Caroline Pidgeon’s farewell speech to Conference

Caroline Pidgeon will bring 16 years of service as a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member to an end when she stands down in May.

In her farewell speech to Conference this week, she reflected on her time at City Hall.

Enjoy.

 

The text is below.

Conference, thank you so much for that warm welcome.


I have to say talk of 25 years of elected service makes me feel rather old.

 

I did the maths to work out what that time period equates to… in the most modern, short unit of political measurement…Liz Trusses.

 

It seems my 25 years is 207 Trusses…

 

…or is that 104 lettuces?

 

Now, before I say anything else I want to say a word about Dee.

Dee was already an established member of the London Assembly when I was first elected, and I learned so much from her.

She was then chair of the Assembly’s committee in charge of overseeing the London Olympics and Paralympics.

It is no exaggeration to say that thanks to Dee, we Liberal Democrats played a major part in delivering a safe and successful games in 2012.

So Dee, thank you.  

What a different Britain we had back in 2012.

And what a different world…

Barack Obama set for re-election for his second term.

The European Union awarded the Nobel prize for peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights.

And Britain at home with its multi-cultural, multi-faceted, multi-talented self, and celebrating 65 Olympic and 120 Paralympic medals.

Remember, it all started with that amazing Olympic ceremony showcasing modern Britain and its history.

Our role bringing about the industrial and technological revolutions.

Our record, providing universal healthcare to all, with the NHS as an example to the world.

Our cultural influence around the globe from the Spice Girls to Queen Elizabeth the Second, from James Bond to Mr Bean.  

It really felt like a heyday for everything liberalism celebrates about a world city. 

Then, in 2016, I was your London mayoral candidate and I stood on this very platform, setting out a vision of that liberal London leading in Britain, and of a liberal Britain leading in Europe.

But it was not to be.  

These past eight years have instead been tough on that liberal vision and tough on so many marginalised people in our communities. 

Xenophobia…normalised.

Division…entrenched.

Internationalism…abandoned.

Trust, trade and tolerance all dangerously undermined.

That’s what Brexit and this Conservative government has done to our country, and we will never forgive them.

In my early days at City Hall, I saw the rot set in, when one Boris Johnson was Mayor of London.

His schtick was to make himself a bit of a joke.

Dangling over Victoria Park on ill-fated zip wires.

Shaking hands and smooching babies one minute…

And cycling with Terminator Arnie, the next.

But underneath the bluster were worrying signs.

That same defiance of rules and basic standards of probity, that was there.

His friends would appear on taxpayer funded trips, and be awarded public funding.

His same vanity and mendacity, dressed up in a sheepdog’s haircut, that was there too.

FORTY THREE MILLION pounds spent thinking about a ‘garden bridge’ which would have been in the wrong place, wasn’t funded to go all the way across the Thames, and would have been closed much of the time!  

And then there was £300,000 that Boris threw down the drain, buying and converting water cannon that couldn’t – and shouldn’t – ever be used in Britain.   

Sadly, that was a bitter taste of what was to come. 

Like Arnie, Boris would be back.

Leading the Leave campaign.

Then in Number 10.

Peddling lies about Brexit and holding all of us in contempt by breaking lockdown rules, and lying about that too.

He really is a national disgrace.

It’s one of the greatest tragedies of the London Mayoralty that the two most recent incumbents Boris and Sadiq have seen it as just a layby on their political journey.

For Boris, a stepping stone to Downing Street.

For Sadiq, a desert island, hiding out from Jeremy Corbyn.

But like Boris, Sadiq has been a chameleon mayor.

In favour of Heathrow expansion one minute, opposed to it the next.  

Helping City Airport to expand in 2016, but condemning it in 2022.  

He said he’d be the “greenest Mayor ever”.  But he is architect and builder-in-chief of a new motorway under the Thames – the Silvertown Tunnel.  

You won’t believe this.  But he is telling cyclists that they should dismount and put their bikes on a bus if they want to use this new river crossing.

It’s the kind of thing that would make 1960s town planners blush. 

Our message is simple:  new motorways and new runways have no place in modern London. 

But you know, perhaps the most shameful part of Sadiq’s record is on the police.

Both the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade are rightly in special measures.

Where has Sadiq been these last seven years?

Where was he when police were arresting women, at a vigil on Clapham Common?

Where is he when police are endlessly stopping young black men on London’s streets?

No wonder just one in three Londoners trust their police.

Sadiq’s invisibility means he might as well be back on that desert island.  This time hiding not from Jeremy Corbyn but from his own failures.

My worry is that the Met is really beyond repair.  Distrusted.  Discredited.  Broken.

