Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tories jump ship

In a way, it is tactically quite astute for the Tories to choose this moment formally to leave the European Peoples Party.

Generally, it will have very little impact on public sentiment, most people being left stone cold about which EU parliament grouping to which the Tories belong. But those who do care about it care very much indeed. It has become a touchstone amongst soft Tory eurosceptics, a measure of Cameron's good faith on "Europe".

We are told that Mark Francois, Hague and Timothy Kirkhope have met the EPP chairman, Joseph Daul, in Strasbourg for an "amicable" meeting, during which the long-standing intention to leave the EPP was confirmed.

The Tories expect not to establish a new grouping in the EU parliament and are looking to members from the Czech Republic and Poland – plus others. They are, however, being slightly coy about who else they might get on board, as well they might.

The make-up of any new group will depend on the euro-election results and on the intense bartering and horse-trading that goes on after the elections and the different groups vie with each other to attract members.

Come the day, they will be facing stiff competition and it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in forming a group at all. They need at least six other countries to join their ranks, and that is going to be a tad difficult.

The BBC's David Grossman has some interesting comments on the affair, noting that there is no issue more problematic, more likely to result in raised voices and raised blood pressure in the Conservative Party than "Europe".

Grossman cites Daniel Hannan who tells us, "What we're proposing to do is to break the monopoly if you like…so that for the first time you'd have a group of respectable parties, governing parties or prospective governing parties positing a different kind of Europe". He's going a bit far declaring the Tories to be a "respectable" party, but you get his drift.

Carrying out the negotiations for Cameron is Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, who is quite a good egg – for a Tory. He will front the search for members of what is expected to be called "European Conservatives".

On the home front, however, the Tories are going to find the election quite crowded, as my co-editor will explain. They are also going to find stiff competition from the BNP, who have most certainly gained a boost from yesterday's outrage in Luton, and event which is likely to have far more influence on voting intentions than the Tories moves on a new group.