Leader's speech, Brighton 2007
Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat)
Commentary:At the time of the conference, British farmers were in crisis due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. There was also a run on the Northern Rock bank, which ultimately led to its nationalisation, and Campbell criticised the approaches of the two main parties towards tackling these problems. He then highlighted their failings on a number of issues, including climate change, the 2003 Iraq war, and community cohesion. Campbell also outlined his vision of a liberal society and promised to fight for ‘Five Freedoms’ - good health, opportunity, prosperity for all, personal security, and a clean environment, all of which were enshrined in the Party’s proposed Bill of Rights.
Let me start by asking some questions:
What kind of country is it where the government responds to the threat of climate change by allowing green taxes to fall as carbon emissions rise?
What kind of country is it where the richest in the land pay a lower rate of tax than the people who have to clean their offices?
What kind of country is it where the government halts a criminal investigation into corrupt arms sales to placate commercial interests?
What kind of country is it where the government colludes with the Tories to exempt MPs from freedom of information?
What kind of country is it where the government sneaks out a short statement on the last day of Parliament signing us up to host America’s Son of Star Wars on British soil?
And what kind of country is it where the government leads us into an illegal and disastrous war and then stops people from protesting against it?
Well, I’ll tell you what sort of country it’s not.
It’s not a liberal country.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats have never been more necessary than we are today.
Last year at our conference, I made it clear that under my leadership the Liberal Democrats will always put substance ahead of spin. And this year we have gone even further in setting out distinctive policies to pave the way to a better future for Britain.
Take climate change. The film that you have just seen makes an overwhelming case for action on the environment now. This party – and this party alone – has committed to deliver that action. In England, Wales and Scotland, the Liberal Democrats are leading the fight against climate change.
Last week the Green Alliance rated our environmental policies top of all the major parties – just as Friends of the Earth did in the recent Scottish election campaign. And on both occasions the Conservatives scored zero.
Only we have the honesty to propose raising tax on pollution in order to cut tax on income.
Only we have the foresight to map out the route to a zero carbon Britain.
Only we have the vision to insist on British leadership in the international effort to tackle climate change.
You might have noticed this week that we have one or two critics in the media. Well, I’m happy to say that I answer to you and not to the media. Thank goodness. That’s why we Liberal Democrats can confront the difficult issues. Take tough decisions. Yes – and say controversial things too.
That’s what real leadership is about.
That’s what my leadership is about.
That’s why we - the Liberal Democrats - are at the cutting edge of the debates on tax, poverty and crime.
And I won’t have it any other way.
When we go into the next election I will tell the hard, uncompromising truths about the state of this country. And about the radical action needed to change it.
That’s the honest way to earn peoples’ trust.
That’s the only way to earn peoples’ trust.
That’s the Liberal Democrat way to earn peoples’ trust.
But radical action doesn’t feature on Labour’s agenda. Gordon Brown spent the last decade wanting to move into number 10. But the most extraordinary thing he has done since he finally got the job is to praise Margaret Thatcher. It’s like a soap opera. It’s certainly an identity crisis. Gordon wants to be like Maggie. But he doesn’t want to be like Tony. Tony also wanted to be like Maggie. But Maggie only wanted to be like Ronnie. Now Dave, he wants to be like Tony. But he doesn’t want to be like William, or Iain, or Michael. And certainly not like Maggie either. Confused? You must be.
But you can be clear on this: I don’t want to be like any of them.
And what about the Tories? This year, David Cameron is going back to basics. Last year the Conservative conference was about health, happiness and the sunshine glinting through the trees. This year it will be flag, fear – and foreigners. But why the right-turn?
I’ll tell you why.
Because he’s under pressure. And without convictions of his own, the Tory leader is buffeted by the beliefs of others.
He’s done a u-turn on grammar schools.
An about turn on identity cards.
And a wrong-turn on human rights.
Margaret Thatcher would have to concede: He turns if you want him to. The laddie’s all for turning.
But we’re not for turning – we know exactly what we stand for.
Our next manifesto will be a programme fit for the purpose of government in twenty first century Britain: Radical, responsible – and liberal.
You know, we might need that manifesto soon – very soon.
