Our European Election campaign priorities

It seems inevitable that the elections to the European Parliament will be read as a vote on Brexit. That risks the election campaign being a rehash of the referendum,  alienating an electorate frustrated by #BrexitShambles, and putting the emphasis on whether we should be there rather than on what our we are electing people to do.

Instead of this, campaigning on the core of the programme of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe gives us a chance to shift the debate, adding something new and inviting supporters of Brexit to see things differently.

ALDE’s programme begins with a summary the British electorate would do well to hear:

In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The EU has promoted and extended to half a billion people the four freedoms: the free movement of people, services, capital and goods across borders. We want the Union to play a key leadership role in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges.

As such, the ALDE Party believes in a Europe based on the fundamental Liberal principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. We believe in a fair, free and open society which harnesses the abilities of each and every one of its citizens to participate fully in society, presenting them with the opportunities to fulfil their potential, free from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.

The full ALDE manifesto is something to be proud of. The core statements in the political programme strike a powerful chord: a prosperous Europe, sustainable development and peace in the world, renew the EU and building a transparent, democratic and accountable Europe. Nuancing the descriptions a little for a British audience:

A prosperous Europe

Offering proper democratic scrutiny of the Single Market and the work of the EU in adding to the many fair and sustainable international trade deals we already have.

Sustainable development and peace in the world

Acting to tackle climate change, protect the environment and promote sustainable development, so that we build a safe and just society in a more peaceful and stable world.

Renew the European Union

We all stand to gain from deepening and enriching the EU, but we need to show the British people that this isn’t a threat. We do this best by talking about it openly.

Transparent, democratic and accountable Europe

Being clear about doing centrally only what needs to be done there, and showing that the EU is about pushing power to the local, celebrating the diversity of the communities, regions and nations of Europe and protecting fundamental rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.

The ALDE programme ends:

We are therefore united in our mission to renew Europe into a place that people can be proud of again. Change is necessary. We must fight for reform, and not let our cooperation be destroyed. No single country can respond to climate change, international terrorism and ensure that globalisation delivers for everyone. Only if we choose to address Europe’s flaws and reform it, the EU will again be a driving force for new jobs, security and prosperity, a renewed Europe.

In stark contrast, a headline in this week’s New European says that “Nigel Farage REFUSES to publish a Brexit Party manifesto until after EU elections”.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 24th Apr '19 - 6:37pm

    He has no policy at the moment.Farage is riding the discontent in Brexit. He can then write/say whatever he wants depending on the result.He can keep the pot boiling.I think he is playing people for his’ more than likely’ financial gain like disaster economics.

  • John Marriott 24th Apr '19 - 6:52pm

    Priority #1? Get more than ONE Lib Dem MEP elected!

  • Paul Barker 24th Apr '19 - 8:42pm

    If we get a chance to talk about what MEPs actually do & our plans for Europes Future then great; but realistically, we are fighting for every Vote & trying to unite Remainers.
    Some day, The UK will have a European Election campaign where Voters & media talk about what The Parliament should be doing; but not this Year.

  • Harking on about the EU institutions will have no effect. I’d urge people to read

    I’d like to point out the following statement

    “Even so, these results give me hope that a combination of rational argument and targeted ridicule can be effective.”

    So don’t waste your time harping on about the EU constitution, point out the glaring diffrences between the Brexiteers and ridicule their tin foil conspiracy theories. The one fact about the Brexiteers is they believe someone is out to get them and they can’t agree among themselves who it is. It isn’t a surprise Farage has no policies, because if you got two Brexiteers together they’d come up with a least three differring policies for the same problem.

  • The priority should be respecting the result of the referendum and acting like democrats who are committed to implementing it.

    Instead the party continues to resist implementing electoral outcomes it dislikes, instantly alienating swathes of the electorate and revealing a deeply unpleasant authoritarism. Of course I am sure all Lib Dem MPs (and MEPs if there are any) will soon call for by-elections to double check that their electorate haven’t changed their minds. Oh…

  • Nigel Farage doesn’t have to publish a manifesto because his supporters trust him to do his best for the country. I can’t think of any other British political leader that has the same level of trust from their supporters. When you see the Lord Adonis’s of this world, is it any wonder people despair of many of our public figures. To do an about turn on Brexit, just so he has a chance to become a Labour MEP is absolutely disgraceful.

