The Kaminski row: 2 must-read articles

by Stephen Tall on October 30, 2009

The row over David Cameron’s decision to pull the Tories out of the main centre-right European grouping, the European People’s Party (EPP), and set up a new group of “extreme and rag-bag” assorted right-wingers, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), has been simmering for months.

It’s burst into the political mainstream this week, courtesy of the unlikely figure of the chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich. Back in July, he emailed the New Statesman’s James Macintyre with some sharp criticism of Michael Kaminski, the leader of the Tories’ new Euro grouping, who has faced accusations of anti-semitism and fascism. He has since watered down these criticisms, including on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme. All of which has generated a lot of heat, and not a lot of light.

However, two articles published today are worth reading, both to get some perspective on the furore (which you won’t find in the tribal blogosphere, sad to say), and for their interpretation of what the row says about the Tories’ approach to Europe more generally.

The first is by Bagehot in The Economist:

As for Mr Kaminski, he now disavows, denies or attempts to finesse many of the previous actions and comments attributed to him. But even his denials contain suspicious self-contradictions, as well as disturbing moral distinctions (between Polish murderers and Nazi ones) and equations (between pogroms and some Jews’ alleged collaboration with the Soviets). At best he is a distastefully cynical demagogue. True, there are viler and more extreme politicians in both these countries. That is scant consolation. …

The Tories have renounced the parties of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel (both in the EPP) in favour of a marginal, weak and incoherent new caucus. Their prospects of influencing European deliberations, on matters that they care about such as hedge-fund regulation, have dwindled. They have alienated and baffled other European conservatives. By abdicating the centre of European politics for the fringe, the Tories have convinced many in Europe that they can legitimately be ignored. …

… one explanation for the manoeuvre, offered in private by some close to Mr Cameron, that makes a bit of sense. Unfortunately, while it helps to rationalise his approach to the European Parliament, it also suggests a much bigger worry. … by making the pledge and, eventually, by keeping it he convinced his party not only to make him its leader, but also to swallow the reforms and reversals he subsequently imposed. … Seeing the move as a ransom paid to his party may be the best excuse for the moral compromises and apparent political myopia it involved. …

… it also raises an awkward question about his future. It is this: if this shoddy, shaming alliance is the price he was obliged to pay his party for the changes needed to make it seem modern and compassionate, what sort of party is it that Mr Cameron leads? What else will its members demand, and what else—when his popularity and authority wane—will he be obliged to give them, after he becomes prime minister?

And the second is by Toby Helm on the Guardian’s Politics blog:

As I can tell from just one day talking to foreign leaders and their people in Brussels, this is a much, much bigger issue than one about what Schudrich said/meant/thought a few weeks ago and what he says/means/thinks now.

Schudrich apart, there are many prominent Jews in Europe and the US who are concerned about David Cameron’s new allies. And there is almost universal disbelief in mainstream parties in the EU – centre-left and right – about what he has done by opting to team up with people who, to put it mildly, are from the European political fringes. …

The views of Cameron’s friends such as Kami?ski – and the divided opinions of leading Jews and others about them – are telling and interesting. But the wider importance of splitting off from the mainstream is the far bigger issue. The view of people here is that the Tories are just not in the game any more.

Both are well worth reading in full.