But let me assure Gordon Brown of this: Whenever he calls the election - whether it’s next week or next year - we’ll be ready. Whenever he calls the election he will face a Liberal Democrat party determined to rattle the cage of British politics. Whenever he calls the election he will face a Liberal Democrat party which will compete for every vote and for every seat.
I will make every effort, seize every opportunity, work every day to return the maximum number of Liberal Democrat MPs in the next House of Commons. And I know – I know – that I can expect nothing less from you. You proved it last year when you helped Willie Rennie win that stunning victory in Dunfermline: Gordon Brown’s own backyard. And you proved it this year too when so many of you came from across the country to campaign in Ealing Southall and Sedgefield. In both contests, your hard work and commitment ensured that the Liberal Democrats emerged as the principal challengers to the government. And the Conservatives – David Cameron’s Conservatives – were pushed into third place.
But great campaigns need great candidates – and that’s why we offer our thanks and congratulations to Nigel Bakhai and Greg Stone. And you know we have three equally talented candidates on our short-list for mayor of London. Chamali Fernando, Fiyaz Mughal, and Brian Paddick. Whichever one wins the nomination, I am certain that they will have enormous fun taking the fight to Ken Livingstone. And even more fun taking on the Tories if their candidate is one Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson: imagine that - the blondest suicide note in history.
Now when it comes to the next general election, I believe there is some speculation that age will be a factor.
You bet it will. Because I’ll make it one.
Because with age comes experience, and with experience comes judgement. And when you are deciding whether to send our young men and women to war, it pays to have that experience and it pays to have that judgement.
So, if military action is proposed against Iran, who should the British people trust to stand up to George Bush?
Should they trust the Labour and Conservative MPs who voted for the war in Iraq?
Or should they trust the Liberal Democrats who stood – steadfast - against the tragic folly of that decision?
While we stand by our record, our opponents seek to hide theirs.
Mr. Brown is working hard to convince us that there has been real change in Number 10: That his arrival has somehow wiped the slate clean. That the last ten years of waste, failure and disappointment are to be forgiven and forgotten.
Well, not so fast Gordon. You spent a decade blaming everything on the previous Conservative government. But as Chancellor over the last ten years you had unparalleled influence over government. You could have raised green taxes to tackle climate change. You could have stopped the ineffective, expensive and unnecessary identity card scheme. And you could have prevented Tony Blair from embarking on the catastrophe of the Iraq war. But you didn’t.
This is your legacy, Mr. Brown:
The environment degraded.
Civil liberties eroded.
Not to mention the record for which you - and you alone - were responsible as Chancellor.
A smash and grab raid on private pensions.
A steady, disturbing rise in the number of home repossessions.
And a national economic backdrop of £1.3 trillion in personal debt.
With a record like that, it’s no wonder that the Prime Minister wants to start afresh.
But it’s a record for which we will ensure that he takes responsibility:
In spite of your claims of change, Mr. Brown, not much really has changed. New Labour remains blue Labour. And you’re still wrong.
Wrong on nuclear energy.
Wrong on council tax.
Wrong on student fees.
And you are wrong, wrong, wrong on detention without charge.
We don’t need a change of tone in this country: We need a change of policies. And you, Gordon Brown, have not delivered.
Now let me say a word about two important issues that have faced our country in recent times.
Right now, British farmers are in crisis over foot and mouth. The necessary restrictions imposed following the outbreak have come at the worst possible time. We will continue to back necessary action to eradicate this disease. But we will also urge the government to get the balance right. We must get Britain’s farmers back in business as soon as possible. Because there’s no point killing off foot and mouth if we kill off our farming industry in the process.
And I also want to mention Northern Rock. One of the most alarming features of the last week has been the complete collapse of trust in a leading bank - and perhaps the banking system in general. There have been people queuing in the streets, panicked by worries about their savings. In the short-term that panic has been stopped. But the underlying problem of excessive debt and reckless lending has not been addressed. And, for this, responsibility must rest with Gordon Brown, who has minimised the problem despite repeated warnings - not least from our Shadow Chancellor, and Deputy Leader, Vince Cable.
The fact that David Cameron inflamed the situation with rash words is further evidence of what we already knew: The Conservatives are not fit to govern. Look at their record.
