Conference speeches: Kirsty Williams: Liberal Democrats are the radical, positive choice

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams gave her keynote speech to Conference this morning. Full of passion, radicalism and determination to fight the divisive, dog-whistle politics we are seeing more and more of these days. I don’t think I have ever wanted to run out of the hall and get a speech up on here quite so much. I have to say to Paddy that if he doesn’t make sure Kirsty is on telly every single day of the short election campaign and as much as possible between now and then, I will actually challenge him to a fight. And I will win.

Here it is in full. I particularly loved the section on why Scots voted yes. She was realistic and shows the sort of attitude that I felt that we needed to see more of during the campaign. And she said it straight, that complacency in Westminster allowed nationalism to thrive in Scotland.

Kirsty is so good at articulating a liberal vision that grabs you in the gut.

Conference, 2014 has been a year when many have tried to divide us.

Politicians desperate to tear us from Europe

Nationalists wanting to rip up a 300 year old union

The rise of ‘us versus them’

Now more than ever we need positive leadership.

The people of Britain want something to look forward to.

To have their voices heard.

To have hope.

Conference, only we the Liberal Democrats can offer that positive future.

Achievements

We are now 7 months from the General Election.

As a Vice-Chair of the party’s campaign, I have been working alongside Paddy

– now Paddy is a man who has always recognised the power of hope.

His passion for the campaign has been infectious.

Working with him has reminded me of the journey that our great party has been on.

I remember seeing him when he was leader and thinking, maybe, just maybe, one day I would see our policies put into action.

And that time came.

After 80 years in the political wilderness.

At a time when our economy was near collapse.

we were given the chance to show what we were made of.

In a time of tough economic choices, it can be difficult to offer hope.

And warm words simply aren’t enough.

As Lloyd George said: “The finest eloquence is that which gets things done”

That is why I’m proud we entered Government, making a positive difference.

look how we have raised the tax-threshold:

It’s easy to forget just how important an achievement that is.

In the most difficult of circumstances, we have lifted our lowest paid workers out of paying income tax altogether.

And a future Liberal Democrat Government will go further – ensuring that no-one on the minimum wage will have to pay a single penny of Income Tax.

Did anyone here see David Cameron’s speech last week?

After the doom, gloom and austerity of Osborne.

He needed to cheer up the troops.

Having been Prime Minister for four years.

With all that power.

the might of the civil service behind him.

a team of nearly 100 ministers to deliver his policies.

And yet, when he needs one positive thing to say.

What does he do?

He steals a Liberal Democrat policy.

Strange – I could have sworn he once argued it was unaffordable – we showed him different.

And how about Steve Webb’s pensions revolution?

For decades, successive Labour and Conservative governments allowed the state pension to decline.

The Tories first broke the earnings link.

Then under Labour, pensioners had to put up with the indignity of a 75p increase.

Now, because of the Liberal Democrats, pensioners have seen an increase of £800 in their state pension since 2010.

£800.

That’s the benefit of the Liberal Democrats in Government.

We’ve achieved so much:

  • Record numbers of affordable new homes

  • The world’s first Green Investment Bank

  • Over a million new apprenticeships

  • Equal marriage

  • Extra support for childcare

And of course we stopped regional pay.

Conference, even when we say ‘no’ it’s positive!

The Tories wanted to penalise people because of where they work.

Why should my daughter’s teacher be paid less just because she works in Wales?

Or a policeman in Cumbria?

Or a nurse in Cornwall?

Conference, the message is clear: we, the Liberal Democrats, are the positive story of this coalition.

Across the UK, many of our young people struggle to find work.

Tories seek to divide

Yet, last week David Cameron announced that 18 to 21-year-olds would be prevented from claiming benefits under a future Tory Government.

They will no longer have the same rights as every other adult in our society.

Because Tories think scrapping benefits for young people solves the problem of youth unemployment.

They don’t seem to realize that not every person has a family to support them, or have the bank of mum and dad to rely on.

Not everyone has that lucky break the moment they leave school or college.

The Tories have already tried to do this in Government and we rightly stopped them.

Conference, this continues the Tory tradition of dog-whistle politics.

Portraying those receiving support as feckless and unworthy.

Rich versus poor

Workers versus shirkers

Young versus old

Conference: They seek to divide.

We seek to unite.

Nick Clegg has promised that young people would get a 66% discount on bus travel in England after the next election

Enabling young people to access education, training and work.

And Conference, we know it can happen as we’ve already done it in Wales.

We used our influence in the National Assembly to ensure young people will have their very own Young Person’s Bus Pass.

