My good colleague Martin Callanan MEP (NE) has been elected as Chairman of the ECR Group. Martin, of course, is a very sound man indeed, and was associated with “The H-Block” in the good old days — Hannan, Heaton-Harris, myself — even despite his name beginning with “C”.
The second best thing that Cameron ever did on the European issue (after the Veto, but that’s another story) was to take British Conservative MEPs out of the aggressively federalist EPP Group. Indeed that was the main reason I voted for him in the Leadership Election all those years ago. It took him several years to deliver, but the new European Conservatives Group was formed after the 2009 election. For ten years (since I was first elected in 1999), those of us on the conservative wing of the Conservative Party had been a beleaguered minority in the Conservative delegation, which itself had been a beleaguered minority in the EPP — tolerated for our numbers and our money, and so that the EPP majority could marginalise us — but unable to make much impact. Now, in the ECR, that position has reversed.
Yesterday’s election gave me one moment of glory in a 12½ year political career. During elections for a new Chairman, the existing Chairman stands aside and invites the doyen d’age (the most elderly person in the room) to take the chair. In the ECR Group, that’s me, so I was in the Chair for perhaps ten minutes as the votes were cast.
There were only two candidates for Group Chairman — Martin, and Struan Stevenson MEP (Scotland). Struan himself is no mean candidate. He’s done fine work on fisheries, and on the campaign against wind turbines (and he’s also a first-class stand-up comic). But Martin came out ahead by a substantial margin.
(I’m waiting for Mary Honeyball MEP (Lab) to lambast me and the ECR Group for the obvious lack of gender mainstreaming in the candidates’ list. Just two men? No women? What could we have been thinking of?).
There was a still more remarkable outcome of the overall vote, which included four Vice-Chairmen and two Co-Treasurers. For the first time ever, I found that everyone I voted for was elected (despite acting as impartial temporary Chairman, I was still entitled to vote as well), and none that I hadn’t voted for was elected. Absolutely uncanny — but also a clear illustration of the mood of the group.
As Vice-Chairmen, we have the excellent out-going interim Chairman Jan Zaharadil (Czech Republic), who gave a storming speech in the Hemicycle earlier this week supporting the Cameron Veto; Geoffrey “The Brigadier” Van Orden (Eastern England); Derkjan Eppink MEP (representing Belgium, but a Dutch national — don’t ask!) who is a staunch free-market conservative and classical liberal; and Ryszard Antoni Legutko from our Polish sister party Law & Justice.
As Co-Treasurers, we have my East Midlands colleague Emma McClarkin, who has amply justified my early confidence in her and is doing a fine job in the parliament, plus Hynek Fajmon, our wonderfully sound colleague from the Czech Republic. You may ask why the political views of Treasurers are relevant — after all, like accountants, aren’t they just bean-counters? (No offence to accountants, I hope!). But of course they also sit on the Group “Bureau” (this is a French word meaning “Steering Committee”). And we have a very sound Bureau indeed.
Not only did the good guys win — they won by big margins, typically in the thirties against the teens. Candidates from the old guard, who might have been thought to have rather a last-century take on Conservative policy towards Europe, fell by the wayside. I shall name no names, but one came from Yorkshire.