They criticise the government’s handling of the war in Iraq. But it was their votes that made that war possible.
They protest against a ‘broken society.’ But it was their policies - under Margaret Thatcher - that widened inequalities and shattered social cohesion.
They talk about the environment. But they have not made one single policy commitment.
The Tories have had a bucketful of proposals put to them in recent months. We’ve had the Clarke Commission, the Duncan Smith Commission, the Dorrell Commission, the Gummer Commission, and - of course - the Redwood Commission. Would you believe it? Advice from the Vulcan First Officer. Ideas straight from the bridge of the Starship Free Enterprise. Policies, Dave - but not as we know them.
But for all the working groups, leaked reports, and photo opportunities, the Tories still don’t know what their policies would be. They shy away from making the hard choices that are necessary for government. Because they are suffering from an identity crisis. You know there’s really a very good case for the Tories having identity cards. How else will they know who they are? When they meet a hoodie, they don’t know whether to hug ’em - or hang ’em.
What our country needs is a political party that’s prepared to take the lead and speak the truth. Because Britain needs a competition of ideas, not the stifling of debate and the undermining of accountability. But on so many of the major political issues there is a two-party consensus - comfortable, cosy and complacent. On the environment, taxes, pensions, nuclear power, tuition fees, Iraq. And that’s a consensus that we alone can break: That we must break.
That doesn’t mean parties should never co-operate with each other.
In Scotland the Liberal Democrats have campaigned consistently for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Just yesterday, Nicol Stephen met the Labour and Conservative leaders in Scotland to discuss how devolution might be strengthened. But how those powers would be used would - I can tell you - be a matter for vigorous debate between the parties.
That’s the difference between the constructive cooperation we support and the cosy consensus that we oppose. And you know, we’ve always been at our best when we have opposed that consensus.
When David Steel spoke out against apartheid in the House of Commons, they shouted him down.
When Paddy Ashdown argued for intervention in Bosnia, they shouted him down.
And when Charles Kennedy argued against the war in Iraq, they shouted him down too.
But Steel, Ashdown and Kennedy were right.
So when they tried to shout me down - on extradition, on rendition, on the scandal of Guantanamo Bay - I would not be silenced.
I will not be silenced.
The Liberal Democrats will never be silenced.
And I don’t intend to be silenced on the issue of Europe either.
The Government will not show leadership on Europe and the Conservatives wilfully distort the public debate. So it falls to us to make the overwhelming case for the European Union.
A Union that has provided peace and prosperity.
A Union that promotes human rights and democratic values.
A Union that is needed today to tackle the threats of climate change and international terrorism.
I will lead the public debate in defence of the European Union.
David Cameron and his Europhobe allies wish to restrict the British people to a choice on a narrow question about the draft European Treaty. But if there is to be a referendum it shouldn’t be restricted to that question. It must be a decision about the EU as a whole. Let’s have an honest debate on the European Union followed by a real choice for the British people. That means a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
We would ask the British people the real question - whether they wish to remain in the European Union or not. I will proudly lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that debate. So I will not be silenced on Europe and I will not be silenced in defence of our liberal values - or silent when others seek to undermine them.
Liberalism requires tolerance.
But that does not mean indifference in the face of intolerance from others.
Because freedom is indivisible and absolute.
That’s why I speak out against intolerance and extremism wherever and whenever they threaten our freedom.
If a woman is forced into a marriage that she does not want -
If a sportsman is barracked because of the colour of his skin -
If a person is bullied because they’re gay -
Then I stand with them.
I have spent my whole life speaking out against bigotry.
You can’t be a part-time liberal.
Discrimination and intimidation have no place in a liberal society.
And on the matter of faith, let’s be clear. A truly liberal society guarantees the freedom of all religions, but it accepts the tyranny of none.
People must be free to live without threat or fear.
To say the things, write the words and live the lives they choose.
Does that offend some people? Yes, of course.
But the price of freedom is the risk of offence - and, for me, that price is always worth paying.
What does that mean for us?
We, the Liberal Democrats, must be the voice of those who are not heard -
Of those who are marginalised
And of those who are rejected.
