The Tories sent Ken Clarke, their pro-Europe Shadow Business Minister over to Brussels for two days of meetings with Barroso and five Commissioners. Publicly, the meetings were about the City of London, but some were wondering why Shadow Chancellor George Osborne wasn’t there instead. Perhaps it was because Osborne is seen as a liability, perhaps it was because David Cameron wanted to reassure the EC that they were not as eurosceptic as they are considered to be. Eurocrats have looked at the Tory withdrawal from the EPP with alarm and the prospect of Prime minister Cameron is acting as an encouragement to get the External Action Service off the ground before a UK election.
There will be four or five European Parliament reports on various aspects of the creation of the European External Action Service: the EEAS decision (consultation); the amending budget (co-equal powers); changes to the staff regulations (co-decision); changes to the financial regulation (co-decision). With seven of the ten key players being from the EPP, The ECR Group will play only a peripheral part, not having a single Chair or Rapporteur.
Speaking on British TV four years ago, Ken Clarke MP was clear about the Tory "natural political allies" in Europe: "When David is in, is Prime Minister, if he becomes Prime Minister, he’ll have to deal with Angela Merkel, I hope he will be dealing with Nicolas Sarkozy, I hope he’ll be dealing with governing centre-right parties across the big countries of Europe. They’re the people we have to co-operate with, they’re our natural allies". Mr Clarke predicted problems ahead: "The idea that we find a few stray Latvian nationalists and others as our allies is a bit foolish, rather dangerous. Because if you go scouring central and eastern Europe to find rather more right wing, rather more nationalist, rather more anti-Brussels politicians, you can find some very funny people, turning those stones up".
Clarke hadn’t asked for a meeting with the EPP but a spokesperson states that Clarke did meet Joseph Daul a few weeks ago, but was coy on what might have been discussed.
This past weekend, the Tories gathered in Brighton. At this event Dan Hannan and Roger Helmer, launched their latest venture, the Tea Party Movement which they hope will capture the British public’s taste for lox taxation. However, this initiative was met with unconcealed scorn by many, who say that the UK public perception of the Tea Party Movement is of "mad right wing nutcases". One political insider manged to stop laughing long enough to say, "So Dan wants to be Britain’s Sarah Palin now!"
As the Conservatives, who once had a seemingly unassailable lead, slide down the opinion polls, they are once again sending contradictory messages over Europe. This certainly alarms their potential allies and the British voters seem to be changing their minds about Cameron’s fitness to govern. If he can’t keep a small group of MEPs on message, what chance will he have in the bear pit of Westminster? As a hung parliament looks more likely, Cameron has moved to change party rules making a challenge to his leadership more difficult. Are some in his party thinking, not of the election, but the aftermath?