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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Harrogate 1983

David Steel (Liberal)

Location: Harrogate

Commentary:

This conference was the first since the Conservatives’ victory in the June 1983 general election and, for the Alliance, the largest third party vote since 1923. To build on this success, Steel identified five priorities for the Alliance over the next five years. They were: the economy, and particularly the problem of unemployment; the ‘maintenance and revival’ of the public services; a reduced role for government; the reinvigoration of local government; and a new role for Britain in international politics.

As you may have heard I took a few days off this summer. But I’m back now and I must say you’re all looking a good deal better for it.

I did notice that during my absence my own rating in the Gallup poll reached record levels. There must be a moral in this somewhere.

I saw this week that another party leader was asked by a reporter whether her hectic day trip to Holland had been too much for her. She replied, and I quote: ‘It might be too much for a normal person, but after all it is me,’ or as Miss Piggy would say, ‘C’est moi.’

Talking of ‘The Muppet Show’ reminds me, I must thank Alan Beith for looking after the parliamentary party in my absence.

But seriously, I am sure you will agree from what you have seen at this Assembly how lucky Alan as Chief Whip and I as Leader are to have such talented new additions to our team.

This 1983 Assembly meets three months after a general election which has seen the return of the largest Liberal Party in the House of Commons since 1935. For our Alliance it was the largest third party vote since 1923. We have made a remarkable climb back from our seven hundred thousand votes in the 1951 election to our seven and a half million votes on June 9th this year.

So my first words must be of warm congratulation to everyone in the party who has contributed to this achievement. I have had a chance to thank many of you personally in the last few days. But for those outside this hall who supported us so magnificently during the campaign - my heartfelt thanks. Of course we still have a long way to go to reach power - the power to implement Liberal policies - but another leap forward at the next election, of the same size as this last one, will see us there.

For let this be clearly understood, the scale of our achievement has been masked only by the cruel distortions of our electoral system. In what other democracy could the official opposition poll 27.6 per cent of the popular vote and get 209 seats while our Alliance polling just 2 per cent less got only 23? In what other democracy could the Government suffer a loss of support of 1½ per cent of those voting, polling the lowest Conservative vote since Bonar Law, and yet end up with such an increased majority capable of being described wholly incorrectly as a ‘landslide’ in their favour?

I warn Tory and Labour politicians as they sit and manipulate a House of Commons which is now wholly unrepresentative of popular opinion that they go on doing so at their peril. A democracy which is deliberately insensitive to the real changes in public feeling sows the seeds of its own destruction. As I found on the doorsteps in the Penrith by-election, and as our remarkable vote there showed, there is now an enormous wave of public sympathy and support for the cause of electoral justice.

And I also warn them that while we fully support the all party Campaign for Fair Votes, we Liberals are not going to sit around whingeing: ‘we was robbed.’ It is my intention that we regroup and mobilise our forces to go on to win the next election under the present system and then to change it.

It has been said that the weakness of our Alliance is that our vote was evenly spread; that we piled up 313 second places throughout the land but that our vote was insufficiently concentrated in specific areas. That may be a short-term weakness but I believe it to be our long-term strength. We do appeal to all ages and classes and regions.

That is something neither of the other parties can any longer claim. How can the Tory party possibly pretend to be a genuinely national party when with their inflated majority they cannot muster a single MP in the great cities of Glasgow or Liverpool?

The Labour Party has been almost wiped out throughout the whole of the south of England below the London to Bristol line. There is one other feature of the last election which is highly significant and merits greater recognition. Ever since 1950 the Liberal Party has been caricatured as the lost deposit party. In that election we lost 319 deposits and Labour lost none. At this election we lost just five deposits - the same number as the Conservative Party. But Labour candidates lost their deposits in 119 constituencies. The mould of British politics many not have been smashed at this election, but we have cracked it beyond repair and it will not be used again.

What does that mean for us?

First and foremost it means we must start to look like a potential government. It means that without question our Alliance with the SDP must continue. The sight of two parties working together for the common good for the first time since the war has had dramatic impact. It must not only continue but develop organically and democratically at every level. Inevitably at the beginning of our Alliance a lot of ad hoc decisions had to be made at the top. Now we must move on from that.

It means developing policy with our allies over the next few years instead of waiting till the manifesto drafting period. We have set an example already in Parliament by creating groups to co-ordinate policy.