Over the past few months, I have travelled throughout this country. I have had the privilege to meet - in private visits - some of the most extraordinary and courageous people: People from all walks of life.
I met Jamal - a young musician who wants to go to university but is frustrated and angry at the prospect of being deep in debt.
I learned from him and his friends of the terrible waste of talent and the alienation of so many young people.
I met Anne, a 20-year-old woman in prison for drug offences. She’s had little formal education. Yet she’s studying to take GCSEs and wants to enrol with the Open University.
I learned from her that if prisoners get proper education and training it will help them to find work on their release.
That’s the way to cut reoffending.
I met Jane - a 26 year old former addict, in a shelter for the homeless. She has beaten her addiction. She now hopes to get custody of her four young children.
I learned from her how important it is for the homeless to regain their self-respect and to feel that they are in control of their own lives.
I met Michael, a 29 year old British soldier who had suffered terrible injuries in a mortar attack in Iraq. He was determined to get fit again and rejoin his unit.
I learned from him at first hand what our young men and women are going through in Iraq.
He told me he was lucky - two days before he was hit, one of his best friends had been killed by a single small piece of shrapnel. That’s the price being paid for a war that should never have been.
These are inspiring people:
People with the spirit and determination to beat the odds.
But for every success there are too many stories of shattered dreams and frustrated ambitions.
There are too many forgotten people in Brown’s Britain.
People who don’t make the headlines.
People whose opinions no one ever seeks.
You know, facts and figures about social exclusion are okay for studies and reports. But it’s in the reality of peoples’ lives that the pain of their stories is written.
These people don’t just feel shut out, discounted, cast aside.
They are shut out, they are discounted - they are cast aside.
Well, I tell you it’s not good enough.
So when people ask me what I feel about the state of Britain today, I say I’m angry: Deeply angry.
Things have to change if we want our country to be one truly united Britain.
Whether you are black or white, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, sick or healthy, young or old.
Government must stand for the interests of all, but the vested interests of none.
People will have confidence in Westminster when it provides open, honest and transparent government.
And you know, that’s not just about listening to people: We’ve had that already. Labour’s Big Conversation. The Tories’ ‘Stand up, Speak up.’ But there’s no point talking to people when they’re just not listening.
Well, we Liberal Democrats offer something different.
Our mission is to change the British political landscape, once and for all.
To throw open the doors of government and let the people in.
No more sleazy patronage, no more dodgy dossiers, no more abandoned investigations into secret arms deals - in fact, no more secret arms deals, full stop!
And on the constitution, not piecemeal change or pick and mix proposals. But a commitment to fair votes, and an end to the lottery of first past the post.
Real freedom of information, and an end to government efforts to undermine it.
A wholly elected House of Lords, and an end to politics based on the power of patronage.
And at the foundation of it all a Bill of Rights -
A Bill of Rights to reclaim the civil liberties stolen from us by this Labour government.
A Bill of Rights to anchor freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of association within our law.
And I am prepared to go further still.
Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today.
So I want a Bill of Rights that puts the protection of the environment at the very heart of Britain’s constitution: We should guarantee the right of every citizen to clean water, pure air and unpolluted land.
You know, I joined this party because I believe in freedom. Not just the intellectual freedom of politicians and academics, but freedom in its most practical sense. The freedom we get from good health, decent education and a clean environment. And the Liberal Democrat challenge is to show how we can extend that freedom to every citizen in this country.
Some people have the good fortune to be born into opportunity. But for millions of others life is a great deal tougher. In London - the capital of one of the richest nations in the world - just six miles separate Hampstead from Hackney. But they might as well be in different countries. If you live in Hackney you are four times as likely to suffer from long-term unemployment as your neighbour in Hampstead. If you live in Hackney you are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled. And if you live in Hackney you are four times as likely to have no qualifications at all.
Who’d have thought it, that after a decade of Labour government - a Labour government - the gap between rich and poor in this country would be wider than it was when Labour came to office?
Who’d have thought that after a decade of Labour government social mobility would be in decline?
And who’d have thought that our country would languish - shamefully - at the bottom of the UNICEF league table for the well-being of children.
That’s the record of Gordon Brown and the Labour government.
