Notes from a small island

April 18, 1997

Three academics explain how and why they will vote

The Liberal Democrats are the right choice for three reasons. They have a clear commitment to a constructive European policy, a vigorous third party provides a leavening of our adversarial political system, and they remain determined to keep alive the debate on inequality and injustice.

It is hard to overstate how isolated Britain has become in the debate about reshaping the European Union. It is not just that Conservative ministers have boxed themselves into defensive positions on so many issues - economic and monetary union is merely the latest. Ambivalence about Europe has haunted the years since we joined the European Community in 1973. Conservative and Labour governments have put party sensitivities ahead of national consensus and failed to develop sustainable partnerships with other Europeans. The result has been increased marginalisation and decreasing British influence. There is a risk of Britain drifting into parochialism, its sensible ideas being ignored, and interests being damaged. The disturbing decline in British students learning foreign languages at A level, and in applications for degrees with language components leaves us at risk of producing a generation ill-equipped either to contribute to European reconstruction or to manage globalisation.

Britain stands out in Europe for its adversarial political system and the concentration of power in the hands of the Government. The Liberal Democrats, long advocates of constitutional reform and the cause of decentralisation, argue that economic and social well-being cannot be assured without well-functioning, open institutions. Their tenacity is needed to push for constitutional reform. Issues of social inequality, territorial disadvantage, and injustice persist. It is a huge task to modernise Britain, given the rigours of international competition and declining resources for public expenditure, without damaging our social fabric and squeezing the rights of individuals. The Liberal Democrats are determined to argue these points.

Helen Wallace is professor of contemporary European studies, Sussex European Institute.

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