We must let the local friendships and partnerships, forged in the election, grow stronger. But at the same time, our proper commitment to decentralisation should not go so far as to leave us looking like a loosely-knit rag-bag with people free to act against the spirit of the Alliance in their region, city or constituency. The Alliance has meant and will mean taking and accepting some tough decisions.

We have worked out a way of fighting European seats together which will require us to respect each other’s rules but which I am sure will be successful. In the coming discussions on Westminster seats we must be careful not to upset the excellent local understanding which now exists in the great majority of constituencies by initiating any attempt at a general reshuffle.

In the relatively small number of constituencies where either Liberals or Social Democrats seek change, it is essential that both parties face up to the obligation of sorting things out together fairly and locally. That is the way to avoid another round of national involvement and intervention.

But important as ‘who fights which seat’ may be to the two parties of the Alliance, it is not what matters to the voters, They want to know and they are entitled to know whether the Alliance has worked out answers to the growing problems of Britain.

That means that, we must think together and we must campaign together on the great issues of our country’s future. I want the Liberal Party to be a Thinking and Campaigning Party. I want us to be a Thinking and Campaigning Alliance.

Between 1974 and 1979 the Tory privateers captured the political debate. They imposed their ideas upon the national agenda.

Now it is up to us to recapture the intellectual initiative. Their ideas have proved impractical and their ideology barren, but it is up to us to show that we can do better. We must redefine and sharpen up our policies in a way that is both adventurous and responsible. We must command the debate.

Our policies must be developed step by step with our allies over the coming years. We must not be afraid to hammer out our differences. We must be willing to advance new plans and ideas which draw upon the traditions of Liberalism and Social Democracy to solve the crisis of our time. Like Keynes and Beveridge in their day we must be innovative and ambitious. The Tories believe they have so cowed the British people that all sense of confidence has ebbed away. ‘A frightened nation is a conservative nation,’ they say to themselves.

We must prove them wrong by being prepared to put forward bold and radical plans for the renewal of Britain, and we must campaign vigorously upon them. I am determined that the very special style of campaigning which Liberals have developed so successfully over the past two decades should not be confined to local issues.

The Party in the Alliance must take its case to the people. We must take our campaign for the renewal of Britain into every home in this country with a message that will rekindle the hope which Tory policies have done so much to destroy.

It is to the contents of that campaign that I want to divert your attention today. Over these next four years we must work together in five key areas of policy, to sharpen our impact.

I begin with the economy. In a speech during the election Sir Geoffrey Howe had the nerve to claim ‘we have created and will maintain a stable economic environment. Business confidence and employment opportunities are growing.’ Scarcely a day of the election passed without some Tory minister assuring us that recovery was just round the corner or that light had been sighted at the end of the tunnel. We now know that the June recovery was an illusion. How bitterly I find CBI members resenting that their leaders were swept along in the Tory euphoria.

This month the National Institute of Economic and Social Research told us that the growth expected in the economy over the next 18 months would be ‘too low to make any mark on unemployment.’ This Government, faced with the problems of a world recession, has deliberately used unemployment as its sole means to control inflation. By cutting public expenditure they have reduced productive economic activity and added an extra British recession on top of the world one.

The Government’s financial targets for 1983 are the most restrictive of any of the big seven Western economies. The Tories cannot deny that since they took office in 1979 our industrial production has slumped seven times faster than the OECD average. Over the same period Britain had by far the worst record on overall output of all the 24 OECD member states.

The National Institute’s report goes on to say, ‘it is difficult to see a significant and national reduction in unemployment taking place without a fairly substantial stimulus.’ That is precisely what we called for before and during the election and we do so again today.

I must make it clear that when we oppose Tory economic policies and present our own alternatives we are not just talking of detailed changes here and there. We are saying that the present economic policies stem from a crude political philosophy that we Liberals find socially irresponsible and wholly unacceptable. Today’s Tories are fired with the Friedmanite view that human improvement can only be achieved by unrelieved competition. We reject that view.

So do a long list of Tories who nowadays sound like a roll call from distant history: Soames, Gilmour, Carrington, Pym. The Prime Minister instead surrounds herself with the new hard-faced men who share her failed dogmas: Lawson, Brittan, Parkinson, Tebbit. I hear the BBC is trying to negotiate for a series of documentaries on the workings of cabinet. I have a title ready for them if they succeed: ‘Yes Prime Minister.’

But it is a tragedy, not a comedy. The new Thatcher Tories are like the Prime Minister herself totally out of touch with the harsh reality of the life they have created for many of our people. I say they are out of touch because I believe that is true of leading Tories today. The only other and much less charitable explanation is that they do know and don’t care.

