Doomsday predictions in the media that Liberal Democrats are set to lose all our MEPs to UKIP are wide of the mark. The closer we get to the Euro elections in May the greater the opportunity for us to win support from the substantial minority of voters who are pro-Europe.
Yet there is no doubt the threat of UKIP is a substantial one. And just as Nigel Farage is boxing clever we Lib Dems need to get smarter about our strategy. Our Euro-slogan ‘In Europe, In Work’ is a powerful statement about where we stand but that needs to be supplemented by targeted messaging to maximise our appeal.
Boston, in the East Midlands, has been in the news due to the town’s large migrant population. I recently visited five Eastern European coffee shops there to talk with migrant workers. As soon as they heard the Lib Dems’ pro-Europe message of supporting the free movement of goods and labour they were eager to vote for us.
As a Euro candidate in the East Midlands I am particularly keen to pay attention to the large number of Eastern European workers. They have the right vote for their MEP but many are unsure whether they can so have not joined the electoral roll.
Not only do millions of jobs for British citizens depend on trade with Europe but jobs in industries like the Lincolnshire farms, who struggle to hire British-born workers, would collapse tomorrow if UKIP had their way.
People in the cafes told me they were fearful of the anti-immigration rhetoric of UKIP and the Tory Right, and many would enthusiastically support the Lib Dems if only we made contact with them. We must, for they could hold the key to fending off UKIP and make the difference between keeping or losing our MEPs.
However many Eastern Europeans are unaware they had a vote. We need to spread the news that they can vote so long as they register. Others told me they feared being kicked out of Britain if UKIP ‘won’ the Euro elections.
All local parties across Britain would benefit from targeting this group in society. I am urging my colleagues in the East Midlands to keep engaging with these communities because we need to do all we can to re-elect our hard-working MEP Bill Newton-Dunn.
Eastern Europeans will become more established in future decades. Securing their support today, at a time when they are repelled by the anti-immigration climate, will serve us well in future elections. And it may just take us over the winning post in May.
* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here