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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Margate 1979

David Steel (Liberal)

Location: Margate

Commentary:

This conference was the first since the general and local elections of May 1979, in which the Liberals held eleven Parliamentary seats and made significant gains in local government. In this address, Steel argued that the British people wanted a radical alternative to Labour and the Conservatives, and that only the Liberals could provide this. He then identified three qualities that were needed in Britain, the first of which was a spirit of co-operation. In policy terms, this meant profit-sharing schemes, a fair incomes policy and improvements in industrial relations. The second quality was a spirit of thrift, which entailed the careful and efficient use of the country’s land, energy, materials and people, while the third was a spirit of common humanity. This meant a redoubling of efforts to bring about reconciliation in Ireland and the abolition of racist immigration laws.

This has been a confident, united, inspiring and articulate Assembly. The Liberal Party is alive and kicking. That may seem so obvious to those in this hall that it is hardly worth saying. But I say it deliberately because a year ago and throughout last winter and spring so many com­mentators were forecasting our demise. This Assembly ought to have been simply a gathering of the tattered remnant to put the corpse of the Liberal Party decently to rest.

The News of the World told us in an editorial in April that the Party would be ‘surely consigned to oblivion’ in the general election.

The Daily Express told us in August 1977 in an editorial headed ‘The Liberals are finished’ that we could not hold any seats.

Others more generously suggested that Jo Grimond would become leader of the Party yet again because he would be the only Liberal MP left.

In the last few days much of the press has changed its tune - they tell us that we may be poised for a great revival. Like the Trojans of old, ‘timeo Danaos et dona ferentes’ - I beware of the Greeks even when they bring gifts.

We are poised for a great revival - not because the press tell us so, but because of the determination and hard work which we are putting in all over the country. Last week’s Euro by-election in London and yes­terday’s result from Manchester gave us the foretaste of things to come.

The truth is that we not only survived, we did remarkably well in both the Parliamentary and local elections on May 3rd. Never in post-war politics has the Liberal Party emerged so strongly after a period of Labour government.

Just contrast the state of the Party when we last met here in Margate in 1972. Many of you weren’t even in the Party then. We had lost more than half our MPs, had but a scattering of councillors round the country, and stood at 5% in the polls. Yet it was just after Margate in 1972 that our last leap forward started with the by-elections from Rochdale to Berwick.

We began this decade with a general election in which we lost half our seats and polled two million votes. We ended it with an election in which we held eleven seats and polled four million votes together with a remarkable number of gains in local government.

That result didn’t happen by magic. I want to take this chance to thank all of you from my colleagues in parliament and the Party officers, to the constituency workers and the kids who delivered leaflets in the streets for the tremendous effort you all put in to the campaign.

There has been a further significant change. When I came into the Commons in the 1964 Parliament not one of our nine constituencies was an industrial seat taken from Labour. Today Colne Valley, Rochdale and Edge Hill, together with local government advances in places like Tower Hamlets, are proof that the Liberal message has spread from Tory areas deep into the traditional urban and industrial heartlands of the Labour Party.  More important than our present electoral strength at the end of the ’70s is the fact that the role and potential in contemporary politics of the Liberal Party is more understood and accepted than it has been for a long time. In my first speech to you as leader three years ago at Llandudno, I said that we could not build a solid political Party on the basis of being a nice debating society; that we needed to establish ourselves as the vehicle for change; that if we were to do that we should not be afraid to roll up our sleeves and risk muckying ourselves by grasping the greasy levers of power.

And we did. For eighteen months we risked our collective necks in the effort to help pull our country on to a surer path. We learned a great deal in that period, including a lot from our own mistakes. But we achieved a lot.

We showed that the Liberal Party meant what it said. When we made our agreement we stuck to it however rough the going. When we ended it and said it was time for an election we stuck by that too and defied the cries of ‘chicken.’ People know that they can depend on the Liberal Party.

We also demonstrated that when more than one political party pulls together for the country’s sake it can be effective. Of course much of the Lib-Lab pact was drowned in the cries of anguish from the Tories and their powerful friends who simply wanted a Conservative Government as soon as possible.

Well now they’ve got one, and after only five months many of those who voted Tory must be pining for the days when inflation was coming down; when mortgage rates were falling; when industrial confidence was rising; when doctrinaire politics were kept in check; all of which happened during the eighteen months of the Lib-Lab pact.

