The homophobe, the climate denier or the moderate – what next for the ECR?

We now have the three candidates for the leadership of the Conservative-dominated European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

We now have the three candidates for the leadership of the Conservative-dominated European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament. They are: Ryszard Legutko of the Polish Law and Justice party (Pis); Jan Zahradil of the Czech ODS party; and the veteran Tory MEP Timothy Kirkhope.

Following the resignation of the controversial ECR leader Michal Kaminski, who left PiS on the grounds that they were drifting to the far-right, the emergence of Legutko as the official PiS candidate shows that the PiS are determined not to let Kaminski, who has formed a new Poland Comes First party with three other ECR MEPs, destroy them. However, their adoption of Legutko as their candidate should raise alarm bells for the Tory party.

It is fair to say that Legutko is no less homophobic than Kaminski, who infamously described homosexuals as “faggots”. Legutko has said that he does not see the point of Gay Pride rallies and is the author of a book entitled ‘Why I am not tolerant’. He opposes sex education in schools and supports a ban on abortion.

While Legutko has insisted that “some of my closest friends are homosexuals”, he wrote last year that gay rights campaigns were:

“…a tyranny of the minority which has taken over the main institutions and main ideologies in the western world. Now they have entered European institutions and dictate their rules.”

Jan Zahradil is another interesting candidate. A protégé of the Czech President Vaclav Klaus, he is a leading climate change sceptic in the Parliament and actively promoted the widely discredited documentary ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. While his views on climate change will make him popular with the likes of Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan, they are totally at odds with the Tory-led government. However, with just 9 MEPs in his delegation he will require the votes of most Tory MEPs to win.

As Left Foot Forward has argued before, Tim Kirkhope is the most logical choice as ECR leader. A former minister in the Major government, and three time leader of the Tory MEPs, he is a pragmatic and experienced politician. However, he is not from the eurosceptic wing of his party, meaning that Tory eurosceptics deposed him as delegation leader.

Kirkhope, Legutko and Zahradil come from the three main party delegations in the ECR – the Tories having 25 MEPs, the PiS 15 and the ODS 9. The remaining five ECR MEPs represent five different countries.

Although it would seem logical that the Tories, as comfortably the largest group, should have the natural claim to the leadership, the decision by former Tory Edward McMillan-Scott to (successfully) stand against Michal Kaminski as a vice-president of the Parliament in July 2009 led the Polish delegation to threaten to leave the group. Kirkhope stood aside to allow Kaminski to become group leader in a bid to keep the group from splitting. In exchange, the Tories got the ECR’s one committee chairmanship.

The decision on March 8th on who becomes the next ECR leader is up to the Tory MEPs. Elect Kirkhope and they choose the most able and least controversial leader, but risk the possible defection of the PiS who still feel entitled to the position. If some of them choose to defect and back Legutko then they are guilty of electing a politician who Labour MEP leader Glenis Willmott has said “makes Michal Kaminski appear to be a moderate”.

As one Tory MEP told the Guardian:

“This could get very messy indeed.”

Like the calls by leading Tories for Britain to abandon the European Convention on Human Rights, David Cameron’s pledge to withdraw his MEPs from the centre-right EPP group was ill-thought out and has proved a disaster. The ECR have little influence in the Parliament and the extremist views of their members are a PR-disaster; the Tories’ alliance with the PiS is a case in point.

As Glenis Willmott told Left Foot Forward:

“David Cameron should be distancing himself from this disreputable party.”

In practice, their group cannot exist without them.

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