New political era in Poland: time to move on for the UK

5 July 2010

The defeat of Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland’s presidential election surely brings to an end the political career of two remarkable men. This summer sees the 30th anniversary of the founding moment of the Polish trade union NSZZ Solidarnosc. The Kaczynski twins, Jarosloaw and Lech, were Solidarity activists but very much on the right-nationalist, ultra-Catholic wing of the movement. Lech became president of Poland in 2005 and Jaroslaw was prime minister of the short-lived populist, rightist coalition between 2005 and 2007. Lech was killed in the Smolensk air crash disaster which wiped out a number of Polish leaders. His bother, Jaroslaw, his identical twin, campaigned to succeed him as president. He handed out leaflets with his brother’s name and face on it, hoping for a Kaczynski sympathy vote. It did not work because the Polish economy and society has moved on dramatically from the era when the appeal of nationalist populist parties could win majorities. Under its pro-EU Civic Platform government, with a number of British-linked Poles holding key portfolios in the Foreign and Finance ministries, Poland has been one of the few EU states to grow during the recession. Polish cities are now modern, vibrant and young.

The last remaining place where the nationalist right-wing identity politicies of the Kaczynksi era lives on is in the European Parliament. There, thanks to William Hague and David Cameron, the Polish PiS (Law and Justice) party heads a European Parliament group called Conservatives for European Reform. Its leader is Michal Kaminski, who started his political career on the extreme Falangist right of Polish nationalism in the 1980s and 1990s, before moving into more mainstream politics as an associate of Jarsoslaw Kaczynski.

Nick Clegg has cruelly described Cameron’s and Hague allies in Europe as “nutters, anti-semites and homophobes.” The Kaczynksi were never anti-Jewish though their coalition government did have anti-semites in it but Jaroslaw was a vicious homophobe. In the election here, David Cameron said, the gay Police Minister, Nick Herbert, would go to Warsaw to march in the Gay pride demonstration there. When the Kaczynskis were in power they tried to ban it. It is not clear if Mr Herbet has honoured that pledge. Conservatives hate being reminded of Nick Clegg’s NASH (“nutters, anti-semites and homophobes”) description mainly because it is true. Tory MEPs complain to anyone who will listen that they are now utterly marginalised in Strasbourg and Brussels because the dominant ruling centre-right and liberal groupings don’t want to touch the ultra nationalist right like Kaczynski and Kaminski with proverbial EU barge-pole.

The death and now defeat of the Kaczynskis give the Tories a chance to rethink their alliance, which is extremely damaging to UK national interests in Europe. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament is more powerful in terms of agreeing EU rules and policy. The auto-marginalisation of Tory MEPs does Cameron no favours. As British PM, he is received with courtesy and Britain remains, under any government, an important EU player and power. But Europe is about politics and political networking and influence. The Kaczynski twins had their brief moment of power but blew it with an incompetent government and then, tragically, a hastily arranged flight to the Katyn memorial site which ended in disaster. Now the Kaczynski era is over. But Cameron and Hague show no sign of being able to move on.