Lib Dem MEP hits the campaign trail in North Devon
PUBLISHED: 10:54 24 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:17 25 April 2014
Sir Graham Watson welcomes UKIP challenge and ‘real debate’ on Europe
SOUTH West Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson admits he faces his ‘most challenging’ campaign since being elected two decades ago.
Mr Watson highlighted the increased political power of UKIP as one of the factors – but said he believed that could actually help his party to pick up votes on May 22.
“I think that some kind of junction has been reached,” he said. “This election will be much more about whether people want the country in the EU or not and the Liberal Democrats are the only party who are clearly saying ‘yes, we should be in’.
“There’s always been something else on around the European elections – the economy in 2009, the war in 2005 – and for the first time this election is going to be a fight on Europe.”
Mr Watson was in North Devon on Wednesday as part of a tour across the constituency – which spreads as far as Wiltshire and even includes Gibraltar.
He was accompanied by North Devon MP Nick Harvey, leafleting door-to-door in Ilfracombe and also visiting Barnstaple, Mortehoe and South Molton.
Mr Watson, a member of the European Parliament since 1994, is number one on the Lib Dem list and seeking a fifth term in Brussels.
“Every time I go out canvassing I’m reminded of what Tip O’Neill once said: all politics is local politics.
“Nationwide, 45% of our exports go to the EU; in the South West it is 59%, and not just from the big companies you would think of. A lot of it comes from farming.”
“And with such a large area to cover, the issues are going to be fundamentally different in Gibraltar to parts of the South West.”
North Devon MP Mr Harvey underlined a number of the key advantages of EU membership, but Mr Watson conceded that further reform is still needed.
“We are living in a global village now,” said Mr Harvey. “The world has become a smaller place and we can achieve far more if we stay as part of international bodies.
“The UK is in a very strong position. In terms of the economic agenda, being part of the EU is crucial.”
Mr Watson added that ‘lots of things’ still have to be changed, and called for greater transparency and less bureaucracy, and to stop holding parliament sessions in Strasbourg.
It’s very hard to be a liberal coming out of a recession, and people will always go back to the old ways – UKIP clearly appeals to that type of thinking,” he added.
“I used to think when I was first elected in what was then North Devon and Somerset through ‘first past the post’ that would be the hardest election I would ever fight – I think this campaign will be at least as challenging, but that’s what we live for in politics.”
Polling for the European Parliament elections takes place on May 22.
•UKIP will be holding a public meeting on May 7 at the Barnstaple Hotel, with talks from William Dartmouth MEP, environmental campaigner Penny Mills and North Devon parliamentary candidate Steve Crowther.