Kirsty Williams interview: “Scary” Paddy, women in the Cabinet and the reality of a Labour government

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has given a lively and often funny interview to Total Politics magazine in which she talks about everything from her success in persuading the minority  Labour government in Wales to implement the Pupil Premium.

What happened to the last person who said no to Paddy?

Anyone who knows Kirsty will know how down to earth she is and that comes across very much in the interview. She’s asked about whether she would move to Westminster and said that Paddy Ashdown has already asked that question:

Paddy says I should think about going to London,” Williams reveals. “He’s quite scary… What happened to the last person who said no to Paddy Ashdown? Where are they…?

But she’d have to persuade her husband first. After saying “never say never” when asked the question in an AD LIB interview earlier this year, her husband was less than impressed:

I got myself into a bunch of trouble for saying, ‘Never say never’.  I figured my husband would never see Ad Lib magazine. Then the Western Mail helpfully ran the story, and I had some explaining to do when I got home. My husband and I have a bit of a pre-nup: for most people it’s about money, for us it’s about me not going to London, so it would take a serious renegotiation on my behalf to get me out of that.

One absolute is that she would never move seats – she can’t imagine representing anywhere other than Brecon and Radnorshire.

Diversity: Status quo is not an option

Kirsty does not mince her words on the need for more women in politics:

The party has got to recognise and realise that it’s going to have to increase its diversity. I have a particular interest in what we do to ensure more women get involved in politics, get elected and having a greater say. The party has to recognise that the status quo is not an option, and we’re going to have to do more. It’s disappointing not to have been able to achieve a Liberal Democrat woman in the cabinet.

She tells her own three girls that they can do anything:

It’s really important to set them an example about how they don’t have to depend on anybody – they can make their way in the world,” Williams explains. “The first time somebody says, ‘No, you can’t’, they will say, ‘Yeah, that’s what they used to say to my mother, and she went and did it anyway.

Labour are not “benign or cuddly”

She warns us to be careful what we wish for when it comes to a future coalition with Labour.

I understand that some people would think it was easier, but come to Wales and see. People have maybe got short memories of what the Labour Party is actually like. This is the Labour Party that took us to war in Iraq. This is the Labour Party that tramples over people’s civil liberties. These are not some benign, cuddly bunch of people. Come to Wales and see what it’s like living under a Labour government that’s quite happy for Wales to be at the bottom of all the wrong league tables in education, quite happy to make people wait for operations for 36 weeks… The grass isn’t always greener.

On delivering the Pupil Premium from opposition

Getting extra money to disadvantaged kids in school has been a flagship achievement of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats at Westminster. It’s even more remarkable that Kirsty has ensured, from not even being in Government, that this has happened in Wales. The interview took place on the day when she succeeded in getting it doubled:

Today is a good day. It’s a great day. To be able to do something you said you were going to do, and to do something in an area which means a lot to me personally… ” Williams exclaims, kicking off a pair of impressively high heels. “I remember, talking to this teacher – and you could just see in that person’s eyes… ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re just another politician talking about things that are never going to happen’.” But Williams has proved the doubting teacher wrong. “After we got the Pupil Premium done, she said to me, ‘You did it; you said you were going to do it, and you’ve done it’. I hope today she’s really pleased that we’ve been able to double it as well.

This just scratches the surface of the interview. There’s much more on her relationship with Nick Clegg, preparations for the General Election, her earlier life and career and the oh so slow progress of devolution in Wales. Oh, and her claim to fame – whose 12th birthday party did she go to? You can read the whole thing here.

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13 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Oct '13 - 1:28pm

    Kirsty Williams

    This is the Labour Party that took us to war in Iraq.

