Let us Celebrate European Democracy!

The European elections on May 26 are primarily seen as a problem best avoided for Britain on its way out, and an untimely complication for a people’s vote to remain. Even Remainers are surprisingly shy about them. Conventional wisdom says that the UK must first sort its membership question before a possible participation in these elections should be considered. I am arguing for the exact opposite.

A passionately fought election campaign for the UK seats in the European Parliament would be the meaningful People’s Vote. It would force the British public to have an overdue debate at a moment when public knowledge, interest, and passions are at a historic peak. It could divert the hitherto unproductive debate from in/out of the caricature of an organization to the question: in which direction and with which allies do we want our MEPs to push the EU?

For the first time, EU-minded candidates can make their case for remain and reform in a manner that will be noticed; pro-EU voters will, for the first time, see the purpose of the institutions, and the importance of sending constructive contributors as their MEPs. These candidates will surely compete against a full UKIP-field, which will struggle much more than in the past to promote its destructive agenda. Their old claims have been substantially debunked, and their old advantage from asymmetric mobilization should be gone. Besides, with the membership question still open at that point, sending Europhobes to the European Parliament makes little sense: if the UK remains, rebuilding relationships in Brussels and other capitals must be the UK’s top priority; otherwise, British MEPs serve no further purpose.

The Conservatives would be very hard pressed to field candidates and campaign. How shall they position themselves? Fielding UKIP-clones makes little sense and would be unlikely to succeed. But how would they campaign “positively, just in case”?

LibDems, TIG, SNP, Greens, Plaid could win big, if they coordinate cleverly. This group is the only one with a consistent and credible message. Labour would likely conclude to follow that model rather than the Tory one, but with residual credibility problems.

This campaign should also succeed in educating the UK public about some often forgotten facts: the European Parliament is the European legislator, not the Commission. A British PM and Cabinet Ministers are important figures on the European stage, if they want to play. And it is in the British national interest that they do. The allocation of the Brussels top-jobs is now closely related to the election results. The UK can actively shape the post-Juncker commission and its agenda. And Trump and Putin would have lost visibly, for once.

UK politicians and the public might implicitly accept the result of these elections as a renewed endorsement of the UK’s new and finally understood role in the EU. A national consensus (or at least an unquestionable majority) for unilateral revocation of the Article 50 notification could emerge from this experience.

* Arnold Kiel is a self-employed Management Consultant, father of two sons in British education, and very concerned about their future in this Europe

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  • richard underhill 14th Mar '19 - 5:30pm

    Tom Brake used the debate to assert a legal opinion that elections to the European parliament could go ahead without British members. Others differ.

  • “For the first time, EU-minded candidates can make their case for remain and reform in a manner that will be noticed”

    I find this a very odd comment from you Arnold. From all the posts that I have seen from you previously, you have argued that the EU does not need reform and the problem lies with the UK, and let us not forget your disparaging comments about those trouble making irrelevant pesky Poles and Bulgarians.

    ” UKIP-field, which will struggle much more than in the past to promote its destructive agenda. Their old claims have been substantially debunked, and their old advantage from asymmetric mobilization should be gone. Besides, with the membership question still open at that point, sending Europhobes to the European Parliament makes little sense”
    Which claims have been debunked?
    I would suggest that if we were to hold EU elections, we would see an increased support for UKIP or whatever anti EU party stands.
    Please remind us how Liberal Democrats did in the last EU elections being the only Ultra Pro EU Party standing

  • Peter Martin 14th Mar '19 - 6:19pm

    “……… the public might implicitly accept the result of these elections as a renewed endorsement of the UK’s new and finally understood role in the EU”

    And pigs might fly.

    IF the UK has to have EU elections, the UK will simply send a whole new batch of EU-osceptic MEPs to Strasbourg to link up with a new batch of EU-osceptic MEPs from many other EU countries.

    Is Arnold Kiel down in his bunker? Commanding legions of enthusiastic pro-EU voters who simply don’t exist!


  • But the far right has done what the far right always do, it has split. You would have the new Brexit Party proprietor N Farage and the old UKIP ( BNP lite) fighting for the same votes, be intresting which would win in that particular fight. Perhaps our brave Brexiteers could point out which they would vote for?

  • Sean Hyland 14th Mar '19 - 9:38pm

    @Arnold Kiel – thoughtful and reasoned post. Some of the info on Reform and on EU achievement could have been used more in the referendum.

    @frankie – if it happens will almost certainly still vote Lib Dem.

  • Peter Martin 14th Mar '19 - 9:46pm

    @ Sean,

    I would think Arnold’s ideas of ‘reform’ probably aren’t quite the same as yours! Unless, that is, you’re of a similar opinion to Guy Verhofstadt and J-C Juncker.

    @ frankie,


  • Voting for some political Party to select one of their old lags to be an MEP is mostly an after though. If voters can be bothered at all. The only people who see it as more important are either hardcore EU supporters or hardcore Eurosceptics. Pretty much everyone else just ticks the same Party on a ballot paper for everything if the on going farce happens to coincide with local council elections of some sort-barely anyone can be bothered to vote for them either, but at least they’re up on police commissioners.

