The Lib Dems are fighting a dirty war over Brexit

Don’t fall victim to foul tricks, writes Julia Lagoutte.

With Labour’s fence-sitting over Europe set to continue – with a Labour-led Brexit their first choice – many remain voters are searching for pastures new.

“There is only one pro-European party in Britain & it is the LibDems!” tweeted a jubilant Guy Verhofstadt on May 11th. As President of ALDE – the European group the Liberal Democrats sit in – and Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, this Belgian MEP is no small fish.

Yet this big fish is telling a big fib – three other British parties with seats in the European parliament are proudly pro-European: the SNP, the Green Party, and Plaid Cymru.

This is the latest in a growing line of fibs spread by a Liberal Democrat party so determined to have a shiny ‘come back’ in the upcoming elections they have gleefully jumped into the murky pond of Machiavellian realpolitik and decided to play dirty.

The first surprise claim was that the Liberal Democrats had tried to collaborate with the Greens in the European elections. Despite no evidence, the idea that Lib Dems had tried to form a remain alliance in order not to split the remain vote spread like wildfire.

Condemnation deluged Green politicians particularly, accusing them of ‘splitting the vote’. To their surprise, as this was the first they had heard about any cooperation, even high up in the party. Green peer Jenny Jones tweeted: “Just to be absolutely clear… there was no formal, nor any informal, approach from your LD leadership to the Green Party leadership for any sort of joint lists or even joint working.”

Such a storm was created the party tweeted a formal statement: “No approach was made, either formal or informal, to the Greens. To claim otherwise is simply untrue.”

Why were Liberal Democrats so sure an approach had been made? After a Twitter back-and-forth one tweeted bashfully “Vince Cable said he did contact other parties, though he may have meant Change and Labour.” This has been an effective tactic and puts the seat of hard-working pro-remain MEPs like Molly Scott Cato at risk. A possibility is that it rids her of her majority without providing the Lib Dems with enough to get a seat – leaving the region with no pro-remain MEPs.

A remain alliance appeals to many Brits. It is smart to seem committed to one without the disadvantage of being in it. It is misleading to bemoan a lack of cooperation whilst running a tribal and party-political campaign. 

Vince Cable was not the only one being ‘liberal’ with the truth. MP Jo Swinson claimed the Liberal Democrats were first to call for a People’s Vote. Whilst they are undoubtedly one of the most pro-remain parties, it was Green MP Caroline Lucas who first called for a second referendum back on 1st July 2016.

The Greens have consistently tried to work with other parties – they stood down in 2016 to help Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney take Richmond Park from the Conservative Zac Goldsmith. Caroline Lucas even campaigned for Olney. For Greens who have been working closely with Liberal Democrats in the pursuit of a People’s Vote, these latest shenanigans are kick in the teeth.

Impossible and undesirable

Importantly, an alliance for the EU elections is ill-advised for several reasons – and even disadvantageous for the Lib Dems. Firstly, the d’Hondt voting system used to elect MEPs is proportional, meaning tactical voting is not necessary. Small parties can win – in the South East, both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have a seat (the only Lib Dem seat in the UK actually). Secondly, the two parties sit in different groups in the European Parliament – the Greens with the Greens/EFA and the Lib Dems with centrist group ALDE. How would a list work? It’s also unprecedented and too complex to negotiate in such a short time. 

Third, the Liberal Democrats would have been the smaller partner in any ‘remain alliance’. They came fourth after the Green party in the 2014 European elections, coming out with 1 MEP to the Greens’ 3. They received 1.4% of the vote, whilst Greens received 4.1%.

Even taking the recent local elections into account, the LibDems saw a 109% increase in seats, compared to the Greens’ huge 273% increase in seats. Strictly tactically speaking, the Greens have the advantage of incumbency and of a faster rise in popularity. If remain was the sole end goal, the Liberal Democrats should have stood down in London and the South West – where they have no MEPs but the Greens have one.


Onto the next fib: ‘the Lib Dems are green’. Their EU leaflet promises action on climate change. But their voting record shows they are far from Green. The Parliamentary group they sit with in Brussels, ALDE, is ranked fifth in terms of climate change, by NGO Climate Action Network Europe, and classed as ‘delayers’ rather than ‘defenders’. Not exactly leading the fight.

