You will be unsurprised to hear that I was recently interviewed by Stylist magazine.
They asked me lots of exciting questions regarding my colossal sense of glamour.
They also wanted me to write about a woman who had been my hero.
I wanted to be completely honest, and pick the woman who was indeed my hero.
She was a local councillor in Leyland when I first joined the Liberals… but Stylist magazine said that they wanted me to pick someone a bit more well known.
So I tried Shirley Williams – they said no.
I tried Elizabeth Warren. Nope.
So in the end, they asked me to write about that well known woman. Bill Clinton.
So, Neva Orrell.
First off, she was actually a woman.
But also, Neva was a teacher.
She was a local councillor in our area when I first joined the Liberals.
She was four-foot-ten, had a tangerine rinse and – to the best of my knowledge – was the only person Tony Greaves was scared of.
Neva had lived through the war.
She’d lost loved ones, witnessed the devastation, the grief and the tragedy of war – and she became convinced that we must work together to build a world where hatred and war might be overcome.
She wanted to join a movement that would fight for tolerance, peace and freedom, for the things that would make a repeat of that war least likely.
In 1949 she joined the Liberals. Neva spent the next 53 years of her life being the greatest servant that her community in Leyland had ever known.
Getting people rehoused, improving roads, cleaning up the environment, meeting the needs of individuals throughout the town.
Maybe some would be dismissive about this; A great internationalist, a great liberal? Who then spent her time on pavement politics?
But that is how it should be.
Because if you are a liberal then you will walk the walk, committed to your community.
The place you live
The experiences and identities you share
The people with whom you feel you belong
Community is what you make it, and where we - where you - make a difference.
We say we care about people, and we prove it by serving people, empowering people, getting things done.
And it is what makes us liberals.
We stand for election not to be something, but because we want to do something.
We campaign not to be grand, but to do grand things - make a difference.
It is what makes us different.
I joined the Liberal Party at 16.
Now, you may be surprised to discover this, but this was not a carefully calculated career move.
Not a career move, but not a cop-out either.
I didn’t join a pressure group. I joined a movement.
Determined to use power to make a difference – and give people opportunities.
Because every family, every small business, everyone in Britain deserves a clear path to fulfil their own ambition.
Now, as well as stylist, I’ve also made the hallowed feature pages of Autocar magazine.
They had heard that my car had been written off in the floods.
They were impressed by my dedication and commitment to something so battered and beaten up…
They also wanted to know about my Volvo…
It was early December and I had agreed to do an interview with BBC News about the floods.
Half an hour before I was on air, I was in the car with my kids and the river wall in front of me broke.
In two seconds flat the car had filled up to our waists…
We had to bail out and do it quickly.
We were a few miles from the nearest village, stranded, and completely soaked by the side of the road… and then the phone went, it was the BBC.
So, John Simpson style, me and the kids reported live from the scene while my Volvo, and a very large number of precious prefab sprout CDs disappeared from view.
Now, we lost a car. That’s nothing.
I lost my beloved pre-fab sprout CDs. Even they can be replaced,
But friends of mine lost their homes, their businesses.
And here in York more than six hundred homes and businesses, some just a couple of hundred yards from where we are today, were under water.
Many are yet to recover.
And yet, when I look around York, as I did on Friday, I see the same tremendous spirit I see at home in Cumbria - testament to the determination of people who come together and support one another.
When a community is tested, you see it’s true character.
And as we can see by being here for Conference, York is open for business - Cumbria, the Scottish borders, the north, we’re all open for business.
Even when this Government is barely lifting a finger to help, the spirit of the people is the real northern powerhouse.
Within a few weeks of my birth in 1970, two disastrous things happened.
1. England got knocked out of the world cup by West Germany
2. The Liberals had an electoral disaster that made last May look quite good by comparison.
We almost disappeared altogether.
But we fought back. Not by accident, but by careful design.
And we fought back by making a virtue of the fact that there is more to life than Westminster.
Young Liberals led the rebuild of our party by taking our philosophy and our ideals into their communities and putting them into practice.