The number of families caught in the poverty trap has doubled since they came to power four years ago. The Government’s lack of concern about this reminds me of the Victorian Archbishop of Dublin who suggested to the Poor Law Enquiry Commission that all paupers should be tattooed on the foot or some other place so as to deter them from begging or receiving additional relief. He also suggested that any female receiving relief should have her hair cut off, pointing out with true devotion to the market economy that a good head of hair would fetch from 5 to 10 shillings, which represented a fortnight’s maintenance. These are the Victorian values we can do without.

Whole areas of our great cities are so riddled with unemployment that we now have a law and disorder problem of serious proportions. Our newspapers week by week bring us reports from the courts of suicides brought on by failure to find work. NHS prescriptions for sedative drugs have shown an alarming and costly increase in areas of high unemployment. The picture of despair among the young who’ve never had a job is matched only by the prematurely retired people in their 50s who fear they will never work again.

Let the Prime Minister listen to the words of her great predecessor Disraeli instead of the false prophets she has been following: ‘It is community of purpose that constitutes society. Without that men may be drawn into contiguity but they still continue virtually isolated.’ It is that community of purpose which is so devastatingly lacking in the philosophy of this Government - leading to the creation of two nations between whom Disraeli saw ‘no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were inhabitants of different planets.’ That is the main achievement of the Thatcher philosophy today. She and her advisers have perverted the Liberal concept of liberty. We believe that unless participation in the fullness of life in our country is treated as a right for all, liberty remains an empty word, a pretty veil behind which privilege may thrive.

So our first duty as an Alliance must be to advocate constructive ways of putting people back to work. And so the second priority of the Alliance is the maintenance and revival of our country’s public assets. The way they have been eroded by the Tories is a scandal. Because of our Liberal inheritance from the days of Lloyd George we are particularly incensed at the erosion of our health and social services.

The Tories have partly succeeded in persuading our people that as a nation we have been living in the lap of luxury, enjoying benefits in excess of other countries and which we cannot afford. This is just not true. I found when I was in Canada during the summer that our Liberal colleagues there spend more of their Gross National Product on health than we do. They have more doctors and more hospital beds than we do per 1000 population. The same is true of Australia.

What economic and social lunacy it is to have empty wards, longer waiting lists, and nurses and ancillary workers drawing unemployment benefit. What a tragedy that at a time of falling school rolls and empty classrooms we should have teachers in the dole queue instead of improving the quality of our education by reducing class sizes.

The crude and intermittent financial attacks on our universities and colleges have meant the abandonment of the right to higher education which all post-1960 governments until this one supported. We have been failing to invest in our material infrastructure and in private industry. To add on top of these the failure to invest in the skill of our people for the future is disgraceful.

Mrs. Thatcher claims to be a disciple of Winston Churchill, but she is highly selective in her knowledge of him, for in his book The People’s Rights he dealt at length with the need for the public utilities and went on to say that ‘the State must increasingly and earnestly concern itself with the care of the sick and aged, and above all, of the children.’ Today’s Tories are doing the very reverse, and in the process frittering away the benefits of our greatest contemporary asset, North Sea oil. Let us therefore in our Alliance renew our faith in the public assets of this country - our railways, airports, road network; our coal, gas, electricity, steel and shipbuilding, to replace public shoddiness with public pride.

The industrial world may be running out of jobs in the ordinary sense, but it is certainly not running out of work. There is plenty waiting to be done - enough to restore everybody’s self-respect and give meaning to their lives.

There is a lot of nonsense talked about the wisdom of growth, about this country having to choose between jobs and the environment. Mrs. Thatcher has proved that isn’t true. She has succeeded in destroying both at the same time.

On the contrary, the right investment in the repair and rehabilitation of this country we could get the economy moving, get people back to work and enhance and conserve our precious physical environment for future generations.

There is a massive job to be done in reclaiming our inner cities, in repairing, insulating and refurbishing old housing stock, in cleaning up urban wastelands and building new parks and playing fields.

That’s the way to get the construction industry moving again, not by building a new rash of commuter towns deep in the Green Belt.

Yet Mrs. Thatcher cannot escape from the prison of her own ideology.  For her, energy use can only be limited by putting prices up. For her, land is a commodity to be bought and sold by her friends in the City, not a precious national asset. For her, public investment is anathema - even if it helps encourage private industry to get going again.

So we have been condemned to another four years of these squalid and short-sighted policies which will leave a landscape of dereliction behind them, with concrete where there should be green fields and city slums where there should be thriving communities.

