Tony Blair's taunts silenced

DESPITE much gleeful anticipation by Labour, the Tories have decided not to link up with anti-abortionist, homophobic, ultra-right outcasts in the European Parliament but to form an alliance with the Czech Republic's new governing party.

DESPITE much gleeful anticipation by Labour, the Tories have decided not to link up with anti-abortionist, homophobic, ultra-right outcasts in the European Parliament but to form an alliance with the Czech Republic's new governing party.

Leaving aside the advisability of leaving the European People's Party right of centre coalition, the Conservatives have been in a dilemma since David Cameron made a promise to look for continental partners who support free markets and trade but are not enthralled by the single currency, federalism, and the European constitution.

As I wrote last week, the overwhelming majority of British voters couldn't care less who the Tories link up with as long as it is not French and Italian fascists. But it has exercised the Eurosceptic media, which hates anything European, and the Labour Party, which proclaims to be an enthusiastic supporter of Europe but whose Government is happy not to engage the people in a positive debate on the issue.

It's going to be difficult for Tony Blair to keep taunting the Tories on having unsavoury friends in Europe while at the same time remaining on good terms with Prague. Labour's criticism is now confined to pointing out that the Conservatives will be marginalised in Europe outside the EPP grouping rather than rubbishing David Cameron's new ally.


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Labour Euro MP for the East of England Richard Howitt says the Tories will be “without influence, invisible and toothless.” He also points out that Cameron had pledged to quit the EPP immediately, and not wait until after the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Unsurprisingly, Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden - one of the leading advocates for withdrawal from the EPP - wanted the new alliance to start immediately. Even so, he believes the Tories will be better placed from 2009 to bring about a different sort of EU, “focused on the single market and economic challenges and no longer driving ahead the federalist policy of political integration.”

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AMIND all the excitement of Lord Levy's arrest in the “cash for honours” investigation, let's not forget that peerages have long been handed out like sweets as a reward for supporting one party or the other. And historically, the monarch would give titles and tracts of land to favourites at court and create duchesses out of ladies who performed well in the bed chamber.

There are plenty of members of the aristocracy now tut-tutting at Labour's current difficulties who should reflect on what favours their ancestors did to come by their ermine and other baubles. At least hereditary peerages, dukedoms, and viscountcies are no longer on offer.

The last hereditary viscount to be created was, if memory serves me, William Whitelaw, not for financial considerations but as a reward for being deputy and chief support to Margaret Thatcher. It was a symbolic honour - Willie had no male heir, having only produced daughters, so on his death a few years later, the title became extinct.

Labour's shame is that it passed a law to clean up politics and immediately took steps to circumvent it. That's why politics stinks for an increasingly disillusioned electorate.

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