Five posts to sum up April 2014

By April the European election campaign was in full swing. The second Nick v Nigel debate took place on the BBC. Nick’s performance wasn’t as strong as it had been in the LBC debate the week before. His big error, which he later acknowledged, was to say that the EU would be roughly the same in 10 years tome. That made us look far too wedded tot he status quo rather than the reformers we are.

Nick was never going to come out of these debates ahead, but that isn’t help. At least he had the nerve to take Farage on, though.  Stephen Tall told us not  to panic:

Recent polls show the British public pretty split on whether the UK should remain within the EU, but tilting towards staying in. The Lib Dems’ internal polling suggests that, among the one-quarter of the public who’ll consider voting for the party, pro-Europeanism plays pretty well. My main frustration of tonight’s debate was that Nick Clegg failed to advance the pro-reform case for staying within the EU as well as he’s done in the past – but there will be many more times and places for him to make that point in the next seven weeks. Overall, clear defining the party as being pro-European is more likely to win the Lib Dems the votes the party needs to win, both in 2014 as well as 2015.

A few days later, Nick did clarify on Call Clegg what he wanted to see change about the EU after a question from a mysterious woman from West Lothian. The three main things were:

  • More Trade

  • Scrap the expensive monthly trek to Strasbourg (championed by all Lib Dem MEPs with a special mention for Edward McMillan-Scott)

  • Less red tape for small businesses

Also in April, Jeremy Browne launched his book, Race Plan, which he dubbed as “authentic liberalism”. I looked at the coverage and his comments and said that it sounded like a “plan for the privileged”. That post caused a fair bit of discussion, it’s fair to say.

Stephen Tall brought us praise for the Cleggster from one of Tony Blair’s speechwriters who said that Nick “should be applauded by all liberal voters”.

Giles Goodall told us why he was still proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

While other parties have drifted or been imprisoned by their extremist wings, we have not compromised on our values. I’m not a factionalist and I try to avoid tribalism too, but as long as my party stands for progressive and reformist values like fairness, radicalism and internationalism, I’ll be proud to call it my political home.

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

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  • Nick v Nigel was the reason we did so badly in the Euro election. By agreeing to that set of debates, we fought the campaign on Farage’s terms. especially with what Clegg said about the EU being “much the same as now” in 10 years’ time, we signed up wholescale to the popular false dichotomy on the EU, which Farage likes to promote, that the only possible positions to take on it are uncritical support for everything the EU does or withdrawal. Of course we Lib Dems want to change things about the EU, and the WHOLE POINT of that election was to elect people who would help shape EU law and policy. Yet there was NOTHING in our EU election campaign about what our MEPs had done or were going to do AS LIBERALS to make the EU work better for its citizens. And not just in terms of policy ABOUT the EU (institutional reform etc) but policy on those bread&butter issues that are decided at EU level — such as trade, agriculture, fisheries, civil liberties, cross-border crime, consumer protection, intellectual property, competition. What were our LIBERAL policies on these EU-level issues, and in what way did they differ from those of Labour, Tories, Greens? As far as I could see, in this country only the Green Party (and occasionally Labour) based their European election campaign on their record in the European Parliament, and talked about it in ideological terms. Which is bad, because there are political ideological differences in specific policy on issues discussed at EU level, in the exact same way as there are on government policy at the national level. But the way the EU election campaign was fought was as if the UK election campaign were to be fought on a dichotomy of uncritical support for everything Whitehall and the government of the day did, or complete breakup of the UK. And instead of challenging this, we went along with it.
    We also failed to capitalise on the fact that the European Parliament is a Coalition-free Zone, and generally on contested issues our MEPs would vote in an opposite way to Tory MEPs. We said nothing about this, which is a shame because it could have been the focus of our differentiation strategy: to a great extent the voting records of our and their MEPs represent what undiluted Lib Dem and Tory policy looks like.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Dec '14 - 11:42am

    @ Alex McFie,
    It is a pity that you did not take on Nigel Farage in the debate. I think there would have been a different outcome.

    On current information offered, I don’t know whether it would be better to stay in the EU or leave. If there was a referendum , I would vote to stay in for probably all the wrong reasons, I always feel that people work better and achieve more when they co-operate, and if the right wing of the tory party and UKIP want us out, staying in has to be the best option.

    Please disseminate your arguments widely, so we can make a positive choice.

  • “….. launched his book, Race Plan, which he dubbed as “authentic liberalism”…..”

    With hindsight we now know that his definition of “authentic” can in future be used to describe any MP who feels perfectly justified in dropping their constituency party in it without warning a few months before a General Election.

    With authenticity like that who needs friends?

  • >Nick v Nigel was the reason we did so badly in the Euro election.

    Not so sure that’s true, it seemed to shave a % of so off polling, the narrative against Clegg was fairly mature by that point, so whilst I’d agree that it compounded that narrative, I don’t think the result can be directly attributed to the debate. Clegg has been political kryptonite since the tuition fees vote, rightly or wrongly.

    The “more trade” and “less red tape for small businesses” was ironic, considering VATMOSS!

    Race Plan was a load of nonsense, I remember at the time Caron was talking a lot about it but she hadn’t read it. Perhaps she was the only sensible party in that regard; the rest of us will never get that time/money back!

  • Following on from that, just saw this on the beeb :

  • Alex Macfie 30th Dec '14 - 2:16pm

    We might have been shielded from Clegg’s unpopularity had we run an EU election campaign led by our MEPs, with Clegg kept out of it. We should have openly stated that the election had nothing to do with Clegg or the Coalition or any of the other Westminster party leaders. We should also have openly stated that the election had nothing to do with the UK’s membership of the EU, as MEPs do not decide that sort of thing: it is a domestic issue which belongs in national election campaigns.
    The Lib Dems did have a record in the European Parliament that the party could have pointed to in its campaign material. Positions taken by our MEPs (which were opposed by one or another of the other MEP groups) include:

    Supporting action on climate change (generally opposed by the Tories, causing the defeat of some measures)
    A robust net neutrality rule, ensuring a genuine level playing field in the EU digital marketplace (i.e. ISPs not being able to pick winners in the digital economy).
    Curtailing guilt-upon-accusation regimes for copyright enforcement on the Internet so that users cannot be kicked off the Internet on the say-so of big content corporations. On a similar note, Lib Dem MEPs (mostly) helped defeat ACTA, which was an attempt to launder this and other extreme intellectual-property laws through international trade negotiations.
    Our MEPs supported light-touch regulation of so-called “e-cigs”, against Labour MEPs and our own government which want to regulate them as medicines..

    Yet none of this stuff was mentioned in our campaign, or where it was, it was without reference to how Lib Dem MEPs specifically achieved it.

  • Alex Macfie 30th Dec ’14 – 2:16pm
    “We might have been shielded from Clegg’s unpopularity had we run an EU election campaign led by our MEPs, with Clegg kept out of it. We should have openly stated that the election had nothing to do with Clegg or the Coalition …,”

    Alex, you are talking like someone who knows a bit about how to win elections. So you would not be very welcome at the top table of Liberal Democrat election gurus in the age of Orange Bookery. And just guess who is running the national campaign such as it is in 2015? That’s right – the very same people that have brought failure after failure at elections since 2006.

    It took years of Orange Book voodoo to reduce a once successful party to less than 1% in the most recent parliamentary byelection. Just imagine what they will do with more than 600 constituencies to play with.

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