People now realise that the Liberal Party made a significant contri­bution by putting the country first. We were not found wanting when put to the test. We stand ready to make the even greater contribution which will be needed from us in the future as the crisis deepens.

We stand for an end to the long period of national failure demon­strated by the divisive class politics of the two Parties. They have ruled and misruled our country for thirty-five years. We offered a glimpse of what co-operation for genuinely national policies could achieve.

But thanks to our loaded electoral system we once again find that we are back to one-sided partisan policies now that another minority has grabbed power. The Tories are determined to go it alone in the interests of their ‘side.’ In the face of that we should assert again that it is futile for Britain to go on swinging violently from failure to failure in search of success, from left to right in search of the way ahead. It isn’t just that the pendulum is swinging again but that each swing goes further. The current movement to the far right will inevitably be followed by one to the far left - unless we stop it.

Time is running short. Each successive failure weakens our whole society. When the new Conservative policies of greed and grab fail, as they most surely will, the need for a credible alternative becomes overwhelming. It will be no use going back to state socialism and bureaucracy again. There must be a real alternative.

And it is no good looking to the Labour Party to provide that alter­native. No wonder they prefer to call it the Labour Movement for there is hardly any Party left, so great is their drop in membership. It is only kept alive by the life support system of trade union funds - and the price of that is the block vote.

They are divided between their idiot left and their conservative right. They’re even afraid of such a revolutionary idea as allowing the whole Party, not just those in Parliament, to elect the leader. Now don’t think I’m biased, but it’s not such a bad idea, unless of course you’re afraid of the result. A Party which cannot even manage to reform its own constitution is clearly incapable of reforming Britain.

A Party in decline imbued with the problems and values of sixty years ago may suit a country in decline. But those who want to regenerate our economy and transform our society will have to look elsewhere. One Conservative party is quite enough for any country, but the brand of conservatism towards which Labour is slipping - protectionism, indus­trial stagnation and state control - is particularly unattractive and deeply illiberal.

The Labour conference starts next week. Contrast the mood with which many Labour MPs and delegates approach that grim occasion with the mood here in Margate.

Labour membership is declining. Ours is rising. We deliberate. They recriminate. They are introspective. We are outward-looking.

The fact is that the Labour leadership no longer trusts the Labour Party - and they have reason not to. Many weak constituency organi­sations have fallen into the hands of the sour zealots of the left. The right by contrast is bereft of ideas and enthusiasm.

I want to say this - not so much to Labour MPs and former Ministers - we all know that they have their careers to think of - but to the many people who have supported the Labour Party in the past as the party of conscience and reform. You know it is that no longer, and can never be again. Cut your losses - come and join us.

We share many of your hopes and ideals. The difference is that we mean to do something about them. We need your enthusiasm and com­mitment. And you need us if we are not to have a decade of hard-faced Tory government.

It is our job now to stake out the high ground of politics. There has been little affection for Mrs Thatcher in this Assembly, but we should at least recognise that she is a conviction politician. Convinced - but wrong! We have shown at this conference exactly the same strength of conviction except that we have nobler ideals of individual freedom and development within a responsible and neighbourly community. There is a majority in Britain yearning for a radical alternative. That majority has not yet found its political voice nor used its power. Our task in the next four years is to put together this new majority - to offer the country a prospect of hope after the long nightmare of decline.

For a government to succeed in Britain it needs to be able to transform the atmosphere of politics, to create a different national mood, a sense of purpose, with three basic qualities.

The first is the spirit of co-operation.

A spirit of co-operation throughout our society is difficult to achieve. Yet we pointed the way in private industry with our introduction in last year’s Finance Bill of the tax incentives for profit sharing schemes. The number of such schemes already in operation and in preparation already exceeds two hundred. As one city editor wrote this month with a note of surprise ‘at this rate of progress it will not be long before the company without a scheme is the exception rather than the rule.’

I call on the Tory Government to improve on this modest start. They should double the amount which may be acquired to £1,000 and halve the length of time for which it has to be held to be totally free of income tax to five years.

The concept of sharing the fruits of increased productivity among the workforce should be extended into the public sector and indeed should be the basis of a sustained and effective incomes policy. Trying to impose a 5% limit on everybody regardless of the success of their enterprise as the last Government did in its dying days was a desperate and failed substitute for a coherent incomes policy.

