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Leader's speech. Bournemouth 2001

Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat)

Location: Bournemouth

We meet against an unimaginable backdrop. It is hard to find words adequate to give proper voice by way of response, far less respect. How can day-to-day vocabulary, measure up to such sheer criminality?

For me, watching those grim images on television - again, and again and again - there were all the normal, human reactions. Disbelief. Then alarm. Horror - as the truth sank in. Compassion for all those people and their families, so many of whom were British. Can you imagine that last mobile phone call from your husband, or wife or child? The helplessness. And with it, the hopelessness. We’re here because we don’t believe in hopelessness. We actually believe in hope. But hope requires purpose

It’s fortunate that we’ve had a conference

at all this week.

Not just fortunate for Liberal Democrats.

But fortunate for everybody here,

who’s involved in the democratic process.

The media.

Charities and commercial organisations

who come here to put their views to us.

I don’t doubt, you put your views to them.


But what do I really mean by fortunate?


I mean this.

I mean that we’re fortunate to live in a country

where democratic political debate

takes place even in these most difficult of days.


I’ve felt quite humbled, but proud,

to be here this week.

Leave aside my words, on Monday,

and just remember the words of others

who spoke so eloquently in our debate,

about those terrorist attacks on America.

That told people a lot

about the sheer quality and the integrity

of our political party, the Liberal Democrats.


So too, did the fact,

that this week of all weeks,

the American Ambassador,

found time to visit our party conference.


When I spoke with him,

I said we’d thought twice

about whether even to hold our conference.

And he said, that he’d thought twice,

about whether to come to a party conference.

But we both came.

And I know that was the right decision.


We’ve set out this week,

a clear and principled response

to international terrorism.

We have stayed true to what we stand for.

We have continued to demonstrate and debate

the application of those principles

to everyday concerns.


That’s what we did during the general election.

And that’s why we stand here today,

as the effective opposition

in British politics.


Before and during the election,

we said three things in particular.

1. That we wanted to win more votes and gain more seats.

2. That we weren’t going to win the general election overall.


There were a few raised eyebrows

about that one,

but it seemed to me

the honest and realistic point to make.

3. That decent, quality public services cost,

so you only get what you pay for.


Well, there were sceptics.

A few internal.

A lot external.

But we have travelled

some significant distance this year.


I drew a few personal lessons from the election.

Get some sleep.

Be straight with people.

Address people’s hopes not their fears.

Address aspirations not just attitudes.

Talk about solutions not just problems.

Don’t get bogged down in left versus right arguments,

but try to stay ahead of the other parties.


So despite all that was predicted,

we did do well.

You did well.


Part of that’s because so many of you

have worked and worked and worked

for years and years and years

for so little reward, building up seats

so that one day they come into the fold.

People like Margaret Sharp in Guildford.

And Tony Rogers in Chesterfield.


These are the people who’ve built up this party,

so that we could win both those seats in 2001.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to them,

and to countless people like them.


Today’s Liberal Democrats.

Thousands of councillors.

Parliamentarians from four Parliaments,

Liberal Democrat government ministers.

Constituency agents,

Parliamentary and Party staff.


Thousands of party volunteers

giving up hundreds of evenings,

dozens of weekends,

sacrificing holiday time

to work for their local communities.

Tens of thousands of supporters

from all walks of life,

all age groups,

working together,

with no distinctions

of class or sex or race.


And that’s why I’m proud

not just to be the Leader of the Liberal Democrats,

but proud just to be a Liberal Democrat.

Thank you.


Next Thursday, Parliament is due to meet.

On behalf of all of you,

the first message I will convey is this.


As we have always said,

whether in the context of the Middle East,

or in thirty years of terrorism

within our own country,

we will never,


let the terrorists triumph.


Dissent, democracy, debate,

must never be beaten,

by bullets, barbarism, and bombs.


But we should also remember this.

We do a disservice to democracy itself,

if we simply meet terror with terror.


We do nothing to protect,

all that we hold dear,

if we abandon, in the name of security,

the very principles which terrorists seek to destroy

- liberty, democracy, diversity.


And we only build a long-term peace,

by addressing the underlying causes

of such hatred.

And what are they?

Ignorance, poverty, prejudice.


So today, let’s talk about the principles

that must underpin a better society.

The first of these principles, self-evidently,

is liberalism.

Make no mistake:

Liberalism and fundamentalism

are fearsome enemies.

As liberals, we do not ask,

nor necessarily want,

people to be like us.

We ask only for the freedom to be ourselves.

And, in return,

to guarantee others that self-same freedom.


Cracking down on civil liberties,

carries a price.

Liberties lost tend to be liberties hard to regain.

The message from our conference,

is this:

in the weeks and months to come,

wherever civil liberties are concerned,

tread with care,

tread with care.


Let it also be understood that no nation,

no people, can stand alone in the 21st century.


Let there be no doubt.


The best way to solve international problems,

is through international agreement,

international law,

international co-operation.

