Monday, 16 September 2013

Kirsty Williams' Speech At Liberal Democrat Conference

Conference,

In just over a year, the people of Scotland will come to a fork in the road.

As Liberal Democrats we must welcome the opportunity for the people of Scotland to have their voice heard in a referendum,

But also, as Liberal Democrats,

we must campaign harder than ever before to persuade the people of Scotland to remain with us.

Our mantra of being stronger together in the European Union applies equally, if not more, for the union of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

And Conference, it is no surprise that Liberals have played such an important part in trying to create a federal Britain.

Gladstone, practically inventing the concept of home rule.

Lloyd George, championing home rule at the beginning of the last century.

Jo Grimond who called for a federal United Kingdom in his House of Commons maiden speech in 1950

Liberals who have fought hard before us

had the vision and the courage to call for greater autonomy for the people of these nations.

I would like to thank Sir Menzies Campbell for continuing that fight for home rule.

His commission, set up by Willie Rennie, seeks to put the United Kingdom on track to become a federal union.

Because we cannot allow the SNP to run the constitutional agenda of the UK.

It is up to us, Liberal Democrats, to steer that debate,

and to bring it back from the extremes of separation towards a more balanced settlement.

A settlement that recognises the need for more autonomy across the UK

In Wales and Scotland - yes

But also London, England, the regions.

On this most important of issues, people agree with us.

Only 9% of people in Wales want independence but they do want more powers

In Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and I have been making a strong case for the devolution of fiscal and further powers for the National Assembly through the work of the Silk Commission.

It was hard work writing that commission into the coalition agreement in the first place

It was a struggle to get the Tories to make good on that agreement.

It will be harder still to get the Conservatives to implement its recommendations.

But I know that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Jenny Randerson will push and push and push for the powers that Wales needs.

This isn't power for its own sake.

Wales needs power over stamp duty to boost the housing industry

Wales needs the power to vary income tax to ensure the Welsh Government takes responsibility for spending.

Wales needs borrowing powers to invest in infrastructure to stimulate the economy.


The Scots are not buying the idea of being separated either

but they do want to have more say over their own affairs.

As Sir Menzies eloquently said in his commission,

Liberal Democrats strive to ensure that individuals have the freedoms to control the circumstances of their lives

for the benefit of themselves, their families and their community.

" a federal framework with as much power as feasible exercised by the nations and regions"

That is what our constitution says.

Because when the nations of the United Kingdom come together,

we are stronger, it is a much fairer system.

Stronger and fairer because individuals and communities will have more say in the governance of their own lives.

Stronger and fairer because every part of the United Kingdom will have more responsibility over their own affairs.

Devolution and federalism,

It's not just a Scottish thing

or a Welsh idea.

It is a key Liberal Democrat philosophy

and a belief that we need to continue to fight for.

The Conservatives are conflicted.

Labour confused.

Nationalists just want separation.

Our view, the Liberal view for 100 years and more is the people's view.

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Now, while Willie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are fighting the SNP government here in Scotland,

the Welsh Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are playing opposition to a weak and lacklustre Labour Government in Wales.

Labour, governing on their own, cannot be trusted to run a country.

Labour, in charge, by themselves,

cannot run a decent health service that provides for those in need,

or an education system that gets the best out of our pupils,

or grow an economy that will give us those much needed jobs.


Ed Miliband has said that accident and emergency is the barometer of the NHS

and that A&E waiting times hadn't been met in England for the past two months.

According to Mr Miliband's barometer "the NHS was in distress."

I wonder what he says behind closed doors about the A&E waiting times in Wales - under the leadership of his colleague, Carwyn Jones

the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK,

the First Minister of Wales,

Because those A&E targets have NEVER been met in Wales.

Last March, Mr. Miliband said that

"We have a great deal to learn from the great things that Carwyn and his government are doing."

Great things? Really?

If you need an ambulance urgently in Powys, the Welsh side of the border,

There's only a 50/50 chance that the ambulance will get to you within the target 8 minutes.

Are you waiting for an operation on the Welsh side of the border?

Good luck to you as you could be waiting more than 8 months for treatment

while your neighbour just across the border waits 18 weeks.

