Liberal Democrats

Ed Davey's speech to Autumn Conference

Conference, Liberal Democrats are fundamentally different from other parties.

We are the challengers of vested interests. Challengers of the establishment. Challenging for the opportunities people thirst for.

When the Tories starved our schools of investment in the 80s and 90s, Paddy Ashdown broke the Conservative-Labour taboo on tax rises – so we could pay for better education.

When Labour took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq, Charles Kennedy took on the Tory-Labour consensus - and we led the opposition to that disastrous conflict.

And now Nick Clegg has broken the red blue monopoly on power.

To rescue Britain’s economy from Labour’s economic disaster, Nick made it clear: Liberal Democrats would back budget cuts to build a stronger economy. But only if the Tories dropped Osborne’s inheritance tax cuts for millionaires. And only if we introduced the Liberal Democrats plan for fairer tax cuts, to take millions of low paid workers out of income tax altogether.

Look what happened. Our fair tax policy has been the biggest success of this Parliament.

Amazingly, the Conservatives now claim it as their own – when they denounced it in opposition.

Even UKIP have rushed to endorse it. Who would have thought it? Nigel agrees with Nick!

Being in Government has meant we have won radical change on a national scale.

But it’s also created a problem for us. Convincing people we’re still the same Liberal Democrats – the disruptive, insurgent force of British politics. That’s more difficult when you’re in Government.

And yet we are still the insurgents of British politics. Judged by the dramatic changes Liberal Democrat Ministers have pushed through, we have truly disrupted the old order.

But Conference we’ve got to shout much louder about it.

Especially our role in spreading opportunity – opportunity for all.

With a dramatic shift in money to the most disadvantaged children in our schools – with the pupil premium. Our dramatic reform of income tax for the lowest paid. Dramatic advances in vocational training for young people with nearly 2 million apprentices. Dramatic improvement in pensions – especially for women.

Far reaching changes for a stronger economy and a fairer society.

Changes not in the Conservative 2010 manifesto.

Changes Labour never had the guts to do.

Changes people wanted. Changes we delivered. Opportunity for all.

And in my area, of energy and climate change, Britain needed dramatic change too.

Not by tweaking the same old, business as usual models we inherited from Labour. Not by doing what Tory Coalition colleagues wanted. Or what the big energy companies or Whitehall wanted.

We’re delivering dramatic change in energy because we are outsiders, on the side of people, not vested interests. Driving the big shift from fossil fuels. Taking on the Big 6 energy firms Labour left Britain with. Winning in Europe and the UN to tackle climate change.

Above all, we are proving people can have greener energy and cheaper energy – even as vested interests are desperate to persuade people you can’t.

Just look at our green energy success.

Renewable energy generation. Renewable energy investment. Both more than doubled under us. Britain is now the world leader in offshore wind and tidal power. Solar energy generation alone increased by 60% last year. And prices are tumbling.

Does anyone seriously think that would have happened if Owen Paterson had been doing my job?

Of course, Owen’s gone with the wind.

But there are other Tories I still have to battle. Eric Pickles, for example. On onshore wind.

Onshore wind has been growing fast under us. It now generates around 5% of our electricity, and it’s still growing. But the

Tories don’t like this. Day after day they’ve urged me to cap onshore wind. I’ve just said no.

Not just because it’s vital for climate change. But also to keep energy bills down, as onshore wind is now the cheapest large scale green energy option.

Yet Mr Pickles doesn’t seem worried about climate or energy bills.

Mr Pickles – who claims to be a champion of localism – has been calling in every onshore wind planning application he can.

Interfering with the independent Planning Inspectorate process. Over-riding decisions of elected councillors.

Mr Pickles is in danger of bringing the planning system into disrepute. Of abusing ministerial power. And so preventing Britain getting the green power revolution it needs.

So voters beware. Voting blue will never get you green. And if the Tories win the next election, the dramatic rise in renewable electricity Liberal Democrats have achieved would be stopped dead in its tracks.
Conservatives say that shale gas is the answer - to everything.

Let me tell you conference, nothing in life is that simple. Shale gas is not a magic bullet.

But simple opposition to shale gas is also wrong.

The real fossil fuel enemy is coal – coal is the climate destroyer.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that if the Liberal Democrats are in government after the election, we will legislate to ban the generation of electricity from coal from 2025.

But renewables cannot quickly replace all of the electricity we currently get from coal without carbon, capture and storage.

We will need gas, as a bridge to a zero fossil fuel future, at least for the next two or three decades. That’s reality.

And I’d far rather use Britain’s gas, than Putin’s gas. Or even Middle East gas.

Our own gas is much more secure. And, thanks to our tougher environmental regulations, and not having to ship it round the world, our own gas is better for the climate.

As North Sea gas production falls, we simply cannot afford to turn our back on our own, home grown gas supplies.

But I have had to hold back the Tories’ desire to frack every square mile of Britain. Ensuring that gas exploration is safe.

Protecting our national parks, areas of outstanding beauty and world heritage sites. Stopping a Tory free-for-all on fracking.

That’s what we’ve done – with our evidence based approach, not a vested interest based approach.

And my insurgent battle for clean energy hasn’t just been against the Tories.

Unlike some Conservative colleagues, I think Britain’s civil service is one of Britain’s greatest assets. I couldn’t have achieved so much without the wonderful people working in my own department.

But if you’re a Liberal Democrat Minister, changing the system from within, you sometimes have to spell out the sheer scale of change you want. And I want to see community energy – local energy - grow dramatically.

So I asked to see the Department’s community energy team. But we didn’t have one. I was told, we didn’t need one. Well, there is one now – and Britain’s first ever community energy strategy. To help communities across our country power themselves.

