A candidate with a wealth of real life experience. Find out more about what inspires and drives Caroline.
Our Former MEP
Caroline Voaden is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Totnes constituency.
She currently works as a charity CEO and was the last leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the European Parliament.
She lives in Totnes with her husband Stuart. Her two grown-up daughters now live in London.
Elected as an MEP for SW England and Gibraltar in May 2019, Caroline was later voted in as leader of the Lib Dem group, until they left the Parliament because of Brexit in January, 2020.
She was a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and was Vice Chair of the EU Delegation for Relations with the Arab Peninsula.
Previous to her election Caroline worked as a Reuters journalist for a decade, she then became a freelance editor and later ran her own business in Totnes. Her experience of running a small business on a traditional high street, competing against online shopping giants, gave Caroline a gritty understanding of the pressures faced by those running small businesses in a rural community.
Her work as a journalist led her to live in six European countries and she speaks several languages. Caroline worked in both English and French in the European Parliament.
She has been involved in several charities, as voluntary Chair of Widowed and Young, and working as Operations Manager at Landworks, a groundbreaking rehabilitation charity for prisoners near Totnes. She is currently the Chief Executive of Devon's largest provider of support to survivors of sexual violence and abuse, Devon Rape Crisis & Sexual Abuse Services.
From the Balkans to Brexit
Caroline spent several months in Belgrade during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s, helping edit the Reuters news file coming out of Bosnia as war was raging. Following the Dayton peace agreement in 1996 she witnessed the arrival of American troops in Bosnia and went on to run the Reuters bureau in Croatia for the next two years. She was Reuters youngest woman bureau chief worldwide.
As well as spending time in the Balkans, Caroline lived in and reported from Amsterdam, Berlin, Dublin, Belfast and London. She also spent a year working in France and travelled there often to visit a much-loved aunt who lived there for most of her life.
Her experience of living and working abroad gave her a deep love of Europe, and an understanding of the need to work closely with our nearest neighbours to foster better understanding and mutual support in a complicated world.
Having watched closely as Yugoslavia broke apart, fuelled by power-driven politicians and politically motivated media, it made the Brexit campaign difficult to watch.
The shock and anger Caroline felt at the result of the 2016 EU referendum was to be life-changing.
“That night was one of those defining moments, when you know something in your life is going to change.
I could no longer just sit back, shout at the television and hope that someone else would do something
to change the direction we were headed in. So I joined the Lib Dems the following morning,
and decided to get stuck in myself, and try and make change happen. Little did I think
I'd end up in the European Parliament..."
From her front row seat in Brussels, it was clear to Caroline and her colleagues that Brexit would be painful. Briefings from the British Medical Association, for example, made it quite clear in 2019 what the impact would be on NHS staffing levels.
Businesses across south Devon now speak of how they are drowning under a sea of paperwork, export is tortuous and creatives, students and others are denied access to live and work in Europe.
It's hard to deny the negative impact Brexit has had on our agriculture sector, fish exporters, food production, the NHS, social care and hospitality - all really important sectors in South Devon.
There was no plan, there still is no plan, and the evidence is clear
that the Vote Leave campaign lied.
"We must now redouble our efforts to repair what is a very fractured relationship with our European neighbours. We must start rebuilding trust and begin to plot our path back into the world's biggest single market, which is right on our doorstep.
"No amount of trade deals with Australia or Japan will ever make up for the self-inflicted harm we caused by pulling out of the EU single market. The Vote Leave campaign betrayed the trust of perfectly well-intentioned voters. We must start repairing the damage they have caused.”
Caroline being applauded by MEP colleagues after making her last speech in the European Parliament.
Widowed and Young
Caroline was widowed at 34 in 2003, when her first husband Nick died of oesophageal cancer. Their girls were 17 months and 3 years old.
She joined and was later elected chair of a national charity that supports young widowed men and women – WAY, Widowed and Young.
Caroline is only too aware of the long-term effects that illness and bereavement have on the wider family, from the impact on mental health, to loss of income, complicated support and benefits systems and the challenges of being a lone parent. Caroline raised her girls alone for nine years following Nick's death.
She has first-hand experience of the exemplary care offered by the NHS and the vital support given by charities like MacMillan and Marie Curie.
Caroline has written a book about her experience, ‘If there’s anything I can do…‘.