They got their hands well and truly dirty, turning a belief in the individual into action, galvanising communities, winning change, challenging the self-satisfied power of the town hall and Whitehall.
In 2016 let us choose that path back to power.
Community politics is what we are for.
The establishment is increasingly out of reach and out of touch, locally and nationally, it is down to us to make the difference.
In every community I want us to be the antidote to the kind of politics that makes people go off politics altogether.
In 1997 The Liberal Democrats made a tremendous leap forward, securing 46 MPs.
One of those MPs was our excellent Chief Whip Tom Brake.
I recently found out that Tom has also been a magazine star.
It was an interview that had originally been offered to me, but without me knowing, my team decided Tom was much better suited for such a challenge.
So you all have the press office to thank for the fact that last April’s centrefold in Men’s Health magazine, was not this gut on stage before you, but the rather more toned one of the chief whip.
The feature involved posing without a shirt on, exercising every day for seven weeks, and eating healthily.
Alistair was devastated not to have been asked.
In 2001 and 2005 our numbers increased to 52 and 62.
We got to 63 when Willie won Dunfermline.
Indeed we reached that peak at a point when we didn’t even have a leader…Don’t go getting any ideas.
In 2010, you know the story, we did the right thing, but paid a heavy price.
We put country before party and I am dead proud that we did.
But were the seeds of our setback in May sown many years before?
Because Westminster can be a beguiling place.
When you are there, there’s constant temptation to try and be like everyone else.
We’ve had a full shadow cabinet. We’ve had junior spokespeople.
We’ve even had enough for some troublesome backbenchers.
Mind you, even with 8 we still have some of those.
But, we must always ask ourselves, when we are a Westminster force, is it too tempting to get obsessed with Parliament that we forget the community politics that put us there?
Westminster’s rules are laid down by parties that have an opposite agenda to ours – with powerful vested interests to protect, not people to liberate.
For the establishment parties it is the best Old Boys’ Club in town, and they have stacked the rules to protect it.
We arrive in the big league on our terms. But we too often attempt to remain on theirs.
When we ran the biggest councils in this country, Liverpool and Newcastle, Bristol and Cardiff, Edinburgh and Sheffield. We did so because of who we were.
We were never the council’s representatives to the people, we were the people’s representatives to the council.
And as we rebuild we will - and must - continue to be the people’s representatives in Parliament too.
We must return to our roots.
No matter the office, always remaining true to our instincts.
It’s time to focus not on parliamentary games, but on real life.
It’s time we got back to community politics.
In 2008 I started a campaign to bring a chemotherapy unit to my local hospital.
We walked the 44-mile journey to the nearest unit to highlight our case, gathered 10 thousand signatures, and 600 people wrote personal stories to the local trust.
We campaigned, we lobbied and we stood up for our community. In 2011, we got it.
Shortly afterwards, an elderly couple called me over in the street and the lady told me that they had decided she wasn’t going to go through with treatment for her cancer because she couldn’t cope with the vast round trip…
But when the new unit opened, she changed her mind.
It’s about making a difference to people’s lives.
In Bradford, Jeanette Sunderland saw that a library was closing. She pulled together local businesses and not only saved the library, but raised £1.4million to turn it into an enterprise centre, creating jobs and new businesses.
It was Simon Hughes, who heard the plight of a gay Iranian man. He was facing deportation to a country that had killed his boyfriend. To this day he says that Simon’s action saved his life.
In Sutton, the Liberal Democrats have just secured funding for the second largest cancer centre in the world, that will create 13,000 jobs, and develop two new cancer drugs every five years.
Here in in York, Keith Aspden passed a budget protecting frontline services and have increased investment in community-based mental health care.
And it was Michael Moore who secured a commitment from the Government to spend 0.7% commitment on international aid. Our commitment to the international community. Money which is currently saving hundreds of thousands of lives across the world.
Community politics at every level.
Lives across the country and across the globe are better because of the work we do.
The work that you do.
