Daniel Hannan MEP blogs here.
British Conservatives can be proud today: ours is the first Group in the European Parliament to elect an MEP from an accession state as its leader. None of the Groups which drone on about their commitment to the European ideal can claim as much.
Michal Kaminski, of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, is my age. We went into politics at the same time, when we were in our mid-twenties. We each have two little girls of similar ages. We’re both conservatives: Euro-sceptics, free-marketeers and Atlanticists. But we might have spent our early lives on different planets. I grew up during the réveil national of the Thatcher years. Michal’s early life was spent in an occupied country. Every day, he lived with the moral shabbiness, the material squalor, the thousand petty lies of Jaruzelski-era Poland. When Michal was small, his father defected to Canada. They met once, in Michal’s teenage years, in Cuba – the only state to which they could both get visas. Michal’s father urged him to defect, but Michal replied that he wanted one day to sit as a conservative in a free Polish Sejm. A few years later, he did, although his father was sadly no longer alive to see it.
That such a man, having led such a life, should now lead our Group, does more for European unity than any number of federalist declarations. The Europe that Michal and I believe in is one united by the spread of freedom and democracy, by commerce, by the actions of independent citizens. This is a world away from the Europe they want in Brussels, united by rules and regulations, by institutions and bureaucracies, by anthems and flags.
When Michal made his first speech as an MEP, he hymned the praises of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, to the unfeigned horror of the EPP. He is, in short, the closest thing to a British Tory outside the Carlton Club.
In a sense, Michal’s election was accidental. It had originally been planned that he would take a parliamentary Vice-Presidency while a Briton became the first leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). But my erstwhile colleague Edward Macmillan-Scott decided to have a go at the Vice-Presidency himself, which upset all the calculations (Edward lost the Conservative Whip in consequence).
This left Michal in an embarrassing situation. He is well known in Poland as a long-standing advocate of the new conservative Group. Yet he had been denied office by a renegade British Tory.
At this stage, the two British candidates for the leadership, Timothy Kirkhope and Geoffrey Van Orden, displayed extraordinary magnanimity, withdrawing their candidacies in Michal’s favour.
I know that Timothy, in particular, has come in for some criticism from ConHome readers, a lot of it very unfair. His behaviour over this episode made the rest of us proud to be British Tories. It was hardly his fault that Edward Macmillan-Scott had decided to run. But an injury had been done to our Polish friends by a British Conservative, and he took it upon himself to make restitution by ceding the Group leadership. He put the interests of Conservatism above his own ambitions.
In a funny way, Macmillan-Scott has done us a great favour. No one can now argue that the ECR is a Tory front with a couple of minor parties added on for decoration. We have a leader who, while a sturdy Polish patriot, is also a committed Anglophile and Thatcherite. And the graciousness with which both Geoffrey and Timothy acted has created a mood common purpose among British Tory MEPs that I can’t remember in ten years. The best is yet to come.