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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Llandudno 1981

David Steel (Liberal)

Location: Llandudno


This conference was the first held since the creation of the Alliance between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. At the time of Steel’s address, unemployment was at its highest level since the 1930s, inflation was rising, public expenditure was decreasing, and there was rioting in the inner cities of London, Manchester and Liverpool. Steel identified four main tasks for the next government, the first of which was industrial reconstruction to boost Britain’s productivity. The second was social reconciliation to rebuild community relations following the riots, while the third was constitutional reform founded on the principle of open and democratic self-government. Finally, the fourth task was to increase Britain’s influence abroad, particularly in Europe.

When we left Blackpool a year ago, it was in a mood of optimism and expectation. The year that has passed has fully justified that mood. The opinion polls during this year have been giving the Liberal Party our highest ratings since 1973; if you take poll ratings for the Liberal-Social Democrat Alliance these are far higher than those ever achieved by our Party alone since opinion polls were invented.

And this year, we have enjoyed the greatest electoral advance of the Liberal Party since 1929, with the election of 400 councillors in every part of Britain and more victories every week. I congratulate all those who have contributed to that solid achievement.

This has been an outstandingly good Assembly.  Don’­t take my word for it, take George Gale in yesterday’­s Daily Express: ‘This is not only the best Liberal Party Assembly I have ever attended; it is the best Liberal Party I have encountered.’ ­ Mind you, we’­ll never convince some of the press.  Our optimism in looking forward to 1981 was not universally shared.  I give you this moving tale from ‘Crossbencher’­ of the Sunday Express:

'Which politician peers into the future with most trepidation on this last Sunday of 1980?  Not Mrs Margaret Thatcher.  She is sure her policies will start to bear fruit in the coming year. Certainly not Mr Michael Foot.  He is convinced he is set firm to be the next occupant of Number 10.  Whose heart, then, is a-flutter with alarm?  I give you the Liberal Leader, Mr David Steel. Nothing, but nothing, is going Mr Steel’­s way.  If ever there was a time, he knows, when the Liberals should be riding high, that time is now.  Yet gloomily he espies a steady slump, and that decline, he fears, could go from bad to catastrophic in 1981.'

If the Liberal advance of 1981 can be described as catastrophic I hope Crossbencher will soon be telling us 1982 will be one long unmitigated disaster.

‘The road over the last few years has certainly been a bumpy one’

It is five years since we were last here in Llandudno, when I made my first speech to you as the Party’s new leader. What an extraordinary five years it has been for all of us. I’ve been looking back to what I said then.

'We are in being as a political party to form a government so as to introduce the policies for which we stand... I do not expect to lead just a nice debating society... we shall probably have - at least temporarily - to share power with somebody else to bring about the changes we seek ... I want the Liberals to be an altogether tougher and more determined force. I want us to be a crusading and campaigning movement, not an academic think-tank nor occasional safety-valve in the political system... the road I intend to travel may be a bumpy one, and I recognise the risk that in the course of it we may lose some of the passengers, but I don’t mind so long as we arrive at the end of it reasonably intact and ready to achieve our goals.'

The road over the last few years has certainly been a bumpy one. Life for the passengers has at times been very uncomfortable and worrying but we’ve lost surprisingly few. Actually, life in the driving seat hasn’t been all that smooth either. But you may have noticed we’ve picked up some hitchhikers.

Here again in Llandudno in 1981 we can see our party more tested, more organised, more mature and more prepared for the final electoral breakthrough.

It is as well for our country that the Liberal Party is so ready. For just look at the state of the nation in 1981. We have the highest unemployment figures since the 1930s. We have an annual inflation rate, which in spite of two years’ so-called priority fight against it, is nearly 12% and now rising again. This month’s tax and prices index was announced this morning at 15%. We have a house-building rate which has sunk to its lowest level since 1948. In fact there are now more homeless people than when the Shelter campaign started. We have a commitment to the escalating costs of Trident which will make our expenditure on Concorde look like pocket money for Dinky toys. We have riots in our city streets with many young people, both black and white, feeling angry and shut out. The nation’s tax burden has increased in the last two years, and yet our educational system is falling apart from the cuts in government expenditure. This government is so penny-pinching that it has even been prepared to cut back the overseas services of the BBC - in which we have justly taken world-wide pride for decades.

