Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech on the Economy

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, on 10th February 2014.

A lot has happened since I spoke here last February. At that time, critics of the government’s economic strategy were still clamouring for a Plan B. Around the country you could feel a growing restlessness as people wondered when, if, things would get better. And, in government, we just had to hold our nerve.

Today, a year later, it’s clear that was the right decision. Growth is back, unemployment down, 1.6 million jobs created in the private sector, the deficit reduced by a third, confidence returning. There is a lot more to do, but Britain is now firmly on the road to health. My party takes a lot of pride in that, we know there are people out there who didn’t think we had it in us. But we entered coalition precisely to provide the stable government needed to fix the economy. And, without the choice the Liberal Democrats took in May 2010 to secure that stability, Britain would not have the steady recovery, rising employment and shrinking fiscal deficit we now enjoy.

We also made sure that the Coalition’s economic strategy is about more than deficit reduction. Sorting out the nation’s finances is essential, but just as important is investing in the things that drive growth. That’s why, despite all of the difficult savings we have had to make, we have still invested in record numbers of apprenticeships; a £3.2bn Regional Growth Fund; the world’s first Green Investment Bank, pioneered by Vince Cable, and we’re investing more in infrastructure as a share of GDP over this decade than under the whole period of the last government.

The Liberal Democrats also understand that it isn’t government that creates jobs and growth, it’s the businesses and investors of Britain who do that. Our task is to create the right conditions for you to power our economy forward. That’s why we stuck to our joint coalition plan, despite considerable political pressure to change course. And we are doing everything we can to protect British trade as the country’s most, you might argue only, properly internationalist party. As we head towards the European elections in May we will continue to make the case for Britain’s membership of the EU – our biggest export market – for the sake of prosperity and jobs.

For all these reasons there would be no sustained recovery without the Liberal Democrats. We have finally been given the chance to show that Britain’s economy can be trusted in our hands. We are not complacent. The trauma in our banking system at the end of the Labour years was profound, much worse than anyone realised at the time. Our continued progress must not be taken for granted, there is still a long way to go; this will not be a one-parliament job.

So my message to you tonight, as Britain’s business leaders, is this: the Liberal Democrats want to finish the job we’ve started and we want the chance to finish it in a way that is responsible and fair. That begins, of course, with completing the task of balancing the books. Sound public finances will not, alone, deliver growth, but they are the foundation on which everything else is built. This is taking longer than the Coalition had hoped, and we’ve been very open about that, extending the timetable was the right thing to do. In the Autumn Statement we set out a plan to get debt falling as a proportion of GDP by 2016/17 and to get the current structural deficit in balance a year later. That is the right timescale and the one to which the Liberal Democrats remain absolutely committed. If I am in government again, this is the plan I want us to stick to.

Ed Balls has now confirmed that Labour think they can put all this off until the end of the next parliament. Borrowing more, piling on more debt, diminishing the confidence of our creditors. But it’s reckless and it threatens the stability that’s been achieved. Ed Miliband keeps promising a recovery for all. But there will be no recovery at all if you won’t see through the difficult decisions and get the job done.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, agree we need to finish what we’ve started, but they will not do that in a way that is fair.  To hold our country together in these difficult times, it is essential that everyone makes a fair contribution. But the Conservative Party has ruled out asking the very wealthy to pay even just a bit more in tax to help the ongoing fiscal effort. Instead they are going to find all of the necessary savings over and above Whitehall cuts by reducing the support we give to the working age poor. The Conservatives have made a deliberate decision that this one group – the working age poor – should be singled out for especially tough sacrifices. When George Osborne says he wants to take a further £12 billion from the welfare budget, that’s actually who he’s talking about. He’s not talking about taking away the universal benefits enjoyed by the very rich, the free TV licences handed out to very wealthy older people. He’s talking about the people scraping by on the minimum wage, the jobseekers who’ve found themselves temporarily down on their luck, the men and women trying to earn their way out of poverty, often working more than one job. Of course we need to get welfare spending at sensible levels. But not through an assault on the hardworking people we should be helping stand on their own two feet.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrats will continue to rely on a mix of tax and spending measures to fill the black hole in our finances, just as we have in this Coalition Government. The Conservatives have decided to break with the approach they have signed up to in government with us in order to pursue spending cuts alone, but I believe, as do most mainstream economists, that a mix of tax and spending measures is the most economically and socially responsible way to proceed. That’s why, for example, my party will continue to advocate a small levy on properties worth over £2 million.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats want to keep cutting income tax for ordinary taxpayers. That will be the main item Danny and I push for in the Budget again. In the next parliament we would raise the personal allowance so that no one pays any income tax on the first £12,500 they earn. It’s our flagship policy because it’s how we make work pay, and it’s our way of making sure the British people know that this recovery is theirs.

So, unlike Labour we’ll finish the job. Unlike the Conservatives we’ll finish it fairly.

What then? My party will be agreeing our manifesto over the coming months. I’m not going to pre-empt that process, we’ll set out our fiscal position in detail in due course. But I can tell you that, as we agree it, we’ll have two big objectives in mind.

The first is delivering decent, high quality public services while maintaining control of state spending. After nearly a decade of austerity this will be one of the biggest challenges for the next government. We need to start having a proper debate about how we do it. At the moment all we’re getting from left and right is the same, familiar argument about the size of the state. On the left we have the prospect of an unaffordable, bloated state built on irresponsible borrowing, unsustainable debt, spending for spending’s sake. On the right, talk of an ever shrinking state, in other words cuts for cuts’ sake. And both are, in my view, putting ideology ahead of good sense. When we have finally sorted out our public finances, why would we suddenly start spending money in a way we can’t afford? Equally, after years of reining in spending, why would we be remorseless and dogmatic about further cuts? What Britain will need is a carefully calibrated approach, government living within its means, while still providing the services people need – first class schools, top quality healthcare, a modern transport system, more homes. And, once we’ve completed the fiscal consolidation and the economy is growing, the services the nation relies on should benefit from that growth. I expect the best way to do this will be broadly to maintain the share of our nation’s wealth used to deliver public services and investment. Once we are paying our way as a country again, the resources we apply to our common good should grow as the economy grows.

Our second objective must be to get debt down to sensible levels as a share of GDP. This issue is going to present a particular challenge to progressive politicians. There will be a temptation, once the structural deficit has been dealt with, to revert to pre-crash assumptions about debt. That is clearly where the Labour party is. In fact, they seem to want to go back to their bad old ways without even dealing with the deficit first. But this is a very dangerous reflex, for one big, simple reason, when we emerge from this crisis, our debt will be twice as high as when we went in. By the middle of the next parliament, it will be over £1.5 trillion – almost 80% of GDP. Some people say that’s ok we can afford the interest, we dealt with high debts after both of the wars, we can do it again now, but that argument doesn’t hold anymore. Think of the world we are living in today, gone is the time when we were one of a very small number of dominant players in the world economy. Increasingly our debt is held by overseas and institutional investors in an evermore competitive global environment. Britain simply cannot rely on servicing very high debts as easily as we have done in the past. We’re already spending a huge amount on servicing our debts. By 2015/16, debt interest will be our third biggest item of annual spending, after social security and the NHS. To put that in context, for that money you could build around 6,000 new schools, or increase the NHS’s budget by more than a half.

We are also an ageing population. It is good news that we can all expect to live longer, but it will come at a price to future generations. The costs of health, social care, pensions are forecast to rise inexorably over the next 50 years. Without policy action, by 2062 the OBR expect our debt to hit 99% of GDP. If we leave today’s debts as they are, those future pressures will be unbearable. And, if we hand over high levels of indebtedness to our children and grandchildren, all we will do is leave them more vulnerable to inevitable future shocks. I hope no politician in this country will ever again claim to have ‘ended boom and bust.’ In an interdependent global economy downturns are inevitable. And if we go into another recession with a high debt to GDP ratio it will be much harder for us to keep the confidence of creditors, to keep the cost of borrowing down. And, as any good Keynesian will tell you, our ability to stimulate our economy will be massively reduced. How can any progressive advocate that? As we have seen in other European countries, when a country loses control of its finances it is the poorest who suffer most.

The job of progressives is to shape the world as it is, not as it was or as we would like it to be. And the Labour party needs to recognise the way the world has changed. In an era of globalisation, integrated financial markets, when we are just emerging from the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and facing huge demographic challenges, we must be alive to the danger of persistently high levels of debt. Yes we will need to invest, my party and I have already committed in the next parliament to keep investing in the country’s productive infrastructure for the sake of our long-term well-being. But it must not come at the expense of our long-term stability. Investing to drive future prosperity must be coupled with sustainable finances – and that’s the balance we will strike. The Liberal Democrats will plot a course which safeguards investment, which protects future generations from future shocks and which ensures that, instead of spending more and more of our money on servicing the interest payments set by international bond traders, we spend it on the support and services the British people need.

For these reasons, in fifteen months I want us to get into government again to finish the job we’ve started, to finish it fairly and, as we head towards the next stage of our recovery, to protect the progress that has been so hard won. Tonight I hope to leave you knowing that you can rely on us. I want you to know that the Liberal Democrats are a party of business precisely because we can be trusted with Britain’s recovery. And because we are determined to build a strong and resilient economy in which Britain’s firms can flourish. Over the coming years I want us to do that together. I want the nation to come out of this crisis better, stronger than when we went in. And every day that I am in government, that is what I will strive to deliver.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech on Mental Health

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, on 20th January 2014.

The problem with mental health

Man Up. Pull Yourself Together. Winners don’t quit – these are some of the negative reactions that greeted Jonathan Trott’s brave decision to leave England’s recent Ashes Tour due to a stress-related condition. No-one would have said those things if Jonathan Trott had broken his wrist, but it’s typical of the different ways that we treat physical and mental health.

It’s damaging. It’s unhelpful. At least 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. That pretty much means that behind every door in Britain, you’ll find a family that includes or knows someone dealing with a mental health condition.

It’s a dad who is off work with stress; a mum suffering panic attacks; a teenager with an eating disorder or a lonely grandfather coping with depression. It’s a good friend who’s feeling suicidal, a neighbour’s son dealing with schizophrenia or a work colleague managing bi-polar disorder.

These are people’s everyday lives. And, as a society, we need to accept that.

We’re still not comfortable talking about mental health. Just imagine yourself stood at the school gates, chatting to other parents. Almost all of us would be fine with mentioning a relative with diabetes, or a family friend undergoing treatment for a broken arm or leg. But, if a loved one was struggling with a mental health problem, would you have the same conversation? For most people, probably not.

I’m not saying everyone should suddenly start talking to strangers about their personal struggles, or the intimate details of their family’s private lives. But I am saying that, when it’s a mental health condition, you shouldn’t have to be so scared about how the outside world will react.

It’s true that over the last few decades huge progress has been made – not least because of campaigning by people and groups in this room. But, all too often, attitudes to mental health are outdated; stuck in the dark ages; full of stigma and stereotypes.

It’s the old-fashioned view that mental health problems should be kept hidden: something to be ashamed of and somehow less deserving of our sympathy or attention than physical illness.

It means a lot of people don’t really understand what those living with mental health problems are going through and how we can help them. And that just puts more strain on the families trying to cope with these difficulties.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve met people with a variety of mental health problems. And all of them have stories about how that lack of wider understanding about mental health makes their lives harder.

Many of them told me they’d found it difficult to get work, because employers had questioned their commitment, or ability to do the job.

Others said they’d struggled to ask for help and had experienced delays, or difficulties in getting the right treatment. On their worst days, all of them felt cut off and alone.

I talk a lot about the need for Britain to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

But we can’t have either, if we ignore this issue, while there are people suffering in silence and their talent and potential are going to waste.

So it’s time for us to bring mental health out of the shadows and to give people with mental health conditions the support they need and deserve.

And I want to pay tribute to those who have stood up and spoken about their own struggles. Whether they are celebrities like Stephen Fry, Trisha Goddard, Ruby Wax, Frank Bruno, Alistair Campbell and others, or everyday heroes like Jonny Benjamin, Wayne Goodwin and all those talking about their experiences in Time to Change’s new publicity campaign. And I know that some of them are here today.

Slowly, but surely, you are transforming people’s attitudes about mental health and ensuring that those who need help know that they are not alone.

I also want to thank the mental health experts and professionals, carers and volunteers – including many of those in the room today – working across our health and social care sectors to deliver the highest quality of services they can. It’s because of your tireless work that, despite the challenges, Britain remains a world leader in this field. And, across the country, we have examples of some of the best possible mental health care in the world.

That includes in Birmingham and Solihull, where they have mental health teams working in Accident and Emergency Departments. This is to ensure that anyone turning up in A&E with mental health difficulties, or substance misuse problems can get help there and then. Doctors and nurses are also trained to recognise the signs of mental health problems and to work with these teams. This is hugely important because it means that a person’s mental and physical health can be treated together.

And at Oxleas Mental Health Services, which I visited last week, and which is already seen as an innovator in this field, where they are taking a new approach to gathering feedback from their patients. This involves producing short films based on patient interviews about care, which are then viewed and discussed by the patients and staff to identify ways to improve services.

We also have world-class cutting edge research. For example, last year, the Mental Health Biomedical Research Centre in South London identified a way to predict how individuals will respond to certain drugs, by studying images of the brain. This could help us develop better treatment in the future.

The challenge ahead

So the government has decided to take a bolder and more focused approach to mental health and wellbeing.

You have a passionate advocate in Norman Lamb, as in Paul Burstow before him. They have and will both continue to fight your corner every step of the way.

In 2011, we launched our new Mental Health Strategy setting out our vision to revolutionise our mental health services and improve the availability of high-quality treatment.

For the first time ever, through the Health and Social Care Act, we’ve enshrined in law the equal importance of mental health alongside physical health.

