Sun, 14 Mar 2010
David Cameron had failed a key test of character and leadership by failing to confront Lord Ashcroft over his broken promises said the Liberal Democrat shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne.
The full text of the speech is below:
Conference, I have been in our party for 29 years – almost a generation – and I am just as angry at our unfair voting system today as I was when I joined.
The first general election I fought was in 1983 - I lost three times before I started winning – when we won almost as many votes as Labour but just a tenth the seats.
That election night, I knew this is not right.
It is not fair.
It is no way to run a democracy.
Since then, the system has got even worse.
This Labour government has won more than half the MPs with just a third of those who voted, and a fifth of those entitled to vote.
No majority government has ever been elected with less support.
We have a parliament that reflects our nation as badly as a distorting fairground mirror, a muddle of bulges.
This voting system means that we can predict now about half of the MPs in the next parliament.
The seats are so safe that the only real contest is for the party ticket.
In safe seats, the general election is just a charade.
And we know about human nature.
Give someone a job for life, and they will take advantage.
Dip their fingers in the till.
Clean a moat.
Buy a duck house.
Claim for a non-existent mortgage.
MPs in safe seats were three times as likely to have fiddled their expenses as MPs in battleground seats.
Remember not a single Liberal Democrat MP flipped their home.
Not a single Lib Dem MP avoided capital gains tax.
Not a single Lib Dem MP in London claimed a second home allowance at all.
I don’t say we got everything right, but our respect for public money is bred by winning our seats vote by hard-won vote.
It’s why we have not been involved in the worst expenses abuses.
It is why Liberal Democrat MPs claim lower personal expenses than Labour or Tory MPs.
It is also why the same discipline should apply to every MP.
Let’s abolish safe seats.
Labour has taken a teeny step in the right direction by arguing for one-two-three voting.
Talk about deathbed conversions.
Thirteen years doing nothing, and it takes the spectre of defeat to spur them to do anything.
But so little, so late.
True, preference votes remove the need for tactical voting.
They let people vote honestly for who they want, without fearing that they will let in who they hate.
But they still leave us with far too many safe seats, and the political parties will still decide who stands and wins in Toffshire South or Labour rotten borough North.
Instead, our Liberal Democrat system will give every voter the choice of two or more candidates for each party in a three to five MP constituency.
Of course, you could still vote to change the party in power.
But you could also keep the same party, but vote for another MP.
Voters will have the power to vote for the person as well as the party.
In Ireland, the professional politicians hate this system.
Because a third of those who lose their seats lose to members of their own party, not the opposition.
For the first time, every MP will have a strong incentive to answer the letters of their constituents, take up cases, champion local interests and causes.
That's the real local link.
Nor does a representative parliament mean weak government.
Greece is the country in most financial trouble, and yet it always has single party government.
Britain is next in line, and so have we since 1945.
So which part of strong government do David Cameron and Gordon Brown most like?
The boom and the bust?
The legislative diarrhoea?
Or the illegal war in Iraq?
It is not a sign of strength that the Government has created 4300 new criminal offences since 1997.
We do not need these useless laws.
Some 60 criminal justice bills.
Nine immigration bills.
This is the political equivalent of attention-deficit disorder.
We need less law and better law.
Law that is properly scrutinised, settled and long lasting.
We need a simple penal code that magistrates, police officers and offenders can understand.
And we need a focus on what works to cut crime.
Liberal Democrats will take no lessons from the Tories or Labour on crime.
In Lib Dem council areas, preventive measures have pushed crime down further and faster than anywhere else.
In Tory areas, crime is down since the peak by 16 per cent.
In Lib Dem areas, it is down 20 per cent.
Imagine what more we could do in Government.
Labour and the Tories love to posture about tough penalties.
But penalties cannot make a blind bit of difference when only one in a hundred crimes ends in a court conviction.
The real deterrent is the fear of getting caught, and that means more police on the beat.
We are the only party committed to raising police numbers.
That means better policing by raising standards.
It means prison that reforms offenders, and does not enroll them in a college course in crime.
Whether on crime, or taxes, or the economy, fair politics must surely mean a battle of ideas, not bank balances.
As Nick has pointed out, the Ashcroft scandal shows why we must clean up party funding.
A billionaire baron from Belize has bought the Tory party like a banana republic, and it stinks.
Ashcroft made solemn and binding undertakings to become a permanent resident, and then broke them.
He does not pay full British taxes, but he thinks that he should pass laws for those of us that do.
Ashcroft wants to run the club, but not pay the sub.
This scandal tells us a lot about David Cameron.
He would not stand up to Ashcroft.
We named and shamed Ashcroft as a non-dom at prime minister’s questions, but even then Cameron failed to ask his over-mighty baron whether he was keeping his promises.
If that is the smack of strong management, heaven help the country if Cameron wins.
If he can’t clean up his own party, he is not fit for number 10.
We have heard a lot about bullying recently.
Real bullies sack the weak and suck up to the strong.
This was Cameron’s big test of character and leadership, and he failed.
And he’s humbled.
And fair politics means local politics too.
Less power for the centre.
More power for Edinburgh and Cardiff.
More tax power for communities across England.
The business rate back to councils as a first step.
Elected health boards.
Elected police authorities with real powers to set the precept, and sack the Chief Constable.
Only local power can unleash the creativity that we need in tough times.
There are two parties in this election
arguing about changing faces and changing places, not changing Britain.
What matters is not playing ministerial musical chairs, but transforming the whole way we do politics.
By making every vote count, wherever you live, we will give every person in our nation a voice in its destiny.
Everyone, however rich or poor, low or high, will have their proper say.
You cannot build a fair society on an unfair voting system.
In this election, we have the chance of a generation to remake our politics and our society.
Don’t miss it.
Don’t mess up.
Don’t wake up on 7th May saying
“I wish I’d done more”.
Wake up saying
“Thank God I did enough.
We’ve won the power to build a fairer Britain.”
Some of our latest Act members
Published and promoted by and on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE. Tel: (020) 7222 7999
Developed and hosted by Being, The Tea Warehouse, 10a Lant Street, London SE1 1QR