Wales' biggest hospital has been branded dangerous by the Royal College of Surgeons.

Senior medical staff are openly writing about lives being put at risk in our A&E departments.

We have cancer treatment targets that have not been met in five years,

A&E targets that have never been met

and ambulance response times that are by far the worst in the UK.

All this despite the huge efforts and commitment by NHS staff in Wales.

But don't take my word for it.

Listen to senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who is conducting a review into the English NHS

Her verdict?

"Wales is behind England in every instance"

"Great things" Mr. Miliband?

What about education?

In Wrexham, a child on free school meals gets £450 under the Welsh pupil premium.

A child from a few miles across the border, in Chester, gets £1,300 towards their education.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats had to bring the Labour party kicking and screaming to fund the pupil premium in our budget deal. You would have thought that Labour would jump at the change of helping poorer students.

In the next budget round, my team and I are fighting to see that amount increased.

Because £1,300 per child compared to £450 per child. Well that's simply not right.

Poorer Welsh children will fall even further behind their English counterparts.

So much for Labour's commitment to social justice.

6 out of 22 local education authorities have been placed in special measures.

Over 65,000 children being taught in education authorities assessed as inadequate by the government's own inspectors.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?

Or what about job creation and the economy?

On the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary, not a single brick laid and not a single job created in the Cardiff Enterprise Zone.

The Bristol enterprise zone on the other hand is employing hundreds of people since last April.

Unemployment in Wales is consistently higher than in England, especially amongst our young people.

There's been a 35% increase in the number of apprenticeships offered in England since 2010.

In Wales, that number has fallen by a third and communities risk losing a generation of talented young people.

Welsh businesses complain

Of a muddled approach to small businesses.

Of a review of business rates sat gathering dust

Of stifling bureaucracy and red tape.

But then the Welsh Labour Economy minister

famously once said that she regretted capitalism.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?


For anyone who needs a reminder to see what Britain would look like under Labour,

come to Wales.

We can show you what it's like to have Labour in charge.

Miliband has tried to distance himself from the legacy of New Labour.

But in Wales we've never had new Labour,

just 14 years of the same old Labour party.

So come and see for yourselves how Labour can't be trusted to run the economy.

See for yourselves how Labour can't handle public finances.

See for yourselves how our education system and health service struggles.

Labour has no vision for Wales.

Tom Jones may have famously sung about the Green Green Grass of Home,

But I can assure you.

The grass is not greener on Labour's pastures.


Now if you think that Labour governing on their own is bad

just what kind of country would we be living in if the Conservatives were let off the leash in Westminster?

When the Liberal Democrats were busy ensuring that the Queen's Speech was full of new laws to strengthen our economy and ensure fairness in our society,

Tory backbenchers were also busy conjuring up their own alternative legislation.

We had Steve Webb's Pensions Bill ensuring that saving for retirement is simpler and fairer.

while the True Blue squad wanted to decimate the overseas aid budget.


Ed Davey wants the Energy Bill to create as many as 250,000 jobs,

creating that stronger, greener economy we all strive for.

The Tory climate change deniers want to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change altogether.


Liberal Democrats want to legislate to help families with the cost of childcare,

supporting people who want to get back to work.

The Bone-Squad wanted to turn back the clocks and reintroduce national service for young people.

And ban the burka,

And abolish sexual harassment claims in the workplace

Send all asylum seekers away,

Come out of the EU altogether,

Reintroduce capital punishment,

and my favourite of all - a day celebrating Margaret Thatcher,

We may well laugh, but these people are serious.

And Peter Bone said those madcap ideas "could form the basis of a future Conservative manifesto."

Well I don't share his vision for Britain. I want my children to grow up in a country that is liberal,

accepting of the fact that regardless of your sexuality,

you should be able to marry the person you love.

And a country that is tolerant,

recognising that diversity is a strength, not a threat,

And a country that is fair,

Where your future is determined by your abilities not your parent's pay cheque.


The Liberal Democrat stamp was on that Queen's Speech back in May.

Our Liberal Democrat team, Nick, Danny, Vince, Ed and the others,

they're all ensuring that a strong Liberal streak runs through the UK government's policies.

Fighting to ensure that the coalition's moral compass is pointing the right way.