Now that is where we stand.


It’s why we’re so committed

to the United Nations,

to NATO and to the European Union

and why we place them

at the heart of our approach

to international affairs.


It’s why, for example,

we must support Pakistan,

in the refugee crisis,

it is already facing.


The real lesson of September the 11th,

staring us all in the face,

is that isolationism just doesn’t work.

We’re in this together.


And if you think about it,

the entire case for Britain,

being part of the European Union,

is built on that self-same basic premise.


That’s why we are firm Europeans.

and firm patriots in the process.

There is no contradiction between the two.


But it would be foolish and dangerous,

to pretend that all people in Britain

subscribe to that view.

There are people in British party politics,

who seem to believe somehow

that we can go it alone.

That we don’t need Europe,

and that we are actually better off without it.

Well I say to those people,

you are wrong.



Other great issues to address.

Tackling global poverty.

Protecting our shared environment.


Next year’s Earth Summit in South Africa,

is the major opportunity

to address these issues.

It is essential for all countries,

big and small, rich and poor,

to take a full part in that conference,

to reach agreements,

but most important of all,

to stick to those agreements.


That internationalism,

that international co-operation,

is the only way ahead.

It’s the only way to ensure,

that the environment is not merely something

that we inherit from our parents,

but something we preserve for our children.


Let me deal with another prevailing concern.

The whole issue of the public services

and the private sector,

which has so correctly been the focus

of much of our conference this week.

We’re going to be judged by this, you know.

And we’ve got to get it right.


This is our position.


We start with the interests of the public.

And who are the public?

Parents, pupils, patients,

victims of crime.


What is it that best serves those people?

Doctors - able to do their jobs well,

without interference from bureaucrats.

That serves the public.

Police - able to spend less time on form filling,

and spend more time catching the criminals.

That serves the public.

Teachers, able to teach

an interesting and relevant curriculum.

That serves the public.


So our priority,

is that public service professionals

should have the freedom to deliver

high quality public services,

not in the interests of the producer

but in the interests of the people.


And we should set world class standards,

for our public services.

Why can’t we have world class schools?

Why can’t we have world class hospitals?

And why haven’t we got

the cleanest and safest streets?


There is another important aspect

of our approach to public services.

We believe that public services work best,

when local people have local control.

Our agenda means making public services

more diverse and more local.


And we recognise also,

the simple truth on funding public services:

there are no cheap or easy solutions.


People understand that.

Our general election campaign showed it.

The money has got to come from somewhere.

Public funding, private funding,

we all end up paying in the end,

whether it’s taxes, tuition fees,

prescription charges or private insurance.

People understand this.

They’re not daft you know.


So let’s be honest.

And be honest with ourselves.


Of course, private initiatives

have a place in public services,

just as there’s a real role

for the voluntary and charitable sectors,

all too often overlooked.

But we will never, never, never,

put profit before transport safety

or health or education.



That message,

will be absolutely vital,

as we develop our role as the effective opposition.

The need for us to be that effective opposition

has never been greater.

That’s why we have suspended,

the Joint Cabinet Committee.

It has carried out valuable work in the past,

And helped create a climate,

that has allowed us to work with others,

not least in Scotland and Wales.

Our approach in the devolved administrations,

is one we will follow in Parliament.

Fight hard for policies we believe in.

Refuse to descend into yah-boo politics.

But we are going press hard,

on all the unfinished constitutional business:

regional government in England,

reform of the Lords,

PR for local government,

and fair votes for Westminster.


The JCC might now be without a purpose,

but we do have a purpose.

This party now faces an historic opportunity,

to step up a league

on the domestic political scene.


But we will only achieve this,

if in the months and years ahead

we are more vocal,

more competent,

more authoritative,

more imaginative,

and quicker on our feet,

than either of the other parties.


This raising of our game

must apply to every level of the party,

whether at Westminster

in other parliaments, assemblies,

or local councils.

It must apply to our policy,

to our recruitment of members,

to our fundraising,

to our campaigns.


That will mean engaging with people

who no longer feel that the Conservative Party

offers them a home.

One Nation Conservatives.

Who want the creation of wealth.

Decent public services.

Young people

who can afford to become students,

elderly people

who don’t have to sell the family home.

Well, that’s where we stand.

And as the effective Opposition,

we have to persuade those people

that we are their natural home.


The same is true,

of people disillusioned with Labour.

The people who voted for change,

but have been sadly disappointed,

by underinvestment in hospitals.

Shortages of teachers.

The police underfunded.

Scant concern for the environment.

For all those people,

as the effective opposition,

we do offer the natural home.


But that effectiveness,

also means engaging with people like Digby Jones,

who this week, when he spoke to our conference,

became the first Director-General of the CBI,

to give a formal platform address

to any party conference.

We’re a serious party.

And the outside world recognises that fact.


We also have to remain principled.

And there is one final parallel of principle

that I want to draw

between our domestic concerns

and the international situation.


