadership abilities.
Three weeks ago, the Tories snuck out the announcement of their new right-wing Euro grouping under cover of the election for Commons speaker. Even then it turned out that not all those they thought had signed up were actually signed up. Yesterday came news that Edward McMillan-Scott, one of the Tories most senior MEPs, had been expelled after voicing his “real concerns” about the “links with extremist groups” of many of the Tories’ new Euro friends.
And now a fresh blow: the Tories have been forced – as the FT’s Tony Barber reports – to cede the leadership of the new group to Michal Tomasz Kaminski from Poland’s Law and Justice party:
If it were not funny, it would be tragic. The UK Conservative party’s decision to quit the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right political group in the European Parliament, is backfiring on the Tories in spectacular fashion. The decision was always daft – a bit like the right wing of the US Republican Party splitting off and forming a minority group in Congress – but it now looks more short-sighted than ever.
On Tuesday the Tories relinquished the leadership of their new “anti-federalist” faction, the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to Michal Tomasz Kaminski, a Polish politician. They felt obliged to do so after Edward McMillan-Scott, a Tory MEP, refused to respect a deal in which Kaminski had been promised one of the parliament’s prestigious vice-presidency posts.
McMillan-Scott, who instead secured the vice-presidency for himself, has now effectively been kicked out of the ECR [European Conservatives and Reformists], and the Tories are being led by a Pole. This, to put it mildly, was not in David Cameron’s script when he led his party out of the mainstream EPP group.
There are, in any case, serious doubts over how effective the ECR will be over the legislature’s five-year term. To meet the requirement that an officially recognised faction should have at least 25 MEPs from seven countries, the ECR has been cobbled together out of 26 Tories, 15 Poles, nine Czechs and a solitary politician each from Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands (a Finn was also supposed to be in, but dropped out a couple of weeks ago). The Tories are bound to spend half their time nursing the egos of the last five individuals, any two of whom could destroy the group by leaving it. … it’s a grand old mess, unworthy of one of the world’s great political parties.