The present Government has abandoned all attempt at controlling the inflation caused by unearned increases in wages. They say that incomes policies are unfair and arbitrary. That is just not true. It is certainly true of sudden and short-lived spasmodic incomes policies of the kind we have seen in successive governments. But no-one has yet tried sufficiently to construct a fair and continuous policy geared both to counter inflation and increase industrial efficiency. Sad though the loss of John Pardoe is from the Parliamentary Party I am glad that he is continuing his pioneering work in this field during his absence from the Commons.

It is one of the more ludicrous features of this Government’s economic policies that the only form of incomes policy they don’t rule out is the most arbitrary and unfair of all, namely a complete wages freeze. Things will be allowed to let rip and then the brakes will be slammed on so that the wheels lock and the passengers - that is all of us - are thrown to the floor.

There is no such thing as industrial relations, only human relations applied to industry. And they are appallingly bad in Britain. Whether it be in The Times newspapers or ITV or manufacturing industry we seem to be incapable of introducing new technology in a co-operative, efficient and commonsense atmosphere.

At Hunterston the new £100 million investment in the oil terminal has lain unused while two unions battle for the allocation of just sixty jobs. These are scandalous breakdowns in human relationships which as a nation we simply cannot afford and which sap our morale as well as our economy.

Here we must look again as Liberals at individual responsibility. It is no good waiting for the trade union movement as a body to reform itself centrally. Jim Prior is right to ask for certain modest reforms on secon­dary picketing and the closed shop but it is really not much use arguing endlessly with the central union leadership. They have become yet another group of out-of-touch bosses of giant institutions. The problems and the opportunities lie on the shop floor and in the branches. We need demo­cratic and decentralised unions.

If you want a classic illustration of the difference between the Liberal approach to the greater distribution of wealth and power in society and the Socialist approach to the same end, you can find it in the argu­ment which ended the Danish coalition government yesterday. The Labour and Liberal partners had agreed on the objective of greater industrial democracy and the sharing of profits.

But the Socialists wanted 10% of company profits to be set aside and paid into a fund to be administered by the TUC, the kind of industrial democracy favoured by Tony Benn in which corporate big brother knows best.

The Liberals would have welcomed a scheme rather like ours where a percentage of the profits of a company are made available to the employees who helped create it.

The objective is the same but the paths chosen have very different results. One leads to centralised socialist bureaucracy. The other gives people greater independence and involvement.

We must press on with policies which encourage the maximum of harmony and co-operation plant by plant. It is no good trying to blame a minority of reds under the bed for hijacking their fellow workers into hastening the downfall of a free society. The blame lies just as much with the manager who doesn’t manage and with the good decent trade unionist who having paid his union dues never bothers to turn up to a branch meeting - or stays silent when he should speak out.

In housing, all the Tories offer us is the simplistic policy of selling houses to tenants. Nothing wrong with that in the right places, but far more serious are the human crises we have created, with private housing young couples can’t afford, and with vast council estates administered from afar. Self-governing tenants’ co-operatives must be the key to restor­ing self-respect, control and morale in these areas before it’s too late and we find ourselves having to bulldoze more than just tower blocks.

If we are to have a national spirit of co-operation the leadership, example and policies must come from parliament from the top as well as the grassroots. The Tories are just not capable of that.

The second necessary quality in rebuilding Britain is a new spirit of thrift.

I am glad this Assembly has made a start on debunking the idea which has dominated politics in my adult life that economic growth is an auto­matic cure-all.

The fact of the matter is that in a world of finite resources high rates of annual expansion in the production of manufactured goods cannot continue indefinitely - and what is more, even if we wanted short-term economic growth, we aren’t going to have it for some years.

So instead of wringing our hands and saying ‘if only’ – let’s face up to reality and start to adjust our economic and social priorities now. For instance both Right and Left in this country have hoped that continuing economic growth would allow them to avoid the awkward questions of the distribution of wealth and income. It’s time we realised that an incomes policy and a philosophy of fair shares are not just a desirable extra but the key to holding our society together in the lean years ahead.

A much better way of measuring our economic activity than crude calculations of growth is its effectiveness in using and re-using resources. This country has resources, natural, mineral and human. How well do we use them? - for waste is a real enemy of a stable and balanced society.

Let me take energy first of all. Each successive oil crisis, like the advance symptoms of a heart attack gives us a warning. We are begin­ning to scrape the bottom of the treasure chest of stored energy accumu­lated over millions of years - and nearly exhausted by our civilisation over two centuries. In Britain we are relatively fortunate: oil, coal and gas give us a decade or two of extra breathing space.

