I don’t think I have ever used this blog to plead for votes before. I flatter myself that I am an independent thinker above being a cog in the party’s press machine. However, as its polling day I hope you dear readers will forgive me a single undiluted, undisguised plea to vote Liberal Democrat.
I ask this because quite simply who sits in the European Parliament matters. Ignore people who think claim it is an irrelevant talking shop. They have either not noticed or have chosen to ignore the treaty changes that mean that little in the EU can happen without its approval. And it will be even more important this time as it is likely that the next President of the Commission will be chosen by the Parliament rather than national governments.
And because the Parliament matters, so does getting Liberal Democrats into it. Leaving aside the pretty basic issue that Lib Dem MEPs work harder than any of their British colleagues, what they represent and the values they champion are essential. For the Parliament will contain many who stand for the exact opposite:
To add to the drama will be the presence in the parliament of so many populist parties, most of them anti-European. These range from far-left, like Syriza in Greece and the United Left in Spain, to far-right, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Golden Dawn in Greece. Britain has the UK Independence Party, Italy has Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and the Northern League. Most central and eastern European countries have populist parties, some nastily racist. The latest polls suggest that the number of MEPs who could be classified as anti-European may rise after the election from about 140 now to more than 200, well over a quarter of the total.
Such parties feed of a sense that Europe isn’t working but make it harder to fix. As the Economist article, I quoted above notes: “these MEPs will discredit the parliament because they disagree with each other as much as with the mainstream, they fail to turn up to vote and they disproportionately fiddle their expenses.” Their desire to thumb their noses at Europe’s elites makes them instinctively hostile to what are often constructive proposals to make the EU work better. And their entire philosophy is misguided: what we need to succeed in a globalised world is to be better able to work together not to retreat into the shells of isolated nation states. No one state can tackle global financial crashes, climate change or organised criminals for whom national borders mean little. Our present situation demands international co-operation and the EU is a uniquely powerful institution for facilitating such co-operation.
Europe thus needs defending from the populists. It needs leaders who understand its value; who understand why Ukrainians will risk so much to belong to it. That’s not the Conservatives: their hostility to the EU is as real as it ever was. It is only the comparison with UKIP’s rabid Europhobia which obscures that fact. Nor is it Labour, who while theoretically pro-European are absent from the battlefield when it’s time to fight for that conviction. The Labour election mailing I received symbolised this perfectly: all mentions of Europe were hidden away on the inside page, while the parts of the leaflet that might actually get read were adorned solely with photos of Ed Miliband trying to look credible and platitudes about the cost of living crisis. Nor is it the Green Party promote which promotes the distracting gimmick of an In-Out referendum and shares many of the populists misapprehensions.
If you want MEPs who speak with confidence rather than fear, for openess rather than isolation and who will champion rather than cloaks their belief in international co-operation, then dear readers voting Liberal Democrat today is your only option.