Not so much “Yes, Minister” as “No, Sir Humphrey”.

But it wasn’t just on green energy where we’ve torn down barriers. It’s also been the energy markets. To show you can have cheaper energy, alongside greener energy.

When we came to power, we found a real mess. Ed Miliband, Labour’s last energy minister, left an energy market dominated by the “Big 6”, with over 99% market share.

Miliband had refused to take on these big business interests. Miliband was happy with Labour’s Big 6.

Well, Liberal Democrats weren’t. We could see the dangers to people’s energy bills from Labour’s weak approach to energy competition. After all, fuel poverty had rocketed under Labour.

So we set out to grow new competitors to Labour’s Big 6. To make it easier and quicker for people to switch their energy supplier.

And it’s worked. We’ve nearly trebled the number of smaller firms. Two million people have switched from Labour’s big 6.

And prices are now being frozen – or better, in many cases, cut.

And despite that success, I want to go much further.

That’s why I support the first ever independent review of Britain’s energy markets – a review Ed Miliband rejected three times when he was doing my job.

That’s why I can announce today that I am delivering on my promise to halve switching times this year. Every major energy firm is on schedule to deliver the faster switching I have demanded.

And that’s why I want to keep backing the disruptive insurgents in our energy markets – the smaller firms Labour ignored.

I’m proud that energy independents are supplying 8 times as many people as they were under Labour.

But I want to see their market share grow more - to 30% by the end of the next Parliament. Why? Because that’s the only way to deliver lower energy bills and better customer service. And if we couple this radical shift to smaller suppliers, with a step change on energy efficiency, not only will we see permanently lower energy bills, but we will dramatically cut fuel poverty, reversing Labour’s failure there too.

The good news is that we are on track to meet our energy efficiency target. One million homes more energy efficient, using our Energy Company Obligation and the Green Deal.

But I want to do more to deliver cheaper greener energy. And today I can announce an extra one hundred million pounds to help people cut their energy bills. We will extend the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund that proved so popular earlier this year. New boilers. Double glazing. Better insulation. So people can permanently cut their bills.

And Liberal Democrats, we must do more still, to show greener means cheaper. With our new major tax cut for energy efficiency, in our pre-manifesto. A ten year council tax cut. Of at least £100 a year. Paid for by central Government.

So on the doorsteps, we will be the only party offering a double bill cut – a permanent cut in your energy bill, for a ten year cut in your council tax bill.

Liberal Democrats – on the side of the consumer. Taking on Labour’s Big 6. Delivering permanently lower bills, not temporary gimmicks.

The Conservatives claim to be concerned about energy bills. But let me tell you a secret.

When it comes to helping those struggling most to pay their electricity and gas bills, some of my Conservative colleagues just don’t care.

Why? Because Tories just don’t share our passion for a fairer society.

For us, fighting fuel poverty sits alongside fairer tax, the pupil premium, free school meals – as another part of our battle for a fairer society.

And I’m proud this Liberal Democrat Minister forced through the most ambitious policies to cut fuel poverty permanently, in the face of Tory opposition.

And of course, I’ve had to fight some Tories on climate change too.

Tackling climate change has always been important to Liberal Democrats.

But, Conference, I should at this point make a confession. I bunked off this Conference on Sunday. I wasn’t here yesterday. I went to Milan.

But for a really good reason.

In 18 days’ time, the European Union can take a historic decision on climate change. And decide to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

That’s almost the equivalent of 27 European countries copying Britain’s Climate Change Act.

And it would strongly influence the rest of the world’s ambition on climate change.

And the news from Milan?

It’s promising. Yesterday I chaired a group of EU Ministers – called the Green Growth Group. It’s a group I set up 20 months ago, of EU Ministers who want to take climate seriously.

And by working with our European partners, not simply threatening them, Britain is leading and winning the argument.

Today I hand over the negotiating baton to Mr Cameron. He must not drop it.

For friends, we are on the verge of the most important environmental decision any British Government has ever been part of.

Because Liberal Democrats have led the climate debate in Britain, so Britain could lead in Europe, and then the world.

And the global climate deal the world needs next year is now within our grasp.

Conference, we cannot let it slip. We just cannot.

You see, for me, tackling climate change isn’t just global. It’s also personal.

The birth of a first child is an amazing moment for any parent. It changes the way you think. It changes your perspective. In fact, it can change your whole outlook on life.

It certainly did for my wife, Emily and I.

But as some of you may know, our lovely John faces more challenges than most children. As that became clear, I struggled with my conscience as to whether I could stay in politics as an MP – and be the father John needs.

It was Emily who focused me.

And reminded me why we all do this.

It’s because Liberal Democrats don’t just accept the way things are. We want to change things for the better, for all people, all children, especially those who face challenges and disabilities that deny them the opportunities to fulfil their lives.

And not just changing things for today’s children – but for those yet to come – here and throughout the world.

And having had our wonderful daughter Ellie this February, despite the disturbed nights, it’s only made me all the more determined to fight the system that’s threatening her future. The threats to our environment. The threats to our children’s environment. The threats to their children’s environment.

Life isn’t always easy. Being a Liberal Democrat has never been easy. Facing up to the powerful to help the rest of society won’t ever be easy.

If you want an easy life – go join the others.

But I tell you this. Our party has proven itself – in the most testing of times.

I could not be more proud of what we’ve achieved. Of what we can achieve together. Proud of you.

So – let’s go out there and tell people.

Tell them how we much have changed the old way of doing things.

Tell them how much we are going to keep on changing things.

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Spring Conference

York,13-15 March 2020