Liberal Democrats use slick launch to stake claim as Remainers’ best hope

The event was in sharp contrast to Change UK's troubled rollout. 

NS

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Vince Cable kicked off the launch of his party’s campaign for the European elections in London with a roster of candidates including veteran members of the European Parliament, from Bill Newton Dunn, first elected to the Parliament in 1979 to Catherine Bearder, the lone survivor of the Liberal Democrat wipeout in 2014, plus a slew of first-time candidates and experienced local campaigners.

The launch made a good point of contrast with the troubled rollout of Change UK – the Independent Group’s European candidates, with whom the Liberal Democrats are in a three-way fight to establish themselves as the most effective choice for Remainers who want to send an unambiguous message that they want to stay in the European Union.

It was scheduled on a day when the House of Commons is not sitting – a prerequisite, but not a guarantee, of sustained coverage for the smaller parties, while Change UK were competing with a Cabinet meeting and a sitting Tuesday.

It demonstrates one of the implicit arguments that the Liberal Democrats will make as to why they are the best vehicle for Remainer outrage – because they have the know-how and experience to actually get MEPs elected and to make a splash in a way that Change UK do not.

But they also have another ace in the hole – the looming local elections this Thursday. These were seats last contested in 2015, a disastrous night for the Liberal Democrats on which they lost 51 MPs; but more importantly for our purposes they also lost 658 councillors and control of four councils.

They are not going to make those losses up overnight: the difficulty minor parties have is what takes years of work to acquire can be lost in the time it takes to say “rose garden”. But frankly they will be doing pretty poorly if they can’t at least make enough of those losses back that they won’t be able to declare themselves the winners of the local elections and the most well-placed pro-Remain party to give the big two a fright.

The beneficiary if they can’t will be the Greens, who have more MEPs than the Liberal Democrats but have fewer routes to a good news story after the local elections.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.