Sunday, May 31, 2009


Liberal Democrats Or UKIP?

Today’s opinion polls show the Liberal Democrats surging to second place over Labour. But, as you shouldn’t be too excited about one day’s figures, you should note that only most polls are predicting the Lib Dems as this week’s big gainers – a couple suggest the United Kingdom Independence Party. Which should you pick? Unsurprisingly, I’m calling for the Lib Dems… But only on three issues. On the fourth, you should vote UKIP. Either way, it’s appropriate the polls make the big fight one between the two parties with the most straightforward views on Europe: make it work, or retreat. Both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are promising a referendum on whether Britain stays in the European Union or pull out, but the Liberal Democrats want us to vote to stay in and get things done, while UKIP wants us to vote to close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ignore the world.

The other parties are somewhere in the middle. The Conservatives want to sound as anti-European as they possibly can without actually following the logic of their ranting and getting out – I suspect because, deep down, they realise that leaving the European Union would both destroy the British economy and leave them with no-one to blame, so they’d rather shout abuse than take responsibility. The Tories are even leaving the biggest, most influential group in the European Parliament – where all Europe’s mainstream conservative parties join together to get things done – to form a tiny sect with a Czech party that opposes any action to stop climate change and a Polish party that’s rabidly homophobic and calls President Obama’s election “the end of white man’s civilisation”. And those are the nice ones. The Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party (clue’s in the name there) have a swastika-like logo and are big fans of the SS. Yes, that SS. No wonder former Conservative ministers are calling Mr Cameron’s plans a “rigid commitment to impotence,” when the modern Conservative Party is even voting to let crooks and murderers go free rather than co-operate to stop crime across borders.

Labour are even less honest, knowing that Europe is good for Britain but too gutless to say so, instead wrapping themselves in the flag and being as vacuous as possible. We got our single Labour leaflet through the other day, which largely consisted of a union flag and very little writing. Until we saw the small Labour logo at the bottom, we assumed it was from the BNP.

Speaking of which, all the other parties are pretty much at one in being rabidly anti-European, so they’re much of a muchness (some bigger liars than others). I hope the polls are right and the BNP are polling too low to win any seats; the only other party that might get anywhere are the Greens, who are likely to keep their existing couple of MEPs but not get anywhere else. And even they, unlike all the mainstream Green Parties in Europe, are on the me-too anti-European bandwagon. I hope they’re being exactly the same as all the other knee-jerk anti-foreigner British parties because they’re cynically trying to get votes, rather than because they actually believe it, but either way, it’s a massive fail on achieving anything. If you want to tackle climate change and protect the environment, you need to work with other countries – pollution doesn’t stop at the Channel. The self-styled “Green Party” talks a good talk, but they don’t do anything about delivery. Only the Liberal Democrats actually want to make the European Union work for real green action.

So, here are the choices.

If you want simply to hit Labour hard, vote Liberal Democrat.

Put simply, most polls are showing that the Liberal Democrats are the party most likely to push Labour into third place. Today’s ICM poll puts us clearly ahead of them. So if you want to give Labour a good kicking, the most effective way is to vote Lib Dem and see us beat Labour in the popular vote. Although I don’t like the top-down nature of the electoral system for the Euro-elections, which gives far too much power to parties and not enough to the people, it does have the advantage that it at least reflects people’s votes for parties more accurately. So while at Westminster we have a two and a half party system in terms of which parties win seats, for the Euro-elections there’s effectively a four and a half party system in terms of who’s got a realistic chance.

Now, though most opinion polls show UKIP on a much lower vote than they got in 2004, there are a couple that put them, rather than the Liberal Democrats, in second place. Assuming for the sake of argument that that’s true, they’re much less worrying to Labour. If Labour are beaten by UKIP, they can say, well, they’re no threat at the General Election, because they’ve never yet won a seat at Westminster (though one MP has left the Tories to join them). But the Liberal Democrats have 63 MPs, winning quite a few seats from Labour at the last General Election, and are an even bigger threat to them next time. Being beaten by the Liberal Democrats – as we’ve done in several local elections in the last few years – leaves Labour with no crumb of comfort.

If you want to get stuck in and make the European Union work, vote Liberal Democrat.

We are stronger together, poorer apart.

The Liberal Democrats are a pro-European party. A lot of the time, we seem like the only pro-European party. And it’s precisely for that reason that we want to make the European Union work better, and work together with a large and influential Liberal group from many countries in the European Parliament. We’ve always called for reform – because we can see the good that Europe can do, it frustrates us when it’s petty, undemocratic or secretive. That’s why for many years we’ve had practical proposals for cutting back waste like the Common Agricultural Policy, for having EU decisions taken by the elected Parliament, not the unelected Commission, and freedom of information at all levels, particularly for the Council of Ministers, where national governments make decisions in secret and then pretend to blame other people. The other parties don’t care about making the EU more open, more democratic, more effective – because they like to campaign against it, and the less well it works, the more they can shift the blame from themselves onto other countries.

In a world of globalisation, the European Union is vital. Not only has it kept the peace amongst all its member states – for the first time in a thousand years – but it’s where the large majority of Britain’s trade takes place. Outside the EU, we’d still have to trade with all the same people… But we’d no longer have any influence on the rules. How mad is that? Countries working together can tackle the global economic crisis, promote free trade, save jobs, make the banks behave – one country on its own simply can’t. They can protect civil liberties, from global corporations and big governments alike. Gangsters, murderers and terrorists can all be dealt with far more effectively in cross-border co-operation, but anti-European parties like the Conservatives have voted to let them all go free rather than work with other countries. And that’s insane. Above all, we need to tackle climate change and other environmental problems, the biggest threat to humanity. And you just can’t do that in one tiny bit of the world. The more we work with other countries, the stronger we push for common standards, the longer our planet will last. Vote Liberal Democrat to get things done.

