David Cameron’s commitment to take Tory MEPs out of the European Peoples’ Party was one of the few bankable commitments of his leadership bid. Earlier this week the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that the commitment would be honoured but Ken Clarke has used an interview with BBC1’s Politics Show to protest against the move. Mr Clarke is close to many of the Tory Party’s MEPs – two-thirds of whom are said to oppose Mr Cameron’s policy.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to reposition himself as less of a Europhile during his ill-fated leadership bid but he told BBC1 that he thought Mr Cameron’s EPP policy was not wise. It is a "head-banging" policy, he said, and warned Mr Cameron that he was in danger of looking more extreme on Europe than any of his predecessors. Mr Clarke is worried that, outside of the EPP, Tories could have no choice but to ally themselves with the European Parliament’s ultra-right.
Mr Cameron must have hoped that getting Mr Clarke to join his big tent by getting him to chair the Democracy Taskforce would meet Lyndon Johnson’s "better to have him inside the tent pissing out, then outside pissing in" maxim. Mr Clarke has found a way to be inside the tent and still urinate at his leader’s policy.
Mr Letwin, also on the Politics Show, attempted to play down the importance of the policy. Mr Letwin said that voters were much more interested in issues like climate change and social justice – two of the six challenges that his policy groups will investigate over the next eighteen months. Mr Letwin did insist, however, that Mr Cameron would deliver on his EPP commitment.