It is a grim picture which Britain presents to the rest of the world in this last quarter of the twentieth century - tired, shoddy and mean-spirited - a picture made all the uglier because neither the government nor the official opposition hold out any prospect that they can solve our problems.

Cabinet reshuffles cannot disguise the fact that this Tory government has proved a total failure. Our Prime Minister is a woman who has first turned her back on those who elected her and then had the nerve to claim that the people are behind her. Well, she still had seven per cent of them behind her at Warrington.

Margaret Thatcher has portrayed herself as the nation’s nurse administering nasty but necessary medicine in the belief that whatever short-term pain we may suffer, in the long run it will do us good. I am surprised that as a qualified chemist she seems to have forgotten the warning on every bottle: ‘Caution, it is dangerous to exceed the stated dose.’ When I listen to her I am reminded of Somerset Maugham’s description of her predecessor Neville Chamberlain as ‘sincere, no doubt, and honest, but muddled with self-conceit who put his party before his country, and by his ineptitude and stubbornness brought it to the verge of ruin.’

As for the Labour opposition, who should be riding high in the effort to turn out this government, they claim to be the party of brotherhood, but they seem to have taken their interpretation of it from the earliest biblical example - Cain and Abel. It doesn’t really matter whether Denis Healey or Tony Benn is the bloodstained victor. Neither the bankrupt right nor the hard left of the Labour Party have anything to offer this country any more. Their slide downhill has gone too far. It is irretrievable and irrecoverable. The party’s over.

Michael Foot said the other day that if his party didn’t come to its senses they would generate a decade of Thatcher government. But he’s wrong, because at the next election we intend to provide the British electorate with a wider choice than that between the frying pan and the fire.

It was inevitable that this 1981 Liberal Assembly should be dominated both by public debate and private discussion of our Alliance. This town used to be part of Lloyd George’s constituency. Two years before the great Liberal landslide of 1906, the years which introduced the People’s Budget, the old age pension, unemployment benefit, and the curbing of the powers of the hereditary Lords over the elected Commons, he gave advice which seems just as appropriate today two years or so before the next election. 

We have arrived at one of the most important stages in the history of the Liberal Party. I believe the future of this country largely depends upon the foresight, conviction, courage and devotion to principle of the Liberal Party during the coming years.

Our debates have carried conviction, courage, principle and foresight in full measure in these last few days. The task of putting together our Alliance on the ground throughout the country is not going to be an easy one. We must secure a reasonable balance in our deployment of forces in every area. It will be immensely complicated. It will call for a high degree of vision, of trust and of forbearance both by our party and by the SDP.

It will require trust between our two parties. The members of the SDP who have been here this week have been greatly impressed in their first close contact with the Liberal Party. They have also enjoyed the warmth of their welcome, and we were right to treat them kindly since they’ve come from a broken home - the Labour Party. I hope they won’t mind if I give them one piece of advice: as the ship of the Labour Party sinks, be careful and be discriminating about who you let clamber on board ours. Ours is a ship on a voyage of adventure. Don’t let it become a lifeboat for those whose only real interest is saving their parliamentary or council skins.

It will also require trust within our party. I want to thank you for the very considerable trust you have shown me in what I realise must at times have been a tortuous and anxious period. Now it is my turn to trust you as you proceed to give effect to our Alliance throughout the country. And I do trust you to make a success of it.

The great reforming government I expect us to form with our Social Democratic allies

Our political situation is unique. Political parties normally seek to persuade the public to follow them. For the last few months the voice of the public as registered in the polls has been desperately pleading with our two political parties. Their message has been: ‘get together for our sakes.’ They know our country is at a low ebb. The years of mismanagement have destroyed confidence. Broken promises have bred cynicism. The taste of failure is sour and bitter. We don’t simply face an economic slump in Britain. What we have to deal with is more complex, a crisis of a whole society which has lost its way and turned in upon itself.

The challenge is daunting. It is a challenge to new leadership and new imagination. Four great tasks await the next government: industrial reconstruction - to get the factories, offices and workshops humming with activity again; social reconciliation - to bring together a people divided against each other and restore a sense of the common weal amongst all our peoples; a new constitutional settlement - which makes democratic and open self-government its guiding principle; an international role - which restores our influence abroad and makes us a force for peace and prosperity in the world. These are the four cornerstones of the great reforming government I expect us to form with our Social Democratic allies.

