Kirsty Williams’ speech to Welsh Lib Dem conference

It was with initial disbelief and then horror as I watched the events in Paris last night unfold
Our thoughts are of course with the families and communities who have been affected by this tragedy.
But we mustn’t forget that the whole point of terrorism is to intimidate and terrify
And the horrors of last night were indeed terrifying

But it’s how we respond that matters
And we can’t let the terrorists win
Never must we allow their actions to change our way of life
Never must we allow them to turn people against one other
Never must we allow them to diminish our values of freedom and fairness
We must stand up, we must be strong and we must be united.

Now, can I just say how delighted I am to be holding our conference back in Swansea?

This city means a lot to me

In many ways, this ‘ugly lovely town’ is like coming home
My mum was born on Townhill
Grandma was the cook at Blaenymaes school for many years
My parents met in the old Swansea library and then later married here
When I was younger, as Dylan Thomas said: this sea-town was my world.
It’s also where I first cut my teeth in the world of elections
I’ll never forget the excitement of delivering leaflets for the late great Harry Spooner
A Pioneer Sergeant in the 1950s, Harry was a great character
He delivered a regular Focus leaflet around Town Hill for years and years
He worked hard for local people and stood up for a community that had been neglected for too long
We won that election – making him Town Hill’s first ever Liberal Democrat Swansea councillor
From that moment on, I was hooked.

Oh, and how did I get involved in the first place?Well, it was thanks to the persuasion of a local councillor at the time named Peter Black – whatever happened to him I wonder?

Now conference:
The General Election was as tough as it gets
Roger and Jenny didn’t deserve to lose
Both achieved so much and worked so hard
But, like so many Liberal Democrats across the country, it wasn’t our night.
Mark deserves great credit
An anchor against an enormous tide – he stood tall with his record of local delivery
And we are all so proud of him.

Now, in the speeches I have made since the election, you’ll have noticed that I’ve spoken frankly
In Coalition we achieved many great liberal reforms that we’re all proud of
But it would have been wrong to sweep mistakes we had made under the carpet
Before we looked forward, we had to look back
But now, with the election just six months away, we must look to our future
Since May our membership has grown by 35%
It’s incredible to see so many new faces here today
New faces that have offered us the vibrancy that we all needed
And of course, it’s great to see the familiar faces that have been with us through thick and thin
We’re like a family. We’ve seen good times. We’ve seen bad times.
But we know that we’re stronger when we stick together
We also know the only way to turn things around, the only way to respond, is by winning
We’ve shown in the past we can do it, and you know, we are showing it again:

Rob Walsh – what a spectacular win
Rob not only won what was a safe Labour seat in Wrexham,
He also secured over half the vote
An immense achievement.

But taking a seat off Labour wasn’t enough
We had to take one from the Tories too didn’t we?
That’s only fair
James Gibson-Watt stood in a Radnorshire ward where we’d never fought before
It was also the seat vacated by the new Tory MP
That didn’t stop James – and he won.
So that’s one off Labour and one off the Tories… Plaid better look out!
Things are changing. Things are looking up. We’re fighting back
Rob, James – we are proud. Thank-you for leading the fight-back.

Conference: these by-elections show us two things:
One: Free from the struggle of the coalition years, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are winning again
Two: we have momentum on our side
These wins couldn’t come at a better time
I know how hard it was campaigning through the years of coalition, it was as tough as it gets, and too often we didn’t reap rewards
But people are willing to listen again
Ready to recognise the hard work of Welsh Lib Dem campaigners
Open to give us another look

Conference: We are growing,
We are united,
And we are needed now more than ever
This is the election we fight back.

Now, I want to talk to you today about ‘People’
Politicians spend a lot of time talking about their values and their party’s values – and rightly so,
But they don’t talk enough about people
Too often they forget the people outside of the room, the people they’re supposed to represent
Welsh Liberal Democrats are the best at getting out, knocking on doors and speaking to people
Why? Because we care about people, no matter who they are or where they live
In this election, I want everyone to know that it’s our party that puts people first
We’ve had years of the same Labour government listening to vested interests, but ignoring the people they’re meant to stand up for.
It’s time for change
It’s time Wales had a government that works for people,
Works for them, so they can rely on decent public services
Works for them, so they can get a job and their businesses can thrive
Works for them, so they can get on in the world
The policies we have passed at this conference today put people first.

And we’ll start with our NHS
Putting patient’s views front and centre.
In contrast, Plaid want to scrap all the health boards and run hospitals, such as Bronglais, from Cardiff
That’s not what people want
Plaid don’t get it: It’s not about structures, it’s about people
The Tories want to take money away from front-line services to fund elected health commissioners
That’s not what people want
Tories don’t get it: it’s not about structures, it’s about people.