Perhaps most symbolic of the Lib Dems’ wildly off the mark attitude to environmental policies dates from their austerity coalition days. Nick Clegg’s policy director bragged on Twitter that it ‘took months to persuade Cameron and Osborne’ to introduce the plastic bag 5p charge. The trade off? Tighter benefit sanctions. No wonder former Conservative MEP Julie Girling has said she is voting for them. This is greenwashed capitalism – rather than ecosocialism – at work.

Rather than employing the misinformation and fear that led us here, remain parties should be setting out a vision of the EU and the UK within it.

So instead of buying into the scaremongering and untruths, here’s a revolutionary piece of advice: think about what you care about – and vote for the party that represents that.

UPDATE from the Editor: An earlier version of this piece alleged that the tactical voting recommendations on Gina Miller’s website – based on independent analysis from Electoral Calculus, using the state-of-the-art ‘machine learning’ or MRP technique and the latest polling from ComRes – were ‘far from impartial.’ We now accept that this was a wholly untrue allegation, that the tactical voting recommendations on the Remain United website are independent and based purely on the data, and we wish to apologise unreservedly to Mrs Miller and Electoral Calculus.

Julia Lagoutte is an anthropologist, writer and host of the Big Green Politics podcast. She is currently working for a Green MEP.

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16 Responses to “The Lib Dems are fighting a dirty war over Brexit”

  1. a2c

    Yeah well I’m votin Lib Dem least they aint sittin on the fence on the EU unlike yourn n they do care abahrt green space rahnd ere, yourn want to put up more buildins n spoil the greenery wot we’ve got. So iss Lib Dems all the way for a2c n all your tryin to do is ChangeUks work for them by destroyin our gaff n that aint goin dahn well innit. Clegg aint the leader no more either.

  2. Harodim

    During the coalition years the Lib Dems also supported the TTIP deal between the EU + US, which thankfully died a death. ISDS courts would have been a disaster for environmental policy & law making. Lib Dem leadership are not true environmentalists like the Greens are.

  3. Patrick Newman

    Short memories at the recent local election! The LD’s sustained the most Right-wing government in living memory and the most severe austerity measures so it is vomit inducing when these people go on about the NHS and child poverty, never mind false commitments to the Green agenda.

  4. Mark Blackburn

    Slagging off LibDems because of the Coalition is as valid (or not) as slagging off Labour under Blair. Both parties were taken over by centre-right careerists who did not reflect grassroots members and activists. Many established LDs have proven green credentials, and the party is enjoying a move back towards social liberalism. I can’t imagine the Clegg suits sanctioning the Bollocks to Brexit slogan, can you? If you’re a remainer in an area where Greens have best CURRENT chance, then Vote Green. Otherwise, in England vote Lib Dem. If you’re a Labour remainer… poor you.

  5. Richard Lee

    To Patrick Newman. “The LD’s sustained the most Right-wing government in living memory and the most severe austerity measures”.
    Er… you appear to have entirely missed the pure Tory government directly afterwards? Things got a hell of a lot worse.
    It’s clear the LibDems has some reins on the Tories, I emphasis ‘some’ as they were still outnumbered 5 to 1.
    I’ll be voting LibDem in the EU elections – it’s a no brainer.

  6. Tony King

    The Lib Dems are by far the biggest Remain party. Under the electoral system for the EU elections, only the Lib Dems are likely to win many seats, so I shall be voting for them.
    The Coalition is history, though the restraining effect of the Lib Dems on the Tories during that coalition is clear from subsequent events.

