With the General Election approaching, I am sure there are a number of Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors, who may otherwise be perceived as being in relatively safe seats (if there is such a thing for a Lib Dem), finding themselves concerned over the safety of their seats. With varied predictions of the Lib Dems parliamentary presence following the election in May, I am sure they will be looking back to the elections of 2014 with a certain disdain and concern. To say the results of the European elections in 2014 were surprising for the Liberal Democrats is perhaps an understatement. The electoral performance of the junior coalition partner has suffered tremendously since the birth of the coalition. However, the party’s performance in the 2014 local council, and particularly European Parliamentary elections, were a shock for even the most pessimistic of commentators. The former leader Charles Kennedy admitted that the result had been an unpleasant and particularly hurtful blow for the party. The Lib Dems managed to retain only 1 of their 11 MEPs, which was a massive setback for the party and its colleagues in Europe. Moreover, this was more of a frustration for the party and its supporters, as in recent years the Lib Dems have been the only staunchly pro-European force in mainstream British politics: with the Conservatives remaining decidedly hostile to the E.U; Labour housing numerous views in relation to Europe and UKIP, who won the elections, maintaining their vehement and trademark distain for the E.U.
Despite the prospects for the party during this European Parliament, with only 1 MEP; they have been incredibly fortunate to be left with an MEP who appears to be an incredible astute and effective political operator. Catherine Bearder MEP has championed animal welfare causes and has proven particularly effective at helping to legislate and exert her influence on the issues surrounding human trafficking. Further to this, back in July 2014, after being re-elected to her second term, she was appointed as a Quaestor for the European Parliament, which means she has a role in helping with the day-to-day running of the Parliament. Quite a feat for the only Liberal Democrat representative, and yet another avenue for her to promote Lib Dem causes. Ever realistic about the pitfalls of the institution, she maintained she would use the role to help it become more “transparent”.
This week though, was perhaps Catherine Bearder’s finest moment. She certainly punched above her weight in terms of influence at European level. In a resolution that called for an investigation into the roles and complicity that EU governments’’ may have had in the CIA torture programme, she managed to table an amendment that called for an immediate release of the Chilcot Report in the U.K as a matter of urgency. She commented that, “This is an issue central to our country’s foreign policy; the public deserve to know the truth before they cast their vote at the General Election.” As well as a majority vote on the resolution as a whole, Catherine Bearder’s amendment received overwhelming support from a majority of MEPs, with 374 voting in favour and 284 voting against the proposal. This was a bold and important move in pressuring the U.K government and Sir John Chilcot to release the report regardless of the election in May. It also proved yet again that despite being the sole representative for her party in the European Parliament, Catherine can certainly make her voice and concerns heard.
The amendment made by Catherine Bearder this week represent her focus on pushing the issues that Liberal Democrats feel need to be raised at a European level. Luckily, despite only having one MEP, the Liberal Democrats seem to have hit the jackpot with Catherine Bearder, a lifelong Liberal, who appears to be incredibly effective at using her position to influence and push the causes of her party in Europe. Perhaps more significantly, it shows us that some politicians, even in the much criticised European Parliament, can be effective and valuable public servants who represent the issues that both their constituents care about and what they perceive to be the greater good. Carry on the good work Catherine!
By Liam Clements, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.