Yes, government. You remember that truly remarkable speech on Tuesday by Jo Grimond. We felt the movement in the hall. But don’t you feel the movement in the country? This Assembly has seen the Liberal Party discard its role of eternal opposition and face up to the realities of power. It is an awesome responsibility. Instead of criticising we must contribute. Instead of shouting on the sidelines, we must take over the game. For I tell you this. When our Alliance government takes office, it will represent the last, best hope for the British people. Our fellow citizens don’t want another set of broken promises - followed by the usual search for scapegoats. They have seen enough of that from the Tory and Labour parties. They want honesty, commitment and imagination. Our Alliance can only succeed if it calls upon the greatest under-used resource of all, the people themselves. Our plan for recovery must depend upon creating a common purpose in which everyone has a part to play. That in turn depends upon us defining clearly what it is we are trying to achieve - and enlisting the help of every man and woman in these islands in our shared hope for the future.

I turn first then to industrial reconstruction, for without that many of our other plans for Britain will remain but pieces of paper. First, an Alliance government will end the damaging nationalisation versus privatisation see-saw so beloved by the Labour and Tory parties. Our task will be to create conditions of maximum efficiency and morale in the public sector and maximum profit in the private sector, and to see each as complementary, not rival to the other. The remorseless trend towards unsuccessful merger, whether in the private or public sector, must be reversed. Smaller units can be more human, more imaginative and more profitable. The axiom that bigger is automatically better will find no place in the new government’s industrial policy.

Indeed, secondly, we must encourage the innovation of small businesses and co-operatives with positive fiscal discrimination in their favour. You remember the Tories’ pledge to help small businesses? Experience has shown that the only sure way to run a small business today in Tory Britain is to start with a large one.

Thirdly, in public spending we could reduce the waste of unemployment by selective forward investment on such essential items as our railways and telephone system and especially on home improvements which would help the building industry and increase our housing stock. I have in mind in particular the need to expand our programme of insulating buildings in the interests of saving energy. Far from saving energy, this government is determined to waste it. Already £500 million of North Sea gas has been burned off into the atmosphere. Another £25,000 million-worth is there to be exploited; and yet Mrs Thatcher has sacrificed the gas-gathering pipeline on the altar of the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. That pipeline would have meant 3,000 jobs in British Steel, as well as assuring long-term supplies to British Gas and future revenue to the British government. What economic madness has gripped the Treasury, that it uses the revenues of North Sea oil to pay people not to work, but is incapable of devising a scheme which would not only put many of those people into work but would bring a profitable return to the Exchequer from one of the richest resources this country has ever possessed? This sheer waste of human and natural resources is downright immoral.

It’s the same story with the Severn barrage, which Liberals have long advocated. It was judged both feasible and economic in a study sponsored by the Department of Energy and published in July - which the government launched with a fanfare of one penny whistle. In contrast, Mrs Thatcher’s nuclear obsessions continue to escalate in price, and the new Pressurised Water Reactor is sanctioned, while fears about safety remain unanswered.

To change not just policies, but attitudes

But the fourth and greatest economic challenge for the Alliance government will be to change not just policies, but attitudes which have thwarted Britain’s industrial progress. Remember the extraordinary levels of high productivity reached during the three-day week? Why do we assume that such successful communal effort is only possible in times of national adversity, be it war or power cuts? Labour and Tory governments have proved institutionally incapable of breaking down the class barriers which bedevil our country more than any other. 

'If you live in what is probably the most advanced political democracy in the world, where individual freedom of thought and action is pursued and respected, how can you expect people to behave differently within the factory fence and office location? How can you expect that people will do things because you tell them to and not because they understand why?'

These are not my words, but those of Sir Ray Pennock, President of the CBI, who is doing so much to try to change outdated attitudes there. But the next government must give a lead in creating a united and fulfilled commercial life in our country - and in this our proposed legislation for profit-sharing and industrial partnership has a major part to play. You remember the tax incentive scheme for employee shareholding we got through in 1978 in the Lib-Lab Pact? Well the figures for 1980-81 show that we've at least made a dent in the institutions domination of the stock market. We have increased by 25% the number of individual adults who own shares in Britain.