“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the sunrise of their life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy and the disabled.”
Those are the words of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s Vice-President.
There is no doubt.
Hubert Humphrey would mark this Conservative Government an abject failure.
Just this week they voted through plans to cut £30 a week from the benefits of sick and disabled people.
They are pushing ahead with cuts to Universal Credit, so low income working families will lose on average £1000 a year.
And they still plan to exclude youngsters from being able to claim housing benefit, leaving vulnerable young people with nowhere else to go.
Their benefit cuts are a calculated political choice – hurting millions of people.
And their latest move is to cut Personal Independence Payments, by more than £1billion.
640,000 people with disabilities are set to lose vital support that helps them live truly independent lives.
As is his style, this Chancellor uses smoke and mirrors to distort the truth.
His clever accounting and theatrical budgets mask the true scale of what he has planned.
His agenda isn’t just a parliamentary game, it strikes right at the heart of the communities we represent.
And we will not stand for it.
We start, not with politics but with people, with communities.
But the chancellor is currently placing the very foundations of a happy and healthy community - under threat.
Our schools, our homes, our environment, even our health.
The basic building blocks for life that can have the biggest impact.
A decent home isn't just a roof over someone's head; it's an opportunity to get a job, it’s an opportunity for security and peace of mind.
So tackling the housing crisis must be the first priority for any community politician.
Build more affordable homes… Invest in house-building… set up local housing companies by councils…create a Housing Investment Bank to bring in private capital… and allow councils to borrow to build.
The pupil premium not just a few pounds chucked into the pot; It’s tailored support to help a child thrive.
Education is what creates the level playing field so that every individual can play a full part in their community.
We will defend the pupil premium we fought to introduce, fight short-sighted cuts to school budgets, and challenge political interference.
On the environment…
Climate change isn’t just a fashionable campaign, it is a battle for the future of our planet.
The environment is local. Home insulation, solar panels, flood protection. The world around us, the air we breathe and the land we rely on to survive, are under threat.
And on health…
Parity of esteem between mental and physical health isn’t just technical jargon.
We will stand alongside Norman Lamb as he leads our battle to make sure someone with a life-threatening eating disorder has the same right to treatment for their condition as a patient with cancer.
Housing. Education. Environment. Health.
Essential for our communities. Essentials in life.
All relying on Britain’s incredible public sector, and the people who work in it.
And at a time when they should be focussing on improving public services, this Government is locked in a dispute with junior doctors.
Instead of taking action to safeguard the future of the NHS - the Conservative government is running it into the ground.
In Coalition the Conservatives had to be dragged kicking and screaming just to fund the very basics.
Norman refused to back down when they tried to diminish our health service, and now on their own, the Tories are hoping we won’t notice what’s happening.
Instead of working to strengthen and protect the NHS, Jeremy Hunt is jeopardising it.
Junior Doctors are working tirelessly for the good of the British people and they have people’s lives in their hands - yet as we heard on Friday from Dr Saleyha Assan, they feel under attack.
We should be working with them to save the NHS. They are the future of healthcare.
Jeremy Hunt, enough is enough.
You have mishandled this dispute with junior doctors.
You have lost their confidence.
You have lost the confidence of NHS staff.
You have lost the confidence of the British people.
You have proved that the NHS is at risk in Tory hands.
The battle with junior doctors is the tip of the iceberg.
The scale of this crisis is too big.
It’s time for a full cross party commission.
As Norman said, we need a new Beveridge deal for the 21st century.
We cannot allow our NHS to wither because of the shameful politics of short termist politicians.
Talking of which… George Osborne.
This week he will come forward with his budget.
We have already heard that more cuts are coming our way.
George Osborne’s approach to the budget is political theatre. It’s about politics, headlines and calculated positioning.
Not a long term economic plan, but a short term political scam.
Our focus is 100% on people. How will this budget impact the lives of those around us?
Osborne asks how will this play in the Daily Mail.
We ask, how will this play in daily life?
Thanks to the tough choices we took, the structural deficit will be abolished by next year.
