Tim Farron’s speech to Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference

Tim had already been in Cardiff once last week, campaigning with AM Eluned Parrott in Cardiff, and he was back yesterday. After he left, he went to East Dunbartonshire before returning home to Cumbria. You can’t accuse him of not putting the work in. He’s certainly setting a good example.

Here is his speech in full. He encompassed many of the themes around community and public services that had been much mentioned, but also spoke about flooding, climate change and Europe.

He also had a big plea to activists – get out on the doors again, because “where we work we win” is working again.

Enjoy.

Its been a great week to be a Liberal Democrat – thanks to Marco Rubio in Iowa, we now know that coming 3rd is the same as winning.

I was going to say that a lot has happened since I was with you last, but you may have spotted that I snuck into Cardiff on Thursday morning to speak to members and to go canvassing for Eluned Parrott in Adamsdown.

The team was energetic, dynamic and youthful – and that was just me and Eluned! We had four canvass teams out, half of whom were students. Its clear to me that our record in Cardiff Central is outstanding and that many people who had been voting for others in recent years are not just returning to the Liberal Democrats but doing so with enthusiasm. Returning with enthusiasm but not by accident. Eluned and her team are fantastic, but those voters will not come to choose the Liberal alternative unless we work even harder and meet every single one of them.

For five years if felt that the old adage that ‘where you work you win’ had ceased to apply. Can I tell you, from my own experience, from the results on the ground from Launceston, to Brecon; Wrexham to Inverness, those Liberal Democrats who put their community politics into energetic practice are winning huge swings. ‘Where you work you win’ works again, its not rocket science, but it is a science. Its like that scene in independence day when the americans suss out how to defeat the aliens… the president turns to the guy on the morse code machine and says ‘we’ve worked out how to beat them, now tell the rest of the world..’ well the same applies here.

After 17 years of taking Wales for granted, Carwyn Jones, we know how to take you down. Welsh Liberal Democrats will fight you for every vote and every seat, because Wales deserves better.

Since last Welsh Conference

But plenty has happened since I addressed Welsh Conference last year.

We have seen the Tories forced to abandon their cuts to working tax credits because of the votes of Liberal Democrat peers.

We have seen parts of Britain hit by the most devastating floods, with the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded in the UK.

We have seen the refugee crisis worsen, with fellow human beings being forced to live in the most appalling of conditions as politicians in Britain and France stand by, wringing their hands and explaining how difficult it all is. (It really isn’t.)

And we have seen the Prime Minister return from his negotiations in Europe, eager to begin a charm offensive to persuade us of what we knew already: that we are better off in Europe than out of it.

Liberal values at home

When you look at each of those things, you realise that our Liberal values are more important in tackling the challenges confronting Britain than ever before.

When you are a liberal you believe people matter, not their label. You prove that by demanding that people should be in charge of their own lives – with government helping where help is needed, but stepping back where its bureaucracy, intrusion and regulation interferes and obstructs.

These are liberal values, and they are British values, no matter how much others may wish that they weren’t.

Liberal values abroad 

And our Liberal values are as important abroad as they are at home.

Never forget that it was Liberal Democrats who fought the Tories tooth and nail to deliver the commitment we made in the Coalition Agreement to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid. That was us, as a party, putting our values into practise in a way that will impact the lives of millions around the world for the better.

And today, you only need to look at the news on any night to see two issues where David Cameron’s abject failure of international leadership demonstrates so clearly the need for a resurgent Liberal force in British politics: Europe and the refugee crisis.

On Europe, David Cameron returned from his meeting with Donald Tusk this week like an emperor breathlessly proclaiming his new clothes. Tory HQ tell us they are fine clothes. The tory backbenchers and the tory press say they are terrible clothes. Liberal Democrats say, ‘what clothes?’

The renegotiation is all well and good, and we very much want reform. But David’s fanfare this week is merely about giving careerist tory MPs who were selected by Europhobic party member an excuse to vote to remain whilst pretending they have been hard to persuade.

But apart from that tiny group of individuals Mr Cameron’s arguments are utterly irrelevant.

The decision to remain or to leave is the biggest in generations for our country.

Given that Europe is the world’s biggest market, will we be more prosperous if we remain in Europe?

Given that this is a dangerous and uncertain world, are we safer and more secure by staying together with our closest and best friends and neighbours?

Given the scale of international challenges of a global economy, climate change and the refugee crisis – are we better to face these together or alone?