We’ve made mental health a top priority for NHS England. And they are committed to delivering the change that’s now needed.

These are all vital first steps. But important as they are, they still haven’t made enough of a difference for enough people. And some people with mental health problems are still being treated in ways that are frankly unacceptable.

Waiting times for common mental health services are still too long, especially in certain areas of the country.

There have been stories of people of all ages being transferred, sometimes hundreds of miles, to access a bed. And some children with severe mental health problems are still being cared for in adult wards.

Face-down restraint is still being used – despite clear evidence of how damaging it can be.

And we are still not doing enough to address the often serious physical health problems of those with mental health difficulties. On average, the life expectancy of a man with severe mental illness is 20 years less than the rest of the population. For women, it’s 15 years.

All of this must change.

We recognise that we’ve got a mountain to climb. Physical health has been the priority in our health service for years. That’s what’s generated headlines. It’s where the targets have been set. It’s where the bulk of the money has been spent.

And it’s going to take a huge effort to turn that around and give mental health the focus it deserves, especially when financial pressures are so tough.

So today, we’re launching the government’s new mental health action plan. We’re setting out the top 25 areas where we want to see immediate action to ensure equality for mental health and increase access to the best-possible support and treatment.

It’s a call to action – across the NHS, the mental health sector and wider society – too champion change, to transform outdated attitudes and practices and to improve the lives of people with mental health problems.

Helping young people

That includes better care and support for our young people.

In Britain, 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 16 have diagnosable mental health problems. These young people often fall behind at school; they lose their confidence; maybe they don’t learn how to interact with others; and there can be knock on effects for the rest of their lives.

We know that there are therapies that can really help. And, working with the NHS, we’ve made them available in more and more areas. But there are still too many places where children can’t access this support.

Much of my focus in government has been about giving our young people, especially the most vulnerable in society, the best possible start in life: helping more of our young people with mental health conditions is an essential part of that work.

And that’s why it’s so important to me that the NHS will be extending these therapies to more children and young people. And it is government’s ambition that, by 2018, every child in England who needs this kind of care will be able to access it.

We’ve also committed to tackle many of the problems young people with mental health conditions face when the system starts to treat them as an adult.

Imagine: you’re a young person who’s had to deal with a serious eating disorder. You’ve found the courage to speak up and get help and it’s making a huge difference. As you turn 18, you need to make the move from our child and adolescent mental health services to adult care. This can mean different institutions, different kinds of treatment and different staff. That can be incredibly difficult to cope with.

These young people already have to make some big decisions about their future: whether it’s going to college, leaving home, or getting a job. And if the changes in the support they’re getting aren’t managed properly, it can leave them feeling even more rejected and isolated than they did before. They find themselves with no-one to talk to about what’s happening too them and to help them with the choices they need to make.

As a result, many young people – who still need treatment – drop out of the system all together, just when they were starting to get the help they needed. This makes it harder for them to recover and build the future they want for themselves.

For example, if you are a 17 year-old girl with anorexia, you should have meetings to discuss how your care will be transferred and when. You should also get help to develop a plan for your future care, taking into account how much you’d like your family to be involved. Most importantly, in the 6 months after you’ve moved, if you’ve missed appointments, there should be someone in place who can help you get back into treatment. And, after a year, you and your family should be asked about your experiences and how your treatment and support could be further improved.

That’s an incredibly important step forward. And it is my ambition that this becomes standard practice across the whole of the NHS.

There are already some great examples of local innovation in this area. This includes in Norfolk and Suffolk, where their Youth Mental Health service supports young people from 14 right through to 25, and also in Lancashire, where young people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are getting help to make the transition to adult care successfully.

We should learn from these areas where the results speak for themselves – the improved lives of so many young people.

Greater choice and certainty

Secondly, we want to give greater choice and certainty to mental health patients across the board.

Since 2008, if you’ve needed a hip or knee replacement, you’ve been able to choose exactly which hospital you want to go to for treatment. You’ll also know that you should never have to wait longer than 18 weeks for your operation.

But, if you’re a mental health patient, you don’t get these same rights and choices about where, when, or how you receive treatment. What kind of message does that send, when all of these decisions are taken out of your hands and always made by someone else?

We’ve been talking about patient choice in the NHS for years, but not for someone with mental health problems. This has to change. And, starting from April this year, for the first time ever, people with mental health conditions will have the same legal right to choose where they go for care.

So, for example, if a young man visits his local surgery because he’s worried he might have schizophrenia and his doctor thinks he needs specialist help: now, instead of just automatically referring him for treatment, this young man’s GP will work with him to decide the best service for his needs. And that includes being able to choose the person and provider who will lead his care.

And, from next year, we plan to introduce very clear standards on access and waiting times for mental health services, so that he will also know what kind of treatment to expect and when.

Most importantly, there will be professional help and guidance available for anyone who feels like they can’t make those kinds of decisions about their care alone.

And to give mental health patients more information about where the best services are available and also to improve services, we will be applying our Friends and Family Test to mental health. This means we will be asking patients who’ve used a service, as well as staff, about whether they would recommend it to their friends and family. And, as announced last week, there will be a Deputy Chief Inspector for Mental Health at the Care Quality Commission to shine a spotlight on poor care and showcase the best.

Change across the public sector

In addition, we’re working hard to ensure that the needs of those with mental health problems are considered not just in the NHS, but also across our public sector: with better support in education, employment, the justice sector, housing and elsewhere.

For example, it’s estimated that almost 50% of prisoners suffer from anxiety and/or depression, compared with 15% of the general population. But many of these conditions aren’t diagnosed until they go to prison. So we’re investing £25 million to ensure that expert help is available at our police stations and criminal courts to spot mental health problems, get people the support they need and so help tackle reoffending.

We also understand that mental health can be a barrier to people getting into or back into work. And we asked the research institute, RAND Europe, to come up with ideas about how we can better support those with mental health problems into employment. Today, we’re publishing their report which sets out some exciting recommendations for change, including making sure that our health and employment services work more closely together.

Working together

But, ultimately, it’s going to take all of us working together to achieve the change in attitudes to mental health that we need.

So, I want everyone – in this room and beyond – to commit to achieving our ambitions for better mental health in Britain: creating an environment together where it’s okay to talk about mental health. And where we can be open and support each other.

And today, with government support, Time to Change is launching its new ‘Time to Talk’ campaign across the country. This will include information and guidance to help people talk openly about mental health and get support. It comes ahead of the, first-ever, Time to Talk Day on 6 February.

So if you think someone you know may be struggling: talk to them. It could be just a quick chat over a cup of tea, but it could make all the difference to someone.

If you’re in the media and entertainment industry help us to put an end to the sensationalist stories, inaccurate reporting and negative stereotypes which promote stigma. Give people with mental health problems the chance to tell their stories.

If you’re an employer, work with us to build on the good practice that’s already out there – for example at organisations like BT who understand that the mental well-being of their staff is central to their success as a company. Together, we need to give more people with mental health problems the chance to work and the flexibility and support they need to do their job well.

And, finally, if you’re a professional or expert working across the NHS and mental health sector, or a politician or public sector worker, help us to make mental health a priority across the system.

It’s time for us to bring mental health out of the shadows. It’s time for us to close that gap. It’s time for us to talk about mental health and ensure that everyone, whatever their background and whatever their circumstances, can live a healthier, happier and more successful life.

Thank you.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech on Education

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, on 24th October 2013 at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, London.

The fundamental reason why, I believe, education matters so much is to ensure every child has a fair chance of a successful life. That’s also why, I expect, many of you got into this profession in the first place.

Yet despite the efforts of successive Governments and the progress made to raise education standards in this country, on average, children from poorer families still do worse than their better off peers.

As last week’s report from the independent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission shows, here in Britain, your parents’ income still remains the biggest indicator of what you’ll go on to achieve. More than your talent and potential. And more than in most other countries in Europe.

Some claim this is just a fact a life. They argue that any chance for social mobility in this country ended when the final bell rang for grammar schools, and disparage any efforts to break the link between disadvantage and achievement as social engineering at its worst.

I cannot accept this view. In politics, and in this Coalition, what motivates me and my party – more than any other issue – is increasing social mobility: building a fairer society, where everyone can succeed, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth.

So, when we came into government, in education, we prioritised three things:

First, ending Labour’s micromanagement of our schools. For thirteen years, Labour responded to every problem in our education system with a new target from the central government – frustrating our teachers and stifling the creativity needed to drive excellence across the board.

Second, we wanted to use the muscle of the state to level the playing field so that all children can flourish – not just the well-off. That’s what our £2.5 billion pupil premium is for – additional money to help close the gap, which we are beginning to see having an effect.

And, third, we wanted to make sure that the state is intervening where it can make the biggest difference – when children are young. Access to high-quality early years education helps give children the best possible start in life. That’s why I have made the early years a personal priority: we have increased the hours available for three and four year olds and extended it to two year olds in families which are most feeling the squeeze. Last month I announced free school meals for all children in infant school; and, one of the first things David Laws did when he became Schools Minister was insist that we rebalanced the pupil premium so that more of the money goes to children when they are in primary school, to help them catch up before they fall too far behind.

Freedom for schools; a level playing field for all children: and more support for children in their earliest years.

It’s an approach that seeks to drive diversity and autonomy within the schools system, but with the guarantee of opportunities for all.

So freedom, yes, but with fairness too. For liberals, it is essential we provide both.

FREEDOM WITH FAIRNESS

I’m proud of our work over the last three years to increase school autonomy, which, in Government with the Conservatives, has been through the academies programme. It is Liberal Democrat policy to give all schools, whether they are academies or not, those same freedoms to attract and reward excellent teaching, set their own term dates and vary their school day.

We believe greater autonomy enables school leaders to take responsibility in those areas where they know what’s best for their pupils, whilst also giving them the freedom to innovate.

But it shouldn’t surprise you if I say that, although we work well with the Conservatives, our two parties still have differences of opinion – some strongly held. And looking to the future, there are aspects of schools policy currently affected by the priorities of the Conservative Party which I would not want to see continue.

For example, whilst I want to give schools the space to innovate, I also believe every parent needs to know that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, meets certain core standards of teaching and care. A parental guarantee – if you like.

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education. They don’t care about the latest political label attached to their child’s school. What they want, and expect, is that their children are taught by good teachers, get taught a core body of knowledge, and get a healthy meal every day.

What is the point of having a slimmed-down national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools.

And what is the point of having brilliant new food standards if only a few schools have to stick to the rules? Let’s have quality food in all our schools.

That’s my philosophy. Diversity amongst schools, yes. But good universal standards all parents can rely on too.  And, frankly, it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.

Over the last ten years, there’s been a revolution in the way in which we’ve recruited and trained our teachers. Whether it’s through the on-the-job learning offered through schemes like Teach First and School Direct or the continued contribution of our universities to educating generations of Britain’s teachers.

Together, these diverse routes into the classroom have raised the public profile and status of our teachers and enabled more graduates, more teaching assistants and more people from a range of backgrounds to join this profession. What all of these routes have in common is that at the end of them you are recognised as a Qualified Teacher. And I want every parent to know that their child will benefit from this kind of high quality teaching.

That’s why I believe we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.

That means free schools and academies too.

This view has sparked quite a bit of excitement this week – and some criticism: the idea that, if you seek to give parents reassurances on basic standards, you are somehow turning your back on school autonomy. And, equally, that having open differences of this kind is bad for Coalition government.

Let me say something on both points.

In my first ever speech as Lib Dem leader, back in 2008, I called for a new generation of schools which could be set up by different providers, like educational charities, parents and voluntary organisations, providing they had the right credentials. My party supports school freedom. At our conference in the spring of this year, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion celebrating the unprecedented freedom granted to head teachers and teachers by the Coalition Government. The party wants to see all schools have more freedoms like academies.

But I am totally unapologetic for believing that, as we continue to build a new type of state funded school system – in which parents are presented with a dizzying range of independent, autonomous schools, each with its own different specialism, ethos or mission – parents can make their choice safe in the knowledge that there are certain safeguards. A safety net, if you like, to prevent their children from falling through the cracks.

So, yes, I support free schools and academies, but not with exemptions from minimum standards. That’s the bit I want to see change. And that will be clearly set out in our next General Election manifesto.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – inconsistent in believing that greater school autonomy can be married to certain core standards for all.

And I am totally unapologetic that the Liberal Democrats have our own ideas about how we do that.

Ultimately, the Labour Party is hostile to school autonomy – their instincts always take them back to Whitehall’s heavy hand.

Meanwhile, many on the Right are hostile to setting minimum educational standards. At least they are in academies and free schools. In maintained schools, however, the Conservatives seem to believe it is alright to micromanage things down to which ancient British kings are taught in history class. All that I ask is that we seek to deliver the same balance of freedoms and core standards across all schools.

And, in the liberal centre, the Liberal Democrats – and, I believe, most parents – know that there is a balance to be struck:

So in the future, the Liberal Democrats will seek to build on everything we have achieved in this Coalition – driving greater diversity and freedom in all our schools.

But, as we do, we will also strive to make sure that every parent can send their children off in the morning, knowing that, whatever kind of school they go to – academy, free school, maintained school, whichever – their sons and daughters will be taught core subjects, by qualified teachers and they’ll get healthy meal.

On this and other aspects of education policy the Liberal Democrats will carry on setting out our stall: for example, last month I made it clear that I will want to see schools funding protected in the next Parliament – that’s a Liberal Democrat priority for our next manifesto.

People have a right to know what our vision for the future is. And explaining that vision is perfectly consistent with the Liberal Democrats being proud of what we have done in this coalition, and continuing to work with our coalition partners to deliver radical reform and the strong government the country needs. Being in Coalition today doesn’t prevent either of the Coalition parties setting out how we may differ in the future. That’s how Coalition works.