A Lib Dem policy put into practice.

The Tories want to divide the poor from the even poorer

The Liberal Democrats will give opportunity for all

Because, Conference, we know a job isn’t just a job

It’s not just what you do with your time between nine and five

It’s about having a stake in our society

Having pride in yourself when you wake up in the morning

Being able to provide not just for yourself, but for your family too

Despite what those on the ‘Right’ might claim: people don’t ask for much, just for some support in their time of need

I know that, because I’ve been there before

Cutting their support isn’t the answer.

Liberal Democrats – we must fight the toxic politics of fear and division

Never shall we cast people against each other

Never shall it be us versus them

Forever we shall be the positive party of British politics.

Labour in Wales

Conference, like all parties in Government, we’ve taken knocks.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking opposition is better.

In Wales, we’ve had Labour since the dawn of devolution.

One party dominance.

Our Welsh Assembly was supposed to be a symbol of hope,

Labour strangled that optimism

Two weeks ago we heard Miliband speak of his so-called 10 year plan to build a “world-class Britain”.

Well we’ve had 15 years of Labour in Wales and we’re still waiting.

15 years when they could have built on educational excellence, but delivered falling standards and declining investment

15 years when they could have driven up standards in our NHS and improved patient care, but delivered the longest waiting lists in the UK

15 years when they could have promoted our brand and supported our businesses, but instead squandered billions of pounds of European investment

It. Breaks. My. Heart.

Wales making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

We are so much better than that.

We’re a proud nation that once punched above our weight

I believe we can do so again

But Labour’s poverty of ambition continues to hold us back

They have wasted the opportunity the National Assembly gave us

Conference: Yes, being in Government is hard, but trust me, sitting back and watching from afar while other parties wreck all that you hold dear – now that is much worse.

Pupil premium

And don’t just take my word for it.

A report, conducted by former Labour Minister Alan Milburn, showed the Welsh Labour Government’s record on child poverty to be appalling.

It revealed that, by the age of 5, the poorest children in Labour’s Wales are already way behind pupils from similar backgrounds across the border.

For me, that’s the most damning evidence yet of Labour’s failure.

For too long a child’s destiny has been determined by their background

And this is exactly why my party in the Assembly has worked so hard to deliver our very own Welsh Pupil Premium

In budget negotiations in the National Assembly, we have consistently used our influence for the benefit of the poorest.

In 2011, the Welsh Liberal Democrats delivered a deal worth £450 per pupil on free schools meals

In 2013, we more than doubled it

And only last week, I am delighted to say, once again the Welsh Liberal Democrats delivered a deal worth over a thousand pounds per pupil on free schools meals.

In Westminster, Nick Clegg dragged the Tories into making this policy a reality

And in Cardiff, we forced the Labour party to do likewise.

Despite being the smallest group in the Assembly, we’re making a big difference for school children.

Yes budgets are tight

Yes times are hard

But we have channeled more resources to those who are most in need,

every child deserves a fair start in life,

every child deserves an opportunity to succeed,

every child deserves hope.

Lib Dems delivering on devolution

Now, I spoke earlier about joining this party and being so enthused when Paddy was leader

In one of his very first conference speeches, he spoke of his determination to bring self government to Scotland and Wales.

He spoke of his will to return power to the people.

Friends, we’re still on that journey

We’ve come a long way

Scotland has its own Parliament

Wales and Northern Ireland have their Assemblies

And now, after years of timidity and reluctance under Labour, in Coalition we have been the driving force behind further devolution.

Against Tory resistance, we’ve delivered more powers for Scotland, Wales and English cities

Because of the Liberal Democrats, Wales will have tax powers, borrowing powers and a more accountable Welsh Government.

We ensured a cross-party commission to devolve further powers

And Nick Clegg has made it clear that these recommendations must be implemented in full

Energy, justice, tax varying powers, the list goes on – all will be delivered by the Liberal Democrats

So it is now time for the other parties to step up to the plate

And I challenge them all to do as Nick Clegg has done and sign up to the Silk Commission’s recommendations – so that Wales can speak as one voice

Wales must have a proper parliament

One that reflects the will of the people

One that has the powers to make a difference

One that shows that devolution really can work

Our message to the people of Wales is clear: A vote for the Liberal Democrats will be a vote for Wales to have a real say over its destiny.

Building a new Union

Now, I am delighted the people of Scotland chose to stay with us

Yet, this argument isn’t settled, it’s merely postponed.

It will keep coming back until we wake up to the fundamental problem that faces our union.