So what has been this Tory Government’s reaction? Have they treated energy use as a priority? They have not. They have cut back 20% of the pitifully small budget on research into alternative clean energy sources. They have relied on price increases to cut back consumption of oil and petrol. They have done nothing about conservation except talk. The only positive movement has been a rush towards nuclear power which fills most civilised people with gloom and foreboding. Mrs Thatcher seems hell bent for Harrisburg. She insisted recently on having her photograph taken standing on top of a nuclear reactor core ‘to show that it was quite safe.’ The national debate on energy policy does not deserve to be treated in such a simplistic and trivial manner.

What we must have instead of this mixture of inaction and rash impetuosity is a national energy plan for the rest of this century. It needs fuller information and democratic discussion but the main outlines are clear:

First, a massive programme of conservation led and backed finan­cially by the Government, covering factories, offices and homes. According to a Parliamentary Answer I received just before the recess, 60% of council houses have no loft insulation and 29% have unlagged hot water tanks.

Second, an expansion of energy-efficient public transport rather than its continuing run down. 

Third, large scale research and development into clean and renewable resources like wave, wind and sun.

Fourth, a careful development of the coal industry as both extraction and burning techniques are improved. 

Fifth, a halt to the dangerous and unbelievably costly expansion of the nuclear industry.

To develop a really imaginative plan along these lines which everyone can understand and play their part in would be a major step towards a thrifty and resource conscious society.

Then there is the basic question of food supply. The petro-chemical age of agriculture with its indiscriminate destruction of nature has passed its peak. This means that we shall need to employ more people in growing food and to find more productive acreage as well. I saw for myself on a hill farm in Roxburghshire last week how barren land can be dramatically improved. We also need more smallholdings and allotments on derelict city sites and, perhaps most important of all, a halt to the seizing of prime agricultural land for endless urban development.

As the North Sea oil bonanza runs out we shall have desperate trouble paying our way in the world. Any responsible government must ensure that our long-term food supply is secured with less dependence on imported food.

The examples of waste are legion: the elaborate plastic packaging, the derelict sites in cities, the flaring of gas on North Sea rigs, the queues of cars each with one occupant, the washing machines that have to be replaced because they cannot be repaired. But there is one form of waste which makes me angry above all other.

It is the waste of young lives in the dole queue. I find absolutely intolerable the attitude of free-market Conservatives who cynically see the unemployed as the necessary casualties of industrial war. Unemploy­ment could even rise to two million next year. We just cannot accept that.

Of course employment is affected by the level of industrial activity, but it is affected far more by technology and industrial organisation. As Liberals we believe that more local enterprises on a smaller scale would not only provide a more satisfactory way of life but would produce more jobs as well.

And isn’t it time we faced up to a shorter working week, not as a way of creating phoney overtime but to make us all shorter-time workers instead of having two classes, the employed and the rejected. More time to grow food, more time to improve our homes, more time for our children, more time for continuing education, more time for recreation, the arts or sport. These are all part of a full and satisfying life, just as work itself should be.

A thrifty country, one that uses and conserves its resources carefully and efficiently - its energy, its materials, its land and above all its people - could be stable and self-sustaining. A wasteful society such as ours is destined for the scrap heap.

The third quality required in Britain today is a spirit of common humanity.

In Northern Ireland the religious and political divisions represent a fundamental denial of that spirit. Since the problem of Ireland has be­devilled all British Governments in varying degrees for centuries it would be foolish to pretend that there is any instant solution. Our troops have been ten years in Ulster. In fairness to them we cannot contemplate a further ten years without any new political initiative. Sadly the recent talks between Mrs Thatcher and Mr Lynch appear to have concentrated on the important but in my view secondary question of security. If the men of violence are to be defeated the politicians must show greater imagination.

There needs to be a new element introduced into the situation which has become rigid, with all the participants including Britain locked in fixed positions. Our common membership of the European Community should be used to move both parts of Ireland towards reconciliation. If the European Community is to be more than just a common market, as we believe it must, here is a great opportunity for it to live up to its name.

Tomorrow the Pope arrives in Ireland. Let us hope it will mark the beginning of a genuine attempt by everyone to isolate the evil men by creating there this spirit of common humanity.

Such a spirit is also glaringly absent in the field of race relations.