TEACHERS

And I can tell you today that one area where we have agreed further reform is on better support for our teachers and school leaders – the people who are too often missing from the debate on structures and standards.

It’s a cliché to say it, but no less true that what you never forget about your school days are those teachers who changed your life.

A good teacher knows how to inspire and enthral a class of children to learn – whatever the subject.

He or she recognises each child for the individual they are, and does whatever they can to help that child build on their talents for a happy, successful life.

As a father of three school-age children, I also speak from experience when I say these are the teachers that your children never stop talking about when they get home from school.

That special connection – with someone who makes you as enthusiastic about learning, as they are about teaching – is what defines, for many of us, the very best in education.

It’s what we want for our children. It’s what we expect from our local schools. And critically, it’s what the brightest and best teachers in Britain strive to achieve every single day.

As Jemima Reilly, the head of this school, told us, “We are proud to attract and maintain good quality teachers…we give our teachers the space to grow and in turn their students grow and flourish alongside them.”

And as Ofsted has pointed out, if you’re a poor child going to school in some parts of Britain, you’re less likely to do well than poor children here in Tower Hamlets.

This isn’t just Britain’s inner cities that we’re talking about here. In some cases, these are relatively prosperous regions like West Berkshire and Shropshire and our seaside towns like Blackpool or Hastings.

The issue isn’t that there aren’t brilliant schools or teachers in these areas. There are.

But there are also weak schools and schools which have simply stalled.

These schools are failing many children – including from disadvantage backgrounds – who with the right support and attention could thrive.

The good teachers in these schools want to learn from their better performing neighbours. But they don’t have a clear idea about how to start that conversation.

They want to improve. Do more for local children and parents from all backgrounds. But they don’t have the right leadership and skills on site to boost their performance.

They want to share their own knowledge of what works beyond their own classroom with their colleagues. But don’t know how to make that happen.

They can’t progress. Their schools are stalled and could do much better. And, worse of all, the children they teach are heading for a life defined by their background not their talents.

We already know that some good Local Authorities are meeting that challenge by helping schools in their area find good leaders. And our ‘Similar Schools’ data is designed to help schools – without that kind of support – to link up and learn from outstanding schools tackling the same issues as them. So, as we improve the information available online, I’d encourage more schools to use it.

But we need to do more if we’re to tackle this issue nationally and ensure that more schools can benefit from the expertise of our best head teachers.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – HEAD TEACHERS

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today that the Government will be setting up a programme to get outstanding leaders into the schools that need them the most.

The Department for Education will be setting out further details in due course. But what I can say is that there will be a pool of top talent within the profession, a Champions League of Head Teachers, made up of Heads and Deputy Heads, who will stand ready to move to schools in challenging circumstances that need outstanding leaders.

So if you’re a school facing tough challenges and finding it hard to recruit an exceptional leader, you’ll be able to call on this team and request someone with a proven leadership track record.

We’re looking for experienced Head Teachers ready for a new challenge, or bright Deputy Heads looking to take the next step and lead a school.

If you are selected, we’d need you to make a real commitment to the school, its staff and its children.

You’ll receive help to relocate to the areas where you’re needed and the necessary professional support to turn around your school. And we will work to help you in your new role taking on this challenging school.

This is entirely voluntary. No one will be forced to accept one of these positions or move.

We want the first of these leaders to be in place from September 2014.

Initially the scheme will start small, but our ambition is for this team to become as important to our education system as Teach First.

CONCLUSION

So in conclusion, if we’re to build a stronger economy and fairer society in Britain then we need every child in every region of our country to be succeeding.

That’s the vision I have for education in this country. A system built on greater choice, innovation, accountability and excellence: designed to benefit everyone.

Where every school has the freedom, autonomy and resources to thrive.

Where every teacher is empowered to be the best, progressing and improving throughout their career.

Where every parent has a guarantee that their child will receive the best standard of education available.

And where every child gets the attention, support and excellent teaching they need to achieve the happy and fulfilling life they want.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference (Second Speech)

nickclegg

Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow on 18th September 2013.

Three years ago – nearly three and a half – I walked into the Cabinet Office for my first day as Deputy Prime Minister.

Picture it: history in the making as a Liberal Democrat leader entered, finally, into the corridors of power, preparing to unshackle Britain after years of Labour and Conservative rule. Only to arrive and find an empty room and one shell-shocked civil servant promising me we’d get on with things shortly – but first he had to get us some desks.

You saw the calm bit in the rose garden. What you didn’t see was the utter chaos indoors. To say the Coalition caught Whitehall off guard is a massive understatement. The Government machine had no idea how it was going to handle power sharing – and not just the furniture, this was going to need a complete overhaul of how decisions would be taken and departments would be run. And – while no one really wanted to admit it at the time – the truth is, no one was quite sure how it was all going to work.

Here we were, this anti-establishment liberal party – which hadn’t been in power for 70 years – smack bang in the middle of Her Majesty’s Government: a Government machine built to serve one party, with only one party leader at the centre, now suddenly having to answer to two parties and two party leaders. Alongside us were these Tories, who we had been at war with for the past month – well, actually, more like the last hundred years.

The country was deep in economic crisis, in desperate need of stable Government. And the whole thing was set to a soundtrack of pessimism and naysaying: the Liberal Democrats had signed their own death warrant. The Coalition would fall in a matter of months. Britain would be the next Greece.

So let’s just stop and think about where we are now: The country’s economy growing stronger by the day. Stable, successful coalition – something that seemed impossible now accepted as the norm. And the Liberal Democrats proving that we can be trusted with the biggest responsibility of all – fixing the economy.

I know how hard it has been getting here – facing down all the vitriol from our opponents. Trust me, there were days I thanked my lucky stars that my children were too young to understand some of the things that were written and said. But every insult we have had to endure since we entered Government, every snipe, every bad headline, every blow to our support: That was all worth it – because we are turning Britain around.

We haven’t won over every critic; we’ll be tested a million more times. But the big question mark that has always hung over the Liberal Democrats – could we handle Government, and handle it when the going got tough? – that question mark is now gone. This recovery wouldn’t be happening without us.

We have made sure the deficit is being cut at the right pace. We were the ones who said you don’t just get growth by cutting red tape – Government also needs to invest in things: infrastructure, apprenticeships, regional growth.

So I want you to feel proud today. Feel proud that the country’s fortunes are turning. Feel proud that, when we were under pressure to buckle and change course, we held our nerve. Feel proud that we are right here, in the centre of Government and the centre of British politics, standing up for the millions of people in the middle.

I have talked to you before about our journey from the comforts of opposition to the realities of Government – but not anymore. Liberal Democrats – we are a party of Government now. And just think of what we have achieved in three short years.

For the first time ever, our schools get given money – our Pupil Premium – to stop children from the poorest families from falling behind – the first time ever. More than a million men and women have started training as apprentices – record numbers. Businesses across every region are being given billions to help them grow.

We’ve made the biggest investment in our railways since the Victorian times. We’ve created a bank devoted to clean, green industry – a world first. Elderly people will no longer have to sell their homes to pay for social care because we’ve capped the crippling costs. Mothers will no longer be worse off in retirement because our new simpler, fairer state pension recognises the value of raising a family.

Fathers will have the choice of staying at home once their children are born because we’re transforming parental leave.

All parents will get free, extra childcare, paid for by the state, when their children turn three or two for the families who need it most. We stopped ID cards. We’ve taken innocent people off the DNA database. We’ve ended child detention in the immigration system. 0.7% of national wealth spent on aid for the world’s poorest – our party’s policy for years. Not to mention getting the banks in order and helping create over a million new jobs.

And, one last one: at a time when millions of people are feeling the squeeze, when every penny counts, we’ve cut income tax bills by £700 and taken almost three million people on low pay out of paying any income tax altogether.

The Tories like to claim credit for that one now, don’t they? But do you remember the TV debates? David Cameron turned to me, in front of the whole country, and said: ‘I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax Nick, but we cannot afford it’. Well, we can afford it. And we did it. A stronger economy and a fairer society too.

Actually, just one more, and my new favourite: just a few months ago, our Government – our Government – passed a law that will make Britain a place where we finally celebrate love and commitment equally between couples whether they are gay or straight: Equal Marriage. Three years. Three years. We’re not even done yet.

Can you imagine what we could do with five more? You should be able to –we’ve spent the last five days talking about it. This whole week has been about looking forward and one thing is very clear: the Liberal Democrats don’t want to go back to the opposition benches, because we aren’t done yet.

Because here’s what’s at stake at the next election: The country is finally emerging from the biggest economic crisis in living memory. The absolute worst thing to do would be to give the keys to Number 10 to a single party Government – Labour or the Conservatives.

All of the sacrifices made by the British people – the pay freezes, the spending cuts, the lost jobs, the daily grind of austerity – all of that would be for nothing. Labour would wreck the recovery. The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery. Only the Liberal Democrats can finish the job and finish it in a way that is fair.

In 2015 the clapped out politics of red, blue, blue red threatens everything we have achieved. But, back in Government – and next time that will mean back in coalition Government – the Liberal Democrats can keep the country on the right path.

Imagine the next round of leaders’ debates everyone watching to see who agrees with whom this time. David Cameron will say to Ed Miliband: you’re irresponsible, you are going to drive the economy to ruin. Ed Miliband will say to David Cameron: you can’t be trusted to help everyone, your party only cares about the rich. For once, I will agree with them both. Because they’re both right: left to their own devices, they’ll both get it wrong.

But, Liberal Democrats, we have learned a lot since getting into Government, and one of the main things I have learnt is this: If we’re asking people to put us back in the room next time round, if we want them to know why it’s better to have us round the table when the big decisions are made, they need to be able to make a judgement about what we’ll do there. And that’s as much about values, character, background as anything else.

They need to know who we are. Who I am. Why I’m a Liberal Democrat and why I’m standing here today. So, let me start with this: I was part of a generation raised – in the 70s and 80s – on a constant diet of aggressive, us-and-them politics.

I have so many memories of my brothers, my sister and I watching television and asking our parents why everyone seemed so upset. Angry, shouty Labour politicians. Union leaders gesticulating furiously, next to pictures of rubbish piling up on the streets. And later: stand offs between crowds of miners and rows of riot police.

At school I was being taught all about the Cold War – the backdrop to all of this; I even remember a history teacher telling me and my petrified classmates that we probably wouldn’t make it until Christmas because there was bound to be a Soviet strike. So the world I grew up in was all about stark, polarised choices. Us vs them; East vs West; Left vs Right.

An incompetent Labour Government had been replaced by a heartless Conservative Government. All anyone seemed to care about was whose side you were on. So I steered clear of party politics.

Then, one day, when I was 22 and studying in America, the phone rang and it was my mum. She had just heard on the News that the Berlin Wall was coming down. So my flatmate and I tuned in our radio, and we sat and listened for hours to reports of people coming out of their homes in the middle of the night and literally hammering away at this symbol of division and hate.

And I can remember so clearly the sense of optimism and hope. Anyone here who’s my age will understand: it really felt as though the dark, drab days of angry politics and conflict could now give way to something better. But, in the weeks and months that followed, when I looked to the Government of my country, the British Government, to see if they were raising their sights to help shape this brave new world.

All I could see was a bunch of Tories too busy tearing strips off each other – embroiled, surprise surprise, in rows about European Treaties and widget directives. It was so totally dispiriting: everything I’d come to abhor about the politics with which I’d grown up: insular, petty, polarised.

And if that had been the end of the story, I doubt I would have entered politics at all. But it wasn’t. Enter Paddy Ashdown. I met Paddy, for the first time, when he came into a dingy, grey, bureaucratic office I was working in in Strasbourg. It was the middle of a major trade dispute between America and Europe.

He marched in, everyone instinctively stood to attention, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye: he ordered a cup of coffee, instructed the room on how to solve the world’s trade wars, issued a series of action points that should have been delivered yesterday, reassured us all it would be alright, and then swept out.

This was the first time I’d seen a British politician talking with passion and conviction and without defensiveness or fear about the challenges in the world and the leadership Britain needed to show. The Liberal Democrats seemed so outward looking and forward looking, compared to the tired, old, introverted politics of Labour and the Conservatives. For me, that was it. That’s how I found our party.

So I know what it is like to look at the old parties and want more – to want a party that speaks for big, enduring values. And what the Liberal Democrats gave me 20 years ago. Showing me there was something better than the tired choice between Labour and the Conservatives is something I want us to give to people across Britain today.

What do you think Britain would look like today if the Tories had been alone in Whitehall for the last three years? What would have happened without Liberal Democrats in this Government? I haven’t said enough about it.

It’s a bit old fashioned, but I always thought it was better, in politics, to tell people about the things you’ve achieved not just the things you’ve stopped. But people do need to know how coalition operates and what we do day in day out inside Government.

Ultimately it’s up to the Prime Minister and me to make this work; where there are disagreements, we try and seek compromise, and by doing that we’ve cracked problems that single party Governments have struggled with for decades: social care, pension reform, reducing reoffending, and so on.

But sometimes compromise and agreement isn’t possible and you just have to say “no”. Inheritance tax cuts for millionaires – no. Bringing back O’ levels and a two-tier education system – no. Profit-making in schools – no. New childcare ratios – no. Firing workers at will, without any reasons given – no, absolutely not.

Regional pay penalising public sector workers in the north – no. Scrapping housing benefit for young people – no. No to ditching the Human Rights Act. No to weakening the protections in the Equalities Act. No to closing down the debate on Trident. Had they asked us, no to those ‘go home’ poster vans.

No to the boundary changes if you cannot deliver your side of the bargain on House of Lords reform. And if there’s one area where we’ve had to put our foot down more than any other, have a guess. Yep, the environment.