Over one and a half million people voted ‘Yes’.

Here in this wonderful city, the majority of people voted for an independent Scotland

And that saddens me beyond belief.

From my vantage point in Wales, it didn’t seem to me that every person who voted ‘Yes’ wanted to leave the union no matter what.

Instead, I think many felt helpless, powerless, and devoid of hope.

Their voices falling on the deaf ears of a remote political class

I believe that complacency in Westminster allowed the nationalists to thrive in Scotland – it handed them the devolution agenda.

The separatists wanted to divide our country and carve it up

And we nearly let them do it.

During the Better Together campaign, all the party leaders stressed the importance of the union.

Now we need to renew, reinvigorate and reform that union.

The current approach of relieving the pressure wherever the constitutional shoe rubs most is simply not good enough

It’s not good enough to only talk about Scottish devolution under the rise of Scottish nationalism

It’s not good enough just to talk about English votes for English laws under the threat of English nationalism.

I say candidly conference: if that approach continues, then don’t be surprised if the Welsh conclude that it is only by voting nationalist that things will change.

The Liberal Democrats must never let that happen

Home rule

The Scottish referendum has changed the nature of the UK forever.

The ‘no’ campaign made a vow to the people of Scotland

That vow must be kept, no matter what.

Scotland must gain Home Rule.

But we cannot meet Scotland’s ambitions without meeting those of Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

We are four distinct nations with our own ambitions, our own needs and our own outlook.

All nations need a place at the table.

We need a Federal solution in which all four nations are equal partners in charge of their own destiny, as part of one united family

And Conference, now is the time to do it

Isn’t it incredible to hear people like Gordon Brown talk of their desire for ‘Home Rule’?

‘Home Rule’.

You’re a hundred years late, but welcome to the party Gordon.

Back in 1886, Liberalism in the form of Cymru Fydd, led the debate on Home Rule

Since the days of Lloyd George, Liberals have been the party of Home Rule

And I believe it’s closer than it has ever been for a generation

The referendum must be a lesson that people across the UK want more of a say over their future

We must show that change is coming

Independence can’t be their only option

The SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP – we can’t let them divide us

Conference – devolving power is in our DNA – it’s what we do

the Liberal Democrats must now take back the devolution agenda

We are Britain’s radical past

We must be its radical future too.

The positive voice

Conference, the establishment hates radical parties

The establishment hates the fact that we, the Liberal Democrats, are in power

It wasn’t in their script

There is no party….like us:

Opportunity

Fairness

Freedom

Those are the values that we must put into practice:

Together, we can increase taxes on high value properties so everyone pays their fair share

Together, we can scrap the hated Severn Bridge Tolls, to help re-balance our economy and no longer penalise Welsh businesses

Together, we can build a liberal Britain where you and the people you care about have the freedom, the space, and the opportunity to flourish.

Conference,

We have seven crucial months of campaigning ahead of us

It will be hard

But it will be worth it

As Emerson said:

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”

Within us.

Within this party, we have the power to build a better country

All of us must be out there knocking on doors and selling our message

Reminding people not just what we’ve achieved

But also how we can deliver a better future:

Not one of doubt, but conviction

Not despair, but courage

Not distrust, but confidence

We, the Liberal Democrats will be the positive voice Britain needs

Thank you.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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14 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Oct '14 - 12:39pm

    Looks like typical politician speech to me.

    The sort of stuff broken into little sentences.

    Full of pompous self-praise.

    And “nah nah nah nah nah” attacks on the others.

    But nothing which really grabs the attention of ordinary people and gets them to listen.

    Nothing which gets them to think seriously about the real dilemmas faced in UK politics today.

    We’ve been shoving out this sort if stuff since the coalition was formed.

    And it hasn’t worked.

  • So now Kirstie from Wales mentions the Scottish Referendum, but not the loss of 45,000 Lib Dem votes in the Euro Elections in Wales, now down to less than 29,000. It’s obvious that the powers that be have ordained that the elephant in the room is not going to be mentioned, even though it is clearly destroying us. The sleepwalk to oblivion continues.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Oct '14 - 1:04pm

    She said some key things that makes me think “she gets it”. I know it is kind of the unwelcome endorsement from me, but some things are very important and saying things such as “it’s not good enough to only talk about Scottish devolution under the rise of Scottish nationalism” resonates with what I think about other issues.

    Helping people in their hour of need is also very important. It’s why mental health policies are important.