If you want to stop the world and get off, vote UKIP.

Obviously, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are united on one issue, which is to have a referendum on whether or not the UK should stay a member of the European Union, though if we get that referendum the two parties will be leading the opposite sides. So if you like the Liberal Democrats on every other issue but want to leave, you can vote for us without worrying. However, if you’re anti-immigrant, socially conservative, don’t believe in climate change and your main political aim is to pull out of the European Union and pull up the drawbridge against all ‘foreigners’, please vote UKIP, because they’re very slightly less horrible than the BNP.

Don’t vote for them, though, if you want to affect European politics in any more constructive way than just to stick two fingers up to the lot. Despite UKIP complaining that too many of Britain’s laws are made in Europe, they never turn up to vote against them, or for them, or to change them… They simply never turn up. Their attendance record at the European Parliament proves that, rather than critics or champions, they’re Britain’s laziest politicians, taking the money but not doing any work on the laws they pretend are so important. UKIP are the party of thieves and layabouts.

If you want cleaner, more open politics, vote Liberal Democrat.

This week, Nick Clegg launched a campaign for ordinary people to take back power and clean up politics. This morning, David Cameron and Gordon Brown have been trying to jump on the bandwagon. The Liberal Democrats have spent years voting for freedom of information and reform in Parliament, but being defeated by Labour and Tory MPs – so it’s no wonder that the Liberal Democrats have the smallest share of MPs of any party being accused by the Torygraph (even if all their facts are right) and over the most minor things. Not one Liberal Democrat MP has been accused of the big frauds, like Labour MPs’ house-flipping, non-existent mortgages or tax-dodging, or of the lavish luxuries, like Tory MPs’ duck islands, servants’ quarters or moats. UKIP’s one MP, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of the corrupt Speaker who blocked reform, voted against freedom of information about MPs’ expenses (all the Lib Dem MPs supported it) and has been accused in the expenses scandal. So 100% of UKIP MPs are dodgy.

In the firestorm engulfing all parties about expenses, UKIP were leading the way. Unfortunately, they weren’t leading the way on openness or cleanness, but on corruption. Only one Conservative MEP’s been shown to be a crook, but two UKIP MEPs have – one even went to prison for fraud. Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader, boasted last week about pocketing two million pounds in expenses when he thought the microphone was off. UKIP and the Liberal Democrats each had twelve MEPs elected in 2004, and both parties have lost one MEP through defections – in UKIP’s case, the man promoted as their effective leader last time, Robert Kilroy-Silk – but, on the bright side, no Liberal Democrat MEPs have been accused of corruption. Instead, Liberal Democrats have been in the forefront of opening up the European Parliament, publishing their expenses and campaigning for reform. Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies has been called the Parliament’s most unpopular man for constantly whistle-blowing and calling for change. When it came to the big vote in the European Parliament on cutting MEPs’ expenses and forcing them to be open, the Liberal Democrat MEPs voted in favour of change. Most of the Tory and Labour MEPs voted against. And the UKIP MEPs, as usual, didn’t even bother to turn up. So if you want to vote to clean up politics, UKIP are the party of thieves and layabouts. Liberal Democrat MEPs are the ones who’ve actually voted to get things done.

There’s one other issue that you might be considering, and that’s how to stop the racist, lying, loathsome BNP. This is more complicated, but I’ll have a go. The first thing is, I doubt the BNP will get any MEPs. They never have before, even when – like now – Labour has been cynically talking up the BNP in the hope of frightening traditional Labour voters back into the fold. And the media talk up the BNP because ‘ooh, scary fascists’ is a sexier story than talking about European issues. I can’t rule out, though, that some people are lying to the opinion pollsters because they’re too ashamed to say they’ll vote BNP, but will anyway. How can you make it even less likely that they’ll win a seat?

In London and the North-West, two regions where the BNP are relatively strong (but still a long way down), the best party to vote for to stop them is definitely the Liberal Democrats. In other regions of Britain, the best way to judge a tactical vote is to look at last time’s results. Each region elects only a certain number of MEPs, so check who was the last one elected, or the runner-up, then judge how the votes are going. Sometimes the tactical vote might be Labour (though they’re likely to be losing a lot of votes and seats), or Conservative, or even, in some places, UKIP, though that hardly counts as a vote against the far right. In the two examples I mentioned, the Liberal Democrats won two MEPs last time in the North-West. Our second seat there was the last elected, and prevented the BNP from winning a seat last time. So your best bet is to vote Liberal Democrat to stop them again. In London, polls suggest that the Greens will hold their single MEP, but have no chance of getting a second. Liberal Democrat Jonathan Fryer, though, was only 0.06% of Londoners’ votes short of becoming the Lib Dems’ second London MEP last time. So, a Liberal Democrat vote should be able to give him just that tiny bit extra he needs to be elected. Besides, if you really want to make the BNP miserable after the election, can you think of a better way to do it than making sure the MEP that takes the place they were hoping for is from the most internationalist party, the most socially Liberal party, and, in London, an out gay man?

Update: For a more personal and considered post on UKIP, read Andrew’s. But then, as UKIP would point out, I’m the son of an immigrant, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Update: Mary Reid has more on the Tories’ new partners in Europe, with Ed Davey’s questions on why they find working more closely with other countries offensive, but are happy to form a club with homophobes, anti-Muslims, climate change deniers and Nazi sympathisers, clearly all of which they find acceptable and congenial, as they’re literally going out of their way to do it.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

And in at number 79 on The Golden Ton for 2008-9.

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