And you know what: The people out there know it.
The one and half million families across this country who are waiting for social housing: they know it.
The millions of older people who struggle to get by on inadequate pensions: they know it.
The parents who worry that their background determines the quality of their children’s education and their future prospects: they know it too.
You know we’ve had a decade hearing from Labour about education, education, education.
But let me educate them.
After ten years these are the facts:
Fewer than one in five of the most disadvantaged children get five good GCSEs;
Less than one in five of the most disadvantaged children go onto higher education;
And in this country today, 1.2 million young people are not in education or employment or training.
This is unacceptable in 21st century Britain.
Under the Liberal Democrat pupil premium, the money follows the pupil. Extra money for the most disadvantaged children. Our schools given incentives - our children given chances. The pupil premium will help to ensure that educational opportunity extends throughout our society. Because the state of the country is a reflection on us all. And where opportunity is denied freedom is denied too.
Nearly sixty years ago that great Liberal William Beveridge identified ‘Five Giants’ which had to be tackled: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
The language is out of date but the challenges posed in the twenty-first century are every bit as compelling.
Having led the fight against the Five Giants, we Liberal Democrats should now lead the fight for Five Freedoms.
Opportunity, good health, personal security, prosperity for all and a clean environment.
First, the freedom born of opportunity.
In this country today, a child’s opportunity is shaped by background and parental income to a degree that is unacceptable.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We should invest in the most disadvantaged pupils. And give a fair deal to students. We should ensure that graduates leave university with high hopes, not huge debts.
Second, the freedom born of good health.
Labour has centralised, reorganised and disrupted the National Health Service - our National Health Service. And created a culture of boom and bust. More doctors and nurses trained than ever before - but without jobs for them to go to.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We can ensure that local people have the power to meet local health problems with local health solutions. We can take back our NHS.
Third, the freedom born of personal security.
Over the last ten years, Labour has created more than three thousand new criminal offences. And yet public confidence in the criminal justice system is at an all time low.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We can have more police officers and get them out on the streets. We can make prisoners work to compensate their victims. And we can have better education and training in prison to cut reoffending rates.
Fourth, the freedom born of prosperity for all.
Gordon Brown used his last budget to increase taxes on the lowest earners in order to fund tax cuts for the better off.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We will close the tax loopholes that favour the super-rich. We will cut the standard rate of national income tax to its lowest level for nearly a century. We will shift the burden of taxation from people to pollution. And the average family will see their taxes cut by one thousand pounds a year.
And fifth, the freedom born of a clean environment.
You know, the need for action has never been more urgent. I’ve seen at first hand the devastation that flooding can cause. In Hull, Cheltenham, and Toll Bar – I’ve seen it. It’s a disgrace that this government pays no more than lip service to fighting climate change.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We would take action now. By raising green taxes, by investing in renewables - by making Britain carbon neutral. And - as we have done this week - by ruling out further investment in nuclear power stations - on environmental, on security and on financial grounds too.
There you have it - Five Freedoms for a liberal society.
Opportunity, health, security, prosperity and - above all - the environment.
These are the five freedoms for which we will fight.
And I relish the prospect of that fight.
Let me tell you this.
I will lead this party into the next election with energy, ambition and determination.
Because the stakes for this party have never been higher.
And liberalism has never been needed more than it is today.
So whenever people ask you: ‘Why vote Liberal Democrat?’ tell them this:
We alone are prepared to break the cosy consensus of British politics and face up to the challenges confronting our society.
To create a country that is free, fair and green.
Free in thought, expression and conscience.
Free from the disadvantage and discouragement that still blight the prospects of far too many of our people.
And free from the growing threat of climate change.
Only we can achieve that free, fair and green society.
Because only we believe in it.
Only we will work for it.
Only we will fight for it.
The Liberal Democrats versus Labour and the Tories.
Today, our party is not only the real alternative: It is the only alternative.
Not two against one. But one against two.
I joined this party because, like you, I wanted change.
I joined this party because, like you, I wanted opportunity - opportunity for all.
I joined this party because I wanted a different kind of politics - yes, and a different kind of country too.
This is what Liberal Democrats stand for.
This is what I offer.
And this is what we can achieve together.