Shock, horror! Lib Dems to fight Euro elections on pro-Europe platform

by Stephen Tall on May 12, 2009

The Lib Dems did something today that the party hasn’t explicitly done in a long time: it launched its campaign for the European elections focusing on the positive impact of British membership of the European Union.

Non-Lib Dems might casually read that sentence and shrug bemusedly – the Lib Dems are a pro-European party, they’ll say, of course the party’s going to campaign on a positive pro-European platform. If only it were that simple.

Too often in the past, the party has cowered behind its EU credentials, afraid our views will deter ‘soft Tories’ from casting their vote for us (especially, though not solely, in the south-west).

We’ve fought past Euro elections on Iraq and the NHS – anything in fact to avoid mentioning too loudly that we’re a proudly an internationalist party which believes the European Union is a force for good. In need of reform, yes – the CAP is a scandal which shames the whole of Europe – but the EU remains our best hope of dealing with issues which transcend national boundaries, from terrorism to recession, climate change to crime.

It’s always been a bizarre strategy, this attempt to draw a veil over the Lib Dems’ pro-Europeanism.

  • The public already knows we’re the most pro-European of the mainstream parties: staying schtum and hoping to distract them is not going to persuade them otherwise: it just makes us look embarrassed, as if we can’t actually mount a defence of our party’s views.
  • It differentiates us from all the other parties, mainstream and fringe. Labour, at least post-Blair, is at best lukewarm about Europe, and far more interested in shoring up its core vote than in putting forward a progressive vision of how the UK can deliver for the British people as part of a reformed EU. Meanwhile, the Tories, Ukip, Greens and the BNP are all hostile to the EU to a greater or lesser degree. Just as Ukip garners votes from Europhobes across all parties, there’s no reason why the Lib Dems couldn’t also persuade pro-Euro Labour and Tory voters to plump for the Lib Dems in protest at their own parties’ desertion of internationalism.
  • We believe in it! Of course, there is a vocal minority within the Lib Dem membership who – in spite of or because of their belief that internationalism can solve national problems – disdain the EU. But the vast majority of the party is passionately pro-EU, with the bigger arguments being over how it can be reformed, not whether it should be. There are some issues so fundamental to liberals that we should campaign on them no matter how risky they seem. Europe is one of these.
  • It is reassuring, therefore, to hear that this time it will be different, that the Lib Dems’ 2009 campaign for the European Parliament elections will put forward the pro-EU case. As Jonathan Calder notes on his Liberal England blog:

    Willie [Rennie MP, in charge of the party’s Euro campaign] is promising a very different Euro campaign from the ones the party has fought in the past. He said that the other day a Guardian journalist phoned him and said: “I’ve heard an outrageous rumour that the Lib Dems are going to fight the European elections on Europe.” It seems that rumour is true.

    The sceptical will note (as Simon Titley did here on LDV) that last week’s Party Election Broadcast – ostensibly for the Euro and local elections – didn’t mention either Europe or the work of Lib Dem councils.

    But there has been evidence this week at least that the party is gearing up for the campaign. Yesterday, for example, The Independent reported the party’s intention to turn up the heat on the Tories’ anti-Europeanism:

    Nick Clegg will attempt to dispel suggestions that he is forging closer links with David Cameron by placing the Tories’ controversial policy on Europe at the heart of the Liberal Democrats’ election campaign. The Lib Dem leader will claim this week that the Conservatives threaten to turn Britain into a “safe-house for criminals” by planning to withdraw from European cross-border policing agencies.

    And today’s official launch of the party’s European election campaign was a staunch defence of the benefits to the UK of working with our European partners. I’ve copy ‘n’ pasted the full party press release below, with its signature line:

    Only the Liberal Democrats know how to provide security, jobs, and a clean environment by leading in the European Union.”

    At long last, it seems, the party is embarking on a European campaign which puts the Lib Dems at the heart of Europe – so let’s just rejoice at that news.

    Nick Clegg launches Liberal Democrat European election campaign

    Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg today launched the Party’s European election campaign, warning that Britain must lead within the EU to protect families from crime, climate change and the recession.

    Nick Clegg published the Party’s European manifesto ‘Stronger Together, Poorer Apart’ in central London.

    Nick Clegg said:

    “We can only protect British families from crime, the recession and climate change if our country works with other EU countries.
    “Criminals, business, climate change – these things cross borders. So the police, regulators, and environmental action have to cross borders too. It’s the EU that makes this essential cooperation possible.
    “Only the Liberal Democrats know how to provide security, jobs, and a clean environment by leading in the European Union.
    “Liberal Democrats backed EU plans for the fast track extradition of thousands of criminals suspects across Europe – including 21/7 bomber Hussein Osman who was extradited in just three weeks from Rome. It would have taken months if UKIP and the Conservatives had succeeded in blocking these new rules.
    “Liberal Democrats support EU police and judicial cooperation, which have achieved a huge amount in particular in relation to people trafficking and internet crime.
    “One investigation known as Operation Koala managed to close down a website which contained 150 sexually explicit videos of underage girls and prosecute the people who ran it and its customers.
    “Because the operators and users of this site were in a total of 28 different countries, it was only because of EU cooperation that the prosecution was swift and successful.”