So, the UK now stands at a crossroads.
Osborne is taking an unnecessary political choice to cut further.
If the Chancellor really wanted to help the economy, he should invest in, and help our local communities.
Because its time to give public sector workers the pay rise they deserve
It is time to be active and ambitious by investing in capital spending on housing, broadband and public transport.
It’s time to support the skills people want and need for the future.
It’s time to make the tax system work for small businesses.
Communities thrive when enterprise and small business can thrive.
But far too often the cards are stacked against them.
Google and Facebook can negotiate with the tax office for months, yet small businesses can’t even get through on the phone.
So. We all know the system favours the big multinationals.
well, it’s time we transformed the way we treat small business in this country.
Instead of Government fawning over the multi-nationals, how about putting small business at the centre of our business economy?
And we need to ensure our taxation system is fit for the future.
It will be the new micro breweries, the community hubs, the app developers, the new firms in our communities who will make the difference.
Some small businesses are small for good, the backbone of our economy.
Some small businesses are small for now. If we back them they will build our future.
We need a system that works for all small businesses, the small for good, and the small for now.
Ensuring the tax system is a level playing field will take some work.
But that is why I am delighted to announce that Vince Cable has agreed to chair an expert panel for me to look at how we radically reform the way we tax businesses.
Over the next year, Vince’s team will come forward with a new approach, that’s fit for the future
Because when the system is broken, we Liberal Democrats will not defend it, we should fix it.
We are a proud to be Britain’s internationalist party.
We believe that Britain should lead a response to the refugee crisis, not bury our heads in the sand.
We believe Britain thrives when we lead amongst our neighbours in Europe, and will be diminished when we walk away from of the most important group of nations on the planet.
And that's why it is deeply humiliating for Britain when Barack Obama criticised the Prime Minister for having a ‘free ride’ on defence.
Nowhere is it more plainly seen than in this government's dismal treatment of the Afghan interpreters.
For thirteen years we relied on the skills of these brave and loyal individuals to keep our troops safe in a brutal, bloody conflict.
Yet our Government is sending them back to Afghanistan to live at the mercy of the Taliban, or is leaving them in refugee camps as they desperately try to reach the UK, the country they served.
David Cameron; your treatment of the Afghan interpreters is a disgrace.
Britain is better than a 'free ride' at the expense of those who laid their lives on the line for us.
Show the world that we value those who show the ultimate loyalty to our country and bring them back to Britain without delay.
It’s hard to miss the inflammatory rhetoric creeping into politics. Rather than looking for solutions, people look for someone to blame.
None of this is more apparent or scary than in the United States.
Now, I confess, I am conflicted about Donald Trump.
He can’t be all bad – he has a cameo role in one of the greatest films of all time, Home Alone 2, and his only line is to give McAuley Culkin’s character directions to the hotel reception desk.
And, ladies and gentlemen, they are accurate directions.
Mind you, McCauley Culkin then goes to the reception desk and commits credit card fraud to pay for ridiculous luxuries that he could not otherwise afford.
This was a popular and influential film, and frankly it’s a short hop from this kind of short-sighted consumer credit greed to the subprime market scandal, the fall of the banking system and a world-wide recession.
For which, on second thoughts, I now hold Trump personally responsible.
Is he a joke or is he terrifying?
Well, we see that building walls and splitting communities, spouting hatred and venom, and attacking the vulnerable and voiceless, now constitutes a political movement. And I think that is terrifying.
But don’t scoff at our cousins across the water, thinking ‘only in America, it couldn’t happen here!’
Because across British politics there are the flag waving nationalists, those who demonise the other.
But this party is the polar opposite of all that.
We will be the beacon of tolerance and acceptance.
Standing for what unites us, not the differences that divide us.
As we see the tension at Trump rallies rise, I want to be absolutely clear:
No matter where you’re from, who you are, the colour of your skin, your faith or who you love, we stand by your side.
When you are a new leader, you fight to get attention, to make a mark.