One of the nastier elements in the Conservative manifesto, repeated in the Queen’s Speech, was the pledge to tighten up the immigration laws, odious and Draconian though these already are. It was appalling to read of the Patel children deported from this country although their mother is a British citizen, because she in desperation had brought them in without entry papers.

A white British mother doesn’t need entry papers for her children or have to watch them deported. So what hypocrisy it is for the Tories to say that once here everybody is treated equally and to proclaim the virtues of family life when the Government's own legislation discriminates and imposes such appalling hardships and division on so many families.

I have always had a very strong view of the right and responsibility of the individual MP to protect his own constituents. Naturally MPs find themselves disturbed and distressed at the harsh treatment of their con­stituents under the arbitrary immigration rules. Now the Junior Minister at the Home Office, Mr Raison, says he is contemplating removing the right of MPs to intervene in such cases because they cause too much work for him and his department.

I have a perfect solution to this self-created problem - abolish these harsh rules and his overworked department may perhaps find some better work to do.

In July, eleven Anglican Bishops, including the new Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a remarkably courageous and compassionate statement. They openly stated that Mrs Thatcher’s remarks about immigration ‘had the effect of fanning racial prejudice.’ The Bishops then went on to say:

'Existing legislation already strikes at the root of the family life of our coloured brethren. Further legislation can in the end only degrade the society which demands and enacts it even more than it does its victims.'

But the only response that Mrs Thatcher and her Government are likely to have to what Bishop David Sheppard of Liverpool has called ‘the hurt cries of the shut-out people’ is to increase their suffering. But we in this Party must keep ourselves endlessly aware of them, and we pledge ourselves to fight unceasingly here for them and for all those who have no-one to fight on their behalf.

In an article written just before the election, Professor Michael Dummett had this to say about the Conservatives:

'Their policies fill me with alarm, but it is their instincts that I distrust the more; their instincts are always to favour the fortunate over the unfortunate, the important and respectable over the down­trodden and those of little account. Britain under the Conservative Government is likely not only to be a bitterly divided nation, but one that can be counted on to be on the side of injustice in almost every international dispute, and will earn even more merited hatred for being so.'

All that Professor Dummett has to say about the instincts of the Tory Party has been amply borne out not just in race relations, but in the way their slashing of public expenditure cuts beyond the fat and deep into the muscle of our Welfare State. It was seen too in their belated and nig­gardly response to the desperate plight of the refugees from Vietnam and Kampuchia.

And what supreme folly it is to make the miserable cuts in expen­diture on the work abroad of the British Council and the overseas service of the BBC, at a time when we are supposed to be fighting the battle for the minds of men.

Even more squalid has been the cut of £50 million from Overseas Aid in the last Budget - to be balanced in exactly the way Professor Dummett describes, by huge tax reliefs to the wealthiest members of society.

Truly the Prime Minister has reversed the words of the Magnificat. She has filled the rich with good things and the hungry she has sent empty away.

So these three qualities are needed from our national leadership, a spirit of co-operation, of thrift and of common humanity. I said during the election that I believed neither the Tory nor the Labour Party was capable of solving the country's problems on its own. Neither of them is capable of adopting the sort of forward-looking national approach I have just described which cuts right across our industrial and social divisions.

Everything that has happened since the election has proved the point. Conservative policy has not been established in a spirit of co­operation, it has not shown a spirit of thrift, and it is conspicuously short on common humanity. Conservatism has very soon come back to its essentials: greed and fear. Greed for the powerful and pushy - fear for the rest.

If you earn £20,000 a year or you want to buy a villa in Spain or you are a speculator in agricultural land, this has been a good year for you. If on the other hand you are an average family trying to make ends meet it has got worse and worse. This winter it will get worse still unless you happen to be a member of a powerful union with an open invitation from the Tories to join the free-for-all. It’s a far cry from the easy promises of that slick Tory advertising in the run up to the Election.

So once again the national welfare is sacrificed to the ideology of one ‘side’ in the class war. And yet Ministers keep claiming they have a mandate:

A mandate for 17% inflation.

A mandate for widespread national bankruptcy.

A mandate for higher unemployment.

A mandate for selling off our national assets.

Each successive divisive and dangerous policy is justified by this claim of a mandate from the people. It has a nice legal ring about it, but it is a fake

Have the Conservatives forgotten that this Tory Government has less public support than any other Tory Government since the war - and each one of them was elected by a minority?

Have the Conservatives forgotten that their Parliamentary majority only exists because of a fraudulent and discredited electoral system?