It’s an endless battle; we’ve had to fight tooth and nail; it was the same just this week with the decision to introduce a small levy to help Britain radically cut down on plastic bags.

They wanted to scrap Natural England, hold back green energy. They even wanted geography teachers to stop teaching children about how we can tackle climate change. No, no and no – the Liberal Democrats will keep this Government green.

I don’t pretend it’s always easy to say no. Sometimes I’ve had to wrestle with some genuinely difficult dilemmas – not just Tory party dogma.

With the Snoopers’ Charter, I took months listening to Home Office officials, the IT experts, the security services and the police because, as much as I am in Government to protect civil liberties, I also have to go to sleep at night knowing I did my bit to keep people safe.

Government ministers, loud voices in the Labour party, the securocrats and Whitehall were all adamant I should say yes. But, when push came to shove, it became clear that the surveillance powers being proposed were disproportionate: they would have massively undermined people’s privacy, but the security gain was neither proven nor clear. It was right for the establishment, but wrong for the people. So I said no.

Obviously, we haven’t been in coalition with Labour. I could give you a hypothetical list of bad ideas the Liberal Democrats would have to stop – but that would involve Labour producing some actual policies. Who here knows Labours plan for our schools? Or welfare? What would they do for the NHS? For industry? To cut crime?

Well, Labour may not have an economic strategy, but fortunately we do. A bold plan for growth agreed by conference two days ago, built on sound public finances, with house-building, infrastructure and lending to business at its heart – Liberal Democrats turning Britain around.

The truth is, Labour haven’t set out any kind of vision for Britain because they didn’t think they needed to. They have spent the last three years lazily assuming austerity would drive voters into their laps. For them, 2015 is all about the coalition parties losing rather than Labour having to actually try and win. And that tells you everything about why they act the way they do: their deliberate decision to put tactical victories ahead of long-term reform.

Remember the AV referendum? Not a happy memory for the Liberal Democrats, I accept. But do you remember that AV was in fact in Labour’s manifesto? Yet it was Labour figures who were most staunch in the defence of the status quo – just to score points against us. Lords reform – something they historically believe in. Yet when they had the chance to vote for it they found excuses not to – just to score points against us.

Even when we hear good news about the economy, they’re miserable – they’d rather it be bad, just to score points against us. So I have a message for Labour today: you can’t just duck responsibility for the past – refuse to spell out what you’d do in the future – and expect people to give you a blank cheque.

You can sit and wait for the British people to come back to you, but don’t hold your breath. And if there is one area all of the parties need to put politics aside, it’s Europe, and Britain’s place in it. The Conservatives have this bizarre view that we can turn our back on Europe and still lead in the world.

As if we’ll be taken seriously by the Americans, the Chinese, the Indians, all the big superpowers when we’re isolated and irrelevant in our own backyard. But the truth is we stand tall in Washington, Beijing, Delhi when we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

I know it because I worked there; I have seen with my own eyes what can be achieved for Britain by engaging with our neighbours and building the world’s largest borderless single market upon which millions of jobs in our country now depend.

Of course the European Union needs reform – no one is saying it doesn’t. But we cannot allow the contorted confusion of the right, the outright isolationism of UKIP, to jeopardise millions of British jobs and diminish Britain’s standing in the world.

Liberal Democrats, it falls to us to stand up for the national interest: we will be the party of In. I am an internationalist – pure and simple; first by birth, then by marriage, but above all by conviction. We may be an island nation, but there’s no such thing as an economic island in an age of globalisation.

And Britain is always at its strongest and proudest when we are open to the world – generous-spirited and warm-hearted, working with our neighbours and a leader on the world stage. That’s the message I will take to New York next week, when I represent the UK at the United Nations General Assembly.

There are some in the world who seek to present us as pulling up the drawbridge, following Parliament’s decision not to consider a military intervention in Syria – but they will hear from me that they are wrong.

My views on Syria are well known: I believe the use of chemical weapons – a war crime under international, humanitarian law – should be stopped wherever possible.

But I understand why some people are wary of another entanglement in the Middle East – Iraq casts a long shadow – and we now have the opportunity to work with the UN, the Russians, the Americans, the French and others to put these heinous weapons beyond the reach of Assad’s regime.

What matters now is that we are clear that this nation is not heading into retreat. It would be a double tragedy if the legacy of Iraq was a Britain turned away from the world.

Others look to our values and traditions for inspiration. Democracy, peaceful protest, equality before the law. That, in itself, confers a leadership role on us. Not as some military superpower. Not out of some nostalgic impulse after the loss of empire.

But because we believe in the virtues of law, peaceful dissent, political stability and human rights as enduring liberal values.

These are values that my own family – affected by the wars and conflicts of the past like so many other families – never took for granted.

And Miriam and I try to teach our sons that they shouldn’t take these values for granted either. After Spain moved to democracy in the 1970s, Miriam’s father was the first democratically elected Mayor in a small agricultural town in the middle of the countryside.

He single handedly brought better schools, more jobs and better housing to his community. He was hugely proud of being the first Mayor to serve his community through the ballot box. He sadly died some years ago, and there’s a small statue of him today outside the church in Miriam’s village.

Our small boys see that statue every holiday and Miriam tells them of the wonderful things he did. And they always ask about why he was elected and no one before him. We teach them that democracy and freedom are a fragile and recent thing in many parts of the world.

We teach them – just as my parents taught me – that rights and values should never be taken for granted, and if you believe in them, you should stand up for them.

And that is the United Kingdom that I want my children – all children – to grow up in: a United Kingdom that defends and promotes its values – our liberal values – at home and abroad.

It is now a year to the day until the Scottish people decide whether or not to leave the UK. The independence referendum. I unambiguously, unequivocally want Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. The nationalists don’t have a monopoly on passion in this debate. I love the way the UK is made up of different peoples, different traditions, different histories.

I’ve sat in rugby grounds shouting my head off for England while the Scottish fans have shouted back just as loud – and it is a very special thing when good natured rivalry can flourish side by side with a feeling of affinity and closeness that comes from being a family of nations. And on every single level we are stronger together than we are apart.

We live in uncertain times, in an uncertain world – these are not days to build walls. They are days to bring them down. The decision in a year’s time does not need to be between breaking the bond or keeping the status quo – that’s a false choice.

‘No’ does not mean no change.

A Scottish decision to remain within the UK family can and must give way to a new settlement for this nation. The Liberal Democrats have always fought for more powers for Scotland – and Wales and Northern Ireland too. In Coalition we have overseen the biggest transfer of financial freedoms in 300 years. And, from Gladstone to Grimond to today, we continue to believe in home rule.

Ming Campbell has recently produced a superb report setting out how we think home rule will work in the future. Our vision is of a proud and strong Scotland, within the United Kingdom, in charge of its own fate but part of a family of nations too. This is a vision shared by many Scots and, increasingly, the other major political parties.

That is why – once the issue of Scotland’s continued participation in the United Kingdom is hopefully settled next year – I want to see a new cross party approach to the next advance in Scottish devolution.

Willie Rennie has signalled his willingness to work with the Scottish Labour and Conservative leaders ahead of next year’s vote – and I support him.

Delivering Home Rule is a tantalising prospect that is now closer than it has been for a generation.

So let’s get out there to win the referendum in favour of keeping our nations together – and then work with others to deliver the future Scotland wants.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of Scotland’s finest this summer – Andy Murray. It was at a reception in the Downing Street garden the day after his stunning Wimbledon victory. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and I were all kind of fluttering around him, trying to ask clever questions about the Djokovic match, when Andy Murray suddenly interrupted with: ‘you all seem to get along now, why can’t you always be like this?’

A good question that was met with an awkward silence and the three of us shuffling our feet. He was right, it’s true: we can get on. We’re never going to be mates, but I’ve got nothing against them personally – politically, yes, personally, no.

That’s why the constant, breathless speculation about how different party leaders get on kind of misses the point. I’m endlessly asked who I feel more ‘comfortable’ with – David Cameron or Ed Miliband? Wouldn’t our party be more comfortable with Labour? Aren’t we more comfortable with our present coalition partners? But I don’t look at Ed Miliband and David Cameron and ask myself who I’d be most comfortable with, as if I was buying a new sofa.

In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to work with either of them because I’d be Prime Minister on my own thank you very much – and I’d like to think I’d do a better job too. So the best thing would be to put all of the predictions and personalities to one side. Whether or not we have another coalition is determined by the British people – not me, not you, the people.

And if that happens, only their votes can tell us what combination of parties carries the greatest legitimacy. Our job is plain and simple: to get more Lib Dem MPs elected.

A liberal commitment to genuine pluralism – genuine democratic choice – starts and finishes with the wishes of the public, not the preferences of the political classes.

That’s one of the reasons why I’ve never shared the view that the aim of our party should be to realign British politics by joining up with one of the other parties.

Roy Jenkins – someone I admired very much – believed that if we aligned with a modernising Labour party we could heal the divisions of the centre left. But, for me, joining forces for good with another party simply reduces democratic choice. The Liberal Democrats are not just some subset of the Labour or Tory parties – we’re no one’s little brother. We have our own values, our own liberal beliefs.

We’re not trying to get back into Government to fold into one of the other parties – we want to be there to anchor them to the liberal centre ground, right in the centre, bang in the middle. We’re not here to prop up the two party system: we’re here to bring it down.

My upbringing was privileged: home counties; private school; Cambridge University. I had a lot of opportunities. But I also had two parents who were determined that my brothers, my sister and I knew how lucky we were. On both sides, their families had experienced huge upheavals.

My Dutch mother had spent much of her childhood in a prisoner of war camp. My dad’s Russian mother had come to England after her family lost everything in the Russian Revolution. So our home was full of different languages, relatives with different backgrounds, people with different views, music and books from different places.

And my mother and father always told us that people’s fortunes can turn quickly – that good fortune should never be assumed and misfortune can occur suddenly, without warning.

I think because of the traumas their parents had been through, while they wanted to give us everything, it was so important to them that we didn’t take things for granted.

My brothers and sister and I were always taught to treat everyone the same, not to judge people by their background. We were raised to believe that everyone deserves a chance because everyone’s fortunes can change, often through no fault of their own.

And now, as a father with three children at school, I have come to understand even more clearly than before that if we want to live in a society where everyone has a fair chance to live the life they want – and to bounce back from misfortune too – then education is the key.

The gifts we give our children – self-confidence, an enthusiasm to learn, an ability to empathise with others, a joy in forging new friendships – these are instilled at an extraordinarily young age.

That’s why I made social mobility the social policy objective of this Government – and I will want it to be the same for any Government I’m in. It’s why so much of my efforts over the last three years, and so much of the money available to us, has been invested in those crucial formative years:

The 2.5 billion pound Pupil Premium that I first wrote about 10 years ago. The 15 hours of free pre-school help for all three and four year olds, and now two year olds from the homes who need it most. Shared parental leave; new rights to flexible working; tax free childcare. These are the measures I’ve spent more time on than anything else in this Coalition.

If you want to know what I really believe in you will find it in these policies. Using the muscle of the state to create a level playing field when it counts most – when boys and girls are still forming their views, their characters, their hopes and their fears.

That’s why I’m delighted to tell you that we are now also going to provide free school meals for all children of infant school age.

From next September we’ll give every child in Reception, and Years 1 and 2 a healthy lunch every day – saving families more than £400 per year, per child.

And, for the Liberal Democrats, this is a first step: my ambition is to provide free school meals for all primary school children. Another reason we want to get into Government again next time round.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else – that tells you everything you need to know about their values.

We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best, by helping their young children get the best possible start in life – and that tells you everything about our values. Providing this kind of help, Liberal Democrats, is now, the most important thing we can do.

Aside from anything else, that is how we restore people’s faith in our politics: by delivering for them in ways that are relevant and real. By talking to people about the things they care about, not what the political classes are talking about.

It’s so easy to lose sight of those things when you’re stuck in the Westminster bubble. And I want to be honest with you: keeping a balance between politics and normal life isn’t straightforward.

Politics these days is a roller-coaster ride of 24 hour news, breathless headlines, lurid tweets, endless polls, constant gossip about who’s up and who’s down. And you have to be really disciplined with yourself about keeping one foot in the real world to keep things in balance.

Miriam and I chose not to live behind the Government battlements in Whitehall, so we live in the same home we’ve been in for some years. We try very hard to keep our family life normal and private – we keep our children away from the cameras. We don’t pretend we’re a model family – we are who we are. We try to make sure that Westminster doesn’t take over our lives.

I know I won’t be in politics forever. What I will be is a father, a husband, a son, an uncle to all those I love in my family for good – just like anyone else. So, the longer I spend in this job, the more and more I cherish the human, direct and unstuffy way we Liberal Democrats do politics.

Our zeal for knocking on doors, making ourselves available, speaking like human beings – we must never lose that. And, as much as I’m always telling you all to embrace Government, I’m forever looking for ways to try and get out of Whitehall myself.

Taking answers on the radio; fielding questions in village halls; trying to help my constituents out when they come to see me in my Sheffield surgery; going out on regional tours; or, when I can’t get away, answering your questions online.

Doing things differently must always be part of our identity. I want us to stay in Government – but I also want us to show that it is possible to be a party of Government without behaving like an establishment party.

There was this wonderful moment on the day of the last vote on Equal Marriage. Some of us put pink carnations in our button holes and Alistair Carmichael and I were invited to go outside to meet some of the campaigners. Little did we know that they had set up an impromptu wedding ceremony – cake and dancing ‘n’ all – outside the Palace of Westminster.

And we found ourselves standing side by side – if not quite hand in hand – in front of the exuberant London Gay Men’s Chorus, singing Abba’s Dancing Queen for us at the top of their voices.

