by Steve Beasant on 23 September, 2015
When I was growing up my school didn’t have a sixth form. I guess that’s because most of us didn’t do A levels. So I went to a separate sixth form college – Runshaw in Leyland – and, in my first week, I joined the Liberal Party.
I also joined a band.
I’m assuming you may have seen the photos.
The only good thing I can say is that because the photos are pre-digital they are so low resolution that you can’t make out the eye-liner.
But I’ve got a worse confession. On a Saturday night, I watch X Factor…with the kids. It’s a terrible programme, but strangely compelling.
It is a desperately guilty pleasure – I have to cleanse myself by listening to Radio 6 for 2 solid hours afterwards.
Anyhow, my mates from the band are still my mates.
Our keyboard player rang me up a couple of weeks ago – he said, ‘Tim – we should re-form, enter X Factor next year’.
I said, one: we’re 45, two: I’m a bit busy, 3: we’re still rubbish.
So you will be pleased to learn that my relationship with X Factor will remain as being merely a viewer. Just for the kids of course.
Time with our children is pretty much my top priority. Even in the most extreme of circumstances – like May 8th.
Rosie and I got home from the count in Kendal that morning – just in time to get the kids up, have breakfast with them and get them to school.
The kids were in good form. They were pleased to see us.
We’d held Westmorland, Daddy still had a job, but to be honest, it didn’t feel much like victory, not when dozens of friends had lost their seats.
The result was utterly devastating. Politically. Personally.
People who had served their communities as only Liberal Democrat MPs ever do or ever will, swept out on a wave of fear and grievance.
But all of that pales in comparison to the much greater tragedy just a few weeks later. The loss of Charles Kennedy. Charles’s death has robbed us of the sharpest mind, the wittiest tongue and the nicest bloke.
The 23 year old who came from fourth place to gain Ross Cromarty and Skye. That same Charles Kennedy who inspired so many who had doubts to support the merger of Social Democrats and Liberals.
Charles, who led us to our largest number of MPs in living memory.
Charles, who took on every corner of the establishment and led the campaign against the illegal Iraq War.
Charles, we are so proud of you, and we will rebuild and we will fight back and we will do it in your honour.
Charles’ death may have provided a sense of perspective but back on the morning of 8th May, I didn’t feel much of that.
I expected the result to be bad. Just not that bad.
And then Nick made that speech.
I can honestly say that no political speech has ever moved or motivated me more than Nick’s words that bleak morning.
I quoted it on the day I won the leadership election and I make no apology for quoting it again this afternoon.
Nick told us:
“This is a very dark hour for our party but we cannot and will not allow decent liberal values to be extinguished over night.
“Fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost. But it is more precious than ever and we must keep fighting for it.”
Well the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. And it turns out – I wasn’t the only one.
Up and down the country 20,000 people chose to stand up and say, “No. Liberalism will not die. Not on our watch.”
They chose not to be powerless dismayed spectators and instead became active, engaged players.
So they joined the Liberal Democrats, and I am told 500 of the new members that have joined since the election are here today. We thank you and applaud you.
Now the leadership campaign that followed Nick’s resignation buzzed with the energy created by those new members.
I’m sure it was the same for Norman, because I felt fuelled by it.
To be honest with you, it was tough being in a contest with your friend.
Norman, I am inspired by your passion about what we’d achieved in government, and your determination to return us to power so that we can make a difference again. You give politics a good name, and you make me proud to be a Liberal Democrat. Thank you.
So, Norman and I must have travelled thousands of miles, the length and breadth of Britain, from Aberdeen to St Austell, Cardiff to Colchester, talking to thousands and thousands of members and supporters.
And time and again, I heard the same message. We both did.
We are liberals. We are proud of the Liberal Democrats. We are proud of what we did in Government. Proud of our record and proud of our party.
You know, there are those that would like me to take this opportunity to distance myself from the past five years, to say it was all some dreadful mistake, to say: “I disagree with Nick.”
But I don’t. So I won’t.
I came into politics to change things, to make a difference, to make people’s lives better.
And to do that, you need the power to bring about change.
There is nothing grubby or unprincipled about wanting to win. Nothing noble about defeat. Losing sucks, losing robs you of your chance to make people’s lives better.
