It’s been said that the case to stay within the European Union will work at its best if it successfully appeals to the varied policy interests of different types of party-aligned voters. The idea is that Labour voters will be drawn to EU achievements like the Social Chapter on worker’s rights, Greens to the bold environmentalism of the Union and Lib Dems to human rights and free trade statutes. But most interestingly (and perhaps most vitally), Conservative voters are being courted by appealing to their party emphasis on maintain the integrity of British foreign policy.
Whilst this is fascinating and deeply important, I think that only constructing a convincing case for foreign policy that suits Tory voters runs the risk of portraying our foreign policy interests within the EU in a one-sided manner – and does so in such a way that we risk alienating Liberal and Internationalist-minded voters who might still be undecided. To put it bluntly, if we only talk about foreign policy towards the EU in terms of maintaining geostrategic alliances, a significant part (admittedly not a majority) of our (and the IN campaign’s) core vote might at least switch off or at worst be turned off the campaign. We must also remind people about the often scandalously poorly- publicised work of the EU as a global humanitarian actor if we are to stimulate our core vote.
I’m proud that it was our leader who first got the ball rolling on this kind of position – by talking not about the EU simply in terms of alliances, jobs and interests but in terms of peace and common progress. We have to build on this by talking to Liberal-minded voters about the humanitarian element of the European Union.
In a funny sort of way, emphasising the kind of things that so anger UKIP voters, like international development aid through the Development Co-Operation Instrument and the European Development Fund, will help our chances when speaking to internationalist-minded voters. We should be making more noise with these voters about the work of peacekeeping wing EUFOR (which runs difficult but effective missions across central Africa) and of the diplomatic wing EEAS (which alongside the UN is maintaining order and governance in Kosovo) which is hardly recognised in the United Kingdom at all.
This isn’t purely just something that’ll benefit the cause of the IN campaign, it provides us as a party with a fantastic opportunity too. In the aftermath of the general election, Mark Pack and David Howarth produced an impressive report called “The 20% Strategy; building a core vote for the Liberal Democrats” . The report highlighted that those more inclined towards us, who we should be converting into our supporters and core voters, are internationalist in outlook, and make up a serious chunk of the electorate (between 20-40%). Presented before us is a historic opportunity to build links with and get through to these voters, links we can build on to attract a new generation of internationalists to the party, and establish a core vote that boosts our capacity for bold rebirth. And hey, we might just win the most important vote of a lifetime in the process.
* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.