The Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and Liberal International British Group (LIBG) joined forces last night at a fringe meeting at the LibDems’ autumn conference on the place of Britain in the European Union and Europe’s place in the world.
I was the first speaker, stressing how important it is that the Party continues to publicise its commitment to internationalism and to the UK’s European future (as Nick Clegg had indeed done just minutes before in a speech to diplomats at the International Reception). I was dismayed that there was virtually no mention of international or European issues in the main agenda of the Brighton conference, though there have been several related fringe meetings.
The Coalition government as such is hampered in its championing of the importance of Britain’s EU membership by David Cameron’s perceived need to appease his eurosceptic backbenchers. I fear that in the 2014 European elections the Tories will be tempted to try to out-UKIP UKIP, too, in an attempt to staunch the haemorrhaging of votes. And Labour is too split on the issue of Europe to be a reliable advocate. The City of London and business in general seems too nervous to stick its head above the parapet, although most businesses recognise the vital importance of EU membership.
So it is going to be up to the Liberal Democrats to make the case. A few, very simple messages need to be honed, to be used on the doorstep, of which perhaps the most important is the fact that in an increasingly regionalised, globalised world, in which big new players such as China, India and Brazil are making their presence felt, Europe needs to be more united in order to be a powerful force. Britain on its own in the 21st Century never could be, despite what the Little Englanders think.