What’s the point in being right if you never get to put your policies into action?
So I am proud of what we did in government and I am determined that we will return to government.
Did we make mistakes in Government? Of course, but show me a government that didn’t.
When we come to measure our time in Government the scales are heavily weighed in our favour.
Millions of the poorest workers lifted out of paying income tax. Children no longer locked up in immigration detention centres. Thousands of schools better able to support children from the poorest backgrounds. Millions of pupils with a free school meal to help them through the day. And same sex couples, finally getting the freedom to marry the person they love.
And still more important than any of these victories for ordinary people was our willingness to enter into coalition at all.
A coalition that provided the economic stability that Britain so desperately needed -which today is the foundation of the fastest growing economy in the G7.
We paid a heavy price for our time in government, but we did right by our country.
We showed that we are serious about taking power, serious about how we exercise power, and serious about sharing power in the interests of the country and the people.
So we will learn from the last five years, but we will not disown the last five years.
Those five years where Liberal Democrats made a difference, made Britain more successful. Five years where we learnt that power is tough… but worth it.
Five tough years for us, but five tougher months for Britain since.
Since May, the Government has threatened the Human Rights Act, demonised refugees, penalised working families, abandoned green energy.
You know, if ever you doubted the effectiveness of the Liberal Democrats in Government just look at what’s happening without us
In the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone “
Except for one thing – we are not gone.
We may not be able to change our country from the top down, just for now, but we can change it from the bottom up. Our party must do more than just survive, we must grow, we must thrive, we must rebuild.
That is why our mission is to put Liberal Democrats back in power at every level throughout Britain. And we will start with next year’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, for the National Assembly in Wales, for the London Assembly, and for local government across the country.
If others wish to abandon serious politics, serious economics, that is their lookout. But you can be certain that the Liberal Democrats will occupy every inch of that progressive liberal space because you cannot change people’s lives from the glory of self-indulgent opposition.
Instead, I want us to be serious about power.
We didn’t lose the election because our policies weren’t good enough…. or because our manifesto wasn’t long enough.
We lost because people didn’t know who we were, what our values were.
So it’s time to tell people who we are. Let’s be liberals.
So why am I a liberal?
My sister and I were brought up in Preston, in a terrace house on a main road in the shadow of the gasworks.
Very young parents, then divorced parents, lovely people, both worked hard, neither of them with much money.
We lived with my Mum.
She was out of work at times, so were most of my mates’ parents. Looking back, I guess we might have been on or below the breadline from time to time.
But that’s the mark of great parents. We didn’t realise we had it hard until much much later. Thinking back, I owe both my Mum and my Dad a vast debt.
So I don’t want you to feel any pity for me. I certainly didn’t feel poor or disadvantaged – I had a great childhood.
Mostly I saw how hard my parents had to work. My Dad was full-time in the building trade, and he made ends meet by DJing on Friday and Saturday night.
I have inherited all of his passion for music… and none of his talent.
But I learnt that for most people, success only comes from taking responsibility and making your own luck.
My Mum worked part-time on the checkout at a department store.
She couldn’t get more hours, so she took a risk, did a clerical qualification that took a year and then became a secretary at the local newspaper.
After a few years, things were still tight, so Mum took another massive risk. She went to university, aged 33, not easy with two kids.
She eventually became a university lecturer, and I’ve never been more proud as the day, a few years later, when I was with her as she got her PhD.
She died far too young, but she worked her socks off and she achieved a vast amount against the odds. With opportunity she was able to succeed and make a better life for herself and us.
That’s our liberal challenge, that’s our inspiration: providing people the chance to be the best they can be through opportunity and hard graft.
So, there was great poverty in parts of our community.
But there was no such thing as the idle poor.
All around me where I grew up in Lancashire I saw people who worked dead hard just like my parents – if they had work.
And otherwise they worked dead hard just to get work.
It was a discipline that was reinforced in us by good schools and great teachers, helping us achieve well beyond what was expected.
And I came to understand that individuals had to take responsibility for their own lives.
And I came to understand that our job – the Liberal Democrat’s job – is to give those who are able to take responsibility for their own lives, the chance to succeed.
