The Conservatives have lost power and influence in Europe since the creation of David Cameron's Eurosceptic ECR alliance. Politics in Brussels is very different from that in the UK, as David Cameron has found out the hard way. Back in 2005, when he stood for the Conservative leadership against the Europhile Ken Clarke, he undertook to lead Tory MEPs out of the centre-right European People's party (EPP) political alliance in the European parliament and set up their own Eurosceptic grouping. His rival for the leadership, David Davis, a former shadow Europe minister, opposed the idea. With Eurosceptical support in the bag, Cameron was duly elected. The original deadline for setting up the new group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), in June 2006 was missed: it was finally established after the European elections in June this year. That was when their problems began. Brussels works on consensus. There is no government and opposition. Generally, the Labour MEPs' group, the Socialists and Democrats, will agree a compromise with the centre right EPP, which remains the largest group. Both sides know that without some compromise, issues that need international agreement, such as the environment or trade, could not move forwards.
As the new parliament settled in, the very popular longstanding Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, like others outside the new Tory ECR group, described one of the Tories' new allies as "racist and homophobic" and lost the Tory whip. He then stood as a candidate for the vice-presidency of the parliament as an individual. In a shock to the Brussels consensus, he won a massive personal vote, aided – many would say – by his standing up to Tory anti-EU shenanigans. This meant that ECR candidate for the vice-presidency, the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, lost out and instead became leader of the ECR. That sidelined the British Tory in the job, Timothy Kirkhope, who was left with the consolation prize of leading the (by then) 26 Tory MEPs, who are split down the middle on Europe. In September, McMillan-Scott was expelled from the Conservative party. While Tory MEP Daniel Hannan (NHS-hating middle-class tosser) entertains his bemused continental colleagues with his off-the-wall anti-EU tirades, my East Midlands colleague (and a close ally of Hannan), the Tory MEP Roger Helmer regularly entertains our serious-minded continental colleagues with his ostrich-like view of global warming: "The hysteria of the climate alarmists has gone from worrying, to pathetic, to richly comical," Helmer claims, without apparent irony.
The fact that British MEPs are reduced to court jesters in Brussels matters. We have been through the worst financial crisis of our lives, and most people can see that the new regulatory structures we will have to build to prevent a new crisis must be international, otherwise newly regulated financial services can simply up sticks and change their base. Yet, unlike their former centre-right EPP allies, the Tories are rather out of the running on the legislation representing Britain's national interests in the City. Labour MEPs are getting to write some of the crucial reports. In overall terms, Labour has one committee chair (with assorted vice chairs besides), while the Tories too hold one committee chair despite having double the number of MEPs. Labour MEPs are getting to write some of the crucial reports. In overall terms, Labour has one committee chair (with assorted vice chairs besides), while the Tories too hold one committee chair despite having double the number of MEPs. I can see why Cameron needs to keep this absurd alliance going until there is a general election in the UK – if it were to fail, his one constructive act since taking the leadership would reveal his poor judgment. But now that the European parliament's powers have increased under the Lisbon treaty, it is a pity that British influence will have to suffer so much as a result of his decision.