When Nick Perry spoke to Hastings In Focus on Friday afternoon there was clearly emotion in his voice – it had been a memorable and triumphant day for a man who has bid to become our MP, representing the Liberal Democrats, on three occasions.
“I am not going to hide it – the level of success for the Lib Dems across the country has been a really emotional thing for me, and the party as a whole. Especially after the pundits and the other parties have been so assiduously planning our funeral!” he told us.
“Our wins in Southern Rother, and Rye & Winchelsea have been the icing on the cake. I couldn’t be happier for Andrew Mier and Howard Norton. They will be excellent councillors for their communities.
“These local government results have been a massive boost: to the Liberal Democrats, and to the Stop Brexit cause. People know that the Lib Dems take local government seriously; and that we are diligent community activists, but we now have the momentum as the lead party for Remain as well.
“If people want to send a strong ‘Stop Brexit’ message at the European Parliament election on May 23rd, they should vote Liberal Democrat. It is as simple as that,” he said.
If people do heed his words then Mr Perry could find himself a member of the European Parliament, he is standing for the Liberal Democrats as a candidate in the South East region, a constituency he describes as ‘masssive’ stretching from Kent and Sussex to the New Forest and Oxford with everything in between.
The job of an MEP is an important one with implications for the infrastructure and economy of the area, says Mr Perry.
There are many reasons why it’s important that the UK is part of the EU, he says and equally important to have people who are committed to representing their country well in the European Parliament, he said.
While he acknowledges there is still a chance that the European Parliamentary elections could be called off he says, ‘a lot has to happen’ before that might be the case and with only just over two weeks until polling day he’s working flat out to persuade the voters to the Liberal Democrat cause.
Climate change, crime, refugee support and terrorism are just some of the international issues that Nick Perry believes are better and more effectively dealt with if the UK is part of a block of countries.
Thursday was a huge day for his party at the local government elections and he says the outcome, which saw the Liberal Democrats make massive gains while both Labour and the Conservatives lost ground, makes a strong case for not splitting the remain vote when voters have to make a choice about who to send to represent them in the European Parliament.
The Liberal Democrats he says have a clear position: “We support a people’s vote, a confirmatory vote on the terms of any deal, but we want to go beyond that and stop Brexit altogether. We want to remain part of the European Union because that is what we believe is best for this country,” he says.
He was not surprised that many communities, like Hastings, voted to leave the EU when given the chance in the 2016 referendum. He believes successive governments have failed to explain to people what the advantages of membership are while at the same time the media has ‘dripped-fed poison’ about membership for the last four decades.
It’s not surprising people feel the EU is fair game for their criticism when in actual fact it’s British politicians who have let them down,” he says.
It’s a matter of regret to him that both the Green Party and the recently formed Change UK have rebuffed advances from the Liberal democrats to fight the European elections together, he believes the Liberal Democrats have both the party infrastructure and the people on the ground to be able to make real progress and to best represent those who want to see the UK stay in the EU.
He points to his party’s pro-European pedigree and points out that it has been calling for an association of European countries since 1948 and in the 1960s the Liberal party was committed to the European Union long before the bigger political parties showed any interest in the idea.
“If you want to vote for a pro-European party standing on a ticket to stop Brexit then we are the party for you,” he says.
He thinks more people will come out to vote at these elections than turned out the last time they were contested in 2014. Within that cohort he expects to see a higher turnout of remain voters – and fewer of those who favour Brexit – turning out to vote.
After the successes at the ballot box last week Mr Perry says the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to have the right tools in place to fight a successful campaign and he believes they should be the first choice for anyone who wants to stop Brexit happening.
There are three key areas where he believes local people can benefit from continued membership of the EU and access to the continent is one of those.
“We’ve got an international rail link, a channel tunnel and road infrastructure that is creaking through lack of investment – if we end up having border controls and problems around ports and freight difficulties and the blocking of the M20 there will be practical implications straight away.
“We have an NHS that is creaking and a lot of EU nationals are working in it and in the care industries and these people will not have the freedom to be able to come here and work in the NHS and work with the vulnerable and people who need them if we cease to be members of the EU.
“And the South East economy will take a huge hit as a result of Brexit,” he claims.
Fishing too is a huge issue and Mr Perry says it has been Liberal Democrat MEPs who have managed to get Hastings fishermen across to Brussels to talk about the key issues facing the industry and the fact that Liberal Democrat MEPs turn up at the relevant committee meeting means they area able to represent local people on issues surrounding, for example, fishing quotas.
“Anti-EU parties like UKIP don’t even turn up to meetings so how can they represent the people who voted for them?” he asks.
He feels there has been a failure over the last 40 years to explain the real benefits that EU membership brings and he lays the blame for that at the door of a British media that he claims has vested interest in not giving a platform to people who back continued EU membership. He says the Liberal Democrats will use all tools and their disposal, including social media, to make a case for the EU and the UK’s continued membership of it.
With such a massive land area to cover and a relatively short period of time to get the message across Mr Perry says resources will be targeted on ‘getting out vote out’ and campaigning will centre on the areas where they can have greatest success.
And he concludes with the simplest of messages for voters; if you are pro-European you have to vote Liberal Democrat he says.