A journalist said to me the other day ‘all I know about you is that you’re that bloke who keeps banging on about refugees’.
He meant it as a rebuke.
I took it as badge of honour.
The biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe for 70 years, with no sign of this tragedy coming to an end.
190,000 refugees entered Europe in 2014, a post war record.
Last year that number increased to 1 million.
This year, the UN thinks there could be 3 million.
And most refugees aren’t even coming to Europe.
There’s a million in Lebanon, 700,000 in Jordan, 2.7million in Turkey.
So many facts and figures.
Such big numbers.
Every one of them an individual, a person.
In Calais, Cologne, Lesbos and in refugee centres here in the UK I’ve only met a hundred or so of them. But they are meetings I cannot forget. I will not forget.
I confess that I am personally affected by every one of them.
And so I feel personally ashamed by our government’s response to this crisis.
A crisis right on our doorstep, yet our government chooses to look the other way.
All those desperate people and the Prime Minister will not take a single one of them.
Not the orphaned 11 year old in Calais.
Not the shivering 85 year old woman I met in Lesbos.
Not the family sleeping rough in Macedonia.
Now, I heard one conservative columnist this week say that ‘the Prime Minister is bound by public opinion, and that will of course limit his room to act on the refugee crisis’.
Well, do you know what, maybe it’s time politicians stopped following and had the guts to lead.
Now is the time to say that when thousands of innocent kids are stranded cold and alone in camps in Europe, we don’t give a monkeys what the focus groups say.
Now is the time to turn and face this crisis, to choose to play our part.
Now is the time to take a stand, to lead.
Because this is not about statistics.
This is about people just like you and me.
This is about dignity and decency.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
On the morning of October 27th last year, I stood on the beach on the island of Lesbos and I met a couple in their thirties: a carpenter and a nursery teacher from the Daesh occupied region of Iraq.
With them, still in their flimsy life jackets, they had their two little girls, aged three and five.
To distract them from the terror of the journey over the sea to Europe they’d sung songs to the girls and told them stories for hours and hours.
Why did they put them through this?
They love their children as much as I love mine yet they risked their daughters’ lives…why? Because the bigger risk was to stay and not to flee.
And the Britain I believe in, offers that family sanctuary, hope and a future.
David Cameron has gone through Calais plenty of times recently on his way to Brussels.
But he’s never got off the train there.
He’s never seen for himself the heartbreak of those who have had to leave everything, to flee towards a country and a continent that you thought represented peace and security but got there only to be treated like dirt.
He’s refused to meet the proud people, broken by the wickedness of those who sought to kill them at home, and broken again by the callous indifference of those to whom they looked for sanctuary.
Being 12 and alone in a camp thousands of miles from home.
Being in a boat tossed to and fro as you sought land in the darkness, hearing the screams of the people in the neighbouring vessel as it went down.
Having to leave your town at night, the town you grew up in, the only home you ever knew.
Seeing children as young as you slaughtered by Daesh.
Their stories stay with me, they motivate me.
No one should have to live as they have lived.
But we don’t have to allow these stories to end with desperation and tragedy.
They can be about hope and opportunity.
Three weeks ago I went to Cologne.
I met newly arrived refugees from Syria who were being integrated into German culture.
I sat a dozen young Syrian men who were being taught intensive German.
They had vital skills and were on the path to a career, on the path to being a massive asset to the country that had given them a second chance.
And then a week ago I met 6 young people from Eritrea and South Sudan – refugees from persecution.
They’d got their way to England, to Gravesend.
They spend their days sat in a hostel with little to do.
The UK authorities would not even provide them with basic English language lessons.
One of these six had got herself onto a nursing course from September, but the rest were being left to rot.
Their clear cases for asylum were being kicked off into the long grass.
Bored, scared, directionless, young people overflowing with talent and denied opportunity by a government that is deliberately blind to their potential.
Refugees in Germany, welcomed, trained, empowered - transformed into enthusiastic, tax-paying Germans.
