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General election campaign speech, Edinburgh 1997

Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat)

Location: Edinburgh

At the start of this campaign I said I would spend a lot of time listening. That’s what I’ve done over the last five years, and that’s what I’ve done over the last five weeks as well.

Not listening to vested interests. Not listening to millionaires trying to buy influence. Not listening to highly selective focus groups

But listening to ordinary people.

Listening to their concerns about education.

Listening to their fears about the NHS.

Listening to their disillusionment with politicians who break their promises and betray their trust.

The narrow fight between the Conservative and Labour parties has excluded millions in Britain from their own election.

They want politicians to stand up and address the issues that matter to them.

They want commitments that are clear and costed.

They want leadership they can trust.

There are now less than a thousand days to prepare for the next millennium.

And there is just one week left to determine the direction we take in those thousand days.

One week to turn this into a campaign that sets Britain on the right course for the years ahead.

One week to turn this into a campaign that focuses on the long term.

One week to turn this into a campaign about the issues that matter to people.`

Any day now, I expect a barrage of lies and distortions from the Tory High Command, the like of which we have never seen before.

After eighteen years in office, they’ve got very cosy with all that power - and they’re now more frightened than ever of losing their grip on it. And when the Conservative Party get frightened, they get negative, and they get nasty.

Instead of engaging in honest debate, they will put up thousands of posters, distorting the truth.

Instead of confronting voters face to face, they will ring people up, whispering lies about our policies down the phone.

Instead of talking about their record, they will fight the most negative, most nasty campaign imaginable.

Well, we will not be cowed. The best antidote to negative Tory campaigning is to fight positively on our programme for Britain.

To make the campaign in this last week a campaign the British people can be proud of.

And our Party has a duty to make that happen. To offer people a different choice.

The investment to give our children the best possible education.

Clear, costed commitments to protect and improve our NHS.

More bobbies on the beat in the fight against crime.

Stability and long-term investment for business success.

Cleaner air and water, and a greener environment.

The guarantee of a referendum on any future change in Europe.

Open government, fair votes, power passed down from Westminster and Whitehall.

We have heard much about trust in this campaign. But politicians can’t expect to be taken on trust. They’ve got to earn people’s trust.

Trust comes from being straight with people. It comes from being consistent in your principles and policies. It comes from sums that add up.

Over the last five years, the Conservatives have proved that they cannot be trusted.

Over the last five weeks, Labour have failed to prove that they are worthy of our trust.

What we Liberal Democrats have set out to do in this campaign is to earn people’s trust.

That’s why we have stuck to our core values and consistent beliefs.

That’s why we produced a costed manifesto. A menu with prices.

That’s why in Scotland, we listen to the Scottish people when they say they want more control over Scottish affairs.

That’s why we have stuck consistently to the principle that Scottish sovereignty lies, not in Westminster, but with the Scottish people - and to our consistent policy on Scottish Home Rule.

No parish council dressed up as a Parliament for us. No more direct rule from Westminster. No false promises of riches from independence. No need for a two-question referendum.

We know the will of the Scottish people. We respect the will of the Scottish people. And we tell the Scottish people: we will stand up for Scotland.

And all across the country, we have attempted to be straight with people. To attach the price-tag to the promise. To say, not just what you will get, but how it will be paid for.

That is why, for the NHS, we offer clear, costed commitments to restore free eye and dental checks, to put more doctors and nurses on hospital wards, to cut waiting lists.

All the pundits and the political commentators say you can’t ask people to pay a little more for our schools and hospitals.

But it’s not what people seem to be saying.

A survey in GP Magazine this week showed that doctors now believe the Liberal Democrats have the best policies for health. Tell me when that was last the case?

And survey after survey shows the popularity of our education policies, too.

Why? Because people know that education will be the key to our success in the years ahead.

And everyone knows that in the real world, you don’t get something for nothing.

Others may be happy to say: ‘education, education, education’. But these are hollow words unless they are matched with ‘resources, resources, resources’.

It’s no good saying, like Labour, that you’ll do something - this year, next year, sometime, never. Because you’ll never do anything that way.

Our education system has been undervalued and underfunded for too long now. We need to start now. Putting right the damage of the Tory years. With the hard cash to make a difference.

Doubling the amount that every school has to spend on new books and equipment.

Cutting class sizes.

Guaranteeing the best possible start in life for every child, with two years’ high quality nursery education from the age of three.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by David Dimbleby on Panorama. Some of you might have seen it.

And do you know what he said?

He said that what we are proposing to do in education is marginal

‘Marginal?’, I said to him.

Well, maybe it looks like that from a London TV studio. But my perspective in this campaign comes from meeting people and listening to people.