But also I realised that inequality means that millions of people don’t have the chance to take that responsibility because they aren’t born to the right parents, in the right town or sent to the right school. That is utterly wrong.
It demeans us collectively. Damages us economically. Disadvantages us all.
It is a waste of talent and a wasted opportunity. People deserve better.
Now, many of you have heard me say this before, but its true, so I’m saying it again.
When I was 14 I saw a repeat of a film called ‘Cathy Come Home’. The film was 18 years old when I watched it first, but it still felt raw.
It’s not a feel-good movie, it doesn’t have any CGI, but I can vouch for its special effects.
It’s a film about a young woman whose life gets gradually and brutally torn apart for lack of stable housing.
Eviction follows eviction until the council eventually take away her kids. All because they couldn’t find a decent home at a rent they could afford.
Now that was 50 years ago but not nearly enough has changed.
Cathy come home lit a spark in me – it made me angry, it energised me, it made me want to get up and get involved. And so I did, and I haven’t stopped.
You see, I meet Cathys in my surgery most weeks. People in housing need, desperate for a home, desperate to be settled, desperate for dignity.
Maybe some in politics can look at this desperation and shrug it off, or ignore it, rationalise it, or tolerate it. Well I can’t. I can’t.
Maybe this doesn’t feel like anything to do with you. Maybe your housing situation is comfortable. But the chances are that your children’s isn’t, and I bet your grandchildren’s won’t be.
Access to affordable housing affects us all because it is the entry ticket to society, to security and stability, to work, health and community.
Because without secure, affordable and stable housing how can you be sure that you can send your kids to the same school one term after the next?
How can you be confident you can keep your children safe and warm?
How can you apply for and hold down a job to feed and clothe them?
And, without this confidence, how can you have the peace of mind to concentrate on anything else?
The worry and the burden of not knowing if you can pay the mortgage, pay the rent, stay in the same place for more than six months at a time, is devastating to millions and millions of British people.
People often talk about moving house being one of the most stressful experiences in life. But for millions of British people, without a stable or affordable home, that stress, that instability, that uncertainty is a debilitating reality, every single day. And I will not accept it.
We will not tolerate it, so together we will fix it.
Housing is the biggest single issue that politicians don’t talk about. Well, we are going to talk about it, campaign on it, go on and on and on about it, and make a difference to the millions who have been ignored.
We have had enough empty rhetoric on housing. We need action now.
Liberal Democrats have a target of building 300,000 homes a year – a massive challenge, but we must be prepared to meet it. And this means bold choices.
We will give councils the freedom and power to borrow so they can start building again.
We will create 10 new garden cities with the infrastructure they need to thrive.
We will create a housing investment bank to bring in much more cash and give the industry the support and the security it needs.
And we will lead the opposition to the forced sell-off of housing association properties.
Communities up and down this country have spent 25 years building housing association homes, picking up the pieces of Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of council housing, and we will not allow David Cameron to destroy that work too…
So like I said, I went to college and then on to university in Newcastle where I wrote a lot of sure-fire electropop masterpieces, and one or two essays.
And on leaving university, I got a job in, well, a university – Lancaster University.
In my space time, I became a grassroots activist, and then, in the way of these things, a councillor, and in 1998, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale – a seat we hadn’t won since 1906.
So that was promising.
Every community is special, there is beauty in every part of this country – but I think I’m allowed to say, Westmorland is something else.
I might be biased, but it’s a blessed place to live, to raise a family, to run up the fells. To feel miniscule against the open skies, the vast lakes, the towering mountains.
And who needs focus groups when you can stand in Kendal market and find out exactly what people think. Even if you don’t ask them.
The exploitation of dairy farmers by the supermarkets, brought to life for me by the young farmer who tells me of her 365 day a year job where she must sell milk for five pence a litre less than it costs her farm to produce it.
The family terrified because their daughter’s mental health condition is worsening while an appointment with a professional is still weeks away.
The 75 year old couple who’ve decided together to stop his cancer treatment early because they can’t bear the 100 mile round trip, day after day, week after week to get to the nearest radiotherapy centre.
All too often the people of Westminster live in their own little Westminster echo chamber. They’re not bad people, but they see the world only through Westminster eyes.
My approach – our approach – has always been, and will always be, different.
