Liberal Democrat Leader in the European Parliament, Fiona Hall, took a moment out of her busy schedule to speak to Breitbart London (BL) about her party’s chances at next month’s election. The party is proud to be pro-European and are not afraid to stand up for the project.
At just nine percent in the polls they are in for a fight, but as Nick Clegg proved the Liberal Democrats are not afraid to stand up what they believe.
BL: Do you think people will vote on European issues in May or will they pass judgement on the coalition?
Hall: The Tories are divided on Europe and Labour are afraid to speak out, so of course they will both try to make these elections more about domestic issues and the record of the coalition government. But for many voters these elections will be about their position on whether we should be in or out of the EU. Liberal Democrats will be standing up for our EU membership as the only unambiguous Party of In.
BL: With hindsight was it a mistake for Nick Clegg to debate Nigel Farage?
Hall: Not at all. Nick Clegg got his message across to millions of voters about the importance of EU membership for jobs, security and the environment. He also showed that Liberal Democrats are standing up for an open, tolerant and modern Britain. The big losers of the debates were the two leaders who were missing in action, David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Nick Clegg is the only party leader prepared to put his neck on the line, stand up against UKIP and defend Britain’s place in Europe.
BL: Psephologists are predicting a ‘Lib Dem wipeout’ at the European elections – leaving you with just one or two seats. Is this accurate, and what does this tell us about the future of the Liberal Democrat party?
Hall: These are the first national elections Liberal Democrats have fought as a party of government and so of course they will be challenging, but talk of a wipeout is just scaremongering. Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, we are united around a strong and clear campaign message and morale amongst Lib Dem activists is high.
The Nick v Nigel debate gave us a strong platform to put across our distinct argument about the importance of staying in Europe for Britain’s prosperity and influence in the world.
BL: Do you think it’s been hard for the Liberal Democrats to set out a positive case for Europe?
Hall: The case for staying in has largely been absent from public debate in recent decades and this is not going to be reversed overnight. That is why we are calling on all those who believe Britain is better off in the EU to speak out, whether they are businesses, universities, crime-fighting agencies or people who care about issues like climate change or international development. Many have already done so. Together we can put forward a positive case for Europe. Most people understand the need to work closely with our neighbours in an increasingly uncertain world, and the EU provides the best forum to do that.
BL: Would a Liberal Democrat government seek to introduce the Euro?
BL: What is the biggest issue facing Europe and how would you deal with it?
Hall: The most important issue for Europe is the need to create jobs and improve competitiveness. That is why Liberal Democrats want to see more trade and less red tape. We want to conclude the world’s biggest ever trade agreement between the EU and US, creating thousands of jobs and adding an estimated £10bn a year to the UK economy, as well as similar trade deals with major economies such as India and Japan.
In addition, we must forge ahead with completing the single market in services and digital industries, boosting high-growth industries and Europe’s competitiveness as a whole. Finally we would like to reduce the burden of EU regulation, especially on small businesses, and to radically reform the EU budget so that it is more focused on areas where it adds real value such as research and development and cross-border infrastructure projects.
BL: Do falling turnouts in European elections prove that PR damages democracy as it pushes down participation?
Hall: Countries which use proportional representation actually tend to have far higher turnout, which makes sense as voters are presented with a higher number of viable choices than under a first-past-the-post system. Declining turnout at European elections is more to do with a lack of awareness of how politics at a European level affects people’s lives. We need to do more to engage people and explain to them why it matters.
BL: Much of the public is nervous about mass immigration? What are you doing to either address this problem or alleviate their concerns?
Hall: Britain prides itself on being an open and tolerant country that welcomes those who make the effort to work hard and fit in. Liberal Democrats believe we should address the pressures on services and housing that migration can cause, but are appalled at the deliberate stirring up of prejudices and tensions in local communities by UKIP and some Tories.
BL: If the Liberal Democrats are indeed ‘wiped out’ in May – does this start a leadership contest between candidates seeking to depose Nick Clegg?
Hall: No, Nick Clegg has confirmed that he will stay on as leader after the European elections.