Opinion: A message from Paddy over a decade later

Back in September 1999 Paddy Ashdown gave his farewell speech to the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference. The speech set out some challenges for Liberal Democrats as we approached a new century. What is interesting to note, reading it almost 13 years later, is how prescient his speech is when looking at the credit crunch and the current Eurozone crisis:

Here is the inescapable fact. Power is now moving, increasingly, beyond the confines of the nation state and is rapidly making many of its institutions irrelevant.

He continued,

We must start taking global governance seriously. The nation states, their governments and their politicians are going to hate it. But the longer they leave it the more powerless they will become; the more chaos will be caused and the more painful the transition.

Paddy also delivered a criticism to Conference, which many in the Lib Dems should take note of,

Many of our most long-standing policies are actually being implemented. Many more have stood the test of time. But in some areas we are, I fear, running the risk of becoming rather lazy and complacent in our thinking. If we Liberal Democrats will not think afresh, then we risk falling into the easy trap of leftist, oppositional politics. And that would mean making ourselves irrelevant again for a generation.

I believe now is the time for us to rediscover our progressive radicalism and set out a bold new course for the country. Some in the party seem content with simply telling the electorate of Lib Dem ‘achievements’. A list of policy measures ‘delivered’ which lacks a coherent Liberal Democrat narrative behind it.

Yet that strategy ignores the basic rule in politics, people don’t vote to say thank you, they vote for what you will do next.

Our achievements should serve as springboards to bolder measures and not simply be seen as ends in themselves. There is no time like the present to start thinking afresh – the country is waiting.

But our message has to be distinctive, not just ‘we want to help the poor’ or ‘we believe in fairness’ – which other party do you know that doesn’t say the same thing? We need to go right back to first principles and answer: Why do we want to help the poor? What does Liberal Democrat fairness look like?

Knock on any door in the country and ask, what does the Labour party, Tory party or even Green party have as their vision and you will get an answer, ask the same about the Liberal Democrats and it becomes a bit more difficult. Our ambition for the next few years should be to remind ourselves of the answer to that question and start to explain our achievements based on that vision.

You can read the full speech here.

* Chris Richards was a candidate for the London Assembly in May 2012 and is a Lib Dem activist in London. He blogs at www.chrisrichards.org.uk

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5 Comments

  • Grammar Police 15th May '12 - 1:52pm

    Locally, we try to measure all our messages/campaigns/leaflets/letters in the paper/press releases/amendments in council etc against 3 aims, what we call strategic objectives – (1) we work to protect future generations; (2) we believe openness and transparency in decision-making is best and (3) we believe small, straightforward (and dare I say it) commonsense changes can make a big difference.

    We might not always get things right, or indeed meet or communicate these aims 100% effectively, but it’s a good thing to explain what the point of our local party is to new people, and indeed to residents.

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