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Tory loses Euro leadership bid

A Conservative MEP has failed to win leadership of the European Parliament political group set up by Prime Minister David Cameron with Czech and Polish eurosceptics.

Timothy Kirkhope was defeated by a Czech member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the grouping formed after Mr Cameron pulled the Tories out of a centre-right alliance in Strasbourg on the grounds that it was too federalist.

The aim all along was that a British Tory would run the ECR, not least because the party is the biggest national bloc within it.

Some of the 25 euro-Tories backed Czech Jan Zahradil, of the Czech Civic Democrats, to succeed Michal Kaminski of the Polish Law and Justice Party. One of them, Daniel Hannan, used his blog to hail the Czech as "a free-marketeer, a eurosceptic ... who is also a committed Anglophile and Atlanticist".

Mr Zahradil is also a climate change sceptic who was seen by a majority as the best bet to represent group views for the rest of this year.

Mr Cameron was heavily criticised in 2009 when he put his MEPs into a new "anti-federalist" alliance with the Polish Law and Justice party and the Czech Civic Democrats. The move was branded by Nick Clegg at the time as a Tory alliance with "a bunch of nutters and homophobes".

Labour euro-leader Glenis Willmott described the result of the vote as a new blow for Mr Cameron in Europe.

She said: "David Cameron had been hoping to put stories of his embarrassing political relatives to bed by winning control of the leadership of this ill-conceived political grouping.

"But this result shows that Cameron has not only burned his party's bridges with the mainstream right in Europe, he doesn't even carry the support of the MEPs inside his new alliance."

Mr Zahradil will lead the ECR until the end of this year, when political groups in the European Parliament will hold mid-term elections for internal posts - giving the Tories another stab at taking over leadership.

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