Well, that was grim. The results for the Liberal Democrats from the European Elections were awful and there’s no varnishing over it. For sure there will be a review of the European aspect of the campaign as well as for the locals.
Despite what the results show, as a party we were right to make the positive case for being IN. Who else was going to do it? We are a liberal and internationalist party and we showed we had the stomach to stand up for our values. We know we cannot (and definitely shouldn’t) out-skeptic the Tories or UKIP. There remains a pro-European minority in this country and we were right to try and defend the view we share with them. Regrettably it seems the majority of them decided not to vote. That is particularly unfortunate at the moment since the UK’s membership of the EU is in real danger.
I see no need for a change to our European Policy coming out of this election. The current one balances the party’s values with realism well. In it, we seek to “improve the EU’s efficiency, transparency, flexibility and democratic accountability”. So, it is the more striking that as a party we do not stress it. It is given barely more than lip service – a qualification – and this has been the case since I joined the party for the first time in 1994. For me this is the most important part of our policy. If we had given it more prominence it wouldn’t have been enough to win the election for us but it might have allowed us to be heard. We were downed out.
Our Liberal Democrat MEPs worked hard on making the EU more transparent, democratic and accountable: championed publishing MEPs voting records, cuttng the EU budget etc. That’s a Liberal record to be proud of. I’m sure Catherine Bearder will continue to do that, and given their record UKIP is likely to do much less. It might be that the effect of last week will be closer cooperation between the three main groups in the European Parliament and integration will continue to move forward. That makes it all the more important that reform of processes should be quicker, more profound, and radical.
Highlighting the reform aspect of our policy doesn’t work against the message of IN, it adds to it. We can still be a party of IN that supported £60bn of university research funding; a party of IN that voted for a crackdown on human traffickers; and and a party of IN that voted to a 80% cut in roaming data charges. There is no alternative to being there. My concern is failing to give the message of reform enough prominence, we allow UKIP and the Tories space to use these arguments – our arguments – as cover for xenophobia and reaction.
This is a small suggestion to rebalance how our policy is put across and I hope that it might allow us to be heard next time. Sometimes emphasis, spirit and tone can be as important as words themselves.