It’s election time again. On 22 May Cheltonians go to the polls for the European and borough council elections.
I have spoken to hundreds of Cheltonians over the last year from Up Hatherley to Battledown. Two issues come up again and again – Europe and immigration. That’s hardly surprising. It is beyond doubt that continuing mass migration to our country from Europe is putting real pressure on our scarce resources, from the NHS to our green spaces. In Cheltenham, vast swathes of open land around our town are set to be concreted over for new housing.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe the Lib Dems are prepared to face up to this. Nick Clegg gives the impression of swallowing whatever comes out of Europe hook, line and sinker. It’s as if he wants the EU at any price. And Vince Cable recently hailed the recent rise in net immigration as ‘good news’ adding that he was ‘intensely relaxed’ about it. I couldn’t disagree more.
As for UKIP, they are absolutely right to shine a light on our relationship with Europe. They may even be right that our national interest ultimately lies in us leaving Europe. But I believe that withdrawal before seeking to renegotiate is too risky. Millions of British jobs and billions of pounds of investment, including here in Cheltenham, are at stake. We need to give reform a chance before burning our bridges.
That’s why I believe is a middle way. We should renegotiate our relationship with the EU, to make it more like the free trade club we thought we were signing up to in the 1970s. Then we need put the new format to the British people in a vote.