  7. Janet Marks

    I’m disappointed that LFF uses the language of the corporate media and anti-Labour politicians when discussing Brexit and the EU elections. Labour is not “sitting on the fence” and is not pro-Brexit. The Party is respecting the outcome of the referendum since not to do so would be very damaging. But it has set out how it would protect the country and its people (including Northern Ireland which is so often ignored) from the most damaging effects of a Tory Brexit. Corbyn is negotiating a Labour Brexit. If it was accepted by May and the Tories, that would be the time to call for referendum or PV or whatever you want to call it. But the Tories aquiescing to Labour’s plan doesn’t look hopeful and who knows what will happen in the HoC. In the EU elections we are voting on who we want to represent us in the EU Parliament, and I want Labour MEPs to do that. What happens to Brexit over the summer is going to be the worst kind of ‘interesting’ if the Brexit “Party” gets lots of MEPs. I don’t want to give Farage and his people more power, and I don’t trust the LibDems getting nearer to power either.

  8. Gary Williams

    *Googles writer Julia Lagoutte* Oh, Assistant to Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. What a surprise.

  9. Patrick Newman

    Richard Lee, as an obvious Lib Dem apparatchik, that was a particularly weak post. Better to shut up! Whatever happened after 2015 was more of the same as 2010 – 2015 and dont forget the betrayal of students. I remember the image of a Clegg patting Osborne on the shoulder after the latter’s first budget speech condemning millions to deeper poverty. You are a scoundrel.

  10. Dexter P

    Julia Lagoutte is Molly Scott Cato’s constituency assistant, so none of this is a surprise. What does surprise me is how readily people gloss over the Greens’s ambivalent attitude to the EU. In fact, 50% of their UK parliamentary representatives (all two of them) support Brexit – Jenny Jones in the Lords is a lifetime Brexiter.

  11. Lawman

    As Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, and the only realistic alternative to the Conservatives, Labour has to take account of all voters. On Leave EU, the people are split roughly 50/50, and Labour can not alienate or neglect half the voters. As such, its approach is balanced and pragmatic.

    If the UK remains in the EU, we need MEPs who represent our own interests on a wide range of policies over the next years. If we leave, it becomes irrelevant.

    As such for me there is only one place to vote: for Labour MEPs.

  12. Dave Roberts

    Talking of Lib Dem porkies the latest and one of the biggest comes from their prospective MEP in East London Rabina Khan who claims her father was an East End docker. This in an article on The Indy website. He wasn’t and like most of her CV this claim is fiction. The article, and others allegedly by her, has clearly been ghost written from info given by herself. Maybe she should also declare that she joined the Lib Dems because the party she had been in before, Tower Hamlets First, was a front for the corrupt and disgraced Lutfur Rahman who is still under investigation by the City of London police on fraud charges.

  13. Julia Gibb

    The basic arguement appears to be “hold your nose and vote LibDem”
    The main reason for a lack of choice appears to be Labour fence sitting.

    I do not trust the LibDems on their past record. They will jump on any bandwagon, take up any “popular” theme, champion any theme. They are all things to all people – until tested. When it comes to the crunch they dump the sound bites and lie.

    They LibDems have one dream and that is to be in a coalition again. Tory, Brexit, Labour it doesn’t matter. I detest the Tories and the Brexit Company but at least you know what they stand for.

    However te debate would not be happening but for Labour’s fence sitting. The plan appears to be let the UKIP/Brexit/Tory vote split put them in power and then fulfill the LibDem dream of coalition once again.

  14. oakdragon

    I’m going to do as I have done previously on EU voting; it’s proportional representation (within the alotted divisions) & down here, South East, the Green party have a chance for once. We’ve already been succuessful & I see no reason to alter my convictions.

  15. Neville Ball

    It is amazing how democracy is being subverted by those who will not accept the democratic will of the people. What is the point of voting when the result is being denied to the majority? This is turning democracy on its head, it is disgraceful. There is also the argument that the majority didn’t know what they were voting for – how idiotic, people knew full well what they were voting for and that was to leave the EU.

  16. Jill Brian

    I sent back their election leaflet, saying I do not like the denegration of other parties or negative campaigning & I thought the LibDems were better than that.
    Having sent back the Brexit Party one (with many reasons not to vote for them), but agreeing with the point that our parliamentary system is not fit for purpose, but it was designed 2 sword-lengths wide to avoid bloodshed; the Green’s leaflet also said the political system is broken, and to my surprise the UKIP leaflet was polite & straight forward!

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