    Oh, come on. For how long are we going to live off this one? It’s beginning to sound a bit pathetic to keep going on about it in the hope that some of those people to the left who were put off Labour by the Iraq war will forget all that’s happened since then and come back to us. It just looks like trying to play on long past glories to hide present failings. It’s a line that is very dubious when the first reaction of our party leadership to a similar situation to that in Iraq i.e. Syria, was to support military intervention by our country and to castigate those who opposed it as cowards and isolationists.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    I can understand where you’re coming from Matthew. As someone who turned 18 just before the Iraq War began it couldn’t help but be an immensely important part of my political development, and so it remains. At the same time I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever someone Margaret Thatcher is blamed for every problem under the sun, even though she left office 23 years, or the example of the dead being left unburied is raised. All three examples have validity. but perhaps it is time we moved on from them – though to be facetious we can at least be pleased that unlike the Tories and Labour we only hark back to ten years ago rather than 20-35 🙂 .

    But, to look at Kirsty’s wider point, this is a Labour party that only three years ago wanted to bring in ID cards and the like and have little or no understanding of why such an idea is so abhorrent.

  • Liberal Neil 30th Oct '13 - 5:07pm

    I find that Iraq is the best issue to use in riposte to my Labour Party friends who question why I am still in the Lib Dems after going into coalition with the Tories.

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Oct '13 - 8:58pm

    @Matthew, speaking only for myself, Iraq is still an incredibly important issue. Iraq is still a disaster and Britain has not come to terms with our part in causing it. Blair remains free, we haven’t paid reparations and we barely talk about it any more. Having now been a member of a party that has done things I’m not proud of, I do now feel differently about those who continued to support Labour despite Iraq, but Labour’s support for that war still matters a great deal to me.

    Also, the Syrian crisis is NOT like Iraq. I appreciate that those within the party – myself included – who want(ed) to ‘do something’ have not convinced the (majority) sceptics, and also understand that for the most part those who wanted the UK to stay out of Syria are motivated by relatively noble reasons. But – as I’ve written elsewhere – the situation is Syria is very different, and those of us who support one or a range of options for intervention are not warmongers.

  • Kirsty is absolutely right to warn about how awful Labour are. I have fought them for 30 years and agree with her entirely. Although the principles and aims they are supposedly based upon would none the less make them a more desirable Coalition partner than the Tories.

    Anyone who thinks though that a coalition would be easier with a supposedly ‘benign and cuddly’ Labour would indeed, as Kirsty says, be entirely wrong.But so was anyone who thought that coalition with the Tories was ‘a meeting of minds’ with ‘not a cigarette paper between us’. Coalition, with anyone, is a necessity of electoral arithmetic not a meeting of minds otherwise why wouldn’t the Coalition partners be in the same Party in the first place? The old saying about supping with a long spoon is a good guide for anyone entering coalition.

    And yes Labour’s authoritarian streak and the invasion of Iraq are still very relevant. Yet without Tory votes the invasion would not have happened and I sat just yards from Tory MP’s yelling abuse and offering white feathers to Charles Kennedy when he led us in voting unanimously against Blairs illegal war.

  • I find it quite offensive when Labour supporters dismiss the war in Iraq as somehow being ancient history. It was only ten years ago and it redefined our approach to foreign policy for a generation. The effect on the middle east will last decades to come. More than one hundred thousand innocent Iraqi citizens died, and are still dying (not that it makes the news much these days). A prime minister was happy to lie to parliament and force the removal of the director general of the BBC for exposing the truth in order to declare war. And the only significant Labour politician to stand up to him was Robin Cook. I could go on…

  • “These are not some benign, cuddly bunch of people. Come to Wales and see what it’s like living under a Labour government that’s quite happy for Wales to be at the bottom of all the wrong league tables in education, quite happy to make people wait for operations for 36 weeks… The grass isn’t always greener.” – thanks for the timely reminder. There is much to scare me about a resurgent Labour Party under Ed Miliband … however, I doubt that we will be in a position to form a coalition in 2015. I believe Labour will win an outright majority on 35% approx of the vote thanks to UKIP and the FPTP voting system.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '13 - 10:31am

    Jonathan Brown

    @Matthew, speaking only for myself, Iraq is still an incredibly important issue. Iraq is still a disaster and Britain has not come to terms with our part in causing it. Blair remains free, we haven’t paid reparations and we barely talk about it any more.