The opportunity to use this time of economic crisis to create a more sustainable society is there for the taking. We must do it before the North Sea oil runs out, poured away by a deeply irresponsible government on a wave of imported foreign goods.

I want future generations to look back and say: This, our generation of political leadership, had the sense and foresight to build a country which is fit for us to inherit.

My third theme is that we must search for an enhanced role for the individual in our society. ‘Less government’ is a legitimate demand in our over-bureaucratic society. It. means more autonomy for individuals, groups, regions, businesses, organisations, decentralised groups of all kinds. We Liberals have long proclaimed the need for partnership in industry. The message is catching on slowly but surely, yet we have still not given this subject the priority it deserves. We should spell out the advantages of our policy in far more dramatic terms.

Why for a start should we not require all nationalised industries to operate genuine industrial partnership? One of the most original speeches at the TUC this year was made by Bill Sirs, the leader of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, when he said that the labour movement had with the best of intentions created monsters out of the public industries. ‘Under nationalisation,’ he said, ‘we the shareholders have no mechanism for controlling them at all.’ He is absolutely right. I believe the whole public sector would be much more efficient if those who work in it were given a proper say in its running. Indeed where possible, as in British Leyland, a cash share in its increased productivity and success. That is the way to greater prosperity for the nation and satisfaction for the workforce.

In the private sector the government should not order industry into new forms of organisation but it should give far larger tax carrots for those who switch to approved partnership schemes. We should as a movement study and publicise those firms like Baxi Heating who have in recent years successfully adopted partnership principles, and look at experience overseas. In America for example the airline People’s Express makes it a prior condition of employment that you own at least 100 shares in the company and if you haven’t got the money they will let you pay by instalments out of your wages. The chairman of the company declares that everyone in his company is a. manager. Everyone makes between a quarter and half their basic salary through profit sharing. The firm operates with half the usual ratio of employees to aircraft and the result is lower fares for the customer.

Let us inject some zeal into our advocacy of these policies. It is only through them that we can for example get an incomes policy generally accepted as a more civilised method of controlling inflation than unemployment. It is only through industrial partnership that we will break down the class barriers which so bedevil our national life and which are in the interests of the Conservative and Labour parties to maintain. It is only in an atmosphere of co-operation that we will get people to face the necessary reappraisal of work in the face of the new technologies.

One of the central issues of the world of tomorrow is how do we transform our dependence on jobs into a wider dependence on activity, including part-time work, education, leisure and voluntary assistance in developing the otherwise costly personal social services in an ageing society. Our Alliance parties still have a great deal of thinking to undertake in this area.

My fourth theme is that our Alliance demonstrates a coherent and well thought out concern for our future human environment, and especially the health of local government as the main agency for securing this.

A deep concern for the individual is the heart of our approach. But that means safeguarding his liberties and rights from bureaucratic intrusion; it means exercising a firm control over the pace of technological change so that the new technology remains our servant and not our master; it means giving the citizen rights of access to information; it means proper protection for ethnic and other minorities - giving equality before the law, providing equality of opportunity, whether in education or in work, and welcoming cultural diversity. Let us live up to our Party’s constitutional aim that none should be enslaved by a narrow mass conformity.

And it means rejecting those who would impose a set blueprint of what constitutes human happiness whether that be the product of Tory paternalism or State socialism.

That is why a responsive, open and alive system of local democracy is so important.

But over the last four years we have seen a relentless assault on local government, with a procession of White Papers, legislative proposals and a maze of mind-numbing and unworkable financial formulae. These financial controls are imposed with no regard to the human consequences, and are constraints which central Government would not dream of accepting in Whitehall.

Of course there may be provocation from authorities controlled by the Labour left. I have a peace proposal to make. Mrs. Thatcher should promise to stop trying to run the GLC if Ken Livingstone will stop trying to run the country.

The greatest damage has been caused to local government by forcing it to be an instrument of the Government's monetarist obsessions. My own regional council earlier this month warned me that maintenance of services in the Borders - our roads, bridges, school buildings - is gradually disintegrating.

There is a desperate need to spend more merely to get back to the standards of 10 years ago. But instead, the Government permits only a ludicrous 2.6 per cent for inflation next year. We all know that inflation is going to be much more than that. Therefore inevitably there will be a serious reduction in real terms in local authority services.

Now we have the latest proposals for rate-capping - hitting at the remaining power local authorities have to raise their own funds and set their own level of services. So my Regional Council cannot even remedy this disastrous position by its own actions, Is it any wonder that councillors feel there is little point in giving up their time in service to local government when it’s so hamstrung by central government?

