It’s refreshing to talk to someone in politics who is very clear about what they and their party want. As we’ve found out recently, the two aren’t necessarily the same at all. With both the Conservatives and the Labour Party split to the core over Brexit, the Lib Dems have been consistently singing from the same hymn sheet, albeit in a smaller choir.
When I spoke to Helen Cross, announced on Friday as one of the Lib Dem list for the European elections, she was upbeat and positive. She’s fighting these elections seriously. She expects whoever is elected to be there for the duration of the parliament as she is adamant that Britain will not be leaving the EU. She only joined the Liberal Democrats because of Brexit. “When I saw Nigel Farage standing there saying they’d won without even a shot fired, with the line up of thick necked men standing behind him, I thought ‘this is what fascism looks like’. I decided if I didn’t stand up and fight it, I would never forgive myself’.
Since then she’s been on every EU march she could, campaigned all over the country and stood in the local elections last year in Turnham Green ward. ‘I’d never been an activist’ she says. She’d very briefly joined Labour while at university in Bristol but their “toe the line approach” to politics didn’t suit her, she says. What she finds attractive about the Lib Dems is that it stands for “diversity, tolerance, freedom and fairness”. The culture, she says, is very different in the Liberal Democrat party and she feels able to speak her mind. The atmosphere is “super democratic” she says.
Helen, a management consultant who lives in Grove Park, has been elected by the membership as one of a list of eight candidates from the Liberal Democrats competing for eight seats London wide. The voting system is the complicated D’Hondt system of proportional representation which means the person with the most votes will get are seat and after that the votes are redistributed. It’s a system which favours larger parties, which is why she thinks the Lib Dems are in with a chance, compared with other smaller parties which might do better under other forms of PR.
I asked her about the irony of fighting against other parties such as the Greens and the new independent party Change UK, all jockeying for position to get our votes, when splitting the vote might just open the door for Nigel Farage. She says “we as Lib Dems would have liked to present a cross-party front. We approached Change UK and we approached the Greens and they didn’t want to. We welcome more parties but we need to be a bit smarter”. She points out that Steve Bray, the man who has made a name for himself shouting ‘Stop Brexit’ outside the Houses of Parliament, was going to stand but has pulled out because of that very reason. Instead of voting for Change UK as a protest vote, she says we should be looking at this in terms of a programme of policies for the full five years.
Apart from the clear message of Stop Brexit, they have a full slate of policies on other issues. For her, the most important are inequality, climate change and protecting public services. She is proud to have been elected to the National Policy Committee looking at ways of supporting small and medium enterprises with good investment. Action on climate change is now urgent. There needs to be a coherent pan European strategy. On public services, Brexit has been disastrous for the NHS she says, with catastrophic numbers of staff leaving and money we can ill afford diverted into planning for Brexit.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is storming ahead in the polls (currently neck and neck with Labour at 28% in the most recent Opinium poll of voter intentions for the European elections, with support for the Conservatives at 14%). The Lib Dems and the Change UK party are both at 7%. Despite this, Helen says she is confident that the Lib Dems will take three of the eight London seats. To be fair, London voted 60-40 in favour of staying in the EU, so the Brexit party is likely to do less well in London than elsewhere. But even if they do as well as she hopes, as she is number six on the Lib Dem list, she is unlikely to be getting on a train to Brussels any time soon. I guess it’s all about teamwork.