Meanwhile, inside the House of Lords, dinosaur opponents of the Bill were having a final go at killing it – declaring that gay marriage would be the end of civilisation as we know it. And, awkward though I think Alistair and I must have appeared as we lamely clapped along to Abba, at that moment we were exactly where we belonged: on the outside, welcoming in reform.

Liberal Democrats, three years ago I told you that we had an opportunity our predecessors would have given anything for. To govern. To turn our liberal principles into practice. Today I tell you that an even bigger opportunity awaits. The cycle of red, blue, blue, red has been interrupted.

Our place in this Government has prevented the pendulum swinging back from left to right. We are now where we always should have been: in power; in the liberal centre; in tune with the British people. And every day we are showing that we can govern and govern well. That pluralism works. And if we can do this again – in Government again in 2015 – we are a step closer to breaking the two party mould for good.

In the past, there were people who would only support us when the future of the country was not at stake. Now there are people who will support us precisely because the future of the country will be at stake.

In the past the Liberal Democrats would eke out an existence on the margins of British politics. Now we hold the liberal centre while our opponents head left and right. I have spent my entire life watching the other two mess it up.

We cannot stand idly by and let them do it all over again. We are the only party that can finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly.

The only party able to build a stronger economy and a fairer society too.

Liberal Democrats take that message out to the country. Our mission is anchoring Britain to the centre ground. Our place is in Government again.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference held in Glasgow on 14th September 2013.

Welcome to Glasgow. This year’s conference sees us gather in a city that has always been important to the Liberal Democrats, a city once represented by Roy Jenkins, that gave us Ming Campbell and where nearby in 2005 Jo Swinson won a famous victory to take her seat from Labour and become an MP at just 25.

Before anything I want to pay tribute to our team of Scottish MPs who lead the way in Parliament in arguing for a United Kingdom that is strong, secure and together. All under the direction of our fantastic Chief Whip and rally compere.

Over the course of the next year, our party will continue making the case for Scotland in the UK. And we have the right team to get the job done. In Mike Moore, we have a Scottish Secretary who has delivered more powers for Holyrood, who brokered the deal for a legal, fair and decisive referendum, when so many people said that it could not be done, and who is working with ministers across government, day after day, to make the positive case for the United Kingdom. In Danny Alexander we have a Highlander right at the heart of the Treasury. And in Willie Rennie we have a constant thorn in Alex Salmond’s side, and an enormous asset to our party, making a persuasive case for a liberal Scotland in a liberal United Kingdom.

Jobs

Tonight we’re talking about jobs. The Coalition Government has created a million jobs, and I want us to create a million more: a million jobs for a stronger economy. At the beginning of the rally we saw that wonderful video telling us about the first jobs held by our MPs. And the job of us all now, as a party of government, is to help other people into work. And, bluntly, we are the only authentic party of jobs. The only party that can speak credibly about creating jobs and jobs that last.

The Conservatives

The Conservatives have a bizarre idea that to create more jobs you need to increase insecurity. They aren’t the Party of Jobs. They are the Party of Fire At Will. Remember that? A proposal for bosses to get rid of staff no questions asked. A policy dreamed up by a Conservative donor without a shred of evidence to back it up. So we said no. But let’s be in no doubt that without us taking a stand in government it would have happened. Without us job security would have been a thing of the past, with employers able to get rid of staff on a whim.

Liberal Democrats know it’s important to help businesses. That’s why our Government has given a National Insurance cut to firms, encouraging them to employ more people. But we also know that workers deserve the right to be treated fairly. So we will never sacrifice proper working conditions for the sake of a few easy headlines about ‘red tape’.

Some Conservatives also seem to think that a job in the private sector somehow has more merit than someone working as a nurse or a teacher. But we know that you shouldn’t divide public and private sector workers as if only jobs in the private sector matter. The truth is that in both the public and private sectors people have made sacrifices: longer hours, more flexibility, pay freezes, to protect jobs. So we should be praising all of this country’s workers, public and private sector, for the determination they have shown in tough economic times.

Labour

And what about Labour? They used to have a lot to say about jobs. They predicted soaring unemployment. Ed Miliband actually said we had a programme that would ‘lead to the disappearance of a million jobs’. Now that we have actually created a million he’s gone strangely quiet on that prediction. Have you noticed how miserable they look when unemployment goes down? In the same way they gambled on an endless boom when they were in government they prayed for an endless recession when they were in opposition.

Now I know that some people in our party don’t like us being too nasty to Labour, so in the spirit of cross-party cooperation, I’m going to help them make a start. If the Eds are watching, here is the first thing they should do to win back the trust of people. Apologise.

Apologise for being too busy schmoozing the bankers to worry about the risks they were taking with the economy. Apologise for not balancing the books in the good times. Apologise for abolishing the 10p tax rate.

Of course they don’t want to acknowledge their mistakes. Here’s what Ed Balls said recently: “Do I think the last Labour government was profligate, spent too much, had too much national debt? No I don’t think there’s any evidence for that.”

Well if he wants some evidence we can start with Exhibit A: a certain note left on David Laws’ desk by Liam Byrne. So Labour can’t talk about jobs – because they simply have nothing to say.

Lib Dems

But we can campaign as the party of jobs. We are the only party that believes in releasing the potential of everyone, creating a society where everybody gets a fair chance in life. And that means making sure they get the opportunity to find work. We know that unemployment isn’t just about statistics or a rising bill for benefits. It’s about ambitions thwarted, potential frustrated, and the spirit-crushing sense that you are not being allowed to take control of your own destiny. And youth unemployment, where people can find themselves left on the scrapheap without even having been given the chance to prove themselves, is a scourge we must tackle.

But the Liberal Democrats have a proud story to tell on jobs and the economy.

We can tell people how we took the right decisions in government to make sure interest rates were kept down and protected people from the economic crises we have seen elsewhere in Europe.

And we can point to our record of action in government to show how we have worked tirelessly to create jobs even in the tough times.More people in work than ever before. A record number of women in work. Employment up by a million.

And we can tell people how we want to do even more: more apprentices, more help for business, more bank lending. Building a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life.

As we saw this evening this party has campaigned on many things over the years. Hong Kong passports; rights for Gurkhas, Iraq. If we put the same zeal into this campaign as we did into those a million households could see their lives transformed. A million new opportunities will have been created. And we won’t be asking the government to do something. We will be doing it in government.

Unity

That’s the spirit of this whole conference – a party dealing with the realities and opportunities of government. Conference is a time when our party’s strong democratic beliefs are seen most clearly. I’m just the latest in a long line of party leaders to know that when it comes down to it I have one vote in the conference hall just like the rest of you.

The Prime Minister would love to have a party that can debate the policies without tearing itself apart. And Ed Miliband? He’d just like some policies. Since our party was formed, every step of our journey has been taken together. We have decided the policies, fought the campaigns and taken on the vested interests. We decided, together, to go into government. People who don’t understand us like to call debate division. I think it is debate that give us our unity. Unity about what we want to see for our country. Fairer taxes. A rebalanced economy that benefits the whole country. And a green planet safe for our children. And thanks to us that green planet will have far fewer plastic bags in it.

That’s why we can debate honestly and with respect. Let’s remember to be proud of what we’ve done – and proud of what we all want our party to do in the future.

And let’s take a look at the other parties and what sets us apart. This is a great party and in a short space of time we have achieved great things. So I want you to enjoy your time in Glasgow and when the debates are over and the speeches have finished I want you to join me in getting back out there and telling everyone this: we are the party of fairness; we are the party of freedom; and, yes, we are the party of jobs.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech on Woolwich Murder

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Below is the text of a speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, at a community event at the Peabody Centre in Islington on 24th May 2013.

Can I thank you all very, very much for being here and can I thank, particularly, everybody at the Hugh Cubitt Centre, all the volunteers here, everyone from the Peabody operation. You’ve helped us to organise this at very, very short notice indeed.

It was a suggestion made to me by friends of mine in the London Muslim community just yesterday, that we should get together at a time of obviously heightened anxiety, given the horrific events in Woolwich. And to be able to gather together like this, given how busy everybody is, is a real tribute to everybody at the centre, and indeed to all of you.

We are represented here in all of the wonderful diversity that we know is modern London: different political parties, different faiths, different communities, representatives from the armed services, from the police. I really am very, very grateful to you all for being here. And I hope that – in fact I know that I speak on behalf of everybody here when I say that my heart goes out and my thoughts are with the family and the friends of Drummer Lee Rigby, who was so brutally and savagely killed in Woolwich.

I think in many ways, the fact that we’ve come together is much more important than what anyone’s actually going to say at the event because the fact that we’re here together from so many different directions, from so many parts of the diversity that is London is a – sends out a message.

It sends out a very, very simple message of hope over fear, of community over division and that is immensely important. I think that you’ve done all of that and that by coming together in that way, by sending out that clear signal, you really have provided a great service to all of the communities who are asking themselves searching questions in London and across the country today.

Because let’s be clear. People who inflict such random, savage violence in the name of some entirely warped ideology or some entirely perverted concept of religion in the way that we have seen on our television screens – which has been made all the more unsettling I think, because the individuals concerned dressed, spoke, appeared to all intents and purposes like so many other young Londoners that we might come across every day of the week.

Let’s be under no illusion. What they want, of course, is to sow that corrosive seed of fear and division. What they want is for governments and the authorities to overreact in their immediate reaction. What they want is for communities to turn inwards and away from each other. What they want, in short, is to spread fear.

Fear is an extraordinarily powerful emotion and when fear takes root, all of us as individuals, we will avert our gaze from someone who we might be fearful of, who we weren’t before. We might cross the street away from an individual who we’re not so sure about. We might worry about our children and about our families in a way that we haven’t done before.

It has a very, very corrosive effect on every part of our lives and we have a choice. We have a choice to either allow that powerful corrosive feeling of fear to seep into every second and minute and hour of our lives or we can make a choice that we’re not going to change our behaviour. We’re not going to disrupt normal life. We’re going to continue our life as before. We’re going to continue to reach out to each other. We’re going to continue to look people in the eye. We’re going to continue to be the diverse community that we are, and you have made that choice by coming to this event.

London has made that choice by celebrating this kind of event and it has shown once again how unbeatable London is in the face of this attempt to sow fear, sow division and sow mutual suspicion in our community. So I want to pay genuine tribute, to each and every one of you for making that choice. It is a positive choice and is the most powerful dignified reply and rejection of what we saw and what we heard on Wednesday in Woolwich.

Finally, before I ask the Deacon and others to speak for themselves, I want to pay special tribute to those amongst you who are leaders and spokespeople of our Muslim communities. The fact that all of you who’ve spoken out so very clearly and so very cogently and so very quickly to reject it utterly. As the Prime Minister quite rightly said, what we heard from these two individuals was a total unqualified betrayal of Islam, a religion of peace was being distorted, turned upside down and inside out, perverted in the cause of an abhorrent and violent set of intentions from those individuals.

As I heard from someone in a discussion we just had earlier this morning, terrorism has no religion because there is no religious conviction that can justify the kind of arbitrary, savage, random violence that we saw on the streets of Woolwich. So thank you for speaking out as forcefully as you have done. Thank you for speaking out as clearly as you have done for a great salvation religion, for your faith, and for the communities in which you live and in which you lead.

And in that spirit I would like to simply conclude by repeating a verse from the holy Quran, verse 32, chapter five. If anyone kills a human being, it shall be as though he killed all mankind, whereas if anyone saves a life it shall be as though he saved the whole of mankind.

Thank you very much.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech on Immigration

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, on immigration on 22nd March 2013.

Today I want to talk about immigration. Not asylum; that’s an important distinction to make – immigration. The debate is opening up, and that’s a good thing.

We’ve now heard from the Labour party about some of their mistakes in office. And the Prime Minister and I are setting out how the Coalition is correcting those mistakes. Me today, David Cameron on Monday.

The political mainstream has a duty to wrestle this issue away from populists and extremists. A duty to shift what can be a highly polarised debate – particularly in difficult economic times – onto practical and sensible ground. And the Liberal Democrats take that responsibility very seriously.

This morning I will explain why, in order to remain an open and tolerant Britain, we need an immigration system that is zero-tolerant towards abuse. Tolerant Britain, zero-tolerant of abuse. That’s the vision the Coalition is working towards.

Before I do, I want to make one thing clear: the Liberal Democrats will never seek to outflank our opponents because we think that’s what people want to hear.

Yvette Cooper said, recently, that we must avoid an “arms race of rhetoric” on immigration. I agree. That kind of low populism patronizes the British people and it is an insult to the many migrants who have contributed to our country. British society has been shaped by migrant communities in ways more profound than any cliché about chicken tikka masala, or Notting Hill Carnival, or Polish builders can ever express.

I’m the son of a Dutch mother – she, herself, raised in Indonesia; a half-Russian father; husband to a Spanish wife. Like millions of Brits, if you trace our blood lines back through the generations, you end up travelling around the globe. And I’m a liberal. I’m immensely proud of this nation’s wonderful diversity and openness. Those are great British traditions too.

Of course, if you believed every headline, you’d think that when immigrants aren’t stealing British jobs. They’re all living the high life in 12-bedroom Kensington mansions, courtesy of the state. But that’s a complete caricature of the truth.

The majority of people who come here work hard and make a contribution. Many have served – and still serve – in our armed forces. And if every member of an immigrant community suddenly downed tools, countless businesses and services would suffer. The NHS would fall over. And in a globalised economy, where talent is as mobile as capital, no nation can succeed by pulling up the drawbridge.

British firms depend on outside skills and expertise in order to compete. British universities too. The reason this country has a world-beating research base is because we are a magnet for the brightest and the best. That’s why, when the Coalition put limits on the number of migrants coming here from outside Europe, it was important to Vince Cable and me that students – genuine students – were excluded from that.