And I said to David Dimbleby: try telling the teachers I’ve met during this campaign that doubling the amount they can spend on books and equipment is marginal.

Just try telling the parents I’ve met that smaller classes and two years of nursery education is marginal.

Just try telling anyone concerned with education and the future of this country that 10 billion pounds of extra investment in education is marginal.

I know what response he’d get.

Because parents and teachers live in the real world.

In this campaign, we have won support for our commitment to education and the NHS.

In this campaign, we have won people’s respect for our straight talking and honesty on tax.

In this campaign, we have already won the arguments.

In the next seven days, it is time to win the seats.

It is time to go for victory.

Now what do I mean by victory?

I mean that by sending a massive force of Liberal Democrat MPs to Westminster to fight for our schools and hospitals, it becomes your victory.

A victory for your children and grandchildren.

A victory for your schools and hospitals.

A victory for you.

In this campaign, I’ve had a number of people disillusioned with both Labour and Conservatives, coming up to me, and saying:

“I like what you say. I love what you stand for. I want to vote for you. But I want to be sure that my vote will count”.

And my answer has been straightforward: There is only one way to make your vote count. And that is to vote for what you want. To vote for what you believe.

And if you believe, like I do, that in the next Parliament, we’ve got to protect our Health Service, we’ve got to look after our environment, and that above all else, we’ve got to launch the biggest, most committed drive to improve education that we have ever seen, then the vote that doesn’t count, the vote that doesn’t make the difference, the ‘wasted vote’, is the Conservative or Labour vote.

If you want better schools, then the only way you will get them is by voting Liberal Democrat. And the vote that doesn’t count, that won’t make the difference, is the Conservative or Labour vote - because they won’t do anything about the cuts, the sacked teachers, the rising classes in our schools.

If you want more doctors and nurses in our hospitals, then the only way you will get them is by voting Liberal Democrat. And the vote that doesn’t count, that won’t make a difference, is the Conservative or Labour vote - because they are both committed to spending plans for the NHS so tight that we will see cuts to services on an unprecedented scale.

You see, when the fog clears, there’s really very little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives: the same spending limits, the same tax plans, the same failure to explain how anything will be paid for.

The Labour Party has decided to fight this election on the awe-inspiring message: New Labour, No Difference.

To elect either Conservative or Labour at this election would be a mass triumph of hope over experience.

Both make two impossible promises. That taxes will be lower, and that services will be better.

The question isn’t if they will break their promises, but which promise will they break.

Well Liberal Democrats say it does not have to be like this.

They’ve had fifty years between them - but neither have ever made the real difference our country needs.

Now it’s time for something different.

If you want a change of direction, not just a change of government - then don’t waste your vote.

If you want new priorities in Britain, not just politics as usual - then don’t waste your vote.

Don’t vote for more of the same.

Don’t be conned into voting from fear.

Vote for the things you believe in.

I said at the beginning of my speech that there were seven campaigning days left.

Well, I believe it is time for more than a campaign. It is time for a crusade.

What is the difference between the two, some might ask.

Well campaigns are short-term. They’re about winning votes. They’re political things - focused on Westminster.

Crusades are about beliefs. They’re about the long term. They’re about winning the arguments. They’re about reaching out beyond politics - beyond Westminster.

It was in this part of Scotland, 118 years ago, that Gladstone began his famous Midlothian campaign.

The campaign which brought the Liberals back to power for Gladstone’s second government. To continue their battle for progress and reform.

Now, as then, this country is faced with a stark choice.

Now, as then, it is time for a crusade.

A crusade for the new century.

A crusade for a new politics.

A crusade for new opportunities.

At the start of this century, the great Liberal leader, David Lloyd George made his crusade to build a country fit for heroes.

Now, as we prepare for the next century, we need a new crusade - to build a country fit for our children and grandchildren.

A crusade to give them the best education possible.

A crusade to protect the environment around them.

A crusade to give them a Health Service they can rely on.

A crusade to give them new opportunities and hope.

This election provides the British people with a real choice.

Do they vote for those who see only the same old answers?

Do they vote for those who trumpet the same old soundbites?

Do they vote for those who feel safest in the old policies of confrontation?

Or, do they vote for people who believe that they can make a difference?

If you, like me, believe in our crusade to build a country fit for our children and grandchildren, I say: ‘come and join us’

Join us if you want more investment in education.

Join us if you care about the environment.

Join us if you want more money for your schools and hospitals.

Join us if you want more honesty on tax.

Join us if you care about your children’s future.

Join us for the new millennium.

Join us on our crusade.

We have won the arguments in this campaign.

Now we must win the seats.

Join us as we go for victory.

Join us, and together, we can make the difference.

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