If we believe in local democracy, we are going to have to fight for it. We have our shock troops on the ground, 2,000 Liberal councillors ready to take the argument into their council chambers and on to the Government itself.

Together our MPs and councillors must unfurl the banner of local freedom.

I now turn to the last of my five points, but by no means the least - the assertion of a new international role for Britain. Some say we found that role in the Falklands. We did not. I have been unstinting in my praise for our military achievement. We backed the expeditionary force because we backed the rule of law and the United Nations charter so brusquely ignored by the Argentine Junta. We paid a heavy price for those principles and for rescuing the Falkland Islanders from the cruel invasion. Some of our fellow citizens paid the ultimate price. The triumph was one in which we all shared.

But the ugly jingoism which once or twice surfaced in the Prime Minister’s vocabulary during that war has led to the most outrageously futile policy in peace - that of Fortress Falklands. Here we have a Government which at every turn tells us how it must limit public expenditure in every direction, seriously proposing to spend (on the garrison, new airports and other services in the Islands) one and a half million pounds per Islander.

And what for? Such expenditure will not lead to permanent security or immunity from attack - only a political settlement can achieve that. And in any case, as a report I have just received from the Islands privately confirms, the conversion of the Islands into a military fortress threatens to ruin the very way of life of the Islanders which we are meant to be protecting.

Common sense must prevail. The Argentine is due to return to democracy next autumn. We are alienating Latin America, the United States, and indeed the whole United Nations by our obdurate policy. Instead we should be making it clear that when democracy returns we will of course resume direct discussions with the Argentine for the long term future of the Islands. In the meantime, we should welcome any help from the UN or the Organisation of American States to establish international guarantees of their security. We are now paying too high a price for Mrs. Thatcher’s vanity, and we shall say so loud and clear.

The international role for Britain is not and cannot be that of Britain ruling the waves. It should be of a Britain using her world-wide Commonwealth connections, her special relationship with the United States, her membership of the EEC and NATO, as a major force for peace, stability, arms control and a just distribution of resources in our troubled world. There is no need to be hesitant in assuming such a leadership. The background of mutual paranoia of the two super-powers rules them out of this task. We could assist in reducing these global tensions, suspicions and distrust by promoting political dialogue between East and West. It is scandalous that the Prime Minister prevented Francis Pym from doing that. Political summitry may have gone out of fashion but I believe it is the quickest way to increase understanding and create a better atmosphere against which disarmament talks can operate.

We as a people have a common interest with both the Americans and the Russians in achieving major reductions in expenditure on nuclear weaponry. The Soviet Union spends two or three times as much of its gross national product on military purposes as the NATO powers. It does so inevitably at the expense of progress for our citizens. Military expenditure throughout the world over the last four years has been increasing at a rate of 4 per cent a year twice the rate of the previous four years. This is an insanity which must be stopped, for as President Eisenhower once remarked, ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and not clothed.’

That is even more true of today’s expensive hardware. Every week three hundred thousand people die of starvation, a death toll equivalent to two Hiroshimas a week. Assuredly the Brandt Report was correct in saying that the twin causes of disarmament and world development go hand in hand. Far from adopting its proposals, our Government has brazenly lopped a further 2 per cent off the already-declining overseas budget since June. Governments which go round penny-pinching from the arts and overseas aid tell you something about what kind of tawdry values they have.

If they want to penny-pinch they might look instead at the fact that Britain has almost four times as many brigadiers, admirals and above for every 1,000 troops as the Americans, and all of them with increased salaries protected under this Government’s special pay policy for top people.

But serious disarmament is not just a matter of economics, it is a matter of survival. Both sides build increasing numbers of nuclear weapons and stockpile them to prevent their use. There is a logical malfunction here somewhere. Nuclear war is unlikely in my view to come about because of political confrontation between the two superpowers. It is now much more likely by accident. The ill-fated Korean airliner had its course set by computer. The communications systems set between it and the Russian fighters were different. If tragedy occurred after a 2½-hour flight, how much more likely is error on the short missile flights between East and West. To err is human, but for a real cock-up you need a computer. So the stakes are high and getting higher, and the need for a sustained impetus for nuclear disarmament becomes the highest priority for the peoples of this world.

I am not saying that the creation of a new concept of common security is easy. I hope that those who think those nice Russians can lightly be persuaded to abandon their SS20 deployment programme will have thought again after the callous destruction of that airliner. Even the latest Andropov proposals would leave the fire power of three thousand Hiroshima bombs directed at Western Europe.

