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Tories look for new partners

Mark Mardell | 08:20 UK time, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Brown's in town later in the day, but at first light it is the opposition who are more interesting.

It's the longest divorce in history, but the relationship between the Conservatives and the European People's Party seems to be tottering towards a final parting of the ways.David Cameron, 19 Mar 09

One longstanding MEP, Christopher Beazley, has told me he is applying for full membership of the EPP as a protest. He's already announced he won't stand at the elections in June because of the move.

Another MEP, Edward McMillan Scott, makes me laugh telling me of his search under previous leaders, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, for suitable partners. He recalls wryly the discussions with a Dutch religious party which he says believes it is a sin for women to ride bicycles. He has promised to follow his leader and join a new group if partners can be found and expresses the hope that the intention is not to sit with what he calls "the mad and the bad" .

One of the men who first encouraged David Cameron down this route, Dan Hannan, has already left the EPP. He has a trenchant view on the subject of nutters as partners, making the point that all groups have their share of oddballs. But he suggests that a new umbrella group could change the very nature of the parliament, with a big group arguing for a Eurosceptic approach.

To form a European Parliament group you have to have seven nations involved and that has always been the tough hurdle for the Tories. The Czech ODS (main ruling party as I write, but maybe not by the end of the day) will join in, but no others are certain. But there are plenty of rumours. Law and Justice from Poland? The Italian Pensioners' Party? A Bulgarian or two? The only one I have managed to confirm as interested is the Danish People's Party.

But the Conservatives are being coy and say they won't tell us who their new chums are until after the election. My longstanding view has been that this was because they could not reach the desired numbers, but I have changed my mind. I think they will find enough new bedfellows, but that there is no need to invite them under the duvet until the votes are in. When they see the strength of other parties they can pick and choose new partners with greater ease: bringing the odd (but not strange) single MEP from here and there, and making more serious alliances with larger parties. There is no point linking up in advance with those who might fail, and no point alienating those who might do well. Listen to my report on the Today programme.

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