Conservative Diary

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The Conservative Party has three leaders. David Cameron, Tom Strathclyde...and Martin Callanan

by Paul Goodman

Callanan Martin Callanan negotiated the minefield of the Federation of Conservative Students, almost 30 years ago when I first met him, by being right-wing while not wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed: "Kill the wets".  This sums up the tone and feel of the guy: strong but steady, not to mention undemonstrative.  In most of the time that's passed since, he stayed north and I stayed south.  Being an active Tory in his native north-east isn't to embrace the easy life, and he fought Westminster seats there three times without success.  By the time I next clocked him he was a member of the European Parliament.

Where he's now leader of the Conservavative Group, and attracting a bit less notice than he should.  The Guardian is trying to correct this state of affairs.  For two days running, it's run stories suggesting that Conservative MEPs are poised to destroy a Europe wide-settlement on carbon reductions.  The full tale is rather more prosaic.  It turns out that they are far from isolated in opposing a hike in the EU carbon cutting target from 20% to 30% of emissions by 2020.  I gather that the European People's Party, which the Guardian's been rather nice about from time to time, takes a similar view.

The paper today reported David Cameron's PMQ remarks about the matter yesterday - though not his words about Labour MEPs who, as he pointed out, "have voted for a higher EU budget and new EU taxes, and against an opt-out on the working-time directive".  However, there's certainly a difference of view between Downing Street and Conservative MEPs, one which in my view is to their credit.  As Callanan has pointed out, a unilateral increase will deliver a double whammy - driving fuel bills up but not emissions down, because the producers will move to countries outside the EU and emit carbon from there.

As he also pointed out, Conservative MEPs aren't in coalition with Liberal Democrat ones, and "when Chris Huhne announced the coalition's support for the increase to 30% he did not consult us on the matter...Lib Dem MEPs also often vote against coalition policy."  Although Conservative MEPs are generally more Euro-enthusiast than Callanan - let alone Daniel Hannan or Roger Helmer - they are apparently of the same mind on this issue.  I've heard one who's very much on the left of the party rail against the global warming orthodoxies: strikingly, our party is closer to these than some European federalist centre-right parties.

Watch Callanan.  Sure, he's a ConservativeHome columnist, and I therefore declare an interest.  And, as I say, his view on the target is the same as his colleagues'.  But he's giving Tories in the European Parliament a voice and a bite that they haven't had before.  David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party.  Tom Strathclyde leads the party in the Lords.  As Scottish Conservatives wait for a new leader, this leaves Martin Callanan as a third, and one of much the same mind as the group of mainstream Euro-sceptics who wrote to the Financial Times (£) this morning.  This isn't the last time that the third won't see eye to eye with the first.

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