There is no doubt

that the seeds of the destruction

of the World Trade Centre

were planted and nurtured

in a fundamental hatred of difference.

Difference between creeds,

between races, between faiths.

We’ve seen in the last two weeks,

the terrible harvest of such hate.


I say to you today,

that those in our own country

who seek to cultivate fear and loathing

will find the Liberal Democrats

resolutely against them.

We will continue to oppose discrimination

and celebrate diversity.

Not that you need it,

but you have my personal guarantee.



Returning to America,

and one of its great Presidents,

Franklin D Roosevelt.

On April 12th, 1945,

President Roosevelt died.

The next day,

he’d been due to deliver a special address,

to commemorate Thomas Jefferson.


And what he was due to say was this:


“The only limit,

to our realization of tomorrow

will be our doubts of today.

Let us move forward

with strong and active faith.”


In these difficult times,

let us reflect upon those undelivered words

of President Roosevelt.


Let us, move forward,

with strong and active faith,

in the sure and certain knowledge,

that by overcoming our doubts and fears of today,

and by working with our friends,

we will indeed,

realise our dreams of tomorrow.

. And purpose requires direction.

When I spoke again with the prime minister earlier today, we were clear on a number of matters. First, common resolve to root out terrorism wherever it may be. Second, the need to balance legislation with the interests of domestic civil rights. Third, vigilance against anyone who seeks to target and attack any of our ethnic communities. Fourth, no ruling out of a further recall of parliament, if events require it.

Now immediate emotions inevitably begin to subside, but they will never go away. Nor should they. We Liberal Democrats must be clear about our intentions. 

Resolve. There cannot be capitulation to the terrorist. Determination. That we strike at the heart of international terrorism. And equal determination that in combating terrorism we do not lose sight of the fact, at one at the same time, that we live - actually - in a liberal democracy, and the principles of democracy are what we’re all about. So as we gather here this week, this is one of the challenges facing us as Liberal Democrats. One of our particular duties is to make it clear that short-term knee-jerk responses, never provide long-term solutions.

We have to be especially vigilant against those people who would seek to make scapegoats of Muslims in Britain. Let us be quite clear, we have no quarrel with the Muslim community and no quarrel with the Islamic faith. Last Friday, when I visited a mosque in London, that was the message I took to our fellow citizens on all our behalves. And that message went out loud and clear from this conference hall this morning. 

But let us also remember there will be particularly difficult dilemmas ahead for our party. Those difficulties will involve a gauging between the balance of the liberty of the individual against the threat that the terrorist presents to that very liberty. Do not underestimate the real, ongoing pressures and the public scrutiny that goes with that, which will be upon us in the times ahead. 

Proportionate response is not just about military measures. Proportionate response is also about civil liberties. The scandal that is terrorism is all about civil liberties. In facing those dilemmas, we are best to remember our first principles. We subscribe to the rule of law, violated over the skyline of the United States, on September 11th. But that subscription, as the very word implies, comes with a price tag attached. It involves realism and risk. Realism means facing the stark truth, that the terrorist will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing. Risk is about the consequences of your response. 

So let us be clear about these first principles. Civil liberties - yes. The rule of international law - yes. Co-operation amongst sane-minded peoples across the globe - yes. All underpinned by a philosophic and fundamental commitment to the integrity of the individual, and the supremacy of that individual over the power of the nation state. But recognising also that people need and are looking for security and reassurance, and that the proper role of the state is to provide that.

Now that’s where we stand. And that defines our response and our reasoning in the wake of these dreadful events. When parliament was reconvened, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to such a happy year as a student in the mid-west of the States. Friendships were made there. What struck me then, what I didn’t understand properly, was the extent to which the mid-west can almost be a country which is very different from the rest of the country, which, when you think about it, itself is a continent.

But what is so striking now is the remarkable degree of spontaneous unity right across America. A unity of understandable anger. But the fear that can flow from that can be dangerous. That’s where a candid friend comes in. Standing shoulder to shoulder, but always there for the occasional cautionary tap on the shoulder. The most special relationships, in my experience, are based on a combination of trust and mutual respect. And as America’s candid friend, we are able to say: there are no blank cheques to be issued to the United States. 

The way to defeat international terrorism is through international co-operation, based on international law, clear intelligence and a measured and appropriate military response. 

And let me say this where military response is concerned: we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that where our armed forces are involved, the risks to them are quantified and minimised. We cannot shelve or abandon that requirement. That means supporting American actions only in the knowledge that Britain will be involved in all planning and risk assessment. All that, we owe that to our armed forces.

And let me also, incidentally, pay tribute to the BBC World Service. As ever, one of the key contributions that Britain can make to the coalition against terror and suppression is to offer accurate information and rational analysis.

But do remember. War is not the word. Nor is crusade. Resolve is. We have got to fashion a mindset, to find that approach which begins to address the roots of such evil. We do need to get back to those first principles. In the face of such violation, be inviolate. Don’t flinch. Democracy must prevail and it will.

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