Refugees in Britain, held in contempt, trapped, their talents wasted, and let down by people who act in our name.
Britain is better than that.
And so I will continue bang on about it.
To speak for British values, for common sense, for action to help the desperate, for fear to give way to opportunity.
But we can be sure that the UK has no chance of exercising any kind of leadership if it opts for isolation and irrelevance.
And in just over fourteen weeks, we will face a vote on Britain’s future in Europe.
By the way, when I came in this morning, the leave stand was closed. They had indeed left.
They did clearly did feel, it was better off out.
So, it is exactly 25 years ago this very week - in what is a quite spooky coincidence - since my second favourite band, the Clash, had their one and only number one hit.
‘Should I stay or should I go’.
The lyrics are, ‘if I stay there will be trouble, if I go it will be double’- project fear there from Strummer and Jones…
Whether David Cameron’s renegotiation impresses you or not, this is so much bigger than Cameron’s deal.
Here are the questions that we must all answer:
We belong to the biggest most successful market on the planet. Are we more prosperous staying in, or getting out?
We live in dangerous times. Are we safer alongside our friends and neighbours, or isolated.
We face vast international challenges: climate change, the refugee crisis, a global economy. Do we best tackle these together or on our own?
They are the big questions, and the answers to me are crystal clear.
We are stronger together.
We are stronger in.
For our prosperity, our security, our relevance, Britain must remain.
And our national security is being challenged by more than the referendum.
Right now the Government are using it as an excuse to extend snooping powers.
Theresa May won’t just have access to your Facebook messages, but to everything from your medical records to your child’s baby monitor.
And it’s not just MI5 and MI6 – your local council will be able to know where you’ve been and who you’ve spoken to, as will the tax office.
Not even the Home Office can pretend that this is purely about keeping people safe.
Trying to fight terrorism by gathering more and more irrelevant information is illiberal and totally counterproductive.
The haystacks of information will become so huge that finding the needle will be near impossible.
No matter what the government calls it, don’t make any mistake – this is the Snoopers’ Charter back again and we won’t have it.
This is what we’ve come to expect from the Conservative Government.
Here’s a party which took office, backed by just 36% of British voters.
They cling to a tiny majority of just 12, yet govern with a care-free arrogance, decimating social housing, demolishing green energy, and demonising refugees.
And they are taking their chance to change the rules in their favour.. attacking public funding for the opposition to hold them to account, opposing Lords reform, gerrymandering boundaries and undermining the independence of the BBC.
Even if you are a hardened Tory, you should be appalled by what this government is doing to our democracy.
And you know what? It makes me unbelievably angry…. With Labour.
Let me be clear about this.
I’m not angry because Labour is now run by the kind of people who used to try and sell me tedious newspapers outside the Students’ Union. That’s their funeral.
I am angry with Labour because their internal chaos is letting this government off the hook.
The Corbyn agenda is about taking over the Labour party, not rescuing Britain.
I will not stand by while the Tories dig in for a generation.
We can be, we must be, what stands in their way.
We have to build that force.
Ward by ward, house by house, issue by issue.
Pick a ward and win it.
This May, next May, all year round.
We can win anywhere, you can win anywhere if you immerse yourself in your community.
You keep in touch, you get things done.
We know, that no matter where you’re from, your parents’ wealth, the colour of your skin, your gender, your faith, or who you love, you must have every opportunity to succeed. And you have a home with us.
Together we can show a liberal vision for Britain that isn’t obsessed with self interest, or the here and now, but the long term future of our country.
With strategic capital investment.
Strong, local public services.
And a well paid public sector.
Where enterprise is encouraged.
Where clean energy creates jobs.
And where everyone has the right to a decent home.
And where desperate people fleeing war and persecution are not demonised, they are welcomed.
We are the opposition that will talk to our country about our country.
A champion for communities when they need it.
The voice for junior doctors.
Standing by our teachers.
We can be the voice that Britain needs, and become the movement to make that difference.
Find your community, and make that difference.
Liberal Democrats. This is our vision for Britain.