  • Most of us would agree that too little is said about the benefits of EU membership, and too much defending it from criticism by the demagogues, but extolling the ALDE can only prompt those already on our side to make the effort to vote on 22nd May. Those infected by Brexit fever will not be cured by (to them) boring statistics. The inherent problem is that many of them have been seduced by the age-old appeal to people who feel down on their luck; they have been told nationalism is the answer, and the founding principle of the EU is that it is anti-nationalist.
    I like Frankie’s idea of ridicule as a weapon, but from a slightly different perspective than the author of the (impressively long) blog she directs us to. Most leavers are trying to deal with anxiety about how their lives are not being fulfilled (the proximal cause being austerity, but there are many others), and demagogues offer certainty and reassurance – Trump and Farage ooze confidence (and little else). I used to try to be humble and apologetic talking to Leavers when I was out campaigning for the People’s Vote, but that just feeds their belief that they are right. If you treat Leavers with the contempt they deserve, and ridicule their ideas, they are being confronted by another person who oozes confidence. This can be confusing for them, but they (usually) rather like it, and who knows – they might change their minds when they get another chance to vote.
    And then there is Michael. I think it is right to respect, and welcome, views from all visitors to this site, however weird. So welcome, Michael. The idea of jackbooted Lib Dems forcing people to vote because we don’t respect democracy involves just the right amount of mental gymnastics to start the day with!

  • John Chandler 25th Apr '19 - 7:17am

    The elections already highlight one falsehood spouted by some Brexiters: that we have no say in Europe, and it’s all about unelected bureaucrats.

    Here’s an opportunity for education: we have our own MEPs that we elect via proportional representation. Many of those British MEPs lead policy in the EU (I’m thinking particularly of our Catherine Bearder and her role in important issues such as environmental protection), while the Eurosceptics scrounge off the system and contribute nothing (how many times did Farage turn up for the fisheries commission meetings?).

    We, the Liberal Democrats, are part of the ALDE and work cross-party and cross-country with friends such as D66. I agree we do not emphasise this enough, and it should be an important part of any campaign. Britain’s role as being at the heart of the EU, the “senior statesman” as some MEPs have described us, should be underlined.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 25th Apr '19 - 7:56am

    Mark, do you have this superbly concise argument, underpinned by the authority of ALDE, compressed into half an A4 sheet of paper to be spread widely and has it been written into a op-ed in a mainstream outlet by any of the new candidates?

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '19 - 7:59am

    In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. ???

    Italy is probably the big problem economy for the EU the moment. There have been two wasted decades. The article below puts it all fairly succinctly:

    Italy has entered a “perma-recession” and there is no obvious way out……….European Union rules prevent the kind of government deficit spending that might grow the economy………..Italy’s debt-to-GDP load has reached heights not seen since World War II…………There is now a growing risk of a systemic financial crisis……..The scale of such a collapse would be magnitudes greater than the Greek debt crisis of 2015, and thus harder to contain. The problem illustrates the contradictory rules of the EU and the European Central Bank, which prevent countries from investing in growth and make it impossible to leave the eurozone without triggering the crisis they’re seeking to avoid.”

    So what are the Lib Dems and ALDE proposing to do to avert a collapse of the Italian economy, which will probably start in their zombie banking sector, and possibly bring down the entire eurozone with it?


  • William Fowler 25th Apr '19 - 8:13am

    If you really want to frighten the Conservatives and Farage, the LibDems and other left-leaning parties might want to withdraw from the MEP elections… but only if Labour comes out firmly in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. Howls of protest but it is called taking one for the country, concentrating the remain vote around one party in an election where Labour’s ruinous fiscal policies can do no harm would illustrate exactly how much support there is for remain.

  • Martin Land 25th Apr '19 - 8:32am

    @ Peter Martin. Italy has serious problems, but has a very high personal savings rate which may be a saving grace. Their other underlying problem is a rapidly declining population. Difficult to see what the EU can do about that.

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '19 - 8:52am

    @ Martin Land,

    You may have noticed that prosperous areas in the EU tend to have a net inflow of people whereas more depressed areas have a net outflow. I’ll leave you to figure out for yourself why that might be. It’s not too “difficult”. Therefore, to slow or stop population decline in the depressed regions the EU needs to…………

    @ Mark Argent,

    You’ve written “The full ALDE manifesto is something to be proud of.”

    Maybe you missed this bit?

    “We will work for better control mechanism and more automatic sanctions
    on countries when the stability and growth pact is broken. ”

    In other words when countries like Italy try to apply the basics of Keynesian economics to expand their economies, ALDE supports the idea of automatically fining them. I presume that means no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’.

    Keynes, in case you may have forgotten, was a Liberal economist with a fair bit of politician added into the mix too!

  • John Marriott 25th Apr '19 - 9:10am

    If we do have to elect MEPs and the campaign featured your suggestions I have a strong feeling that it wouldn’t do very well. You christened me ‘tag-along’ a while back. That may well be. However I would not dream of insulting the intelligence of people with whom I disagree as you continue to do. Can’t you change your script? We’ve already had Peter Martin joining in. I’m now just awaiting ‘Glenn’s’ return to the fray and off we go again!

