Farron: It’s Lib Dems v UKIP in European elections

Last year on the eve of Spring Conference, we reported Tim Farron’s controversial interview in House magazine in which he described activists as cockroaches and said the party was in a critical state. He certainly got into a bit of trouble from Them Indoors, but, as Stephen Tall pointed out:

The language is colourful: that’s Tim for you. He could give dull, measured interviews that are risk-free. But it’s not his way. And I don’t think many activists would want him to be anything other than himself. It is precisely because Tim is un-spun, a straight-talker who takes his role as ‘honest broker’ between the party’s membership and its leadership seriously, that he’s popular.

Since then, he’s been much more measured in his public comments. Certainly, he’s been speaking out on issues like the Bedroom Tax, but the interview in today’s Independent on Sunday is a bit dull and measured. I guess as Chair of the European Election campaign he has to be resolutely on message:

If you vote Ukip you will be making it very clear what you want, that you’re against being in the EU. If you vote Liberal Democrat, you’re making it very clear that you’re in favour of staying in the EU. If you vote Labour or Tory, no one will know what you meant.

Ah, but there is a bit of controversy.

Do what you like in the local elections – I’m not necessarily asking you to make a party change for ever. In this election, though, there are only two votes that will register, only two votes that anyone will notice.

We aren’t entirely convinced that our local government candidates will take too kindly to the Party President telling voters to do what they like as long as they vote Liberal Democrat in the Euros. Farron, as a tireless campaigner at local as well as parliamentary level, is probably the only member of the party’s leadership team who could get away with a comment like this, though. There’s no way he’d go on a doorstep and not promote the local council candidates. His ties with ALDC and new regular column for ALDC members show how much he values local government.

I suspect our council candidates would rather he didn’t say it again, though. The problem is that many activists feel the leadership don’t give a stuff about local elections. That’s not true either, but it’s a perception that people should be very careful that they don’t reinforce.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • “If you vote Liberal Democrat, you’re making it very clear that you’re in favour of staying in the EU. If you vote Labour or Tory, no one will know what you meant.”

    Can anyone actually provide any evidence for the implication that Labour isn’t clearly in favour of staying in the EU?

  • This is simply bad politics.

    The European Elections are not about registering a vote on whether we like Europe or not and it’s downright stupid to treat them as such because the MEPs elected CANNOT influence whether we’re in Europe or not even one jot. The Lib Dems, as pro-Europeans, should be standing up to this kind of nonsense and arguing for the importance of treating European elections seriously and taking your representation in Europe seriously rather than encouraging people to treat it as a meaningless election in which they can put forth their views on whether we should be in Europe or not.

  • “The problem is that many activists feel the leadership don’t give a stuff about local elections”.

    Yes, I agree. It would be fatal if there were any misunderstanding on this in the mind of the public. The LibDems certainly need to make it clear that we don’t give a higher priority to the EU.

  • Andrew Martin 2nd Mar '14 - 4:09pm

    @Dave ” there are probably not many voters who are likely to vote Lib Dem in the locals and not vote Lib Dem in the Euros”
    History doesn’t support this one!
    The Lib Dem national projected vote share in 2009 was 28% in the locals. In the European elections on the same day it was 13.7%, i.e less than half of those who voted LD locally.

  • My worry is that if someone puts an X in the box for UKIP for the European election they are also likely to put an X in the box of the local UKIP candidate too. Any thoughts on how to break that linkage? We may lose perfectly good and hard working councillors to novelty* UKIP candidates. ( * Gay floods etc.)

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd Mar '14 - 9:37pm

    Andrew / Joe –

    I’d say it’s certain we’ll poll better in the local elections than the European elections… again.

    Especially where hard-working and long-serving Lib. Dem. Councillors successfully present themselves as ‘local champions’ working all-year-round to improve the quality of life for the people they represent.

    The smart local campaigners will concentrate on projecting the local candidate rather than the national party., this year more than ever as the national party is currently on 8%-10% in the polls and our national leader has a personal poll rating of minus 57.

    While out campaigning today I found several people saying they will vote UKIP in the European election but will vote Lib. Dem. in the local elections because they know local Lib. Dem. Councillors work hard on their behalf, all year, every year.

    It’s called ‘community politics’ and it’s what we do best, working with and for our local communities to tackle local problems and get things done.

  • Chris – the leader of the Labour group on our Council has said they will pulp their free European election address because they fear it will “distract” from their local campaign.

  • I’m very much in favour of staying in the EU but after that it gets more complicated.

    For the last few elections the sitting MEP in my region (and I think others) has steered resolutely clear of any discussion of EU issues preferring instead to talk about local issues. The nearest it got to anything EU has been unconvincing claims about jobs created or at risk. It’s not as if there are no EU issues – lack of democracy comes to mind yet Liberal DEMOCRATS appear to have nothing to say. Then there is fisheries policy where it has taken campaigning by a celebrity chef to get some movement. Presumably MEPs have, in fact, done good work but there is no visible evidence of leadership on this or any other topic and if they keep their efforts secret they can’t expect the voters to turn out for them.

    Then ere is the specific issue of the proposed Trans Atlantic Trade & Investment ‘Partnership’ to which our MEPs are committed. Folks this is NOT about free trade as advertised; it’s about an end run around (potentially) any and all regulation that hampers multinational corporations in their ceaseless quest for profit – and never mind the people. It will take decisions about such matters out of our courts and move them to an international tribunal. By any standards this is a massive change to our sovereignty so where’s the debate? Again, it’s hard to see why voters should support those backing this toxic policy.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Mar '14 - 1:40pm

    Chris Davies MEP has commented on fisheries
    However, I remember a Today programme report on EU fisheries policy at the time and neither he nor any other MEP were interviewed. And that is a large part of the trouble: the media in this country largely ignores the European Parliament and the work of MEPs. Even if our MEPs shout as loud as they can, they have difficulty getting into the papers.
    I think we, as a party, should be much more critical of the poor media coverage of European affairs. European elections should be about European issues, as in the work of MEPs. To this effect, there ought to be a televised panel debate between leaders of the *European Parliamentary* parties in this country. We should be calling on the BBC to do this, and then if they refuse this (e.g. by sayign that no-one is interested in the European Parliament) we should be loudly attacking them for not taking the election seriously.
    The European Parliament is a forum where our elected representatives can advance the undiluted Lib Dem position on a range of major policy issues; we should be making much more of this and pointing out the difference in voting of our MEPs and, especially, the Tories.
    And if we are going to go for the votes of sensible, pro-European Tory/LD waverers, we could draw attention to their raving-right European Parliamentary allies. Tarnishing the Tories by the company they keep.

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