So, we’ve selected our candidates for Europe in England and Scotland, and a pretty good bunch they are too – people who are committed to the concept of a Europe of twenty-seven (soon to be twenty-eight) nations pooling some sovereignty for a greater good. So far, so good. But what are they going to do for the next eighteen months?
Past experience says, “not much to do with Europe”. Yes, they’ll be campaigning to a lesser or greater extent, but what will they be campaigning for? In the past, that’s generally meant something little different to how we campaign for Westminster, vote for us to keep X out, schools, jobs, the environment, you know the sort of thing. We’ve mentioned Europe in passing, but only to the minimum extent necessary.
So, why not try something radical? If opinion polls are to be believed, we haven’t got a huge amount to look forward to unless there is a sizeable increase in our level of support over the next year. If that’s so, why not, to use baseball parlance, at least go down swinging?
With UKIP campaigning to pull us out of Europe, the Conservatives publicly hostile to anything coming out of Brussels to shore up their right flank, and Labour increasingly sceptical when they aren’t being cynical, there is an enormous political space for a political party that believes in engaging positively with Europe and our European partners.
You would think that, as a traditionally internationalist party, that should be ours, and intellectually, it is. However, over the years, we’ve allowed ourselves to be cowed by the Eurosceptics, whose distortions and hyperbole have dominated the argument. “Europe isn’t popular,”, we are told, “it will hurt us if we campaign for it.”.
So, let’s not campaign for it, let’s campaign about it, making the case for active engagement, for making it more accountable, more transparent, more relevant to the state our country is in. Let’s talk about why, by electing Liberal Democrats, you’ll get a better environment, an improved transport network, more opportunities for yourselves and your children.
And let’s talk about what’s wrong with Europe too. Let’s admit that there are things that Europe wants to do that we don’t agree with, and how Liberal Democrats can stop them. Let’s talk about our campaign to reduce waste, to focus spending on enabling growth and creating jobs. We could even talk about our future in an enlarged single market.
The talk in recent months has been of differentiation, of impressing upon the electorate that we haven’t lost our identity. There is a danger that, in making the effort to do so, we forget who we really are. So, why not take an issue where we are poles apart, and go out and campaign for something, rather than against someone?
What’s the worst that could happen?
* Mark Valladares is a member of the Party’s delegation to the Council of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) and Chair of the European Shortlisting Committee for the East of England