    @Mark Argent
    Have you heard of Pandora’s box?

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '19 - 9:23am

    @ John Marriott,

    When we have elections in the UK we don’t expect, for example, people in Yorkshire to be only interested in what is going to happen in Yorkshire. It’s about the whole country.

    So, maybe I’m mistaken, but aren’t the EU elections about the whole of the EU? Lib Dems should be wanting to discuss the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests in France and the rise of the far right in Italy and elsewhere. I realise that what ALDE say in their manifesto must be a huge embarrassment to some, and I understand why the street protests in France is a subject Lib Dems are reluctant to discuss, but isn’t it better to have it all out in the open?

    So why the silence on European matters? I suppose I should include David Raw for his ‘meanwhile ..back at the ranch’ comment. It’s not just about the ranch!

  • William Fowler 25th Apr ’19 – 8:13am………………. Howls of protest but it is called taking one for the country, concentrating the remain vote around one party in an election where Labour’s ruinous fiscal policies can do no harm would illustrate exactly how much support there is for remain…………

    Again your fixation with ‘imaginary’ Labour policies. The legacy of Coalition/Tory fiscal and social policies are are all around you (homelessness, foodbanks, child poverty, etc.)

    As for your ‘taking one for the country’; where have I heard that before? If this party came out even half as badly, as the last time, the party would have lost even the one man and his dog that seems to have survived until now.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Apr '19 - 5:55pm

    Let’s campaign on the ALDE manifesto, after all it shows we are part of a larger alliance, at least in Europe. The core message should be reversing Brexit though we need to explain from first principles why and hopefully that will help us do so. We need also to add our own distinctive flavour and emphasis that all in not rosy in the european family with some constructive suggestions.

  • Arnold Kiel 26th Apr '19 - 6:05am

    It will not be easy to effectively argue with European manifestos in these elections. Most voters will decide between collaborating and obstructing British MEPs, which is quite irrational: either this MEP will serve a 5-year-term for a remaining UK – then only collaboration makes sense, or he/she will free his/her seat by October – then an obstructionist would have no opportunity to obstruct.

    The argument that a UKIP (or Brexit-party) – MEP is an intrinsically contradictory proposition has probably been made before with little effect, but I would try again. The last 5 years show how much damage they have caused, and the next half year is likely to show how little they have achieved.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '19 - 4:39pm

    David Raw

    It’s not just about Europe (which Lib Dems seem fixated about – and I accept it will get worse after Brexit)… it’s about a rotten system in which the rich get richer (retreating abroad – or into ‘secure’ exclusive housing)

    Yes, that is why many people voted Leave, because they thought the EU was all about pushing the economy and the whole way the country is run that way, being controlled by extreme wealthy international businessmen.

    Er, but are the leading figures in Brexit, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and so on, the leading people who oppose that sort of thing? No, they are the leading figures who want that sort of thing, who have been involved in pushing us that way, and their reason for Brexit is to push the UK into even more extreme control by dodgy billionaire types. They don’t want the sort of international co-operation that the EU can provide, to stop billionaires taking control by playing one country against another.

    So why haven’t we been able to say that? Why instead did our former leader push the line that voting Leave will “turn the clock back” when turning the clock back to reverse the way the rich have got richer and the poor poorer and government control switched to billionaire control due to privatisation is what many people want.

  • @Peter Martin – 25th Apr ’19 – 9:23am
    “When we have elections in the UK we don’t expect, for example, people in Yorkshire to be only interested in what is going to happen in Yorkshire. It’s about the whole country.
    So, maybe I’m mistaken, but aren’t the EU elections about the whole of the EU? Lib Dems should be wanting to discuss the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests in France and the rise of the far right in Italy and elsewhere.

    So why the silence on European matters? “

    Sometimes Peter, you make really good points, this is one of them – I seem to remember raising a similar point some years back (probably with respect to the campaigns for the 2014 elections).

    I think attributes to the problem include:
    – UK euro-scepticism – resulting in the UK not really fully engaging with the European Project.
    – The level of maturity of the European Project.
    – The level of maturity of pan-EU political parties.
    I expect if we look back, in the early years of the Westminster Parliament, people in Yorkshire were only really interested in what their MP would make happen in Yorkshire.

    A suggestion to move things along a step, would be to apply criteria similar to that applied to EU research funding, namely only parties/alliances with a single manifesto with representatives standing in at least three member states can stand for election. Yes, this might prevent a single “Yorkshire Independent” candidate standing, but is that really undemocratic? Remember, if the UK remains we have the right to put forward propositions that improve the EU.

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