It’s why, more recently, the Coalition has rejected proposals to impose a visa regime on visitors from Brazil. Where a minority are abusing the system, we need to deal with that – whatever nationality they are. But a new visa regime would deter Brazilian tourists, discourage Brazilian investors and Brazil would simply do the same to us, hampering the access British companies have to one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

So, yes we are bringing immigration under control, and I will explain how. But I want UK firms to be in no doubt. The Coalition’s priority continues to be growth and building a stronger economy. I’m clear that well-managed immigration is a key part of that.

The problem is that the system has not been well-managed. It has been grossly mismanaged. I welcome Labour’s recent admission that they got it wrong. But the fact that this mea culpa is immediately followed by mud-slinging, by an attempt to blame the Coalition for the problems that remain, suggests to me Labour still don’t understand just how wrong they got it.

The previous government left us an immigration system in disarray. I cannot stress enough just how chaotic it was. The first thing they did, after coming into office, was stop checking if people were leaving the country. They got rid of exit checks. They weren’t counting people in and they weren’t counting people out either.

Seven different immigration Bills; six different Home Secretaries and yet, in the course of a decade, just 114 prosecutions for employing illegal immigrants.

And Labour were completely caught off guard by the impact of their decision to lift transitional controls on new EU member states when other EU countries did not. By the time they finally woke up to the mess they’d created, to the real strain immigration was placing on some communities, it was already too late.

Is it any wonder that there has been a crisis of public confidence in our immigration system? People’s anxieties are not, generally-speaking, driven by prejudice or racism. We are, by nature, a tolerant people. But, for too long, British people’s legitimate concerns have been downplayed. For too long their worries were met with words but not action.

There’s a common allegation that, among the political elite there’s been a conspiracy of silence on immigration. But over the years there’s been lots of talk, lots of posturing, lots of promises. Plenty’s been said. The problem is: not enough’s been done.

Where there is resentment towards the immigration system, we must now confront it. For a diverse society like ours to function successfully, for different groups to integrate and co-exist, British citizens must believe that the rules by which migrants come and settle here are reasonable, just, and properly enforced. The immigration system must command public confidence.

Since we came into government, net migration has fallen by a third. We’ve limited immigration from outside Europe. And within the EU, we have kept the transitional limits on Romania and Bulgaria, until the point where every member state has to remove them.

But it’s not just about the overall numbers. People need three basic assurances:

One: that we are getting a grip on who’s coming in and who’s going out.

Two: that we can deal with people staying here illegally.

Three: that the system as a whole benefits the UK and doesn’t put too much pressure on our state – particularly in these straitened times.

Give British citizens those assurances, and you will see this nation’s most welcoming side.

The Coalition is creating a system people can be confident in. A system that contributes to both a stronger economy and a fairer society – we need to deliver both. Tolerant Britain, zero-tolerant of abuse.

Assurance number one: that we’re getting on top of who’s here. The Coalition is building a much clearer picture of who’s coming in and going out. We’re building up Britain’s entry checks, increasing the information we get in advance of people travelling. And we are reintroducing exit checks.

Exit checks tell us whether the people who should have left actually have. Britain used to have them, but they were dismantled by previous governments. The process began under the Major government and was carried on by the Blair administration and the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning to bring them back since 2004.

To us it always seemed obvious that exit checks are an essential feature of an efficient and competent immigration system. And so we ensured that this Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment was written into the Coalition agreement. Bit by bit we are filling in the gaping holes Labour left.

Assurance number two: that we can prevent people from staying here illegally.  Before I come onto what we are doing in Government, let me say a word on Liberal Democrat party policy.

My party will always advocate immigration policies that respect the rights and dignity of individuals – particularly the vulnerable. It’s because of us that children are no longer detained for immigration purposes. It’s because of us that the UK no longer deports people to countries where we know they’ll be persecuted for their sexuality. Both straight from our manifesto and two of my proudest achievements in government.

But, at the last election we suggested that any illegal immigrant who had been here for 10 years should be able to earn their citizenship. We called it an earned route to citizenship. Our opponents dubbed it an ‘amnesty’.

We felt it was an honest and pragmatic solution given the chaos in the Home Office and the obvious failure by Labour to identify where thousands of illegal immigrants were. Better surely, we asked, to get them to pay their taxes and make a proper contribution to our society, than to continue to live in the shadows?

But, despite the policy’s aims, it was seen by many people as a reward for those who have broken the law. And so it risked undermining public confidence in the immigration system.

The very public confidence that is essential to a tolerant and open Britain. That is why I am no longer convinced this specific policy should be retained in our manifesto for the next General Election.

So I have asked Andrew Stunell, the former Integration Minister, to lead a review of this and our other immigration policies in the run up to 2015.

In Coalition, the Liberal Democrats are seeking to restore people’s faith in the system, confronting illegal activity with a vigour never seen from Labour, and in 2015 people will know that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for an immigration system they can believe in. A vote for a tolerant Britain that is zero-tolerant towards abuse.

We’re clamping down on the most exploited routes into the country: tightening up what’s known as the ‘tier one route’, for example. It was supposedly for highly skilled visa applicants, but was routinely exploited by people who did not have those skills.

The student route was riddled with holes. So we’re cracking down on bogus colleges. UKBA officers visited a college which had requested permission to bring in over 200 students. How many did they find studying that day? Two. Since 2010, almost 600 colleges have been removed from the list of registered visa sponsors.

While we have to be realistic about UKBA’s enforcement budget in the current climate, we’re making sure money is better spent. For instance, reducing the opportunity for long, vexatious and costly appeals by those who have been refused the right to remain in Britain, while still safeguarding the right to a fair hearing.

We’re cracking down on the profiteers. I can confirm today that the Coalition will increase the cash penalties for unscrupulous employers who hire illegal immigrants because they’re cheaper. Currently, the maximum fine is £10,000 per illegal worker. I’ve asked the Home Secretary to look into the right amount but personally I’d like to see it double.

Employers need to get the message: they have an inescapable duty to employ people who are working here legally, not to turn a blind eye to those working illegally.

And I’m determined that our police can come down on the criminal gangs who smuggle and traffic people into the country. We’re currently reviewing policing cooperation with our European partners. But I’m clear that we must not jeopardise any arrangements that help us tackle this kind of cross-border crime. Criminals go across borders; so must we.

In addition to these crackdowns, I can also confirm we’re looking at a powerful new tool to help deal with the problem of people overstaying on their visas.

Visa overstayers make up a major part of UKBA’s enforcement caseload – clogging up the system. As early as 2006 we had reports from Select Committees, arguing that visa overstaying would be one of the biggest challenges for our immigration system in the 21st century. As people travel more – for work, for holidays – you have more people coming into the country for temporary periods and so you need to find ways to make sure they leave.

The challenge isn’t just stopping people coming into Britain illegally, it’s about dealing with individuals who come over legitimately but then become illegal once they’re already here.

One idea, which appeals to me, is a system of security bonds. And so I’ve asked the Home Office to do some work on it with a view to running a pilot before the end of the year.

The basic premise is simple: in certain cases, when a visa applicant is coming from a high risk country, in addition to satisfying the normal criteria, UKBA would be able to request a deposit – a kind of cash guarantee. Once the visitor leaves Britain, the bond will be repaid. Clearly, we need to look into the detail and seek a wide range of views, including from the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The bonds would need to be well-targeted – so that they don’t unfairly discriminate against particular groups. The amounts would need to be proportionate – we mustn’t penalise legitimate visa applicants who will struggle to get hold of the money. Visiting Britain to celebrate a family birth, or a relative’s graduation, or wedding should not become entirely dependant on your ability to pay the security bond.

And I would want a system that is welcomed by legitimate visitors rather than place a great burden on them. Done right, this would speed up the application process, giving UKBA greater confidence about people’s intentions, allowing them to make better, faster decisions.

In today’s world, illegal immigration happens in different ways – and we need to think innovatively to keep up.

Finally, assurance number three: that immigration as a whole benefits Britain and British citizens.

Migration contributes to the public purse – we mustn’t forget that. But it is important, with budgets under strain that as many people as possible contribute to the economy and support themselves. We’re asking that of British citizens – it is right that we ask the same of visitors to Britain.

So the Coalition has reformed work visas so that every worker coming here has a proper job offer and a minimum salary. And we’ve changed family visas to introduce a minimum income for anyone bringing over a partner or spouse.

While it’s right that, if businesses can’t find the skills they need they can bring people in from outside the UK.

As we tackle unemployment and rebuild our economy, we also need to be asking why that’s the case at all. Why aren’t our young men and women equipped to do these jobs? So the Coalition is creating record numbers of apprenticeships – over one million since the election. And I want to make sure we have the right plans in place for so-called ‘shortage occupations’ – the specific professions where we lack skills.

There are 34 currently on the list. Paediatricians, maths teachers, chemical and mechanical engineers, to name a few. And we are now asking employers and their representative bodies, including Sector Skills Councils, to work with the Government on our plans to build up Britain’s homegrown skills for each profession: making sure we’re on track.

I believe people will have more faith in our immigration system if they see that we are doing everything we can to help young British men and women into work. To that end, the Coalition has also capped unskilled migration from outside the EU. The Government is also looking at the access migrants have to services and benefits. Fairness isn’t just about what people put into the system: it’s what also about what they take out.

This work is extremely complex. Labour left us a huge, unwieldy welfare state, full of contradiction. In some place the arrangements are already quite strict, in others they are much more loose and opaque. So now we are systematically working through to see where reform is necessary.

No decisions have been taken yet and the PM will be saying more about his views on Monday. But I want to make clear that this is very much a Coalition agenda, with both sides working together. For the Liberal Democrats, it is entirely right that we close loopholes and ensure that the welfare system is not open to abuse.

For social cohesion, as much as anything else. One area where I’ve asked for further work, for instance is on the translation services available to individuals accessing public services. The Government currently spends tens of millions of pounds on translation services and materials. And, of course, people should get help, if they need it to understand what their doctor is saying, or how to sign their children up for school, or what’s going on at a court hearing.

But there’s a missed opportunity here to improve people’s English so that, in the long term, they don’t need those translators and the taxpayer spends less.

We’ve already raised the level of English required from a number of different groups: skilled workers, the husbands and wives of migrants coming to the UK. But we need to do more to help people who are already here.

In 2011 we introduced powers for Jobcentre advisers to mandate people on job-related benefits to learn English if their level of language skills is stopping them from finding work.

I’ve asked Iain Duncan Smith to report back to me on how this is being implemented. I want to make sure it’s being rolled out effectively across the country.

And where people need a translator to interact with services, I’ve asked Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, to look at whether we could refer them onto an English language course. And, if people refuse to stick with those courses, we should consider making them pay for their translation services instead. To a lot of people, that’s just common sense.

We’ll be saying more about this, and the other areas under review, over the coming weeks and months.

So in conclusion, we are grappling with the difficult challenges in our immigration system.

Brick by brick, we are rebuilding it. Day by day we are making sure, quite simply, that it works. All the British people ask is for a system they can have confidence in. We hear that, and we are delivering it.

I’m determined we lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation’s instincts and its values: our openness and tolerance on one hand; our sense of fair play, on the other.

The Liberal Democrats are at the forefront of that. We want to stay a tolerant Britain, and to that end we will be zero-tolerant of abuse.

Nick Clegg – 2012 Speech to CentreForum

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to CentreForum at the Royal Commonwealth Society on 17th December 2012.

Tomorrow it will have been five years since I became leader of the Liberal Democrats. Roughly half of that time has been spent in opposition, and half in government.

I don’t suppose it’s exactly controversial to suggest that I and my party have changed over that period. Today I will argue that we’ve changed for the better.

Because my purpose here today is to explain, clearly and simply, what the Liberal Democrats offer the people of Britain, and why it’s an offer which speaks to modern Britain.

Our offer is different from that of the Conservatives.

It’s also different from Labour’s offer. That won’t surprise you.

What will surprise you, perhaps, is that it’s different too from the offer of the Liberal Democrats in opposition.

What I want to set out is a case for why Britain should be governed from the centre ground. A case for both a stronger economy and a fairer society, because we can have both – they are not mutually exclusive.

Serious parties know that that the centre ground is the only place from which Britain can be governed. And serious leaders try to keep their parties in the centre ground.

But in times of economic distress, when people and parties are under pressure, when there are no easy answers, no silver bullets, only tough choices – at times like these, politics quickly becomes polarised as the homing instincts of ideologues to the right and the left kick in.

The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world…

– where we can walk away from the EU, but magically keep our economy strong…

– where we can pretend the world hasn’t moved on, and stand opposed to equal marriage…

– where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority of their own.

The Labour left lives in a different, but no less destructive, fantasy world…

– where their irresponsible borrowing in government can be remedied by borrowing more…

– where every budget reduction can be opposed without explaining where the money should come from…

– where games can be played with political reform and EU budget policy without long-term damage to their credibility.

It is at times like these that Britain needs a party rooted in the centre ground, which anchors the country there.

The Liberal Democrats are that party. We’re not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home.

While the tribalists in other parties desert the centre ground under pressure, the Liberal Democrats have done the reverse. Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre.

Governing from the centre ground means applying pragmatic liberalism to the policy challenges of our time.

But pragmatic liberalism is not the same as dogmatic liberalism. And that is what distinguishes Liberal Democrats in opposition from Liberal Democrats in government.

The greatest strength of our party is our idealism. But in our strength lies our weakness – because sometimes idealism can turn into dogma, or at least an unwillingness to engage fully with the day-to-day experiences and perspectives of the British people we seek to serve.

A party of government knows that workable solutions need to be grounded in values – but also that they must respond to the hopes and fears of reasonable people.

This is the lesson we’ve learnt in government. The challenges of governing at a difficult time have given us a harder edge and a more practical outlook.

It’s worth pausing here for a moment and making a point about the immediate future of my party. There are two alternatives.