It is to be immersed in our communities, to be part of them, so that we can speak for them.
To fight with all our energy, to never go native, never be part of the furniture, never lose touch with reality.
It is often said that the other parties have vested interests, but that we have none.
Not true. We have vested interests too.
They are the people in our streets, our towns, our villages. The people in Britain who have no one to speak for them.
Our job is to speak up for those people. To defend their homes and their hospitals, their schools and their post offices, and to be their voice.
Now, some of the poorest people I know run their own businesses.
They employ half a dozen people, whose families they know by name and to whom they are massively loyal, so loyal that in hard times they will keep those workers on and pay themselves nothing.
Liberals must be on the side of business – ambitious for business – tearing down the barriers that stop businesses from fulfilling their ambitions.
It is unambitious for the government to power down the Northern Powerhouse by stalling promises to electrify the Transpennines route.
Instead, we say – invest in the best rail links in Europe.
It is unambitious to pull up the drawbridge and cut ourselves off from the world’s biggest market.
Instead, we say – commit our future to being at the heart of Europe, embracing skills, talent and trade.
It is unambitious for modern Britain when it takes less time to walk to the post box than it does to upload a document via a steam powered internet connection.
Instead, we say – universal, superfast broadband is an essential investment for business and for all our communities no matter where they are in the UK.
So when I say we want an ambitious, active government, prepared to invest in skills, homes and infrastructure, to free individuals to be the very best they can be, it is because I am a liberal, and to be a liberal is to support those with enterprise.
And at a time of historic low interest rates, now is the time to lay foundations for future prosperity; making long term capital investments that generate growth, and that our economy and businesses need – in rail, in housing and in broadband.
Business needs stable economic conditions to thrive and grow. A strong, fair, liberal and sustainable economy is the essential core that enables people to succeed, shape their own futures and get support in times of need.
The Liberal Democrats are proud of our economic record in Government and we will build on what we have achieved so far to develop a strong and clear liberal vision for the British economy into the future.
That’s why we remain committed to the abolition of the structural deficit.
Our commitment to clearing the deficit by 2017/18 is right.
Not ending the deficit now means leaving the next generation to clear up our mess, and that’s simply unfair. By ignoring economic realities, Britain would be choosing more austerity, not less.
But what is equally unfair is to place the burden of ending that deficit on the backs of the poorest and lowest paid – we must all play our part, based on our ability to pay.
That, George, is what “being all in it together” really means.
So that’s the Liberal Democrat economic approach. Invest in infrastructure, innovation and innovators. Pay off our debts and share our burdens fairly.
That’s the common sense approach. Ambitious government, social justice, economic competence.
And we must build an economy for future generations – modern, high-skilled, innovative.
The heart of that economy will be green industries: renewable energy, low-carbon transport, green finance – all areas in which Britain is already a world leader.
There are more offshore wind turbines around our coasts than everywhere else in the rest of the world put together.
These industries are making products and technologies which a decarbonised world will want to buy.
They will bring jobs, exports and prosperity and at same time reduce emissions and tackle climate change.
But what is the government doing?
Dismantling at breathtaking speed every policy Liberal Democrat ministers put in place to support green industries.
Driven by dogma and an obsession with short-term cuts, they are cutting off at the knees a sector which grew at more than 7% a year from 2010 to 2013, compared with less than 2% for the UK economy as a whole.
When Al Gore, John Gummer and the boss of the CBI all warn you you’re doing the wrong thing – which is what happened yesterday – that chance are, you’re on the wrong track.
This government needs to realise it’s making the wrong move at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.
Liberal Democrats will fight the government every inch of the way.
But it was so much easier when we were able to promote green industries from within government.
An ambition and ability to change things. That’s why I became an MP.
But you know, I have never felt so common as the day I entered the House of Commons.
I have never met so many well-spoken, expensively educated people. It doesn’t make them bad people. But it does make me feel like an outsider.
But that’s fine, because Liberal Democrats are outsiders.
Even when we are on the inside, we are outsiders: taking the side of the outsider… are you with me?
Right from our foundation, we have identified with the needs and interests of those that do not hold power, who are excluded from privilege, the underdogs, the dispossessed – the poor, the migrant, the refugee – who simply want the chance to prove themselves on a level playing field.