Much more could be done to create harmony and therefore efficiency and therefore jobs. So, fifthly, I believe that one of our most important tasks in the next government will be not only to spread the sharing of increased wealth, but to relate our traditional policies of co-partnership to the difficult but crucial question of a prices and incomes policy. There is no need for us to get bogged down in a dispute between the merits of statutory versus voluntary policy. Clearly, we need to secure the widest national consent for it, but its operation must be flexible, not rigid, and adaptable to the different circumstances of different enterprises. If, for example, we recommend a policy involving tax incentives for organisations which settle within agreed guidelines, that is certainly both voluntary and flexible in character but would require statutory authority to operate.

The importance of incomes policy in controlling inflation was the theme of a long study this summer by the American liberal economist J K Galbraith, in which he concluded: ‘The purpose of an incomes and prices policy is to reduce the reliance on fiscal and monetary policy. Both of these work against inflation, but only as they create idle capacity and unemployment. It is one of Britain’s great, useful and painful contributions to economic understanding that it has shown that this is not an economist’s theory; it is a matter of practical experience.’ The country is tired of being the unfortunate experimental model for Mrs Thatcher’s economic advisers.

The Tories said they could do without an incomes policy. Now they’ve got a sort of policy, cobbled together like its predecessors; 4% for the public sector, fear of unemployment for the rest. We don’t pretend that incomes policy is an ideal instrument of economic management. It is not. It involves difficult and frustrating negotiation. Its justification is not that it is agreeable. It is that incomes policy is far superior to unemployment and recession.

Next I want to turn to the question of social reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation without a determined search for social justice. The other day Mr John Alderson, the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, and incidentally formerly deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in a very courageous and forthright statement said: 

'People who are poor and have a chip on their shoulders against society are inclined to say: “I am getting nothing out of life so I am going to be angry.” If society then says: “Okay, you can get as angry as you like, but I have a well-paid fat-cat police force and if you get angry I shall just clobber you,” then we are making a big mistake. One thing is certain - it is no answer to resort to brute force to try to control people.'

Remember the havoc and terror caused by the police raids on Railton Road, Brixton, on 15th July, attacks which moved Lord Scarman to say the damage had caused him ‘an immense amount of distress and that the question of compensation was no substitute’? Remember that these attacks took place at 3 o’clock in the morning, a time normally associated with totalitarian regimes and police states - the knock on the door in the night. The new Bishop of Southwark, whose diocese includes Brixton, said in the House of Lords: ‘The way in which policing has been carried out in Brixton has been a major factor in the deterioration of the situation there.’

We must in the light of all this demand that police actions be made open to an independent complaints body, the present system having proved itself to be wholly and woefully inadequate. That’s fair to the public and fair to the police. They have had a lot to put up with too. Much injury to our police in riots in London, Liverpool and Manchester was caused by outside agitators. I have no doubt that there are people whose main object is to exploit the grievances by fomenting unrest; but they could only have been successful because existing conditions were favourable for them. Mosquitoes can only breed if the water itself is already swampy and stagnant.

I am against day-to-day police administration being interfered with by outsiders as some are advocating, but I do believe it is the task of the government in an elected parliament to lay down the broad policy for our policing - to choose between competing approaches - and I believe we should utterly reject the view of the secretary of the Police Federation that we should ‘forget about the cosy image of Dixon of Dock Green.’ The whole point of Dixon was that he knew and lived among the people he was policing, but you cannot resurrect Dixon of Dock Green if you have demolished Dock Green police station and retreated to centralised office blocks with motorised patrols.

If community policing works in the city of Plymouth it can work elsewhere. In any case community policing is already practised successfully elsewhere - I've seen it in my own constituency, here in North Wales and even in a part of Liverpool. But I’d like to see it everywhere. Liberals say put the policeman back into the community, not just as a law enforcement officer, but as a social leader working with the local people.

‘You cannot dehumanise a whole section of society by taking away their rights’

But it isn’t just policing or unemployment which we should blame for these disturbances. It’s the attitude of successive governments, indeed in the end it’s our own attitudes as well. Governments have propounded the myth that strict immigration laws are necessary for good race relations, whereas this is the exact reverse of the truth. Ever since the dishonourable Act of 1968, and the more squalid one of 1971 which gave the police the vast powers they now so wrongly have with regard to immigration matters, legislation has become steadily harsher, and very naturally community relations have equally steadily deteriorated. You cannot dehumanise a whole section of society by taking away their rights, dividing their families, subjecting them to police and bureaucratic interference and harassment, and then pretend as the Tories do - that great party of the family - that this is all done in the interests of good race relations.