  • @Peter Martin – probably not but nice to see mention of reform. Aware of Verhofstadt call for more Europe through reading his books/articles.

  • Frankie
    No one. I think the EU is pointless and so make a purposeful effort not to vote on it. To me it’s like voting for the chairman of a golf club. I don’t care because I don’t play golf.

  • Well what a surprise our most vocal Brexiteers are not actually Liberal Democrat supporters, I’m shocked I tell you, shocked 😉

  • Alex Macfie 15th Mar '19 - 9:49am

    Of course Lib Dems should run a positive campaign in the EU Parliamentary election should the UK be participating in it, although Brexit is a domestic issue, not a European issue per se. European issues are matters of law and policy that are decided at EU level, and which MEPs help to decide — issues such as the CAP, trade, civil liberties, competition law, IP law, EU internal market.
    The Lib Dems performed badly in the 2014 election not because it was “the only Ultra Pro EU Party standing”, but because (i) it had the Westminster leader Nick Clegg fronting the campaign, when he was toxic and we should have been emphasising the independence of our MEPs from the Coalition, and (ii) we didn’t give voters any reason to vote in Lib Dem MEPs. We didn’t talk about our specifically Liberal vision of the EU, or what our MEPs had done to realise it. AFAIR our campaign didn’t even mention MEPs, or the role of the European Parliament. What it did do, via the Clegg-Farage debates, was to validate the Kipper view of the EU, and thus contribute to the strong UKIP vote.

  • Michael Romberg 15th Mar '19 - 10:05am

    Yes, let’s go in whole-heartedly under the banner “Vote for Europe”. We should argue in terms of the European ideal: peace, achieving more if we pool our sovereignty, shared culture and heritage – these are countries and people like us; let us glory in freedom of movement which increases our individual freedom.

    The elections are held under PR so the structural FPTP reason for not voting LD does not apply. The elections are not perceived as voting for a government so lingering resentment about the coalition should not matter.

    This is the time when a full-on pro-EU party could capture the 48%, by now grown to >50%.

    The European Parliament election campaign would be a useful frontrunner for the referendum campaign.

    Sure, UKIP &co would also do well.

    But this would be a time to squeeze out parties that are dithering and divided on Europe.

    Game on!

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 10:10am

    @ frankie,

    I voted Lib Dem between ’97 and 2005. I didn’t like the New Labour crew at the time. In 2010 I setup and ran a tactical voting and vote swapping website to help optimise the anti-Tory vote and which I know helped the Lib Dem vote. I didn’t feel like repeating the excercise in 2015, after the Lib Dems had been in bed with the Tories, so closed it down.

    Obviously, now, it would be a problem supporting the Lib Dems due to fundamental differences on the question of EU membership.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 10:39am

    Matt asked the question:

    “Please remind us how Liberal Democrats did in the last EU elections being the only Ultra Pro EU Party standing”

    And the answer is. Not very well. Just one MEP and 7% of the vote. As Lib Dems have taken to the idea of counting votes as a percentage of the total electorate that would be about 3%.

    And as Michael Romberg reminds us:

    The elections are held under PR so the structural FPTP reason for not voting LD does not apply.

    So there should be no real excuse for such a low level of support.

    However Michael’s other point about the electorate being 50% + pro Remain is questionable. Even if this figure is accurate, not wanting to leave the EU doesn’t necessarily indicate any real and enthusiastic support for it. Voters have had several years of ‘project fear’. There are very few real aficionados for the EU project in the UK. Hardly anyone wants to join the euro. Hardly anyone wants to be a part of Schengen. Hardly anyone want ‘more Europe’.

    By all means campaign heartily on a very pro EU ticket. But you’ll find out the hard way, just as you did when you lost your West Country base, that this will cost rather than gain you votes.

  • I could of course be wrong and bitterly disappointed by the results, but as a passionate remainer, I cannot be afraid of European elections. Undoubtedly, UKIP MEPs will be joined by other populists from most European countries. It is inevitable and eventually healthy. If you look at the US, populism is visibly fading. Populists never provide sustainable solutions, and voters eventually find that out. I would not be surprised to see already some receding support for UKIP, AfD, PiS and Fidesz, while the Lega is probably still ascending.

    There will still be many British voters who have not changed their view on the EU and UKIP, but anybody with his/her eyes open cannot believe anymore that the EU is a horrible enslaver and that life outside is more prosperous and easy. At the same time, pro-Europeans should have learned that the stakes are much higher than they thought at the time of the last European elections.

    The space for European reform at the intersection of what is sensible and what is unanimously achievable continues to be very limited. But that does not mean that the powerful member UK, if it takes a strategic, long-term view, represented by committed MEPs who are well integrated into their respective parliamentary groups should not be able to formulate and promote them with some success.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '19 - 10:55am

    Peter Martin: Have a look at BBC Question Time 14/3/2019. Fiona Bruce asked the audience how many of them wanted another referendum on the EU. Most of the live audience put their hands up and surprised her. Their comments showed a wide variety of opinion, mostly strongly held. Having another referendum would enable them to take back control in a democratic, non-violent way. It does not follow that they are all remainers, try asking them.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 1:20pm

    @ Richard Underhill,

    I’m not sure why you’ve addressed your last comment to me. I’ve previously said that if Parliament is incapable of resolving the problem then we should indeed have another referendum.