So I say to the Commissioner, this is the Met’s last chance to reform.

And as a party, I think we need to be seriously looking at 

what was done in Northern Ireland to transform their police service.

It’s time to rebuild London’s community policing service from the ground up.

And in Westminster we should continue to call out the whole structure of the Greater London Authority too.

… a Mayor, who is powerful in his own court; but a feeble figure in the country 

…and an Assembly which does a great job of scrutiny, but too often lacks the power it needs.

After all, the GLA is Labour’s model.  The Tony Blair model of devolution:  “give them autonomy, Lord, but not yet…and only with our say so.

And Labour don’t seem to have learned anything from those mistakes.

Just look at Keir Starmer’s timid speech this year on devolution.

He says he wants to give communities a ‘right to request’ new powers.

Since when were rights something you had to request?

I like to call Keir Starmer the “Dairylea slice of British politics”…

Unrelentingly mild.  Endlessly triangulating.  And ultimately doomed to disappoint.

That kind of half-hearted approach – “maybe you can have a bit more power if you ask nicely” – is just not equal to the task of reforming Britain.

We – here – all regard the Brexit referendum result as a tragedy.

And the history books will argue for decades about what people who voted to leave were really saying.

But one message I took from it was one of frustration; a sense that politics doesn’t really respond to what people need or what they worry about.

What a travesty it is to see powers come back from Brussels but now stuck in Whitehall.

We Liberal Democrats have such a different approach.

I think back to when I was a councillor.

We took control of Southwark Council.

And – as Lib Dems do all round the country – we devolved power and budgets to local communities and councillors.  

That is what taking back control should really look like.

And the lesson is that the only real revolution in local decision making will be a Liberal Democrat revolution.

We have seen in these past 25 years how strong institutions have developed in Scotland and Wales.

Proper parliaments with real power.

It’s time to apply that successful approach all around England.

Why not give the capital – and other parts of England too – real parliaments that can run health and education and railways and infrastructure and housing?

And why not give those new institutions – elected with fair votes – the ability to raise and spend money?

Without that kind of radical thinking, we will never have a country and a politics that recognises the difference between Berwick and Birmingham, or between metropolitan London and rural Lincolnshire.

Conference, real devolution is the only way to truly let people ‘take back control’.

Just look at what Whitehall has given us recently – schools crumbling, rivers full of sewage, and cancer patients stuck on waiting lists.

By contrast, look at the brilliant work of our London leaders – Ruth Dombey, Andreas Kirsch and Gareth Roberts.

In Sutton, developing new cancer drugs alongside the Royal Marsden…

…in Kingston, developing a new green energy network…

…and in Richmond, establishing a £3million fund to help with the Cost of Living Crisis. 

And at City Hall we Liberal Democrats have protected the poorest Londoners, 

by blocking Sadiq’s cuts to key bus routes; by introducing a one hour bus ticket; and by ensuring that every station on the new Elizabeth Line is step free and accessible to all.

…On policing, we’ve shone a light on the rot at the core of the Met; seen Cressida Dick out of the door; and stood up against Boris’s cuts to the police and safer neighbourhood teams.

…And we’ve acted as a voice for the voiceless.  Successfully campaigning to get dial-a-ride back on London’s streets…

…backing leaseholders in the fight to make buildings safe in the wake of Grenfell; 

and backing young black men who have been stopped, stopped and stopped again by the Met.

That is the difference politics can make.

And it’s why we need more Liberal Democrats ready to serve.

Across England at our fantastic by-elections we have shown what we can do these past couple of years.

In a few weeks – with your help – I know we can do it in Mid Bedfordshire too.

And then let’s take on Labour in London.

Let’s get our amazing team led by Rob Blackie, with my colleague Hina Bokhari, and Irina, Gareth, Chris and all our other brilliant candidates – elected to the GLA.  

And then let’s all play our part in driving Ed’s yellow bulldozer through that blue wall every day until a General Election.

Conference, I want to say thank you to our MPs in London – our fantastic leader Ed Davey; to Sarah; to Munira; and to Vince, Tom, Paul, Lynne, Sarah, and of course Simon Hughes.

Thank you to all our councillors, battling away for their communities.

…and thank you to all of you for everything you have done to support me.

Whilst I am standing down from the Assembly, I’ll still be with you every step of the way.  

Out of the ashes of this Tory government, there is going to be much to rebuild.

Relationships with Europe to repair.  Communities to rejuvenate.  A planet to save.

But the spirit of 2012 is not dead.

That liberal vision…

A happy, proud, successful country.

…That’s once again within our grasp.

So let’s reel it in, in the only way we Liberal Democrats know how – by working together, building together, and winning together once again.

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