The new Nationality Bill has been brought in by this government very largely to satisfy the ugly side of the Tory Party and the nation - a side to which the Prime Minister herself has made a more than generous contribution. Yet when the clergy, who, being on the spot, are as good judges of the situation as any, voice their criticisms, they are immediately attacked by Tory MPs and the Tory press as ‘trendy lefties’ and told to go back to their task of preaching the Gospel. I noticed that during the debate on the Nationality Bill in the House of Commons, Tory racialism and Tory vituperation of the churches - to the great credit of the church - went hand in hand.

Immigration itself is no longer the central issue. The era of massive immigration into Britain has clearly ended. An increasingly large proportion of the black and brown population of this country are native British, born and bred. We cannot allow them to grow up as second-class citizens. We need more positive action, in education, in employment, to ensure that they can enjoy the same range of rights and opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. A programme for citizen equality must begin with the rejuvenation of our inner cities, where so many of our more recent immigrant families still live; but must extend well beyond, to encompass recruitment and promotions within the government service, and encouragement for affirmative action in the private sector.

The fight against racialism is one of the most important concerns of my political life, and I could not be a member of any Alliance that did not have as one of its major commitments not just the removal of present racist legislation, but a firm and unequivocal determination to establish racial justice, without which racial harmony is impossible.

The third plank in the new government's platform will be constitutional reform. The British constitution was once a fertile source of inspiration for every nation which believed in democratic government and the rule of law. It stood for the will of the majority and the protection of minorities. That is so no longer. The source has dried up and we are left with barren institutions, ineffective and susceptible to take-over by arrogant minorities who want to impose their will on the rest of us.

We need a new constitutional settlement - and I must tell you what an enormous cause of satisfaction it has been to me this year that our Social Democratic allies have come to share the Liberal prescription: the first step must be a genuinely democratic proportional representation system of voting. But we do not stop there. We need devolution of power to the regions and nations of Britain; an end to official secrecy; and far greater protection of the rights of the individual. We have to make real democracy work so well that the pretensions of the Labour left for whom democracy begins and ends with party membership are exposed for the power-hungry sham they are.

A new constitutional settlement means freedom and democracy, but it also means better government, open, participative, and in touch with the people it represents. One of the aims of our constitutional settlement must be the reduction of government, not its increase - one of the fatal flaws in Labour's devolution schemes. This means recreating local government which the Tories seem hell-bent on destroying, first by their changes of 1973, and now by financial strangulation. We must be ready to reduce bureaucracy by streamlining local government, including the abolition of the metropolitan counties in England, the counties in Wales and creating single tiers out of the regions and districts in Scotland.

Nor can we leave Northern Ireland in its acrimonious stalemate. We should take further some of the excellent ideas in our debate this week. Like the new Irish premier Garrett FitzGerald, we want to bring our islands closer together using the opportunities provided by our common membership of the European Community.

This brings me to the fourth objective of the Alliance government, to restore our international influence.

The European Community is wallowing in arguments about butter, fish and wine. My good friend and Liberal colleague, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Foreign Minister of Germany, has put forward some imaginative proposals for reform. President Mitterrand’s new administration, too, is formulating its ideas for a ‘relaunching’ of the European ideal. Yet this Tory government can only see the small change of Europe, not the wider vision. Britain ought to be a major influence on the development of Europe - and a united Europe should be a major influence for peace and security in our world. I applaud the European initiatives on the Middle East and on Afghanistan, but we should be doing far more as a Community to implement some of the major economic recommendations of the Brandt report.

The Tories’ attitude to the grim statistics of world poverty is an international disgrace. They are like the first-class passengers in the bow of a liner saying ‘we’re all right - it is your end of the boat that is sinking.’ We can make no such divisions in our world. The decision to force up overseas student fees was an act of barbarism; in many parts of the world this year I found it one of the most short sighted and damaging from the point of view of Britain’s own long-term economic and political interests.

We have also failed to give united impetus in Europe to a new disarmament initiative. European Liberal leaders have made it clear that we must push the USA and the USSR towards nuclear disengagement. Of course, as we saw yesterday, Liberals have genuine and deeply felt differences on how we can best get disarmament. But if the Soviet Union can be persuaded to withdraw her SS20s, cruise missiles will not be required in Europe. That should be our objective over the next few years.