Mrs Thatcher used to be very eloquent about the iniquities of Socialism imposed on the country with the support of only 29% of the electorate. Presumably her 33% makes all the difference. She should stop waving her phoney mandate at us.

She would do better to search for policies that have national support. But of course she will not. The best we will get out of this Government are some desperate U-turns when things go wrong.

It is more and more apparent that we shall have to be standing by with a genuine alternative, around which all the sensible and progressive forces in Britain can unite.

Right wing dogmatism supported by a public minority and backed by one vested interest is not going to succeed.

Neither can left wing doctrines backed by another minority and another vested interest. They’ve both been tried and found wanting.

It is only by collecting together a new majority free from these class interests that we will have a Government with the strength to shake Britain out of the long record of post-war decline and introduce the necessary reforms.

After the election I received very many letters. Overwhelmingly they supported our willingness to co-operate with other Parties in the national interest. We obviously struck a chord in an electorate which has become understandably suspicious of partisan politicians.

The willingness is still there on our part. But our electoral system again and again allows Tory and Labour minorities to seize power without constructing a proper majority for their programme. Time is running perilously short. The whole political and economic situation continues to deteriorate.

I believe that we must respond. In the past we have shown that we can be a responsible junior partner moderating extremism. But now we can and we must do more.

We have to be the basis for developing the political and economic alternative which the country so badly needs. We have to provide a rally­ing point on the high ground of politics for all those weary of the swamps. We have to accept that the gravity of the situation needs more than just Liberal participation. It needs Liberal leadership.

But that puts a heavy responsibility upon the Party. It means looking outward - it means bringing together men and women of goodwill, whatever their political persuasion in the past, who want to join with us in this historic task. We must be more than a Party, preoccupied with our own welfare. We must be the focus for a great movement of reform.

We have to bring together this new majority. All those who will walk with us on this road are our friends and allies. We must get organ­ised. We must make them welcome.

We have to recreate the great coalition of idealists, progressives and radicals which supported and sustained the Liberal Party of our grand­fathers. We have to bring together into one political movement those on whom the Labour Party has turned its back: the poor, the unemployed, the libertarians driven by opposition to socialism into the Conservative camp, and from the other side the moderates whose ideas the Conser­vative leadership has now decisively rejected. We have to gather in, as well, the trade unionists who want co-operation rather than confrontation in industry; those up and down the country creating new forms of co­operative enterprise; the new generation in the professions, in education, in the social services: and all those who care for our environment and our cultural heritage. Many of our natural allies are at present outside the boundaries of conventional politics, working in voluntary organisations, community bodies, and campaigning groups. I say to them: we are on the same side, let us work together.

This new majority is searching for new policies, free from the narrow­ness of class and dogma. New policies but based on old values. The values of freedom and brotherhood. They want a society they can be proud to pass on to their children, where every man and every woman can lead life to the full. A life in which the secrecy, mistrust and bitterness of modern Britain is banished - and fear is replaced by hope. We should not hesitate to be ambitious. This Party has changed a great deal in the last three years. We’ve learned a lot about hard politics.

Some people have still to recognise the change. A well intentioned editorial this week expressed gratitude that the Liberals were around because we would keep the Tories on their toes. But that’s not our func­tion. I don’t want the Liberal Party to be just the political equivalent of going jogging.

Putting over the Liberal case is not always easy. Like all of you, I have an occasional sense of exasperation bordering on despair. It must have shown fleetingly in a broadcast interview I gave in the exhaustion of the day after the General Election. Suddenly I received an avalanche of hundreds of encouraging letters from some of you in this hall and from complete strangers outside the Liberal Party. I was moved. I was grateful. I was encouraged. I’d like to finish by quoting just one of these from a fourteen year old Manchester schoolgirl:

'Please don’t give up now. Keep fighting. You can still win. I know I’m not the only one who is fed up with the insulting two party slanging match that goes on in this country. We rely on you to stop this and put us back on the rails. In five years I may be up there fighting with you. I hope this letter has not wasted too much of your valuable time. Lots of love to both you and your wife and family.'

Then she added as a PS some words of an American President:

'Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. The watch­word ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.'

That young girl unwittingly echoed the magnificent call of W.E. Gladstone:

'Be inspired with the belief that life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing that we are to shuffle through as we can, but an elevated and lofty destiny.'

My message is press on. Ours is a great and noble calling.

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