Speech to the European Election Campaign Rally, Nottingham 1999
Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat)
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be back in Nottingham.
This City holds a lot of happy memories for me.
I remember coming to my party’s spring conference here eight years ago and celebrating the election, two weeks before, of our 21st MP.
If I had said then that, within eight years, we’d have 46 MPs, four and a half thousand councillors, and turned Labour strongholds like Liverpool and Sheffield to Liberal Democrat gold, I don’t think many people would have believed me. But we have.
A lot of things have changed since then - really changed. And one of the reasons they’ve changed is because of us. Because of the Liberal Democrats.
We are now in Government in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats - a part of national government in the UK for the first time in half a century. Do you think Scotland would have got its Parliament, and its Government, without us fighting for it, all down the long years of this century?
And in 20 days time we shall have our first “fair votes” election, gaining for Britain the fair representation in the European Parliament that the rest of Europe takes for granted. Is there anybody who thinks this would have happened if it hadn’t been for the Liberal Democrats?
Britain is changing. And the Liberal Democrats are at the heart of that change.
WHAT WE’RE WINNING FOR SCOTLAND
Just look, for example, at what we have won for Scotland in the brilliant deal negotiated by Jim Wallace and his team Liberal Democrat MSPs.
£8,000 extra for every school for books and equipment - thanks to the Liberal Democrats.
500 extra school teachers to help bring down class sizes, thanks to the Liberal Democrats.
A full, independent review into student finance and tuition fees, which asserts, for the first time ever, the primacy of Parliament over the Executive in taking the final decision.
A £15 million health promotion fund for the NHS in Scotland, and new measures to cut patient waiting times.
Tough new targets for recycling and cleaning up our environment.
A new emphasis on community policing.
And fair votes for Scotland’s local councils.
A real breakthrough, not just for Scotland, but for all of us who value fair votes and good government.
And it’s all, thanks to the Liberal Democrats.
A POWERFUL PARTY - YOUR POWERFUL VOTE
We have come of age. No longer are we just a Party of Protest. Now we are a Party of Power.
A truly national party - capable of winning everywhere in Britain.
And on June 10th we can win here in the East Midlands too. We can build on our local success - in Chesterfield, Leicester, Broxtowe, Oadby and Wigston - and turn it into success in Europe.
With fair votes, for the first time, the MEPs Britain elects will reflect the votes the British people cast.
Every Liberal Democrat vote will really count - in Derby as much as in Devon, in Corby as much as in Cornwall.
And the more votes cast for the Liberal Democrats, the more Liberal Democrats will be representing your interests in the European Parliament.
MAKING EUROPE WORK FOR ITS CITIZENS
The East Midlands needs a strong force of Liberal Democrats to get the best possible deal for the East Midlands in Europe.
And Europe needs a strong force of Liberal Democrats to make Europe work for its citizens. To crack down on waste and fraud. To make Europe more democratic. To get Europe focused on the things that matter most to people - our prosperity, our security, our precious natural environment.
Liberal Democrats are pro-Europe because we know the benefits Europe brings us. But we are also clear about Europe’s limits and firm on Europe’s failings.
And we know what those failings are. It’s too centralised. It’s too secretive. It’s too slow.
Europe has to change if it is going to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.
But if we are going to be in a position to fix those failings we need to be engaged in Europe in the first place.
You can’t shape Europe if you’re anti-Europe, like the Tories. Trading insults and burning bridges is a recipe for impotence. Remember BSE?
We know from 18 years of experience that Tory policies mean this country losing twice in Europe. By marginalising Britain in Europe, as the Tories would like, we would neither share in its successes, nor tackle its failures. With the Tories we would lose twice.
And Labour? Labour are full of good intentions. But they are too timid to give a lead on Europe. Too scared of right wing media moguls to stand up for Britain’s real interests. Too obsessed with the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers to get stuck into the serious reforms Europe so urgently needs.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to reforming Europe, just as we are committed to sorting out our secretive, undemocratic old political system at home. You can rely on the Liberal Democrats in Europe.
THE TWO TORY PARTIES
The only thing you can rely on the Tories to do is disagree with each other.
We’ve always known that the Tories were divided over Europe. But when you go to vote on June 10th, you’ll be able to see it on the ballot paper. The pro-European Tory Party. And the anti-European Tory Party - William’s weirdos!
William Hague says the pro-Europeans are “fanatics”. They say he’s “mad”.
It’s good to know we’re in for a high standard of debate, isn’t it!
But there is a serious side to this.
At last year’s Tory conference Roger Helmer, William Hague’s lead candidate here in the East Midlands, compared the fight against the euro to the fight against German invasion during the Second World War. And his Party cheered him for it!