Unfortunately, our Prime Minister too often gives positive tuition to President Reagan in cold-war rhetoric. It is time we got to grips with President Brezhnev, to get him to translate his fine-sounding speeches into positive actions to reduce the stockpile of terror in the world. For as Einstein once said, ‘if the third world war is fought with nuclear weapons the fourth will be fought with bows and arrows.’ Our commitment to collective western security in the defence of freedom must be maintained. The threat to Poland should remind us of the need for eternal vigilance. And our dedication to liberty means that we must oppose the indifference to human rights which the Reagan administration is showing by its support for such unsavoury regimes as those in South Africa and El Salvador.

‘The expression of a profoundly moral view of human nature and its possibilities’

In selecting these four subjects for my address this year I am not of course attempting to detail all of Liberal policies. I welcome the publication of our mid-term programme, which does that far more adequately. What is important in our Alliance is that we are agreed on the main priorities for a new radical government, while each party is free to develop its own detailed policies.

Liberalism is not just the creed of a political party. It is the expression of a profoundly moral view of human nature and its possibilities. For too long the Liberal values of tolerance, mutual respect and co-operation have been on the defensive against the zealots of right and left. Liberals themselves have sometimes been defensive, with the attitudes and concerns of a persecuted minority. There has even been a tendency to say: keep Liberalism out of politics.

But that time is over. The relevance of Liberalism, which has sometimes been drowned out by the clamour of the extremists, is sharp and clear today. It is time to assert our Liberalism proudly - and nowhere more so than in this new Alliance. We must provide the heart and soul of the Alliance, proud of being Liberals and glad to work with those who have come to agree with us.

The great debate we have had this week about our future has not just been of importance to the party, it has been of supreme importance to the country. There are those who say that the Liberals and Social Democrats are like two teams of people who find themselves on the summit of the same mountain, having got there from different starting places and by different routes. I am not sure that that analogy is entirely correct. Of course we have come by different routes, but I am not certain that the starting place wasn’t in fact the same.

Remember that the social democrats who worked within the Labour Party for years based their creation of the welfare state and the planned economy on the work of great Liberals like Beveridge and Keynes. Somewhere after we left our common starting point they lost their way. The Labour Party took the wrong path, to state socialism, bureaucracy, centralised controls and mandate by caucus - that perversion of democracy. But the social democrats have now found their way to rejoin us.

Our Liberalism must be tolerant of those going through the travail of re-examining political allegiances often held since childhood. I was given a few weeks ago a set of leather-bound speeches of my great predecessor, William Ewart Gladstone. On his way to the historic Midlothian campaign he stopped at Hawick in my constituency and there delivered a short speech which with only a couple of words changed has an uncanny application to our party today: 

'We are comrades in a common undertaking; we are fellow soldiers in a common warfare; we have a very serious labour to perform. The people of this country, and you among them in your place, have to consider what is the system upon which we ought to be governed. We should endeavour to bring about a great and fundamental change in regard to those dangerous novelties which have of late been introduced into the policy of this country, which have disturbed the world at large, and which have certainly aggravated the distress of the nation at home. I believe that in our efforts to return to the sound and just Liberal principles that have commonly distinguished in our time British administration we have in our charge a cause which is the cause of peace, which is the cause of justice, which is the cause of liberty, which is the cause of honour, and which, in the hands of the people of this country by the blessing of God will not fail.'

Our Alliance has caught people’s imaginations. You can see it in opinion polls and in the latest local by-election victories - six more yesterday. Warrington showed it and Croydon will show it again. The voters are responding to the sight of politicians of different tradition but similar persuasion getting together and sinking differences for the common good. They respect an alliance of principle because they can see that an Alliance is the way forward: the Alliance for Britain, where people can be brought together.

An alliance between management and labour, a real partnership to restore pride in our work and confidence in our industry. An alliance between young and old, in which the young are given the chance they need and the old the respect they deserve. An alliance in the economy, between a private sector dedicated to productivity and a public sector committed to service and efficiency. An alliance between black people and white people, so that all the communities of Britain can make a contribution to the solution of our problems. In short, an alliance which pulls our country together - instead of the old parties which have torn it apart.

An Alliance which discards the envy and pettiness of the past, which stands for all the people and our hope for the future. This has been the dream that has sustained the Liberal Party for so many long weary years. Now at last we have the reality in our grasp. We must have the nerve and courage not to let it slip. I have the good fortune to be the first Liberal Leader for over half a century who is able to say to you at the end of our annual Assembly: go back to your constituencies and prepare for government.

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