They are the real questions, not the Westminster village drivel that’s filled the front pages of every newspaper this week.

They are the real questions and they are no brainers! If you want a Britain that is prosperous, secure, a Britain that matters then you are voting to keep Britain in Europe.

And guess what, if you want those things, you are almost certainly a Liberal and you need to vote for us for the National Assembly too!

But nowhere is David Cameron’s failure of leadership more apparent than in the current refugee crisis.

He talks about the huge financial contribution Britain is making to tackle the problem in Syria. It is true. Britain is doubling its contribution to £2.3 billion. But that is all money destined far from our shores – and, more crucially, far from the shores of Calais or Dunkirk. Lesbos or Lampedusa.

His aim is to keep the refugee problem away from us. To stop more people coming. But the truth is more people are coming. A post war record of 190,000 refugees in Europe in 2014. A record broken five times over in 2015, as over a million desperate people fled to our continent. And in 2016 we predict three million men, women and children fleeing war and persecution to a continent where Britain is a leading power, a dominant culture, a political giant. Led by a man who is letting them down. And as he betrays British values then he lets us all down.

Terrified, destitute, broken people, making harrowing, life-threatening journeys that none of us can imagine. On the beach at lesbos I met a couple, a carpenter and a nursery teacher and their 2 little girls of 3 and 5. They’d sung songs to the girls and told them stories for hours and hours to distract them from the terror of the journey over the sea to Europe. They love their children as much as I love mine yet they risked their daughters lives…because the bigger risk was to stay and not to flee. And 94% of those entering Europe this way are refugees by any objective standard, they flee war, persecution and death and they seek peace, security and life. How dare we look for excuses when we could provide solutions?

I repeat my call to the Prime Minister.

Show some leadership. Show some backbone.

Accept the three thousand children that I and Save The Children have been pressing for. Take our fair share of the desperate who are looking to us for help.

Do the right thing, do the British thing and do it now.

Tories – out of touch

The Prime Minister’s lack of leadership on Europe and the refugee crisis is just another demonstration of how the Tories are out of touch with the challenges facing Britain.

And if Calais is a long way from London in the Prime Minister’s mind, Cardiff is even further.

So, too by the way, is Kendal in the heart of my patch – and perhaps you will permit me a moment to reflect on the recent flooding and how it shows a government out of touch with the reality of people’s lives.

I experienced the fear and terror of those floods first hand. You never think it will happen to you and then it does. Abandoning my car as the river burst across the fields and on to the road, grabbing the kids and wading through the water to get to safety, all brought home to me how devastating and dangerous these floods can be. But we were luckier than many, losing your car is nothing compared to losing your home or your business.

Unless you have seen it first hand, I think it is hard for people to understand the scale of the devastation.

The cost of the impact of the floods this winter is likely to be almost £6 billion. Just think about it for a moment. That is more than three times the annual budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Yet what has been the Prime Minister’s reaction?

First of all, he and his spin doctors had to settle the big question: should he appear in his own Hunter wellies or buy a pair from ASDA so he looked like a man of the people?

Seriously, they had a lengthy debate in number 10 about this… we still have our sources!!

And yes, along with lots of other ministers, he has visited and said all the right things. But what have the government actually done?

They have refused to provide the funding for over 90% of the damage. They have cut the environment department budget by 15%. They have dragged their feet over re-opening key roads. They have reminded us in the Lakes and the Dales in Cumbria of something you know only too well. In Brecon and Radnor, in Montgomeryshire, in Ceredigion. That no part of Britain is more taken for granted and more ignored by Conservatives than rural Britain.

And it’s not just in the north of England that flooding matters. I know here in Wales you also had some serious flooding issues, and experts are concerned that without further investment you could see more of the sorts of scenes we have witnessed this winter.

But its not just on flooding that the Tories are out of touch.

They are slashing support for low-income families, encouraging the selling off of social housing and making it even harder for young people to get on in life by restricting housing benefit for anyone under twenty-one.

David Cameron and his government have no idea how hard it is for people who don’t enjoy the sorts of income they do. They simply don’t realise that people in Britain today are choosing between meals for themselves and meals for their kids. That they are choosing between heating and clothes for the kids for school.

I said earlier our Liberal Democrat votes in parliament had stopped the cuts to working tax credits. But George Osborne is now sneaking those cuts in through universal credit. That’s up to 164,000 low income hard working people in Wales that could find themselves with £1,000 a year less money than they have now.