A headline in the Daily Mail read………Now, I know it's not a promising start to a sentence in any speech but bear with me…

A headline in the Daily Mail last year read:

"I'd govern like a true Tory………… if it wasn't for the Lib Dems."

David Cameron's own words.

He's right.

If it wasn't for the Lib Dems in government,

Regional Pay would have been introduced, making Wales and our poor regions even poorer.

If it wasn't for the Lib Dems in government,

The police and the intelligence service would be allowed to read our emails,

snooping into your affairs.

If it wasn't for the Lib Dems in government,

we would be on our way out of Europe,

languishing on the side-lines without power and influence.

The Tory axe would have cut deeper into the welfare budget.

The super-rich would be hoarding more of their money,

aided and abetted by Tory inheritance tax breaks.

And private companies would have taken over our schools and running them for a profit.

If it wasn't for the Lib Dems, Britain would be a very different country now.


But with Liberal Democrats in government,

We have a fairer tax system where millions of low and middle income workers see more of their hard earned money back in their pocket.

A policy that was on the front page of our manifesto.

In difficult times, these are the people who we should be helping.

Pushing the income tax threshold up and up is already having a huge impact on many people.

If you are on the minimum wage, the Liberal Democrat income tax policy means

that you will have had your income tax bill halved.

In Wales, over 100,000 workers aren't paying any income tax at all

and over a million are seeing 600 pounds back in their pocket.


With Liberal Democrats in government,

pensioners have seen the link between the basic state pension and earnings restored.

Page 18 of our manifesto.

With Liberal Democrats in government,

thousands of young people are being offered training as apprentices,

ensuring them a good job with skills and a decent salary -

and more importantly, a stake in our society.

Page 24 of our manifesto.


But as much as I like seeing Nick stop the excesses of the Conservatives,

we are not in government just to hold back the Tories.

We are in government to push forward our policies, our vision and our liberal agenda.


Liberal Democrats, we can be proud of what we are achieving in government.

We've stopped talking about how we want to make a difference.

In government, we are making a difference.

And I want us to continue turning party policy into the laws of this land after May -2015

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But conference,

Nick, Paddy, Willie and I,

we can boast, brag and blow our own trumpets about our achievements in government,

about how we are actually creating a stronger economy and a fairer society

However, unless the people of Britain know what we're doing

and how hard we are working

to deliver our policies

on their behalf,

we can forget about being in government in May 2015 and retreat back into opposition. On the side-lines.


The people of Wales and Scotland are used to coalitions.

Liberal Democrats have been in government twice in Scotland and once in Wales.

I know that the junior party in any coalition has to be able to show it has made a difference.

Not just on issues of concern to their core supporters,

but on issues that matter the most

to the rest of the voters in the country.


Welsh Liberal Democrats were proud of what we achieved in coalition,

but when you have three other parties also campaigning in an election,

also trying to catch the attention of the voters,

your achievements can be lost in the political ether.

We weren't rewarded in the ballot box for our successes in government

because we didn't concentrate on the issues that mattered the most to people.


So from now until 2015

We have to be more focused in what we say

our campaigning issues relevant to voters

and the people in this hall and beyond,

we must take ownership of that message and deliver it

over and over and over again.


Jobs - A million plus new jobs and a million more on the way

The economy - Back from the brink of Labour's disaster.

Fair taxes - £700 back in your pocket. The super rich paying more.

Pupil premium - enabling everyone to get on in life.

Liberal Democrats delivering.


Like all of you in this hall today, I am campaigner,

with leaflet ink on my fingers and letter box scars on my hands.

Give me an evening, a village and a bundle of leaflets,

and I will deliver and so will my team.

But we all need to deliver.

Like many of you in this hall today, my campaign is to get as many Liberal Democrat MPs back to Westminster as possible.

Because without Liberal Democrats in government,

you know what will happen;

We'll have a lacklustre, uninspiring, incompetent Labour Government,

like in Wales, wreaking havoc on our public services.

Or an intolerant Conservative government,

hell bent on protecting the very wealthy while trampling on everyone else.

With Liberal Democrats in government,

Britain is recovering,

our economy, stronger

our society, fairer

our country, one where everyone can get on in life

Thank you.