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 www.remainunited.org 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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