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Leader: The Tories’ peculiar bedfellows in Europe

This Eurosceptic alliance is a product of moral and intellectual laziness

Does William Hague believe that politics stops at the water's edge? He has demanded, in the interests of "our nation's good relations with our allies", that the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, cease his attacks on the Tories' toxic new grouping in Brussels, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), including an alliance of hard-right extremists from Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

The idea is risible that we should keep silent as the shadow foreign secretary defends the party's strange bedfellows, including For Fatherland and Freedom, a Latvian party that participates in an annual event commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS. Mr Hague has demanded that Mr Miliband apologise for suggesting the Tories were defending Nazis, claiming mainstream support for the parade across Latvia and arguing that the Latvian SS "stood apart" from the German SS.

He derided the Foreign Secretary for failing to "check the facts" on the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, the leader of the Tories' new alliance in the European Parliament. Mr Kaminski, formerly of the far-right National Revival of Poland (NOP) party, has been accused of opposing a national apology for the massacre of 340 Jews at Jedwabne in Nazi-occupied Poland. Mr Hague dismissed such accusations as "smears", and described Mr Kaminski as a "good friend" of the Tories.

But Mr Hague's glib remarks have, one by one, turned out to be false. The Riga parade of Waffen-SS veterans is not a mainstream event, nor is it endorsed by Latvia's government or parliament. On the contrary, it has been banned, and volunteer members of the Latvian Waffen-SS have been accused of involvement in the wartime massacres of Riga's Jews.

Meanwhile, Mr Kaminski, in a recent interview with the Jewish Chronicle, conceded that he had indeed opposed the apology issued by the Polish president in 2001, because he saw it as a one-sided admission of guilt and wanted a reciprocal apology from the Jews - something he had denied he ever said, in an earlier interview with the Observer.

Desperate to change the subject, the Tories have gone on the attack. Tory apologists have been trying to smear our political correspondent for reporting with scepticism on Mr Kaminski's activities. They are keen to dismiss criticisms of their controversial European grouping as "Labour" spin, based, as Mr Hague put it, on "Soviet propaganda". But this will not wash. The critics of the ECR, which the Tories co-created, include leading historians of eastern Europe and the Holocaust, such as Professor David Cesarani, the author Norman Davies and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Efraim Zuroff. Each has questioned the Tory alliance with the Polish and Latvian far right. Mr Zuroff has referred to the Conservative leadership's "sheer ignorance" on these issues. Is he, too, a Labour spin doctor?

Mr Hague has claimed that critical comments about Mr Kaminski made by the chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, first reported by James Macintyre in the NS, were "misrepresented". Others have claimed that they have since been withdrawn. They have not been withdrawn. For the record, Rabbi Schudrich said: "[It] is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of [the] NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-Nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of [the] NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented."

Mr Hague is intelligent. Why, then, will he not acknowledge the dubious past of the man who now leads the Tories in Europe? The answer is that this marriage of Eurosceptic convenience is a product of moral and intellectual laziness from a party that is expected to form the next government.

This article first appeared in the 19 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Strange Death of Labour England