Our message on the NHS is clear:
Yes we will increase funding and that funding will go straight to the front line
But funding isn’t enough
We must be reformers, not just investors.
Week in and week out I speak to people suffering from mental health problems who are not getting timely treatment
They illness is not a priority for this government
In just two years the number of young people waiting over 14 weeks for support has quadrupled
That’s in just two years
Our party led on this issue in the coalition government
I want to replicate that success, which is why we’ll enshrine equal care for mental and physical health into Welsh law
No more people told their mental distress isn’t a priority,
No more waiting months to access counselling,
No more sweeping this issue under the carpet.

We will also help people access their GP
A service families rely on more than anything else.
Too many struggle to get an appointment
You know the drill
Unwell people and worried carers told they can only call at a certain time:
on a certain day,
at a certain hour.
People don’t want that
People want to be able to book an appoint and see their GP when they need help, not 3 weeks on Tuesday
That’s why we’ll invest in primary care and virtual wards
Providing support in the community to people with the most complex needs, stopping unnecessary admissions to District General Hospitals
We’ll deliver a fully funded Access to GPs scheme to guarantee prompt appointments and extend opening hours where needed,
Allowing surgeries to expand new roles, freeing up GP’s time to see patients more quickly
And let me be clear: we’re not talking about some undeliverable, 7-day a week GP service that Mr Cameron refers to
That’s a fantasy
No, we’re combining realism and idealism
So people can have faith that we will deliver on our promise to improve access to their doctors.

And finally, we’ll make Wales a world leader on hospital care.
People want an NHS where staff have the time to properly care for loved ones
We’ve listened and responded
Our More Nurses bill will deliver the right number of nurses on our wards
Putting dignity right at the heart of our NHS
This bill is so close to being a reality

We must keep this momentum going
Polling shows that nine in ten people support our bill
Thousands of people have signed our petition
This is a Welsh Liberal Democrat grass-roots campaign that will save lives and transform care
The bill has the backing of the people
And Conference: this bill will deliver for the people.

Equality for mental health, better access to your GP, and More Nurses –
Our three point plan is clear, concise, and a blueprint for a better health service
Conference: in this election we will have the strongest message on the NHS
We will be the party that puts patients first.

Education remains a priority for this party
The other week I met a Food Technology teacher
She told me that in the past, because children had to bring their own ingredients, often the poorer pupils couldn’t take part
Can you imagine?
Heartbreaking and unfair
But things, she said, have changed
And why? Because of us.
She used her share of the Pupil Premium to buy the ingredients for every pupil
Rather than being excluded and isolated:
every child taking part, every child gaining those valuable life-skills, every child treated fairly.
Only last year, here in Swansea, five and a half thousand children received extra support because of the budgets we secured from the Welsh Government
One-to-one tuition, homework clubs, extra resources – all because of our party
We are the party of education, and our record proves it
We are the only party that prioritised education in budget negotiations

And in Government we would continue to invest in schools, while reforming the system so it puts pupils and parents first
We’ll introduce a Pupil Monitoring system to properly assess whether schools are delivering for their pupils and to help them reach their potential
We’ll establish a new body to set the curriculum, independent and free from government interference
We’ll give schools more freedom to innovate, allowing teachers to teach and leaders to lead
We’ll drive up standards in our classrooms with smaller class sizes and a robust inspection system
And we will improve access to higher education by introducing a Student Living Grant, as we are the only party that recognises it is living costs, rather than fees, that deter people from going to university.

And why is education so important to us?

Because it fosters people’s talents, it broadens their horizons, and it helps them fulfill their potential
It’s what forms a tolerant and successful society
– the sort of society, to quote the Liberal Democrat Constitution, “in which no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”
That is our goal. That is our mission
Freedom and fairness in our schools
Only one party has the ambition to turn things around
Conference: that party is us.

But providing good schools and hospitals is dependent on a thriving economy
The fact is, people don’t trust the Labour Government to help businesses create jobs.
In Westminster – Labour is seen as anti-business
In Cardiff – Labour is seen as anti-business
Everywhere – Labour is seen as anti-business
In fact, it might be the only coherent narrative they currently have.
Labour doesn’t trust in empowering people to create jobs for others
Wales needs a government that business can trust and that trusts in business.
Earlier this month we announced proposals offering new and enterprising ideas to revive our high streets
We’d slash business rates for those buying empty properties and empower people to work together to promote regeneration and growth.

My conference speech in Bournemouth focused on jobs and small businesses
We must continue to bang this drum
I’m yet to speak to a small business owner who doesn’t complain of the weight they feel to be under
Which is why we will tear down the barriers that stop businesses from fulfilling their ambitions.
We know that you have to invest in infrastructure, innovation and innovators so that people can be the very best they can be
We know a fair, liberal and sustainable economy is essential to enable people to succeed and to shape their own future
We know that business can be a powerful engine of social mobility.
And because of the Liberal Democrats driving the agenda forward in Coalition, Wales now has more power over how it can support business,
An opportunity to be more creative.
And has Labour taken that opportunity? No.

