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Speech to launch general election manifesto, 1997

Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat)

Location: [Location]

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday and the day before, the Conservative and Labour parties launched their manifestos for this election.

There were more similarities than either would like to admit.

Both other parties had big pictures of their leaders on the front cover.

My face is on the front of this manifesto, too. But, there are photos of other people too.

Why? Because at heart, this election should be about the effect of policies on the quality of people’s lives.

Inside, their manifestos are divided into chapters with the usual headings.

Inside the Liberal Democrat manifesto, the eight sections begin with questions - from people.

Why? Because this election should not be about the obsessions of politicians and press in the ‘Westminster village’, but about the issues that matter to people across the rest of Britain.

There is a third similarity between their two manifestos.

Neither rises to the challenges before our country after eighteen years of Conservative government. Neither addresses people’s concerns about what Britain needs for the future.

That is because both parties are obsessed by their past.

The Conservatives are haunted by their past record of broken tax promises. The Labour Party are haunted by their past reputation for sky-high taxes.

Because of their past, neither Conservative nor Labour are able to offer what Britain needs for the future.

The Liberal Democrats offer something different.

Long-term vision. Long-term policies.

This manifesto sets out our plans for a Britain of New Opportunities. For everyone in our country.

Our manifesto is about making the difference not spotting the difference.

The centrepiece of this manifesto is our commitment to making Britain the world’s Number One Learning Society in the next century. Because education is the absolute key to Britain’s success in the years ahead.

That goal is ambitious - we make no apologies for that. Liberal Democrats are ambitious for our country. But it is achievable. With practical policies to increase opportunities and raise standards.

John Major says education is his passion. Tony Blair says education is his passion too. But what makes the difference is not willing the end, but willing the means. Only the Liberal Democrats will actually make a difference in schools where teachers are being sacked and classes are rising to forty, because only the Liberal Democrats have clear commitments to do something about it.

Our ten billion pound programme of investment in education over the next five years will deliver real improvements in our children’s education.

• New books, computers and equipment in every school in Britain - £16,000 next year for a primary school of 250 pupils; £110,000 for a secondary school of 1000 pupils.

• Classes of no more than thirty for any child between 5 and 11.

• And the guarantee of high quality nursery education for every 3 and 4 year old in Britain - the best possible start we can give them in life.

Clear, specific commitments, that will make a real difference to people’s lives.

And that’s the approach we take in every area of policy in this manifesto.

In the Health Service, clear commitments to:

• Cut waiting lists to a maximum of 6 months.

• Employ more doctors and nurses in the NHS, with enough money for up to 10,000 extra nurses.

• Free eye and dental check-ups for everyone in Britain

In tackling crime:

A whole new emphasis on preventing crime in the first place, spearheaded by 3,000 more police officers on the street.

This manifesto is about a better quality of life in Britain.

Long term prosperity built on long-term investment and economic stability.

Policies to promote enterprise and competition, and give small businesses the support they need.

And policies to put green action at the heart of government policy.

A new environmental agenda for the new century, with hard-headed, practical policies to tackle pollution, clean up our air and water, and protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.

Finally, this is a manifesto for democratic renewal.

To rebuild trust in our politics. To clean up the mess of our political system. To strike a new deal between Government and people in Britain.

To open up government. Decentralise power. Ensure fair representation in Parliament, for all communities in Britain. And to give people more say on crucial issues like Europe through referendums.

Above all, we will strike a new deal with the British people on tax.

We understand why people refuse to give politicians blank cheques - and they are right to do so. But we also know that people are angry and worried about the state of the schools and hospitals and local communities.

So we offer a new approach.

Clear commitments to specific improvements. With the bill attached. And more than that, the guarantee that every extra pound spent will deliver higher standards and better services. What is different about this manifesto is our pledge to set up a watchdog to monitor the extra investment we promise; to see that it delivers real value for tax payers money.

People do not want any more broken promises. And they do not want any more wasted tax either.

With the Liberal Democrats, they will get a new “Tax Contract” - showing them where their money is being spent, what improvements have been achieved with their taxes, and giving the public their chance to say where they would like to see more spending, or spending cut.

Above all, this manifesto is an attack on the fatalism that now infects British politics.

We are told that nothing can be done. That it has to be like this.

We are told we can’t invest any more in our schools and hospitals, because people won’t pay for it.

We are told that the poor mustn’t be mentioned in this election because their votes aren’t important.

We are told that we can’t change the way we live to protect our environment, because people won’t think long term.

Well I reject that and the Liberal Democrats reject that.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We’ve got to break the fatalism in our politics.

We’ve got to get this country’s “can-do” spirit back, and there is nothing we cannot achieve.

This country has enormous potential.

Liberal Democrats are determined to see that potential unleashed.

With this manifesto we turn our back on fatalism.

We turn to face the future.

We say things CAN be different in Britain.

And we tell the British people that they can make a difference.

Because in the next Parliament, with their support, we Liberal Democrats are determined to make the difference.

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