It won’t just be the LibDems who’ll be holding a leadership contest soon.  ConservativeHome has also learnt that Timothy Kirkhope, Leader of the Tory MEPs, is also likely to be challenged.

Mr Kirkhope, who survived a challenge from the Eurosceptic MEP Chris Heaton-Harris last year, may not survive this time.  The MEPs delegation is roughly split three ways.  There are the Eurosceptics, the Euroenthusiasts and a middling group.  Giles Chichester and Charles Tannock, both outside of the Eurosceptic group, may stand against Mr Kirkhope next month and will potentially divide Mr Kirkhope’s support base as a result.

Mr Kirkhope has been unable to command loyalty across the very divided group of MEPs and, as a result, has been unable to fill key portfolio positions.  Mr Kirkhope has also been weakened by Neil Parish MEP’s selection for Tiverton and Honiton.  Parish ran Kirkhope’s first leadership campaign and was crucial for binding the delegation together.  His other European Parliamentary responsibilities and his commitment to his Westminster ambitions have made him a less effective lieutenant.

The delegation remains bitterly divided on the EPP.  Caroline Jackson MEP recently wrote about David Cameron’s pledge to form a new group in her monthly newsletter to party members.  After discussing David Cameron’s embryonic relations with EPP leaders, she asks:

"So where does this leave The Pledge to “leave the EPP”? Well, its still there and is given substance by the Movement for European Reform. We formed this with the Czechs as a discussion forum that might develop into an alternative group for us in the Parliament after 2009. We found some Bulgarians who had succeeded in getting themselves elected (our former choice failed at this first fence) and they were quite interested until the EPP leant on them and intimated that they could not stay in the EPP and join the MER. They opted for the EPP and the hunt for stray Bulgarian MEPs resumed. I think the MER is a very good idea as a forum for reform, but so long as it is seen as a potential alternative group we will struggle for recruits. There are in fact plenty of people in the EPP – the Swedes for example – who are not federalists who would be happy to join then. We could be instrumental in tilting the intellectual balance away from federalism in the EPP -but only if we stay and work at it.

All this is important because it affects our party’s strategy in and attitude to the EU. I don’t know how David Cameron will deal with The Pledge. At some point he has to abandon it publicly by acknowledging that it was unrealistic and impolitic, rather than allow it to wither poisonously on the vine."

When MEPs are readopted for the 2009 European Parliamentary Elections they will be required to sign a pledge committing to leave the EPP.

Related link: On yesterday’s Parliament page, Sir Robert Atkins saluted the work of his fellow Tory MEPs.

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