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Europe and the UK election

Gavin Hewitt | 09:24 UK time, Monday, 12 October 2009

cameron226afp.jpgIn politics it is often true that you are judged by your friends and associations. I was reminded of this when I read the British Foreign Secretary's attack on the Tories and their European allies. David Miliband's allegation is that the Conservatives have linked themselves to the far right in Europe, to neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.

This is not a new story. For several months it has spluttered into life and then died again. It has its origins in the decision by the Tories to form a new group in the European Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists.

Way back, the Conservative leader David Cameron had promised
to break away from the European People's Party because it was, in his view, too federalist. It was a popular decision with the Eurosceptic wing of his party, but the new grouping has questionable associations.

Its leader is Michael Kaminski from Poland. The allegation against him is that he opposed an unconditional apology for the massacre of 41 Jews by Poles in the village of Jebwadne during World War II. He says he has been mis-represented. His party is accused of being homophobic. Again there have been denials.

Another target has been Robert Zile of Latvia's Fatherland and Freedom Party. His party is accused of commemorating those
who served in the Waffen SS. The Tories have said that they would never do business with anyone who they thought glorified the SS.

After these allegations first appeared in the summer, the Tories believed they had weathered the storm and that the stories had not been substantiated. But the stories have not gone away. Some Jewish groups believe that Kaminski has a case to answer and some prominent entertainers, like Eddie Izzard and Stephen Fry, are disturbed by his party's links to homophobic groups. So opposition politicians in Britain have begun to see the issue of Europe as a potential weakness for the Tory leader.

They believe that his desire to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty puts him on a collision course with mainstream Europe. It will not be difficult to find voices in Berlin and Paris who will attack David Cameron's whole European strategy.

I have not investigated these allegations of far-right connections myself and I do not know their strength but I know that as the British election gets closer they will gain more attention not less; that it will be difficult to close down this story and that in the dog-fight of an election campaign you can be judged, fairly or not, by your friends and associations. David Miliband has fired a warning shot that he will try and link the Tories with the far right in Central and Eastern Europe.


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