An extraordinary day

July 15th:  Yesterday in Strasbourg was one of the most remarkable and dramatic days I have seen in ten years in politics, where a series of setbacks was followed by an extraordinary and wholly unexpected success.
 
We started with the election of Jerzy Buzek, former Polish Prime Minister, as President of the parliament, and MEPs then proceeded with the long business of voting for 14 vice-presidents, by a process of elimination.  Our European Conservatives Group candidate was another Pole, Michal Tomasz Kaminski, whom I have known for years, and indeed with whom I have travelled to America, where he went down a storm with Republican colleagues.
 
But in a disgraceful display of bad faith, and in a deliberate bid to discredit and destabilise our new group, Yorkshire MEP Edward MacMillan Scott, a former leader of the Conservative delegation, decided to go solo and make his own unofficial bid for the Vice Presidency.  He was warned off by the delegation and by the Party, and threatened with loss of the Whip, but he went ahead anyway.  It may well be that he was got at by the EPP, who are determined to destroy our new group, and was acting at their behest.  In the first couple of voting rounds both EMS and Kaminski seemed to be doing OK.
 
Meantime in our delegation we voted to select our candidate for leader of our new Group.  We had a choice between a man who over an extended period has demonstrated his commitment to the new group, who has worked his socks off and travelled around Europe to set it up, often without the full support of some colleagues: Geoffrey van Orden.  Or a man who has never been an enthusiast for the new Group, and is widely believed to have deliberately undermined previous attempts to get us out of the EPP: delegation leader Timothy Kirkhope.  There is no justice: the delegation decided, wrongly in my view, to go with Kirkhope.
 
Then came the bomb-shell: in the final round of voting for Vice Presidents of the parliament, Kaminski lost out.  This was a disaster not only for Michal personally, but for his party.  The Polish media would report it as a stinging rebuff, and a failure of the new group to deliver.
 
The Poles were naturally furious.  While they knew we had done all we could to dissuade EMS, it was still the case that the Brits had made a deal, had failed to deliver, and caused huge embarrassment to our Polish colleagues (the second biggest delegation in the group, and a vital component of it).  They went off for their own delegation meeting, even though the rest of us were waiting anxiously in a group meeting in another room.
 
We had been waiting to elect our group leader, with Kirkhope the official candidate of the Brits, but it seemed likely at this stage that another delegation in the group would nominate Geoffrey (as was permitted under the rules).  So we expected a head-to-head between Geoffrey and Kirkhope, with the outcome not clear but the odds on Geoffrey.
 
At this stage the Poles returned and told us that as a result of the Vice-Presidential débâcle, they had decided to nominate Michal as their own candidate for group leader.  At this point, Geoffrey generously withdrew in favour of Michal, and Acting Group VP Jan Zahradil gave the Czechs’ backing for the Pole.  There was a desperate rearguard action by Kirkhope’s cohorts, seeking to delay the vote until next day.  But the motion to delay was put to the vote and heavily defeated.  It seemed inevitable that the head-to-head between Michal and Kirkhope would achieve a similar majority for Michal, so Kirkhope bowed to the inevitable and withdrew, leaving Michal Tomasz Kaminski as the undisputed leader of the European Conservatives.
 
Michal is a big, rumbustious, out-going man, who wears his Conservative convictions on his sleeve as a badge of pride.  He is passionately committed to the creation of a real conservative opposition in the parliament.  In fact he is about as different from Kirkhope as it is possible to imagine.  He is a man I will be happy and proud to serve with, and to recognise as leader.  And I think it is entirely right that with the Brits numerically dominant, we should recognise the importance of other delegations by having a Polish leader.  Michal is the first group leader in the parliament from a recent accession state.
 
Meantime EMS has had the whip withdrawn, and may be fired from the Party.  We don’t know what he will do next, but my guess is that he will rejoin the EPP and claim his thirty pieces of silver.

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