    Yes, we got it right, Blair got it wrong, but I don’t think the way it’s raised here as it so often is when LibDems are trying to argue against Labour has much resonance with most people, it’s my honest opinion that it actually comes across as rather pathetic. The point about Syria is that there are arguments on both sides, you claim there is a big difference, but while I’m not saying they are the same, I don’t see it. The arguments I’ve seen from Clegg and the Cleggies as to why there is a big difference seem to me to be made up on the spot pulled together to try and justify a decision that was already made, rather than anything carefully though out. I don’t see Labour as irredeemably bad because their leadership made the wrong choice here, I don’t see what happened on that issue as fundamental to what Labour is, so I don’t see it as the big attacking point it is being used as here. To me, if you REALLY want to attack Labour, the thing to go for is Brown’s claim that Labour had ended boom-and-bust just before the biggest bust in our lifetimes happened after what was obviously yet another over-pumped boom. But maybe that’s difficult when we’ve now signed up to just the same boom and bust economic policies, in the more intensive form of the Tories, the originators of it all.

    Now I know ATF writes “I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever someone Margaret Thatcher is blamed for every problem under the sun, even though she left office 23 years”, but actually I do see that as a big turning point. ATF – do you think the privatisation of the public utilities she pushed through is an irrelevant issue 23 years later? Well, you would only do so if you haven’t been reading any new recently. What about right-to-buy? Well how can that be an ancient irrelevance when the impact of that right now is so huge, a generation later just as I predicted it would be at the time? It’s that which has added huge amounts to our tax bills, as the sort of people who once would have gone into council housing now go into private rented, with rents at a multiple of several times what the equivalent council house rent would be paid by housing benefit. We wouldn’t have the “bedroom tax” and the misery that is causing right now if we hadn’t lost so much of the housing that once was there to be let out to those in need at cost-only price.

    Back to Iraq, while I now admire Charles Kennedy’s leadership (basically because there was so little of it), when it’s written up as it now as if he took the lead in opposing intervention in Iraq, that’s more of the sort of nonsense we get about the past history of our party. The reality is that he had to be kicked and pushed by the party’s democratic mechanisms into taking a public stand on it.

  • Labour are not benign and cuddly. Consider our experience in coalition negotiations and thereafter, and look at what’s happening with Unite and other unions. They’re very good at claiming the moral high ground and very bad at occupying it.

  • David Allen 31st Oct '13 - 6:38pm

    “These are not some benign, cuddly bunch of people. Come to Wales and see what it’s like living under a Labour government that’s quite happy for Wales to be at the bottom of all the wrong league tables in education, quite happy to make people wait for operations for 36 weeks…”

    There is a lot about Labour that is distinctly uncuddly, but to suggest that Labour are uniquely complacent about failings in education and health is totally unfair. The Tory tactics for warding off criticism, despite making these failings worse, have been to distract attention by unncessary and harmful reorganisation, and to blame the people no longer in charge.

    I never thought I’d say this, but, Labour’s failure has been that they haven’t concentrated hard enough on telling the l1es and pushing the endless spin. Now that nasty Mr Campbell and Mr Draper have been replaced by nice Mr Millidee, Labour are losing the spin game.

    It’s hard to get Labour to make things better. But that doesn’t justify helping the Tories make things worse.

  • Jonathan Brown 31st Oct '13 - 6:53pm

    @Matthew, it may well be the case that bringing up the Iraq war doesn’t have much relevance with many voters, but for some – and not just Lib Dems – it is still incredibly important. I appreciate what you’re saying about the continuing relevance of Thatcher’s assault on the state, but as Tim P pointed out, over 100,000 Iraqis died (I think the figure is actually much closer to a million), and while it may not be something that defines the UK political debate, for those who take an interest in the Middle East, international law , etc. that still matters hugely.