If we are to become a more permanent fixture of government, then it will be, at least at first, as a partner in coalitions.

That means embracing the realities of coalition government, and becoming better and better at negotiating successfully on behalf of those in Britain who expect us to stand up for them.

It means accepting compromise.

It means putting up with people who object that we haven’t got everything they wanted, and who can’t see the value in getting much, much more than we ever could in opposition.

Because that is the alternative – a retreat to the comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition.

But – and let me make this very clear – choosing opposition over government is not a values-free choice.

It is a dereliction of duty. Because if our values and principles matter to us, we should want to see them deployed for the good of the British people. It’s not about us, after all. It’s about the people we serve.

Let me offer an example of how, in government, the Liberal Democrats have tacked towards the centre, not away from it.

In opposition, it would have been easy to decry the less pleasant consequences of austerity. No matter how rational opposition parties try to be, it’s just too easy, too tempting, to go for the quick win. That’s why opposition parties are so good at spending ‘savings’ two, three or four times over. Play budgeting with play money.

But in government, we’ve not been able to do that.

We know from experience now: if you protect the health and education budgets, as we correctly did, you can’t oppose every reduction in the welfare budget.

If you want to protect welfare as well, you’ve got to accept that you’ll end up gutting the crime budget, or the BIS budget, or local government. We get that now. We’ve learnt to live with a host of invidious choices.

Another example: in these distressed economic times, the ideologues to left and right find comfort in the shibboleths of their preferred economic doctrines and turn their backs on evidence and reason.

So the prescription of the right is all supply-side – deregulate, cut, get out of the way.

The prescription of the left is all demand-driven – tax, borrow, spend, intervene.

In government, we’ve rejected these Manichean alternatives and stuck with a more flexible approach.

Yes, we have to cut expenditure to bring down the deficit. Otherwise we put ourselves in hock to the bond markets, drive up interest rates and impoverish future generations.

And yes, we have deregulated:

We’ve stripped back accountancy rules for the smallest businesses.

We’ve simplified the rules around maternity leave and flexible working.

We’ve extended the qualifying period for unfair dismissal so businesses can be confident about hiring new staff.

But we have also taken steps to drive demand:

We’ve put money back in the pockets of the low and middle income families we know are most likely to spend it with our income tax cut.

We’ve taken every opportunity to increase investment in capital – infrastructure, roads, rail, schools

We’ve established the Regional Growth Fund, the Growing Places Fund and multi-billion pound Treasury guarantees for investment to unlock private sector growth.

We have resisted the false choice between a state that steps in and assumes control, and a state that backs off and washes its hands.

We have embraced the challenge of building an enabling state that acts where necessary and backs off where not…

Promoting, inspiring and facilitating growth and opportunity.

But recognising that the strong economy we want can only be built on the back of hard work and responsibility by citizens themselves.

So we’ve been on a journey. But our journey has been towards the centre ground, not away from it. Because the centre ground is where liberals are best able to fulfil our purpose in politics.

For Liberal Democrats, our purpose is to enable every person to be who they want to be and to get on in life. Freedom and opportunity combined. Or what the philosophers might call ‘substantive freedom’.

To deliver on our purpose, we need to build a stronger economy in a fairer society.

We need a stronger economy because without resilience and sustainable growth, our economy will never be able to deliver the jobs and the opportunity people need.

We need a fairer society because unless we ensure everyone has the means to get on, some will be left behind while others race ahead, and our society will become increasingly unfair and unequal.

And so every policy we promote has to make our economy stronger and our society fairer.

What underpins our ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ agenda, and gives it a distinctly liberal flavour, is a very clear conception of the appropriate balance between the role of the state and the role of the citizen.

For us, that relationship is clear: it is the government’s responsibility to ensure every person has the opportunity to get on, but every person must take personal responsibility for using those opportunities by working hard.

We cannot absolve people of their responsibility for improving their own lives, because to do so would be to turn them into dependants – and so deny their agency and compromise their dignity. You can’t build a stronger economy with people lost to dependency.

At the same time, we cannot wash our hands of those without the means and advantages to get on in life alone. To do so would compromise their potential and diminish their dignity – a tragedy for them and a waste for society. You can’t build a fair society when you deny some the chance to fulfil their potential.

Our commitment to opportunity has deep roots. Liberals have an unshakeable belief in human potential. We know that children born in the most difficult circumstances can rise above them and live the fullest of lives – but only if they’re given the help to do so.

Parents know what I mean. You look at your children and yearn with hope for their future. You do whatever you can to give them every advantage. You worry about the obstacles they will face, and you plan to help them overcome them all.

But equally, parents know that kids need to learn to look after themselves. Slowly but surely, we guide them into independence and adulthood. Because we know that to be happy, they will need the means and capacity to run their own lives – and pass their love and skills on to the grandchildren they might give you one day.

Parents know instinctively that a balance of opportunity and responsibility are what human beings need to thrive. Why would the state treat people otherwise?

And so we need both – a stronger economy and a fairer society; more opportunity and more responsibility.

Every one of our policies needs to meet this test.

Nick Clegg – 2012 Speech to ELDR Congress

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to the ELDR Congress in Dublin on 9th November 2012.

It is a pleasure to be here in Dublin. I want to begin by paying tribute to the tireless work of Graham Watson as ELDR President and to the whole ELDR team for making this Congress possible. And I hope to be able to welcome to you to the 2013 ELDR Congress in London. I also want to say a big thank you to Micheál Martin and Fianna Fail for their excellent hospitality and for making sure that that this Congress will, I have no doubt, be a real success. And I would like to congratulate Mark Rutte and the VVD on their recent election results. I know Mark couldn’t make it today but he and I have been good friends for some time and it’s great to see him and his VVD colleagues back where they deserve to be – in government.

Congress, I am particularly pleased to be here today, because it is my strong conviction that it is at times of great turmoil that Europe needs liberals the most. In the middle of the 20th Century those who came before us took a continent scarred by war, a place of great uncertainty, fear and hardship, and set about building a continent whose citizens would live together in peace, work together in mutual respect, and grow together in shared prosperity. Whatever the challenges that face the European Union, our nation states and our shared institutions, it is liberals who will make sure we always rise to those challenges.

Europe needs liberals now more than ever. The shared challenges we face are ones that can only be tackled when like-minded people across Europe work together: how to create jobs, particularly for our young people, and bring back prosperity; how to tackle climate change and build the new, green economies we need for our future; and how to keep our citizens safe in an uncertain and fast changing world. Those at home and abroad who want us to pull up our drawbridges and remove ourselves from the outside world, to cut us off and go it alone, cannot rise to those challenges. We must remain open, outward-looking and optimistic. Pulling together, not falling apart.

I haven’t come here to rehash the arguments we all know too well about the future of the Eurozone, about the budget or the bailouts. At a time of great division in Europe I want to talk about the things that unite us: as people; as nations; and as liberals. Europe needs liberals now more than ever because it is only with agreement, co-operation and shared priorities that we will rise to these challenges.

Youth Unemployment

Liberals have always played a key role in challenging consensus, pushing for change and coming up with new, radical thinking. One of the gravest threats to the long-term future of our economies and societies is youth unemployment. Millions of young people across Europe are leaving education and finding either that there are no jobs, or that employers who are hiring are not prepared to take a chance on them. True, the rates of youth unemployment vary across Europe, but the underlying problem is one that is facing every single country in the Western world. Here in Ireland, almost one in three young people is unemployed. In the UK, we have a million young people not in work, education or training.

Youth unemployment is not only an economic tragedy, it is a slow burning social disaster. Research shows that the more time you spend unemployed when you are young the worse you will do over your working life. It crushes the hope of young people who send out application after application but rarely ever receive a reply let alone an interview. And it means businesses miss out on the enthusiasm, innovation and productivity of a generation.

Liberals believe fundamentally in spreading freedom and opportunity. But there is no quick fix or silver bullet. And no one country can claim to have all the answers. So we need to learn from each other. That’s why next week I am travelling to France to discuss youth unemployment with the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. And it’s why much of what we are doing in the United Kingdom is influenced by colleagues overseas.

In the UK, Liberal Democrats are leading the way in tackling youth unemployment. Because we understand the importance of equipping our young people with the skills they need to thrive we are overseeing a massive expansion of apprenticeships. But it would be wrong for us to pretend that we are taking on these problems without benefiting from the experiences and ideas of our fellow liberals and neighbours.

For example, in the UK, and despite the pressures on budgets, we have developed a £1bn Youth Contract, which will provide nearly half-a-million new opportunities for 18-24 year olds. Targeted job subsidies for employers who will give young people a chance, much like those that operate in Belgium and Netherlands. New work experience placements to break the cycle of joblessness, like those we see across Sweden, Finland and Denmark. And a new programme to help the most disengaged 16 and 17 year olds – getting them back to school or college, onto an apprenticeship or into a job with training. In fact, our apprenticeship scheme unashamedly seeks to emulate the phenomenal success of Germany’s long-standing apprenticeship schemes. The pool of radical ideas and new thinking is vast when we choose to look beyond our national borders. And I am delighted to see much of this radical thinking being done here in Ireland by our hosts Fianna Fail. Encouraging entrepreneurship. Expanding the national internship service. And giving new support to train young Irish people in the skills they need to succeed.

Europe needs liberals because we believe fundamentally in spreading freedom and opportunity, and too many of our young people have too little of both. As we rebuild our economies we must make sure the skills and livelihoods of our young people are put at the top of our priorities.

Growth 

Europe needs liberals because we understand the way the world is changing. Globalisation and the information revolution have transformed the way we communicate and do business. They have spread democracy and empowered parts of the world to grow at remarkable rates. And they have helped fuel the great rise of the emerging powers whose economic and political might grows daily. Liberals know that we in Europe must adapt to this modern world with openness as our watchword. We are open minded internationalists.

Where other politicians see risk, we liberals see potential. Where other parties see threats, we liberals see opportunity. The opportunity to spread prosperity by completing the single market in services and digital, unlocking over €4,000 in extra income for every European household; the huge growth potential for Europe to lead the world in research and development and high tech industries, by unlocking investment and venture capital for our innovators and through agreeing a new EU-wide patent; and the chance for us to use our collective weight to drive forward free trade agreements for the benefit of European businesses and consumers. Deals like the recent EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement that, in just one year, has increased European exports by €1.7bn; or game-changing deals with some of the biggest markets in the world, such as Japan and the United States.

In fact, if the EU can complete all of its current free trade agreements with third countries, it would permanently add more than 2% to the EU’s GDP or some €275 billion annually, and create more than 2m new jobs. I would like to pay particular tribute to our friends in the European Commission for keeping the single market and free trade agenda moving forward, and urge them to keep it up, to go further and to go faster.

Green Agenda

When it comes to understanding how the world is changing, there can be no clearer example than climate change. Some people say that at times of hardship and economic uncertainty we cannot afford to care about the environment. It is a foolish and dangerous argument. Climate change is no less a threat to us when times are tough.  If we shrink from the task of cutting our emissions then our legacy to our children and grandchildren will be disaster. If we want our children and grandchildren to live in peace and prosperity then we must act now and act decisively before it is too late. So we must tackle climate change now with the same urgency, if not more, than we have in the past.

Europe needs liberals because we understand that the only way we can tackle a problem of this scale is by working together, leading by example and pooling our resources. But Europe needs liberals not just because we understand the urgency of the challenge but because we see the opportunity it presents. We are all looking for ways to get our economies growing and ways to create jobs that last. The green goods and services market is a key part of the answer. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, worth over €4trillion today, and all the projections are that it will grow and grow at an increasing rate.

I’m proud that companies in Britain, including in South Yorkshire where I am an MP, are at the cutting edge of green innovation. In the UK, the Liberal Democrats in Government are expanding our renewables sector. Rolling out a massive programme of energy efficiency in our homes and businesses. And creating a revolutionary Green Investment Bank. An idea developed by Liberal Democrats, put in our manifesto, argued for in our coalition negotiations and being delivered by a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State.

At the European level, we liberals must come together to ensure that Europe taps into the huge potential of green jobs in this area. Through driving forward new ambitious emissions targets. Through implementing in full the Commission’s Low Carbon Roadmap. And through investing in low carbon energy infrastructure to develop a European supergrid, linking up our countries to enjoy efficient, clean and secure energy, just like the exciting ideas for interconnecting Britain and Ireland, so that excess wind energy in Ireland can be transported and used in the UK.

There is so much to do to deliver a full low carbon energy transformation, to unlock millions of green jobs and to establish thousands of world leading clean tech businesses, and it is Europe’s liberals who must be bold, ambitious and radical to make sure this become a reality.

Security and Justice 

As liberals we also understand the importance of working together to keep our citizens safe in a dangerous and uncertain world. The UK and Ireland, two nations with a shared land border, are painfully aware of the value of cross-border co-operation on policing and security. We all know that cross border crime and terrorism is a major threat to us as individuals, as nations and as a European community. And we know that when crime crosses borders, justice should too.

So together we have built the world’s most advanced system for cross-border police and justice co-operation. Co-operation that in 2010 cracked open a pan-European human trafficking network, rescuing over 180 children; that last year broke up the world’s largest online paedophile ring, freeing over 200 children who were being systematically abused; that, as we speak, is investigating hundreds of serious and organised international crimes, like the recent and tragic murder of a British family in Annecy, in France.

There is a live debate in the UK on the level of UK involvement in European police and justice measures. The Government has said our current thinking is to opt out of these measures en masse, before seeking to rejoin those measures which are important to our safety and security. It’s true that some of the measures may be old, out of date or defunct. And yes, some need improvement. But I want to be absolutely clear: a final decision has not been taken, and the Liberal Democrats will only agree to doing that if I am satisfied we can opt back in to the measures needed to protect British citizens. Liberal Democrats in the UK’s Coalition Government, like liberals across Europe, understand that we are all safer when we work together.

