Campaigning for the European parliamentary elections kicked off in Bath on Wednesday (8thMay) when a selected group of candidates gathered for election hustings organised by the local group, Bath for Europe. At the Bath Function Rooms in Green Park, the group of pro-European speakers shared positive ideas on the future of the UK within the EU, before falling out on electoral strategies for the forthcoming elections to be held on May 23rd.
The panel – consisting of incumbent South West MEPs, Molly Scott Cato (Green Party) and Clare Moody (Labour), along with candidates Caroline Voaden (Liberal Democrat) and Ollie Middleton (Change UK) – initially answered incisive questions covering a wide range of topics, including the importance of the European project, climate change, tax avoidance, fighting EU myths and how to address deep divisions within the country.
The candidates were largely in close agreement on these issues, emphasising the importance of the European Union as a peace project, and stressing the need for international collective action to address issues such as climate change, tax regulations, and social media regulation. There was also an agreed need for social healing, including better public services, improved opportunities and initiatives to engage with young people.
However, the consensus broke down when the group was asked about why an electoral alliance had not been formed to maximise the number of Remain-supporting MEPs elected in the South West.
Ollie Middleton of Change UK said that an alliance would have required a separate legal political entity under electoral law, and that this had been impossible to achieve within the time constraints of the election. He stressed that Change UK offered a fresh approach, given that the Liberal Democrats had not “cut through” with their case for Remain.
Molly Scott Cato rejected tactical voting and urged voters to maximise turnout and increase the overall vote for pro-EU parties (mentioning in passing that, in her view, Labour was not pro-Remain). Above all, she said, vote for politicians who would best represent you in the European Parliament, as, if elected, the candidates would sit within different parties voting along different lines.
Caroline Voaden was strongly critical of Labour and quoted pro-Brexit statements from Corbyn and two other leading Labour MPs. If you vote for Labour, she said, it will not be known whether you voted as a Remainer or Leaver. She was also “furious” with Change UK for risking a split in the Remain vote. “Do not vote for them,” she emphasised, “they are coming in here and causing trouble!”
Clare Moody’s key message was that Labour was the only viable option in a position to beat Farage’s Brexit Party on the national stage. “Stop saying Labour is a Leave party,” she insisted, given that Labour had voted against the withdrawal agreement three times in Westminster and whipped in favour of a referendum (which was narrowly lost by twelve votes). “The only way to get a referendum is through Labour support in Westminster,” she added.
The evening concluded on an inspirational note with a question about how the candidates had modelled integrity in their careers. Clare Moody talked about her fight within the European Parliament to achieve a disarmament treaty, Ollie Middleton discussed standing as an MP in the Bath area aged just 18, and Caroline Voaden revealed how she had become chair of the charity, Widowed and Young, following the loss of her husband. And Molly Scott Cato divulged how she had been arrested on a runway campaigning against nuclear arms.
Sally Long & Ian Bartle