Oh and if you are too ill to work, they are going to cut your Employment and Support Allowance by thirty pounds a week. That might buy you one hunter wellie – certainly not a pair! But for some people it is the difference between living and just about existing.

Climate change and renewables

With all this money they are saving, you think they might be investing it in Britain’s future. You might think they’d be looking at the flooding that has occurred, listened to the scientists that have said that it is highly likely that this has been caused by El Nino and man-made climate change, and doing something about it.

Well they are certainly doing something, they have decided to cut out all the green crap… you know, the stuff that gives our kids the chance of a safe, clean future?

We fought to place green values at the heart of government. Chris Huhne and then Ed Davey led a quiet revolution inside Whitehall and showed it was possible to be economically literate and green at the same time.

In five years we tripled renewable electricity, we set up the Green Deal, helping people to insulate their homes and lower their energy costs.

We planted over a million trees and blocked plans to sell of our forests.

We made a £500 million pound investment in low emission vehicles.

And we finally got a 5p tax on plastic bags in England – something you pioneered here in Wales in 2011.

But since the General Election much of what we achieved has been undone by the Tories. Listen to this – and realise just how little they care about our future.

Cuts to subsidies for solar have seen our solar industry halve in size, with up to 19,000 job losses.

They have cut subsidies for onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of renewable energy.

They have abolished the rules on Zero Carbon Homes.

They have announced the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, without guaranteeing that its environmental purpose will be maintained.

They have scrapped the Green Deal.

They have cut the Renewable Heat Incentive by £700 million.

They have scrapped the £1 billion Carbon Capture and Storage projects.

They have reduced tax breaks for electric cars.

And they have removed the Climate Change Levy exemption for renewable energy businesses, increasing their costs.

Climate change is the biggest earthly threat facing humanity.
But there are no headlines to be won for doing the right thing.
Tackling that threat for our children’s sake, where are the votes in that?
Why worry about the long term when you can concern yourself with shallow cynical politics?

And you know exactly how little regard he has for a sustainable future with his latest dithering over the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

It has to go ahead.

It will provide hundreds of jobs and supply energy for 120 years – over three times as long as a nuclear plant.

It would be utter madness for the Government to pull further investment from the renewable sector which generates economic growth and jobs. We have been a world leader in this field and maintaining that status is now in jeopardy. The Tidal Lagoon is a litmus test for the Government. Do you care about this agenda? Or was it all for show?

For five years we fought sceptical Tories to ensure the Coalition was the greenest Government ever. In the last six months this progress has been unravelled at an alarming pace.

Those huskies, shot by Cameron ages ago when their usefulness to him had run its course, will be turning in their graves. I also feel sorry for Amber Rudd who was told by the Prime Minister that they‘d gone to live on a farm in Devon.

It is shameful that the work we began in Coalition to deliver this is being unpicked. Britain should be leading the world in the green economy and setting an example to other nations after the UN talks in Paris.

What about Labour?

So. The tories at Westminster got just 37% of the vote with a tiny majority of 12. As a result they are under immense pressure, surely?
Well, that should be the case. Instead, they act with a swaggering sense of invulnerability. And we have Labour to blame for that – in fact Labour make me genuinely angry.
Not because they’ve been taken over by the kind of people who used to try to sell me tedious newspapers outside the students union, not because they’ve got a socialist leader… but because they are now without doubt the most useless opposition in the history of British politics.
The tories are getting away with cutting universal credit for the hardest working poorest paid people, scrapping the green deal, dehumanising the refugees we should be helping because there is no one to hold them to account. What an outrage. Labour have left the field of play, so Liberal Democrats now fill that space. Labour seem only to want to talk about themselves to themselves, I want to speak to the people about the people, to Britain about Britain, a better Britain.

But whilst Labour may be a joke in Westminster, in England, in Scotland …they are no joke in Wales.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to understand that in this part of the United Kingdom his party are still in government – and its legacy to the people of Wales is one of failure.

Take health as just one of those. Under Labour, Welsh patients have longer waiting times for ambulances, A&E and heart operations. That is truly shocking when you think that Wales is governed by a party that has spent over sixty years pretending that the NHS was wholly their idea. It wasn’t by the way. Beveridge was a liberal, Lloyd George was a liberal. Nye Bevan stood on the shoulders of those giants. Just saying!