But today the talks at Geneva stand at a critical point. The British Government’s attitude and activities in the days and weeks ahead could make all the difference. There have been some hints of movement on the Soviet side in the talks recently. Our European Allies would welcome British pressure for constructive disarmament counter proposals from an American Administration which has too often seemed frozen in its own cold-war rhetoric. The trouble is that Mrs, Thatcher seems to be content to be President Reagan's echo rather than his ally. I don’t want Britain to be the East Germany of the Atlantic Alliance.

One of the major obstacles to agreement at Geneva is the refusal of Britain to put Polaris into the Geneva equation. There has been no flicker of response from Britain to this not unreasonable suggestion. Why?

It is easy to see one reason why the Government is reluctant, If allowance is made today for the 192 Polaris warheads, allowance will have to be made tomorrow for the 896 Trident warheads. It would then become embarrassingly clear to everyone how this misbegotten Trident project would give a. vicious upward twist to the nuclear arms race worldwide. We know already that this subject has become an obstacle to agreement in Geneva and yet, rather than abandon Trident, Her Majesty’s Government is willing to put the Geneva talks at risk.

If we are confronted with the deployment of Cruise missiles this autumn, it will not only be the position that the Russians and the Americans have taken in the negotiations that will affect this Party’s attitude. It will not just be the presence or absence of a dual key system. It will also be whether this Government has helped or hindered the prospects for peace by their conduct and policies over the coming crucial weeks.

There is a further major risk of nuclear war. It lies in the lesser powers indulging in conventional wars which get out of control. It is high time that we took the lead in saying that the developed powers stopped whetting the appetites of these countries with arms sales promotions. The world is sadly full of Galtieris, Ghadafis, Begins, Bathos or Khomeinis whose aggressive concept of their national interest is to trample on the rights of others. That during this summer France should sell jet fighters equipped with Exocet missiles to Iraq, or that we should have sent a cross-Channel car ferry loaded as an arms sales exhibition round the Middle East is unforgivable. We seem to have learned nothing from our arms trade with the Argentine.

And as candid friend to President Reagan it is time the Prime Minister told him bluntly that we do not regard the harassment of Nicaragua or the propping up of El Salvador as being the first line in the defence of human freedom.

Britain is in a unique position to be a new and vital force for world peace. We are determined to make her so.

If I try to sum up my five themes, they amount to a plea for us to listen to what people are telling us in Britain today. To listen to the cry of men and women who feel themselves the victims of blind economic and political forces beyond their control. To recognise the frustration of people excluded from the process of making decisions even over their own lives, the feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness to shape their own destinies.

The duty of our political movement is to display such conviction, imagination and responsibility that we establish ourselves as the mainstream reformers in touch with the feelings and aspirations of ordinary folk. We have to restore faith in democratic politics, and invite new recruits in to help us.

In my first speech to you as leader in 1976, I said that the road I intended us to travel back to power would be a bumpy one. And indeed we have climbed some rough terrain together. But look where we’ve got to. We have established for the first time in fifty years a really secure base camp. We are ready to begin the final assault on that summit.

First we must be confident. Confident of our cause and our chance of success. Confident in each other and in our allies.

Second we must be united. Healthy debate is essential. The party needs new ideas and vitality. But the time has come for us to operate more as a team, now and especially during the next election itself.

Third, and most important, we must be far-sighted. Liberals have always led the way in responding to new political opportunities with vision. That has never been more needed than now.

A timid, divided and short-sighted Party would fail, and would deserve to fail because it would have lost its nerve. A confident, united and far-sighted Liberal Party will give the lead to the Alliance.

Politics is so often just about parties chasing after votes. Yet in contrast today we have the extraordinary phenomenon of the public seeking a movement worthy of their support. We must respond. We have clearly touched a chord in the hearts of the British people.

Now we must build a new consensus, with an honourable role for our country. As we’ve seen in these last two years, to die for one’s country is still recognised as noble. But to live and work for its best purposes is noble too.

We must redefine true patriotism. A Britain famous once more for its civilisation, competence and compassionate domestic leadership could be a forceful example in the quest for international order and justice.

Our party and our Alliance have an historic role to play in the renewal of Britain. It is our duty. It is expected of us. There is no limit to what we can achieve together if we believe in each other and in our cause.

I commend to you the words of Oliver Cromwell: ‘know what you fight for and love what you know.’

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