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Speech to the Littleborough and Saddleworth By-Election Rally, Shaw 1995

Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat)

Location: Shaw

Ladies and gentlemen, a few weeks ago the Prime Minister decided to stand for re-election.

Remember that? All the razzmatazz of the election campaign. All the stories about what was going on behind the scenes. All the drama of polling day itself. You couldn't escape from it!

The trouble was - there were only 300 people voting - and they were Conservative MPs! I tell you, Communist Russia was more democratic!

Well, the POLITICIANS of the Conservative Party have had their say. This Thursday, here in Littleborough and Saddleworth, you get YOUR say - and the chance to speak for the PEOPLE of Britain.

You get the chance that you - and the rest of the country - were denied when John Major asked his own backbenchers to vote on his record.

You, the people of Littleborough and Saddleworth, have the chance to tell the Government what the British people think of their record.

This Thursday you have a great opportunity - and a great responsibility.

So it is worth reflecting on that record.

After all, if a third of his own MPs couldn't bring themselves to trust the Prime Minister, why should we?

And the reason is quite simple. The Government won the 1992 by deceiving people. And now they have been found out.

What people are angry about in Britain is being conned.

What people are angry about are all the promises so coolly made and so cynically broken.

What people are angry about is being betrayed.

What was it that the Prime Minister said about economic recovery during the election campaign? "Vote Conservative on Thursday and recovery will continue on Friday"

Well ... to be fair - he didn't say WHICH Friday! .... but try telling that to all the people who have lost their homes, their businesses, their jobs because of the Government's economic mismanagement.

What was it that the Prime Minister said about taxes during the election campaign? "We do not see any need to increase the tax burden". "We have no need and no plans to extend the scope of VAT".

The bare-faced cheek! Taxes have gone up more than at any time in British peacetime history. We are now paying more in tax than we were back in 1979 - and that's when Labour were squeezing us till the pips squeaked with a top tax rate of 98%!

But it doesn't stop there.

What about the manifesto promise to "give the police the support and resources they need"? Try telling that to the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester who asked the Home Secretary for 140 extra officers ... and got none.

What about the manifesto commitment to "put savings from greater efficiency" back into the NHS? Try telling that to all the people - I am sure you know them - waiting for treatment, while more and more money is spent on bureaucracy and accountants.

And it's not just the broken promises. It's what this Government is doing to our country.

It's what they are doing to our schools, with the most savage education cuts we've seen in years.

It's what they are doing to our railways, with one of the maddest schemes to come out of Whitehall since ... well, since the Poll Tax.

It's what they are doing to our national pride and respect, with everything from the arms-to-Iraq scandal to the cash-for-questions, from the misuse of overseas aid to ministers going straight from the Government onto the boards of industries they've just privatised.

It's the arrogance. The incompetence. The dogma. The divisions.

There just comes a time, sometimes, when governments die on their feet. Unfortunately, in the case of this one that was about two years ago. And unfortunately, it's the whole country that suffers as the Government limps along like a wounded beast until the British people finally have the chance to put it out of its misery.

Even many good Conservatives - people who have voted Conservative all their lives - now believe that it is best for their Party to have a spell in opposition, and in the best interests of their country for this lot to be put out of their misery.

So, on Thursday, you have the chance to bring that final curtain a moment closer.

But a negative vote - a protest vote - is not enough with Britain in its present state. Its not good enough just to vote against something. It's necessary, also, to vote FOR something positive to put in its place.

A Liberal Democrat vote is more than a "No" vote against this Government. A Liberal Democrat vote is also a "Yes" vote for a really different way of doing things in this country.

Now I am not going to stand here and pretend this country can be put right by a bunch of PR Johnnies from London with some vacuous smiles and a few vague promises. Because it can't.

What I am prepared to say is that if we in this country are ready to face up to a few realities, and agree on some hard choices, then there's nothing we can't do in Britain.

We've got some great things going for us in this country - and great opportunities.

If we get it right, we can all be proud of Britain.

But let's not hide from the challenges we face - and the things we've got to do to succeed.

For a start, let's face up to the fact that, not just in the future, but right now, what's going to make us succeed economically are knowledge, skills, new ideas. That's a fact.

So Britain's people need to be well-educated and well-trained. Our children need the best start in life we can give them, with pre-school education. Our teenagers must be taught in classes that aren't so big it's impossible to learn. Everyone in work must have the chance to improve their skills through training on a regular basis. And we have got to help all those people out of work to learn the skills that will get them back INTO work.

Everyone seems to recognise this. But in other countries they're charging ahead. Here in Britain, everyone says "oh yes, education, very important", but then say that the most important thing in politics is to get taxes as low as possible.

