Leading Tory MEP relying on UKIP to save his seat

  
ECR Chairman Martin Callanan faces a nerve-wracking elections evening. [European Parliament]

The Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists, Martin Callanan, is relying on the UK Independence Party to poach enough Labour votes to save his seat in tonight’s (25 May) European Parliament elections

Martin Callanan, a Conservative, is expected to be in a straight fight with Labour’s second candidate for the third and final seat for his region, the North East of the UK. Labour and the UK Independence Party will take the first two seats, according to polls. Jude Kirton Darling is Labour’s first name on the list, followed by Paul Brannen. Brannen, like Callanan, is based in Newcastle. Jonathan William Arnott is UKIP’s candidate.

ECR sources expressed hope that the surge in support for UKIP would harm Labour more than the Conservatives. They said the swing toward UKIP was coming from Labour voters, traditionally the majority party in the North East.

By costing Labour votes, UKIP could ensure that Callanan, 52, retains his seat by virtue of the D’Hondt system of proportional representation. In the system, the number of votes a party gets is divided by the number of seats it has won plus one.

But there is a real risk that Labour will take a second seat. Conservatives have diverted resources from other safer seats to Callanan’s constituency as part of the campaign, which seeks to cast Callanan as “Britain’s best friend in Brussels.”

The dominant party in the ECR is concerned at the potential loss of face if Callanan is not re-elected. Callanan is in his constituency for the count.

In the local elections for Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, major authorities in the North East, Labour held their councils; a pattern reflected elsewhere in the region.

The results are due from 11 PM tonight. If Callanan does lose his seat, the ECR will elect his replacement at the beginning of the next Parliament. Sources said they expected any replacement to be drawn from the ranks of the Conservatives.

Callanan, a Eurosceptic, was first elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2004 and 2009. In December 2011, he became Chairman of the ECR group.

He was won praise for being a tough yet engaged negotiator. Despite their smaller size, the ECR have successfully influenced important pieces of legislation, especially in financial services.

Callanan is a member of the Conference of Presidents, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

He has also campaigned in favour of e-cigarettes, an allegedly healthier alternative to smoking tobacco. He argued that recent European Parliament legislation would turn smokers back to traditional cigarettes.

Better news for ECR

While bracing themselves for disappointing exit polls, sources indicated they expected several parties to join the group after the election.

The ECR would not comment on any potential new members for its parliamentary grouping, but EurActiv understands they could be bolstered by new arrivals from both the centre-right European People’s Party, and the liberal ALDE.

Any EPP defectors are likely to come from southern Europe, where resentment towards Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is strong.

Meanwhile, Bart De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) is set for electoral triumph in Belgium. Belgian voters are expected to hand the NVA victory at regional and federal level.

But even a landslide would only translate into four seats in the European Parliament, forcing the N-VA to forge new alliances.

Currently they are a member of the European Free Alliance, a group joined with the Greens. But relations between the N-VA and the Belgian Greens have soured, and the NVA is widely expected to join the ECR.

>> Read: Will Flemish separatists save the Tories in Europe?

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