Conservative MEPs have succeeded in poaching enough of Nigel Farage’s old Continental allies at the European Parliament to be able to brag that they are going to belong to a bigger group in the assembly than UKIP.
But other than revenge for their humiliation on election night, what does that gain for British Conservatives?
Very little. Leading a group means an enormous amount to UKIP, because leading a group in Brussels and Strasbourg gives the party its only platform from which to influence British affairs.
But a bigger or smaller group means little for the Conservatives, except an increase in the millions of euros of taxpayers’ money the parliament bosses will give them for political activities.
That is because the Conservatives already dominate Westminster, so they don’t need the European Parliament as a platform. Their MEPs are will continue to be just bit players in influencing British politics (and in influencing EU politics).
If you doubt it, ask the British man in the street who was UKIP’s leader in the last European Parliament.
Then ask who was the Tory leader?
The instant recognition of Farage was built on his seat in the front row at the European Parliament, to which he had a right as the head of a group, and from which he launched his attacks on the EU and its bureaucrats which earned him millions of hits on YouTube from people in Britain and around the world.
Search YouTube for the outgoing Tory leader of the ECR group (Martin Callanan, who is one of the Conservative MEPs who has just lost his seat) and you will find the hits for him from his front row seat are in the mere hundreds.
Yet look at the ideological contortions the Conservatives have put their MEPs through in order to brag “We’re in a bigger group than UKIP” – and perhaps in order to ensure they hoover up so many small right-wing parties that UKIP may be denied a group altogether.
To make up numbers, the Conservatives have pulled in the Danish Peoples’ Party (DPP), which topped the poll in Denmark but which Tory leadership used to consider unacceptable because of its anti-Muslim policies.
For example, a party spokesman once likened the Islamic headscarf to a swastika and “comparable to other totalitarian symbols.” They do not want Denmark to be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. As a young man, their MEP Morten Messerschimdt was convicted along with three other members of the DPP’s youth wing of incitement to racial hatred.
It was not surprising when, in 2009, Conservatives rejected an approach from the DPP to join their group, “because of their unacceptable views in a number of areas.”
The Tories have also pulled in the eurosceptic, anti-euro, pro-welfare state Finns Party, who also used to be considered too intolerant and anti-immigration to be allowed to sit with them in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Mats Persson, director of the Open Europe think tank, said: “This will raise the eyebrows of many in Europe who thought the Danish People’s party in particular wouldn’t pass the Tory party’s blush test.”
Already the critics back in Britain are accusing Cameron and his MEPs of making an alliance with “dubious” partners.
Yet the ECR group, dubious or not, even if it makes a target of 60-plus MEPs from more than a dozen countries, it will still never threaten control of the parliament by the permanent pro-EU alliance of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) who will have 221 seats, and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 190.
As Open Europe research has shown, these two vote the same way more than two-thirds of the time, so they will use their 411 MEPs out of a total of 751 MEPs to crush any opposition, including the ECR, to “more Europe.”
And what of UKIP and its chances of forming a group? Last night it looked like a key ally, the Five Star Movement of the Italian Beppe Grillo, might pull out of a deal with UKIP’s group and join the Greens. But today a spokesman for the group told Breitbart London that “as long as the Grillo’s Movement is negotiating with Farage, we are not opening any negotiations with them.”