Liberalism’s roots are buried deep in anti-establishment politics, opposing privilege.
We speak for the outsiders, for the governed not the governors. The voiceless and the voteless.
As many of you know, during the summer, I went to Calais.
I went because I wanted to see what was going on for myself and because my liberal instinct told me to be suspicious when the establishment started pointing the finger at outsiders.
I wanted to gauge the scale of the problem, to see whether we were being told the truth, I wanted to see the people and not the label.
So I met with people and heard their stories of harrowing risks, dangers fled and desperation for their children.
I have to tell you, not a single one of them mentioned coming to Britain to draw benefits.
Indeed, more than that. Not a single one of them had ever heard of Britain’s benefits system.
They wanted to come to Britain to be safe, to work, to contribute.
They see our country as a place of opportunity, a place where you can make the most of yourself, a place where you can be the best you can be – a liberal place.
Because I tell you frankly: you don’t risk everything clinging to the bottom of a truck if you’re looking for an easy life.
I met a 14 year-old boy who had broken both of his legs trying to board a lorry. He was in a wheelchair pushed by a boy who was 11. Both had lost their parents, both were alone.
And I realised that the UK government was ignoring their humanity, it was just stuck in media management mode, following not leading.
And the Government is still following the story. It’s just a rather different one.
It’s the body of a three year old boy face-down in the surf.
And what we’ve had from David Cameron is a careful calibration of what it will take to manage that story, the minimum effort for the maximum headlines.
And a policy which will not directly help a single one of the hundreds of thousands currently on the move across Europe.
It’s pitiful and embarrassing and makes me so angry.
Because I am proud to be British and I am proud of Britain’s values, so when Mr Cameron turns his back on the needy and turns his back on our neighbours.
I want the world to know, he does not speak for me, he does not speak for us, he does not speak for Britain.
You know after the Second World War, Britain offered homes to several thousand children who had survived the death camps but whose parents had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Only 700 children came.
That was all who were left alive to take up our offer.
I know this story because 300 of them were sent to my patch to recuperate and became known as the Windermere boys.
This act was not an aberration; this was instinctively consistent with British values.
And so I find myself thinking about the Jewish refugees that our grandparents saved in the 1930s.
And I think about the Ugandan Asians offered a safe haven by our parents from that murderous tyrant, Idi Amin.
And it makes me realise the pride I feel in Britain when we do show such generosity of spirit.
But not only that. I realise how much richer – culturally, socially, economically – our society is today, because of our generosity then.
What a lesson in seeing the best in people and not the worst.
What a lesson in liberalism.
As the party of outsiders, we will stand up for the outsiders. And I will start today.
Winter is coming and the risks and hardships faced by those seeking sanctuary will only increase.
If you are shocked by the pictures on our TV screens today, just think how much worse they will look when the snows come to the Balkans.
If we don’t act now, many more will die.
So I am calling on our Government to opt in now to the EU plan to take our share of the refugees to be relocated throughout the continent.
And I call on them to work with our neighbours to establish safe and sustainable reception centres, not only to process claims but to provide the shelter and security which the refugees so desperately need.
And I call on the Government to provide the necessary financial support that our local authorities will need to help settle refugees, so as not to set community against community.
This is an international solution to an international crisis.
This is the Britain Liberal Democrats want to live in.
And if that’s the Britain that makes you proud too, then join us,
We need you and you need us.
So, what makes a liberal?
A liberal is someone who looks for the best in people, not the worst. We believe everyone is of equal value and that people always achieve more together than they do when they are at each others’ throats.
That sounds like common sense doesn’t it? But not everyone agrees with us.
In Northern Ireland – unionists and republicans risk conflict and insecurity for the sake of cheap votes ahead of next May’s elections. Blaming the other, not seeing the best in each other.
And in the rest of the UK, we see nationalists wrapped in the Union Jack, and the Saltire. Blaming the other, not seeing the best in each other.
And throughout Britain, we see little Englanders seeking to leave the European Union. Blaming the other, not seeing the best in each other.
There is a common theme.
From the mouths of too many politicians come words of division and separation, spite and displacement.