More must be done to support Wales’ steel industry
I know the importance of this industry
My uncle – who is here today, my grandad and my great-grandad all worked right here in Swansea at the steel works
It’s devastating to see people, whose families for generations have worked in this industry, now be told their livelihoods will be swept away
The UK Government must act and it must act now

But the Welsh Government must do its bit too
At the moment, it hasn’t lifted a finger to help these people
We will use Wales’ new powers, to scrap business rates on plant and machinery
More must be done, but this simple yet significant step would show Wales is open for business
It will show that Wales is pro-active in securing jobs
And show that Wales is willing to think big
Conference: Wales needs a party that means business… We will be that party.

Now, I’ve spoken to you today about how we are the party of ideas on health, education and the economy
But over the next six months we must show why we’re different
We are the only party that stands up for the forgotten, for the underdog, for the ignored

That is why we’ve led the fight against the Tories’ plans to scrap the Human Rights Act – which would water down protections for the most vulnerable in society – victims of rape, slavery and domestic abuse
It’s why our party put mental health on the agenda in England, and we’ll do so in Wales too
It’s why I am so proud Tim Farron has led the calls for Britain to take its fair share of refugees
It’s why protecting the environment will be at the heart of our manifesto
We’ll oversee a green revolution of small-scale energy projects so that Wales is leading the way in the world
And it’s why Tim and Peter Black are putting housing on the agenda too
Have you noticed that no party in Wales talks about housing, no party except ours
We will double the number of affordable homes being built in Wales
Labour wants to spend a billion pounds on a small part of the M4 – while we want to put roofs over people’s heads
These issues matter and we’ll lead on them:
Help for the helpless
Defence for the defenceless
A Voice for the voiceless
Conference: our party will always fight for what is right.

And that’s why I am so immensely proud to be a member of this great party
Liberal giants like Lloyd George, Roy Jenkins and, Emlyn Hooson are our political ancestors
That gives me an immense sense of pride
We stand on the shoulders of giants
And that means a lot rests on our shoulders too.
We are the only party that has represented every area of Wales in Westminster
Our roots here are deep, but we embrace the Wales of today
We understand rural communities. We understand urban communities. We understand people.

For over 150 years Welsh Liberals have fought for fairness on behalf of local communities
But having a history isn’t enough; it’s what we do now that matters.
Back in 1919 Lloyd George said the finest eloquence is that which gets things done
In 2015, we’re getting things done
Still delivering for our communities the length and breadth of Wales
Alongside my colleagues: Aled, Bill, Eluned and Peter, we in the Assembly continue to punch above our weight

Only this week we forced the Government to u-turn on its disgraceful attempt to clamp down on transparency by no longer publishing Ministerial decision reports
We were also the only party to have the guts to vote against the outrageous ten thousand pound pay increase for politicians
At a time when budgets are being squeezed, an 18% rise in AM’s salary is completely unacceptable.

We may be a small group in the Assembly, but we’re making a big difference

Through budget negotiations we secured:
millions of pounds extra for our schools,
Thousands of new apprenticeships,
Improved access to life-saving treatments,
Reduced fares for young people so they can access work and training.
The list goes on – and all policies passed by you at conference and secured by us in the Assembly
All policies that put people first

When you look back at the last five years, be proud that it is our party that’s delivered for our communities
Every person you speak to, tell them our achievements
Every leaflet you write, tell them our achievements
Every time things get tough, remember our achievements
Conference, we have a record to be proud of and you have made that happen.
The polls before the last Assembly election said we would be wiped out, they were wrong
They will be wrong again

Our future is in our hands
And we can secure it
Six months to show we’re the party of ideas
Six months to show why we’re needed
Six months to show why Wales needs a Liberal voice

That is our challenge and we accept it.

* Kirsty Williams AM is Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Another cracking speech from one of our party’s very best performers.

  • David Faggiani 17th Nov '15 - 4:22pm

    I would not be surprised if another coalition (or support arrangement) beckons, this time in Wales, after the 2016 elections. Possibly with the Conservatives (I presume they’d rather go in with us than with UKIP, in most scenarios, and presumably Plaid Cymru would always choose to back a Labour Administration over a Tory one, if feasible). But I’m not an expert on the Welsh Assembly, what do others think?

  • I doubt the LibDems will be in coalition with anyone. At the last election (2011) the polls were showing their support to be a lot stronger than now and they got 5 seats out of I think a possible 60. The question is will they win any seats.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Nov '15 - 5:03pm

    Kirsty Williams did not say she wanted such an agreement. It must, of course, be decided in Wales.

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