    This isn’t the place for me to repeat my argument for how and why we should be intervening in Syria (you can search LDV for my articles if you wish). I think it’s fair, to an extent, to criticise the government’s case for war. It wasn’t well made, and I don’t think the government had really thought through what the long term goal was. But – as bad as that it – that’s quite different from painting the government as determined to go to war for the sake of going to war. Most Britons are pretty uninformed about what’s going on in Syria, and while MPs were undoubtedly responding to the concerns of their constituents as well as their own fears about what we might be getting involved in, I don’t think many MPs were able to get their heads around it all in the week it became a hot topic either.

    There are many differences between the Iraq war and the Syria situation. As I say, this isn’t the place to go into it, but I’ll point out that the most obvious one is that Bush chose to go to start a war, and Blair none-to-subtly found him an excuse to do so. The Syrian war has been going on for 2 years or so, and we’ve so far been doing everything to avoid getting sucked in. That doesn’t mean the government’s proposed course of action was right or wrong, but it just doesn’t make sense to say that the two situations are similar, beyond being Middle East crises.

    I wasn’t in the party at the time of the Iraq war, so I don’t know the story behind Charles Kennedy having to be prodded into opposing the war.

    Back to Labour – I think you’re right that one of the biggest holes in the pro-Labour argument is indeed the one you identify: the massive boom and massive bust that puts into perspective the sustainability of all the ‘nice and cuddly’ things they want to take credit for.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '13 - 11:10pm

    Jonathan Brown

    but as Tim P pointed out, over 100,000 Iraqis died (I think the figure is actually much closer to a million),

    Yes, the deposition of the dictator sparked off a civil war. Why do you and Tim P write as if there was no such thing and instead all those deaths were caused by UK and US troops killing “innocent Iraqis”?

    So far as I can see, Blair genuinely though that once the dictator was overthrown, that would be it, and the Iraqis would get down to putting together a decent government. It didn’t happen, and it was rather obvious it wouldn’t happen, but to try and shift the blame as if all those Iraqi factions engaged in killing each other somehow never existed, all those Iraqis who decide to plant bombs, or kill themselves and others with bombs, or shoot other Iraqis and so on, never existed, oh no, it was all British and American troops killing Iraqis who would otherwise be living peaceful lives is to me, disgusting and immoral. Sorry, much though I think the invasion was the wrong thing to do, I am not going to play this silly game in which only white men can ever be guilty. It might suit party political knockabout here to put it that way in order to try and get at the Labour Party, but seeing how so many naive people pick this up and actually believe it and act on it, as a couple of young men did recently just a mile or so from where I live, makes it a very dangerous game to play.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Nov '13 - 3:04am

    @Matthew – if I or (I’m guessing) Tim P was making any such suggestion I’d agree with you absolutely. But that’s not the case. I don’t doubt Blair’s intentions were noble – at least to begin with – but that doesn’t excuse him from the part he (and the UK) played in setting off, feeding and misnmanaging the carnage that followed. Of course Blair/the UK weren’t the only guilty ones. But we prosecute people for certain crimes (drunk driving, for example) not because the intent of the criminal was evil but because they acted in a way that made a bad outcome likely. Blair was well aware that the US was tearing up State Department reconstruction plans for the country, and aware of the ideology-driven neocons running the show. It was entirely predictable that launching and conducting the war and occupation in the way that happened would bring about carnage.

    Anyway, the point of all this (besides not letting something so important as British war crimes in the 21st Centure be forgotten) is not to play a party political game, but to make the point that certain people in the Labour party have oceans of blood on their hands. Those of us (and I accept we’re a relative minority) still engaged with what’s happening in Iraq cannot reconcile this fact with claims by Labour to be sweetness and light.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’ve come to have a lot more sympathy for and appreciation of why anti-war labour MPs, supporters, etc. stayed with the party. Now that I’m a member of a party I understand the feeling of it being ‘my party’ regardless of what certain people are doing in it’s name. Not that I think we have been responsible in government for anything on the scale of the Iraq disaster.

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