    When I was at my neediest on the state it made me more pragmatic. It didn’t make me want to vote for Ed Miliband, because when I was genuinely vulnerable I didn’t want someone who was going to trash the economy. However, the helping others is still important, which the tories sometimes “don’t get”.

  • I didn’t hear Kirsty Williams, but as a general comment on the conference so far, it seems to a endless frenzied attack on the Tories together with the presumption that the party will be in power regardless of the intentions of the voters.

    Voters do not like negative politics or being taken for granted and there are bucket loads of both in Glasgow.

  • Fantastic speech.

  • She should be the leader.
    Telegraph today
    “Labour MPs in despair at Ed Miliband’s weak leadership are planning renewed efforts to tempt Alan Johnson into challenging for leader before the election.
    It is understood a cohort of MPs believe Mr Johnson is the only person who can win Labour a majority next May and want to push for a leadership switch with his backing.
    The rebels hope to convince him to stand if disaffection grows over the coming months while also building up enough support inside the party to convince Mr Miliband to stand aside”.
    If they can do it, why not our party?

  • Green Voter 6th Oct '14 - 4:10pm

    “Liberal Democrats – we must fight the toxic politics of fear and division”

    No time like the present. We have supported an Iraq government which used anti-terrorism laws to harass Sunnis.

    So tell me, is Williams going to fight the fear when it comes from Clegg? Fear is fear, no matter what party endorses it

  • Ian MacFadyen 6th Oct '14 - 4:24pm

    Brilliant speech from Kirsty. Da iawn a dioloch yn vawr!

    Theakes: Thanks for drawing attention to the Telegraph report. During the Labour leadership election I blogged on Business and Politics: “Perhaps Labour expects the Coalition to last five years and to win the next election. [Whichever Miliband was elected] would then step down and Labour’s saviour, quiet till now and despite his age, would step forward: Alan Johnson”. Sadly, the link no longer works. Looks like I could have been five years out.

  • Liberal Democrats – we must fight the toxic politics of fear and division

    Excuse me while I choke on my porridge.

  • Kirsty was the only LD AM to win a constituency seat in the Senedd and is a good leader of the WLDs. She would make a good national figure too.

  • Tsar Nicolas 7th Oct '14 - 8:56am

    Kirsty has to take a great deal of the blame for the LD collapse in Wales. She has said nothing in opposition to the Coalition at Westminster – the Coalition which is even more unpopular in Wales than it is in England. She could have used her position as leader of the party in Wales to speak out but has preferred instead the easier (in the short term) path to oblivion.

    Every Wales-only poll this year confirms that the seat she represents at Cardiff will be lost in the Westminster election next year.

  • “Kirsty has to take a great deal of the blame for the LD collapse in Wales”

    I do not pretend to know much about what happens in the Cardiff Bubble. Kirsty Williams would appear to be a big celebrity in the Cardiff Bubble. Unfortunately that is not the same as being popular or electorally successful in Wales.

    The sad decline of the Liberal Democrats in Wales pre-dates Kirsty Williams. The evidence of decline goes back some decades.

    There may be a warning for Liberal Democrats in the rest of Great Britain in the near disappearance of the Liberal Democrat vote in Wales. For some time now people in 90% of Wales have shown little or no interest in Liberal Democrats. The small group who survive in the Assembly (because of the voting system for Assembly Elections) do not seem to have been able to break out of the Bubble and connect with the mass of voters. After May 2015 a small group of Liberal Democrat MPs in the Westmnster Bubble, even if they have a couple of ministerial jaguars between them, will suffer the same long term fate.

  • Tsar Nicolas 7th Oct '14 - 10:56am

    @Johnmc

    “Kirsty was the only LD AM to win a constituency seat in the Senedd and is a good leader of the WLDs. ”

    In 2007, three constituency seats were won – Cardiff Central, Montgomeryshire and Brecon & Radnorshire. The first two were lost in 2011, the first Assembly election with Kirsty as leader. The polls continue to show that Brecon & Radnorshire will be lost to the Tories in may 2015’s Westminster election.

    The question that has to be asked here is whether Kirsty herself will hold on in Brecon in 2016.

  • Jason Jones 8th Oct '14 - 12:03pm

    @Tsar Nicolas, I wouldn’t bet on the Lib Dems losing Brecon and Radnorshire. Those polls apply on national swing and do not take into account how popular Roger Williams is locally. I’d know, I am one of his constituents.
    Also, in the answer to question you ask the answer is yes, she will.

    Ps. Great speech, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it on here. Although I reccommend watching it too. I’ve just watched it on iplayer. You can see her getting really emotiuonal, she clearly means what she says.

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