    When I first said that it hadn’t occurred to me that what might be on offer, just possibly, would be a pseudo-referendum. ie a choice between May’s Deal and Remain. If they are the only two options then I won’t be voting and neither will many others. It will be an easy win for Remain but it won’t solve anything.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 3:41pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “……but as a passionate remainer…..”

    You can be passionately pro-EU. You can be a passionate remainer for your own country but, unless you also have UK nationality, you can’t be a passionate UK remainer. Anymore than I can be a passionate Leaver for the Netherlands or Germany.

    If the nationals of these countries, or anywhere else, want to form a political union then that’s entirely their decision. It’s nowt to do with me!

  • Peter,
    You seem to be a passionate Labour Lexiteer. Perhaps you’d find Labour List more to your taste, or perhaps not as few of them believe in Lexit. You appear to be a man looking for a party, but like a good Brexit it doesn’t exist. You will get the right wing Brexit you voted for and no amount of “this isn’t my sort of Brexit” will change it. Bless what a pickle you voted for.

  • Frankie
    I vote Lib Dem in general and local elections. I vote for no one in EU elections. I also don’t vote for police commissioners and mayors (to me they seem conceptually like faux Americanisms ).

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 6:29pm

    @ Martin,

    You don’t know what you are talking about.

    If you want me to write an article about my youthful involvement in direct action against the Vietnam War, or South African Apartheid, support of Asian strikers at Grunwick or support for the miners in the 70’s and 80’s just please let me know.

    But this thread is about the EU. There’s a coherent left opposition to a failed neoliberal capitalist project.

  • Peter Martin 15th Mar '19 - 6:39pm

    @ frankie,

    “You will get the right wing Brexit you voted for”

    I’ve heard this phrase a lot. But what would a left wing Brexit, or Lexit, look like?

    I really don’t know what the EU could or would offer to make it so. It’s a genuine question so maybe you could have a stab at answering it?

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Mar '19 - 7:07pm

    @ Peter Martin,

    Although you point to the flaws inherent in the creation of the euro and the eurozone, it was actually an attempt to get away from neoliberalism. As such is should be applauded by the likes of us.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Mar '19 - 7:17pm

    @ frankie,

    I am sure that Peter Martin would find Labourlist more to his liking. But given that politics is about persuasion, may I ask, as someone who has also been told that Labourlist would be more to my liking, has the penny not dropped, that circling the wagons around an echo chamber is a self- defeating strategy?

  • Peter Martin 16th Mar '19 - 8:29am

    @ Martin,

    If you can’t figure out for yourself why opposing Apartheid in South Africa isn’t interfering in the legitimate democratic process of another country, there’s little point in my trying to explain it to you.

    When Scotland had its debate prior to the 2014 referendum, it was almost entirely conducted by Scottish people. Including Scottish Liberal Democrats. If English LibDems had been tempted to stray over the border to lend a hand in the campaign they would have been told, in no uncertain terms by Scottish Lib Derms, they could perhaps lick envelopes in a back room but under no circumstances were they to start expressing their opinions publicly.

    So how is that different to my conception of the individual and the nation state?

    @ Jayne Mansfield,

    “the creation of the euro ……. was actually an attempt to get away from neoliberalism”

    I must say I’ve never heard that one before! Do you have any references on arguments to that effect?

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Mar '19 - 1:30pm

    Reading your comments, another benefit of the European election came to my mind: it is a timely pan-European experience that transcends nation-states. That is a benefit in itself in an increasingly global and interconnected world. Hopefully more intense cross-border campaigning will take place.

  • John Probert 18th Mar '19 - 8:57am

    European election? Bring it on!

  • Andy Waddington 22nd Mar '19 - 12:23pm

    Peter Martin: “There are very few real aficionados for the EU project in the UK. Hardly anyone wants to join the euro. Hardly anyone wants to be a part of Schengen. Hardly anyone want ‘more Europe’.”

    I think there are a fair few of us. When I voted for “in Europe” aged 18 in 1975 I naïvely imagined we would have a federal Europe in a decade or so – that was the long-term future seen by the Treaty of Rome after all. “Long-term” turned out to be rather longer in politics. A proper European state seems to be a bit like Fusion energy – always about forty years away. But getting the UK into Schengen is a much more achievable and very worthwhile goal. I voted for Europe (in both the first and second referenda, and will again if we have a third) mostly because of freedom of movement . To me, it’s the most important thing to preserve, whether we have some sort of brexit or not. I will be voting in the European elections (I’ve just sent off for a postal vote) for the party with the most pro-European and “moving the project along” attitude, which is currently looking like LibDem. It’s just a little distressing that I can’t find out who my (NE England) candidate is yet…

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