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9 May 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 3:08pm

What does each party actually want to achieve in the European elections?

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn kicks off Labour’s European elections campaign this morning in Kent, while Vince Cable unveils the Liberal Democrat European manifesto this evening in east London.

Because the spending limit for the European elections is so limited – it’s just £2.7m for the whole country, and, for context, the Conservatives spent £18m at the last election, Labour £11m, and the Liberal Democrats £6.8m – the parties are even more reliant than usual on the amount of free media they receive. Most of that £2.7m is going to be eaten up by printing costs for the freepost leaflet, because while the taxpayer pays the postage, the party pays for the material. Chuck in a little Facebook advertising there and that’s your lot.

That’s part of why the Liberal Democrats have adopted “Bollocks to Brexit” as their official slogan for this campaign – it does what it says on the tin and has some vague chance that the fruity language will be picked up the press.

As for Labour, the party is essentially re-running its general election campaign, slogan and all. The implicit message of its campaign of course is “look, we all have feelings about Brexit, but have you noticed that the public realm is falling apart at the seams?” It would be extremely surprising if that message were half as effective in a European election – where Labour’s most powerful argument against the minor parties, that only it could get the Tories out, simply doesn’t apply – but Labour won’t care as long as it is effective enough to beat the Conservatives.

And that’s one of the weird oddities of this European campaign: most of the parties aren’t really in it to win it, despite what they might say publicly. What Labour really wants out is to do better than the Conservatives and to hold onto enough of its vote on both sides of the Remain-Leave divide to suggest that come a general election, it can continue to squeeze out the minor parties. What the Liberal Democrats need to do is beat Change UK. While Change UK need to show they can gain votes that the Liberal Democrats cannot, and not merely scrap over the same patch of electoral real estate.

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