Speaking at tonight’s Yes to Reform! rally at the Liverpool LibDem conference, Nick Clegg was joined by Jo Swinson MP, former independent MP Martin Bell, actor Art Malek and others. You can also now download campaign materials and find out more about the Fairer Votes Referendum at www.libdems.org.uk/fairervotes.
This was the text of Nick’s speech:
The last few months have been some of the most remarkable in the history of our party. I’m proud that for the first time in our party’s history Liberal Democrats will be addressing a party conference as Secretaries of State and government ministers. And it’s fantastic to finally see Liberal Democrats behind the government despatch box.
We are achieving some great things already in this government. Lifting hundreds of thousands of the lowest paid workers out of tax altogether. Restoring and protecting civil liberties. Reforming the criminal justice system and ending child detention. The triple guarantee for pensioners, the Pupil Premium, political reform.
We’ve done all that and more just in the first four months. Four months in which we have made huge progress in delivering the changes you have campaigned for election after election, night after night, doorstep after doorstep. I want everyone in this room to just stop and enjoy that for a second. I hope each and every one of you is as proud as I am of what have already achieved.
Now, there is a long road ahead, that’s true. And there are going to be some big and difficult decisions along the way. But after years of campaigning – years of hard work by everyone in this room and countless others over the lifetime of our party – we are finally putting liberal values at the heart of British government.
You had the courage to take the leap into the unknown, to take this party to government. Everything that has happened since has proved that you were right to do so. I know that being in this Coalition still isn’t always easy. We are a party that has always advocated pluralism – believing that politics can be better when different parties work together. But that doesn’t mean that the nervousness some of us felt about going into government this has disappeared over night. The different impulses that, for many people here, pulled heads one way and hearts another, haven’t simply vanished. But we’ve done something bold, exciting and unexpected. And, as a result, Liberal Democrats, things will never be the same for our party again.
Being a party of government means new responsibilities on us, as well as new expectations of us. I came into politics, like you, to change things, to break the stranglehold of two-party dominance, to make this country fairer, freer, greener. Liberal Democrats: we are doing just that.
We are here to launch our support for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. To say this is a long time coming is an understatement. We’ve been waiting for the first past the post dam to break for nearly a hundred years – a version of AV was first proposed in the Speaker’s Conference in 1917. But better late than never.
I know AV may not be the favourite voting system of everyone here, but whether you prefer this, AV+, the single transferable vote or any another model, we all agree that AV is infinitely fairer than what we have at the moment.
Look at where we are now. A creaking, unfair political system unfit for the 21st century. A voting system that means millions of people don’t think it’s worth voting at all. That leaves untold numbers of people feeling they have to vote tactically rather than for the party or candidate that they agree with most.
A system that ingrains the scandal of safe seats where MPs can arrogantly assume they have a job for life, that has created a situation where time and time again more people have chosen not to vote than voted for the winning party.
First past the post is not fit for purpose. It is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past. Good MPs have nothing to fear from AV. Only those that take their constituents for granted do.
So we say vote Yes in May. Yes to a more democratic system where MPs will need a majority of voters to support them. Yes to a system that compels MPs to spend less time with their duck houses and more time with their constituents. Yes to a system that means no MP has a safe seat for life.
This is not about the Liberal Democrats. We don’t know whether we will benefit from AV or not. It’s about fair play, it’s about real democracy and it’s about putting people back in charge.
With your support and hard work, and with the dedication of campaigners across the country, we can help to win the referendum in May and give the country the fairer voting system it deserves.