Well wait a moment. How about this for an idea? Instead of being obsessed with cutting taxes as much as possible, why not spend some of the money to improve our education system and make British workers better-skilled?

That way, our businesses will be more successful, we'll be able to compete better in the world, we'll be able to create new jobs, and we'll have a better chance of lower taxes, for longer, in the future.

Now I would have thought that was obvious. But the other day, we even had the Labour Party attacking us for wanting to increase investment in education! Extraordinary!

Well today I say to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, if in November's Budget you have got room for tax cuts, use two billion pounds of that - a penny of income tax - to invest in education - in pre-school education for ALL three and four year olds, to repair some of the damage you've done to our schools with this year's cuts, to help Britain succeed in the FUTURE.

And I say to the Labour Party, if in November, the Government cut a penny or two of income tax, don't just sit there, vote with the Liberal Democrats - AGAINST a penny of that. Vote to invest a penny of that money, TWO BILLION POUNDS, into education.

Because the British people aren't going to trust you to run a sweet shop, let alone the country, until you get off the fence of cuddly intentions, and start showing what you'd actually do when it comes to clear costed commitments.

Or take our transport system in this country.

A highly-skilled workforce is one key to modern economic success. A decent, properly maintained integrated transport system is another.

And one absolutely key part of that transport system is an integrated railway network.

So what is the Government about to do? The Government is in the process of breaking it up.

Look elsewhere, at other countries, and you will see them responding to the ECONOMIC problem, the HEALTH problem, the ENVIRONMENTAL problem of roads getting fuller and fuller of cars by looking to their railways as part of the SOLUTION. Here in Britain, forget it. The railways are not an opportunity to be exploited - they are a problem to be flogged off - somehow, anyhow.

Well, we Liberal Democrats are determined to stop it. And we can stop it.

We have a clear, costed, sensible proposal. To bring the railtrack network back under public control.

If Labour supported us, we could stop this nonsense in its tracks - because no-one would buy.

In Parliament a couple of weeks ago, we gave them the chance. Quite a lot of Labour MPs supported us. Most of them - well they either couldn't be bothered, or it was too dangerous - because it was actually saying they would do something.

This is crazy.

Where the Government are doing things wrong, they have got to be stopped.

Where we have the chance to put this country right, we've got to take the chance.

Well, let me make you one thing clear.

Liberal Democrats don't intend to sit around limply, so scared to say something difficult that we wouldn't say boo to a goose.

Liberal Democrats have a very clear idea of the direction this country needs to go.

We have a very clear of idea of where Britain COULD be, not just in five years, but in ten, fifteen, twenty years time.

And we are the guarantee that this country doesn't return weakly, disastrously to the past - but goes forward, with confidence and a clear sense of direction.

A Liberal Democrat vote is a vote for the change people want and the change Britain needs.

A Liberal Democrat vote is vote to clean up the mess of our politics, to invest in education, to get the economy working for the new challenges of the next century.

A Liberal Democrat vote is a vote to take the political system in this country, the Establishment, our archaic institutions, and drag them kicking and screaming into THIS century - just in time for the next one!

A Liberal Democrat vote is a vote to look long-term, to protect our environment, and look responsibly and confidently at problems and opportunities beyond our island shores.

A Liberal Democrat vote is a vote to tackle poverty, division, crime; to build on the best of our public services; to breath new life into the proud spirit of community in Britain.

A Liberal Democrat is not just a vote to kick out this discredited disaster of a Government. It is a vote for something fresh and clear and forward-looking to put in its place.

A Liberal Democrat vote on Thursday is also a vote for something - or rather, I should say someone else.

A Liberal Democrat vote is a vote for Chris Davies. An excellent candidate. A excellent campaigner. A man who will make an excellent MP.

For over a decade he has worked tirelessly on local issues here. He has campaigned hard to make a difference to everyday life for people living in this area.

He has done that because he lives here and his family lives here, and because - as is obvious when you talk to him - he loves this area.

Ladies and gentlemen, I began by saying that on Thursday you have a great opportunity - and a great responsibility. I finish with that message.

When you go to vote on Thursday, think of the vote in your hand, as you push it into the ballot box, as a personal message you are posting to the Government.

Think about the Government's record, think about what they are doing to this country, and tell John Major what you think - and I promise you the message will be echo loud and clear round Downing Street on Friday morning.

But do more than that.

Think about what your area needs, and vote for a first-class, committed local representative in Parliament.

And think about your life, your family, and Britain's future, and vote for a Liberal Democrat Party that knows things CAN be different in Britain, will tell you how we MAKE it different, and will guarantee that, instead of turning back, we in Britain march boldly and confidently into the future.

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