But Labour have an insurance plan. They know that if they get into trouble, they can rely on the Nationalists to prop them up. I was on question time with Leanne Wood a bit ago, and I thought she was very nice. But there is no point voting for her whatsoever. She has made it clear that if no party has a majority she will only do a deal with labour. So, if you vote labour you get labour, you vote plaid you get labour. You want to make a difference, you vote for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Whether on the NHS, education or the economy, Labour have failed to deliver and instead Wales is falling behind the rest of the United Kingdom.

Our Welsh team

That is why I am so proud that Kirsty Williams is leading the Welsh Liberal Democrats into May’s elections.

She has the talent, tenacity and vision to energise our supporters and to challenge the stale status quo.

You know, some leaders, like David Cameron and Carwyn Jones, are all talk and no action. That certainly isn’t the case with Kirsty.

How do I know that? Because of what she has already done.

During Coalition, I saw Kirsty spearhead the campaign in Wales to stop regional pay. She and the party campaigned tirelessly to get our ministers to intervene. The Welsh party took a motion to Federal Conference – and won. And Westminster backed down.

That was a real victory for Kirsty. Real action, not just words. Kirsty and the Welsh Liberal Democrats delivering for the people of Wales.

And then continuing the fight for devolution. The Silk Commission only came into being because Kirsty was relentless in insisting that it had to be part of the Coalition Agreement. From the Silk Commission has come the further devolution of tax powers and energy powers – all real achievements.

Again, real action, not just words. Kirsty and the Welsh Liberal Democrats delivering for the people of Wales.

If only Jenny Randerson were still our Minister in the Welsh Office, to keep the Tories’ feet to the fire over the Welsh Bill.

And Kirsty’s action doesn’t stop there. Just a couple of days ago her More Nurses Bill passed its penultimate stage. It would be the first time anywhere in the UK that hospitals were required to ensure safe staffing levels of nurses.

If you want to see a party committed to the NHS – in Wales as well as the rest of the UK – it is the Liberal Democrats!

Now, as much of a fan as I am of Kirsty, she couldn’t achieve all that alone.

So let me say now –

Thank you to Peter Black, Eluned Parrott, William Powell and Aled Roberts for all you are doing for Wales and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. You are the reason that there is a Welsh Pupil Premium. You are the reason there are thousands more apprentices. And you are the reason that there is a young person’s bus pass. What you have achieved with your small team is vital and I wish you every success in the forthcoming elections.

And while I’ve already been out on the doorstep with Eluned, I also know that Liz Evans, Jane Dodds and Veronica German are all campaigning incredibly hard to join Kirsty. Kirsty already has two more women in her group of five than I do in my group of eight.

Wouldn’t it be great to see Liz, Jane and Veronica join her?

I need them there. You need them there. Wales needs them there.

Final

Almost 106 years ago, David Lloyd George made a speech at Queen’s Hall in London. Reflecting on how tenants had been turned out of their houses by their tory landlords in 1868 for electing Liberal MPs, he said how that challenge to the ruling classes ‘woke the spirit of the mountains, the genius of freedom that fought’

Friends, we need to challenge Labour’s arrogant sense of entitlement to rule. They act like they are the landlords of Wales, that you have no right to vote any other way. We will not have that! We need to wake the spirit again today.

We have a proud tradition of Liberalism in Wales, standing up for our communities for over 150 years. We need to give voice to those communities in 2016.

Many will stand for the national assembly in may so that they can hold office and bear titles, but liberals stand to make a difference.

Between now and May 5th I need you to waken that liberal spirit on every doorstep in Ceredigion, Cardiff Central, Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor and across this nation and take advantage of the fact that people are desperate for something authentic and true to challenge those who presume to rule us but who fail us.

In Kirsty you have the stand out leader in Welsh politics. And I am looking at the stand out team, punching above your weight. You deserve victory but you will not get it by accident, only by fighting with passion, belief, discipline and energy. Get out there, get on the doorstep, rain, wind maybe even shine, victory is there to be won. I need you to win, Wales needs you to win.

Thank you!

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

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One Comment

  • Before the last election Labour could have spoken about their record in Wales and how it’s an example of what they can do for the rest of the UK, but they didn’t. They spoke about Scotland and England and both sides felt they were speaking too much for the other. There are so many areas where Labour haven’t been good enough in Wales, so many areas where the conservative could never be (The MP for Cardiff North has one advice surgery a month, it lasts an hour and even he says it’s very busy – offer more for your constituents then!) and while (far too) many are thinking UKIP are the answer it should really be the Lib Dems. Yes speak about Europe, yes speak about the UK, yes speak about refugees but don’t forget Wales could be the Lib Dems example of what the party can do.

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