Conservative MEPs will later this month vote for a new leader, who will be in place for the crucial period leading up to – and immediately after – the elections to the European Parliament next June.

Timothy Kirkhope, who was leader of the group from December 2004 until November 2007 (when he was ousted by Giles Chichester) is seeking a return to the job, with one other candidate, James Elles, throwing his hat into the ring.

Neither candidate could be described as an avowed eurosceptic and when the ballot of MEPs takes place on November 18, personal enmities are likely to play just as much a role as policy in deciding how the votes stack up.

However, there is one issue on which any potential group leader’s position is vital: his view about David Cameron’s pledge to leave the federalist European Peoples’ Party faction in Brussels and set up a new group of eurosceptic, free-market MEPs.

All Conservative candidates for next year’s election will have to sign a pledge to back such a new group. However, concerns have already reached us about the level of commitment to this
vital pledge being given by the candidates for the group leadership.

David Cameron was elected party leader with a
mandate to get our MEPs out of the EPP and William Hague and shadow
Europe minister Mark Francois are currently working hard to ensure that
it happens after the European elections.

Any attempt to scupper this – whether through active intervention or a
simple failure to work towards that end – would be nothing short of a
dereliction of duty.

With this in mind, ConservativeHome will today be inviting Mr Kirkhope
and Mr Elles to set out their stall, and, in particular, to state their
position as regards setting up that new grouping in the European

We will publish their responses when we get them, so that party members
know where they stand and, if they so wish, lobby their MEPs to vote a
particular way on November 18.

Incidentally, there will also be a ballot for a new deputy leader of
the group, which will be contested between Richard Ashworth an Geoffrey
Van Orden, and we will also invite them to set out their stall for

Syed Kamall has been nominated unopposed for the job of Treasurer,
whilst Martin Callanan and David Sumberg were the only nominees for the
two vacancies on the Bureau.

Jonathan Isaby

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