It’s all the fault of Brussels, or the English, or the Scots, or the immigrants, or the idle poor, or the idle rich or business people, or the young, or the old, or foreigners or anybody else.
If you think that is wrong. If you reject the politics of blame and separation. If you say Britain is best when Britain is together. If you say Britain is best when it is outward looking, modern and inclusive. Then guess what? You’re a liberal.
Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition.
And if that’s the case we need you to help us win the most important vote in a generation. The referendum to keep Britain in Europe.
The campaign to remain within the European Union – must be made with the head and the heart.
It’s time for Britain to lead, not leave.
Our national interest does not end at Dover.
Together we are stronger in the fight against the global problems that don’t stop at borders. Together we can fight climate change, together we can stop international crime, and together we can provide hope for the desperate.
I am proud to be part of a united Europe.
I grew up, like many here, in the shadow of the cold war and the bomb. Now in the continent, that was wracked by conflict over centuries, countries now sit down and talk to each other around a single table.
So be in no doubt: whenever the EU referendum comes, however the other parties split, there will be one party united in its commitment to maintain Britain’s place in Europe.
No ifs, no buts. That party will be the Liberal Democrats.
Leaving the European Union would damage every community in Britain. It would be a killer blow to our prosperity, our security, our stability, our relevance. It would be staggeringly unpatriotic.
There’s been a lot of nonsense written about Jeremy Corbyn’s patriotism following a service at St Paul’s a week ago.
Is it a threat to Britain if the leader of the Labour party doesn’t sing the national anthem? Not really.
Is it a threat to Britain if the leader of the Labour party is ambivalent about Britain’s future in Europe? Absolutely!
In the coming months, if you want to back Britain, you need to back the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU.
And because this is so important, you can’t afford just to agree with us, you have to join us.
Join us, because outside Europe Britain is weaker, more isolated and less able to defend its own interests.
Join us, because this is a once in a generation threat to our economy and our identity as a decent outward looking people.
Join us because if you leave it to someone else they maybe leaving it to you.
There are millions of people in Britain who know in their hearts that they are liberals.
We need to convince them now to become Liberal Democrats.
And here’s a thing. There are thousands of people who are liberals who are currently in other parties.
Maybe you are currently a Conservative – and you see your vote being used to punish working people on low incomes and to punish business by toying with exit from Europe?
Maybe you are currently in the SNP – and you see your vote being used to chase a second referendum while devolved services like the NHS are creaking at the seams.
Maybe you are currently in the Labour party – and you see your vote being used to pedal fantasy economics that will cause greater poverty and austerity.
I have this message for you.
If you are a liberal, why don’t you join the liberals?
If you are a liberally-minded person in another party which is not what you would want it to be, join us.
If you have never been involved in politics before but are dismayed by the blame, division, fantasy or fear you see peddled by others, join us.
If you have been a Liberal Democrat before and find your passion reignited, join us.
Because, now more than ever, being a spectator is not an option. Action is vital.
Go online now – join the Liberal Democrats today.
Today, we see threats to our human rights, to our economy, to our planet.
But we also see amazing opportunities. The world is changing so fast with revolutionary new technologies and new ways of doing business.
Hardly surprising then, that the political world is changing too, at a pace we can barely contemplate.
Today, with four and a half years until the next general election, the Official opposition seems to have left the playing field.
Less than five months since the worst result for our party in 45 years the circumstances have contrived to make our party more relevant, more central, more essential than we have ever been.
Britain needs an opposition that is economically credible, radical, liberal.
Britain needs an opposition that is passionate and socially just.
Britain needs an opposition that is serious about power to make a difference, to improve all our lives.
Under my leadership the Liberal Democrats will be that opposition, because if we do not do this, it is clear now that no one else will.
The alternative will be years of a disastrous one-party monopoly.
We do not have the right to rest after the trials of government.
As Jo Grimond said, ‘in times of war, in times of doubt Generals were advised to march their troops towards the sound of gunfire’
Well, troops I hear gunfire.
Fellow Liberal Democrats, there has never been more space for us, never been more need for us, never been a bigger challenge for us.
Against all the odds, we have just been given the chance to take centre stage.
We will accept that role.
It’s time for Liberal Democrats to win again.Leave a comment