Liberal Democrats

Kirsty Williams' speech to Autumn Conference 2014

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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