Now that’s not engaging in debate. It’s engaging in abuse. And that is not the way to win friends in Europe and win a better deal for the East Midlands from Brussels.
If the Conservatives get their way Britain will be consigned to Europe’s margins. They are the “edge of Europe” Party. And if many of them get their way, they will soon be the “out of Europe” Party.
Michael Portillo has let the cat out of the bag. Speaking to a group of right wing Conservatives recently, he admitted what many of us already suspected. That for many Conservatives the real agenda is to leave the European Union altogether. But, he told them, they shouldn’t admit it because it would weaken their chances in a referendum.
You bet it would!
The Conservatives would put at risk everything that we have gained from being in Europe.
WHAT WE GAIN FROM EUROPE
They would put at risk our place in a market of 370 million people, which has helped win over £13 billion of inward investment for Britain, on which 100,000 jobs depend.
Nearly 60 per cent of Britain’s exports are now to our EU partners. We export more to the Netherlands and Belgium than to the whole of Latin America, Africa, China, Russia, the Middle East, India and Australasia combined!
And it’s not just business that gains from being in Europe. Individuals and families benefit directly. Qualifications gained in one country are now recognised across the EU. EU citizens are now free to apply for any job advertised in any EU country.
There have been laws to clean up our air and our beaches, and to combat sea pollution, none of which could ever be achieved by one nation acting alone.
And it was the EU’s collective clout, negotiating together in the world trade talks six years ago, that won a deal which is saving every British household £50 a year.
Britain gains massively from being in Europe. And Britain gains most of all from the single market.
THE SINGLE CURRENCY - COMPLETING THE SINGLE MARKET
With the Single Currency, if you opt out, you lose out.
Because the Single Currency is the crucial missing piece of the single market.
You can’t have a true single market without a Single Currency.
And all the benefits which flow from the single market - and even Conservatives admit that the single market benefits Britain - will be multiplied if we join the Single Currency.
Let me give you an example. David Trethewey is a seed merchant based 30 miles from here, in Sleaford. He grows crops here in Britain and also imports them from the United States, for export overseas.
His customers trade either in French Francs or German Marks, and will trade in Euros, which means that every time he gets paid by them, he loses a slice of the money in transaction costs. Over the course of the average year this adds up to between ten and twenty thousand pounds.
Many of his competitors in France and Germany don’t have this loss, because they get paid in their own currencies to start with. If we were in the Euro that would be true for us too. David Trethewey’s business, and thousands of others like it across Britain, would, collectively, be millions of pounds better off every year.
No wonder opinion polls show three quarters of our business leaders backing British participation in the Single Currency.
But it’s not just business that would gain from the Single Currency. Let me tell you five ways that the average man or woman here in Nottingham would gain from the Euro.
Cheaper mortgages. If we joined the Euro today, a typical £60,000 British mortgage would be around £100 a month cheaper.
Cheaper holidays. There’d be no more bank commissions on foreign exchange.
More jobs. Because a stable currency and lower interest rates mean more investment. Not just from exporters and inward investors, but from any business that needs to borrow to expand - because they’ll be able to do so more cheaply.
Cheaper prices in the shops. At the moment we’re being ripped off - on cars, groceries, electrical goods. A Ford Mondeo in Britain costs half as much again as in Spain. Why? Because of exchange rates, say the manufacturers. They couldn’t get away with it under a Single Currency.
And finally, lower taxes - or, if you wish it, better public services. Because Government borrows too. And just as lower interest rates mean we’d save on our mortgages, so the Government would save on its debt repayments.
And the figures involved are vast. In the Eurozone lower interest rates would save us £5 billion a year. That’s the equivalent of 2p off income tax. Or 250,000 extra nurses. Or 30 major new hospitals.
So, cheaper mortgages. Cheaper holidays. More jobs. Cheaper prices. And, potentially, both lower taxes, and better public services.
Five gains the Euro would bring to the average person in Britain.
Five reasons Britain should vote “yes” to the Euro when the referendum comes.
Five reasons why the Government should hold that referendum as soon as possible.
And five reasons too, to vote Liberal Democrat on June 10th.
Because every Liberal Democrat vote on June 10th will tell the Government they cannot leave Britain on the sidelines of Europe any longer.
By opting out we’re losing out.
CONCLUSION - AMBITIOUS FOR BRITAIN
We need to be more ambitious for Britain.
Britain can take a lead in shaping Europe - if we engage in Europe.
That’s the Liberal Democrat message for June 10th. A strong, ambitious Britain in a strong, democratic Europe.
A better deal for the East Midlands.
A prosperous Britain in a prosperous Europe.
A winning Britain in a winning Europe.
That’s the prize.
And the way to win it is with the Liberal Democrats.