Conclusion

So as we face this array of economic, environmental and security challenges, it is fitting that the ELDR Congress should be held here in Dublin. As Ireland prepares to take on the presidency of the European Union, there can be no doubt its economy is coming back. All the indications point to this: growth in exports and in agriculture; a well-educated young population; continued investment from the technological industry; a country gaining increasing confidence from the financial markets due to its strong implementation of EU and IMF-supported programmes.

But there is a long way to go for all of us. European countries can’t deal with these major challenges – growth, jobs and youth unemployment, climate change and security – by themselves. Europe needs liberals because we understand that the challenges that face us all right now require a collective, liberal response. Europe needs liberals because we understand that it is only by spreading freedom and opportunity that we will thrive as individuals, as nations and as a continent. Europe needs liberals because we understand that all of us are richer, greener and safer when we stand together, and that we are all weaker when we stand apart.

Nick Clegg – 2012 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech

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Below is the text of a speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference on 26th September 2012.

This summer, as we cheered our athletes to gold after gold after gold, Britain remembered how it feels to win again. But more importantly, we remembered what it takes to win again. Whether from Jess Ennis or Mo Farah, Sarah Storey or David Weir, the message was the same: we may be the ones on the podium, but behind each of us stands a coach. And behind the coach, a team. And behind the team, the organisers, the volunteers, the supporters. And behind them, a whole city, an entire country, the UK nations united behind one goal.

What a contrast from a year ago when England’s cities burned in a week of riots. When the images beamed to the world were not of athletes running for the finishing line, but the mob, running at police lines. When the flames climbed, not from the Olympic torch in east London, but a furniture shop in south London. A 140 year-old family-run business, which had survived two world wars and countless recessions, razed to the ground. Of course, even then, amid the smoke and embers, we saw our country’s true character when residents came out onto the streets to clear up the mess.

And we saw it again this summer when the Reeves furniture shop in Croydon re-opened in new premises, the walls decked with photos of young people holding up messages of hope. And who put those pictures up? Young volunteers from Croydon and an 81 year-old man called Maurice Reeves, who, like three generations before him, ran the shop before handing it over to his son. Maurice, your example should inspire a generation.

You see, what Maurice has shown – what our Olympians and Paralympians have reminded us of – is that, for most people, success doesn’t come easy or quick. That’s what our culture of instant celebrity obscures: that real achievement in the real world takes time, effort, perseverance, resilience. The war veteran: a victim of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, competing at the Paralympics. The businessman: a victim of an arson attack in south London, serving his customers again. The millions of people up and down the country, who, no matter how heroic or mundane their battles, keep going, keep trying, keep working, whatever life throws at them.

These are the qualities that will see our country through these tough times. And these are the qualities that will guide our party through tough times too. So let us take our example from the British people as together we embark on the journey ahead. Our party: from the comforts of opposition to the hard realities of government. Our country: from the sacrifices of austerity to the rewards of shared prosperity. Two journeys linked; the success of each depending on the success of the other. Neither will be easy and neither will be quick, but it will be worth it. And be in no doubt. If we secure our country’s future, we will secure our own.

We live at a time of profound change, almost revolutionary in its pace and scale. Here in Britain, we are faced with the gargantuan task of building a new economy from the rubble of the old. And of doing so at a time when our main export market – the Eurozone – is facing its biggest crisis since it was formed. And while the European economy has stalled, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China continue to grow, and at a phenomenal rate.

The potential consequences of this shift in power, should we in the West fail to respond, cannot be overstated. Our influence in the world, our standard of living, our ability to fund our public services and maintain our culture of openness and tolerance – all are in the balance. For power would move not only away from the liberal and democratic world, but within it too; from moderates to hard liners, from internationalists to isolationists, from those committed to the politics of cooperation to those hell-bent on confrontation. If history has taught us anything, it is that extremists thrive in tough times.

So yes, if we fail to deal with our debts and tackle the weaknesses in our economy, our country will pay a heavy political price. But the human cost would be higher still. Not only would we fall behind internationally, we would leave a trail of victims at home too.

So to those who ask, incredulously, what we – the Liberal Democrats – are doing cutting public spending, I simply say this: Who suffers most when governments go bust? When they can no longer pay salaries, benefits and pensions? Not the bankers and the hedge fund managers, that’s for sure. No, it would be the poor, the old, the infirm; those with the least to fall back on.

Labour may have thought it was funny, after crashing the economy and racking up record debts, to leave a note on David Laws’ desk saying: “there’s no money left”. But it’s no joke for the most vulnerable in our society; the people Labour claim to represent but let down the most. So let’s take no more lectures about betrayal. It was Labour who plunged us into austerity and it is we, the Liberal Democrats, who will get us out.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that the debate we’re having in this country is playing out across our continent. It’s a debate between those who understand how much the world has changed, and those who do not. And between those who understand the need to adapt to those changes, and those who baulk at the size of the challenge. And the fate of every European country – ours included – will depend on the outcome.

In the coming years, some countries will get their own house in order. But some will not. Those that do will continue to write their own budgets, set their own priorities and shape their own futures. But those that do not will find their right to self-determination withdrawn by the markets, and new rules imposed by their creditors, without warning or clemency. That that will never happen to us is often just blithely assumed; the comparisons with Greece, breezily dismissed. Yet it is the decisions we take – as a government, as a party – that will determine whether we succeed or fail. For the first time, the future is ours to make.

Our journey from austerity to prosperity starts, of course, with economic rescue; dealing with our debts and delivering growth. If you listen to Labour, you could be forgiven for thinking that austerity is a choice; that the sacrifices it involves can be avoided; that if we only enacted Ed Balls’ latest press release we’d be instantly transported to that fantasy world where there is no “boom and bust” and the money never runs out.

But the truth is this: there is no silver bullet that will instantly solve all our economic problems. Some of our problems are structural, others international. All will take time to overcome. We are dealing with an on-going surge in global energy, food and commodity prices. An existential crisis in the Eurozone. And a banking collapse which, more than four years on, is still blocking the arteries of our entire economic system.

Ranged against these forces, the idea that if government just deregulated a bit more as Liam Fox proposes, or borrowed and spent a bit more as Ed Balls proposes, we would, at a stroke, achieve strong and lasting growth, is just not credible. In my experience, if you’re being attacked by Liam Fox from one side, and Ed Balls from the other, you’re in the right place.

You see, what is needed – and what we’re delivering – is a plan that is tough enough to keep the bond markets off our backs, yet flexible enough to support demand. A plan that allowed us, when the forecast worsened last year, to reject calls for further spending cuts or tax rises and balance the budget over a longer timescale. A plan that, even at the end of this parliament, will see public spending account for 42 per cent of GDP – higher than at any point between 1995 and 2008 when the banks collapsed. And a plan that, because it commands the confidence of the markets, has given us the room to create a Business Bank, provide billions of pounds of infrastructure and house building guarantees and an £80 billion Funding for Lending scheme – the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world.

Of course so much of this is about perception. People keep telling me we should be doing what Barack Obama did with his fiscal stimulus. What they don’t tell you is that much of what the President had to legislate for, we are already doing automatically. So let’s not allow the caricature of what we are doing go unchallenged. If Plan A really was as rigid and dogmatic as our critics claim, I’d be demanding a Plan B, and getting Danny and Vince to design it. But it isn’t. Which is why you were right, earlier this week, to overwhelmingly reject the call for us to change our economic course. We have taken big and bold steps to support demand and boost growth. And we stand ready to do so again and again and again until self-sustaining growth returns.

Of course, arguments about economic theory are of no interest to the millions of people just struggling to get by right now. The home-help whose earnings barely cover the cost of childcare. The builder who knows the company will be laying people off, but doesn’t yet know if he’ll be one of them. The couple who want to buy their first home but can’t raise the money for a deposit.  To them and to all the other hard working families just trying to stay afloat, I say this: the Liberal Democrats are on your side. You are the ones we are in government to serve. Not with empty rhetoric but real practical help. That is why we promised to cut your income tax bills by raising the personal allowance to £10,000. So you can keep more of the money you have worked for. So your effort will be properly rewarded. So the task of making ends meet is made that little bit easier.

At the last budget, we made two big announcements: that we were spending three thousand million pounds increasing the tax-free allowance, and just fifty million pounds reducing the top rate of tax while recouping five times that amount in additional taxes on the wealthiest. I insisted on the first. I conceded the second. But I stand by the package as a whole. Why? Because as liberals, we want to see the tax on work reduced, the tax on unearned wealth increased, and the system as a whole tilted in favour of those on low and middle incomes. The budget delivered all three.

But let me make one thing clear: Now that we have brought the top rate of tax down to 45p – a level, let’s not forget, that is still higher than throughout Labour’s 13 years in office – there can be no question of reducing it further in this Parliament. All future cuts in personal taxation must pass one clear test: do they help people on low and middle incomes get by and get on? It’s as simple as that.

At the next election, all parties will have to acknowledge the need for further belt tightening. That much is inescapable. But the key question we will all have to answer is who will have to tighten their belts the most? Our position is clear. If we have to ask people to take less out or pay more in, we’ll start with the richest and work our way down, not the other way around. We won’t waver in our determination to deal with our debts. But we will do it in our own way, according to our own plans, based on our own values. So we will not tether ourselves to detailed spending plans with the Conservatives through the next Parliament.

Colleagues, we should be proud of the fact we have delivered fairer taxes in tough times. We should be proud of the fact that we’re taking 2m people out of income tax altogether and delivering a £700 tax cut for more than 20m others, and should never miss an opportunity to tell people about it. But as we do so, remember this: our tax cuts, like our extra support for childcare, for schools, for pensioners – these are not stand-alone consumer offers. They are part of a broader agenda of economic and social reform to reward work, enhance social mobility and secure Britain’s position in a fast changing world. In short, national renewal. That is our mission. Our policies either serve that purpose, or they serve none at all.

One of the things about governing is it forces you to confront the inconvenient truths oppositions choose to ignore. Like the fact that, over the last 50 years, our economy has grown threefold, but our welfare spending is up sevenfold. Or the fact that, to sustain our spending, we are still borrowing a billion pounds every three days. Or that, as a result of that borrowing, we now spend more servicing the national debt than we do on our schools. In combination, these three facts present us with a fundamental challenge: to not only regain control of public spending, but to completely redirect it so that it promotes, rather than undermines, prosperity.

How we do that – how we reshape the British state for the economic challenges of the 21st century – is a debate I want our party to lead. For there are only two ways of doing politics: by following opinion, to get yourself on the populist side of each issue, or by leading opinion, and standing on the future side of each issue. The first brings short-term rewards, of course it does. But the big prizes are for those with the courage and vision to get out in front, set the agenda and point the way.

So let us take the lead in building a new economy for the new century. An open, outward looking economy in the world’s biggest single market. A strong, balanced economy built on productive investment, not debt-fuelled consumption. An innovative, inventive economy driven by advances in science and research. And yes, a clean, green economy too, powered by the new low-carbon technologies. Britain leading the world.

But I have to tell you, we will not succeed in this last task unless we can see off that most short-sighted of arguments: that we have to choose between going green and going for growth. Decarbonising our economy isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a fantastic economic opportunity. The green economy in Britain is growing strongly right now, bringing in billions of pounds and creating thousands of jobs – in wind, solar and tidal energy; the technologies that will power our economy in the decades to come. Going green means going for growth. But more than that, it means going for more energy that we produce ourselves and which never runs out; it means going for clear air and clean water and a planet we can proudly hand over to our children. Going green means going forward.

So let the Conservatives be in no doubt. We will hold them to their promises on the environment. Of course, there was a time when it looked like they got it. It seems a long time ago now. When the Tories were going through their naturalist phase. The windmills gently turning; the sun shining in. As a PR exercise, it was actually quite brilliant. Until, at last year’s party conference, they went and ruined it all, admitting that you can’t in fact “vote blue and go green”. Well of course you can’t. To make blue go green you have to add yellow, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As we plot our path from austerity to prosperity, we need to remember that nothing we do will make a decisive difference if we don’t make the most important investment of all: in the education and training of our young people. For we will only fulfil our collective economic potential, if we fulfil our individual human potential. Yet the legacy of educational inequality in Britain is an economy operating at half power, with far too many young people never getting the qualifications they could get, never doing the jobs they could do, never earning the wages they could earn.

The true cost of this cannot be counted in pounds and pence. Yes it’s a huge drag on our economy, but more than that, it is an affront to natural justice and to everything we Liberal Democrats stand for. Because if you strip away all the outer layers to expose this party’s philosophical core, what do you find? An unshakeable belief in freedom. Not the tinny sound of the Libertarian’s freedom – still less the dead thud of the Socialist’s – but the rich sound of Liberal freedom, amplified and sustained by the thing that gives it real meaning: opportunity. The freedom to be who you are. The opportunity to be who you could be. That, in essence, is the Liberal promise.

And that is why this party has always been – and must always be – the party of education. Because just as there can be no real freedom without opportunity, so there can be no real opportunity without education.

Every parent knows how it feels when you leave your child on their first day at school. That last look they give you before the door closes behind them. The instinct to go with them, to protect them, to help them every step of the way. That’s how we should feel about every child. That’s the responsibility we have to every parent. To support them at every stage: from nursery to primary, from primary to secondary and from secondary to college, university or work.

That’s why we’re providing more money so the poorest two-year-olds, as well as every three and four-year-old, can now benefit from pre-school education. Delivering our Pupil Premium – £900 per child next year – so the most disadvantaged children get the more intensive, more personalised support they need. And why, when they leave school, we’re providing scholarships, bursaries, grants, loans, apprenticeships and wage subsidies, to help them go on learning or start earning.

But extra resources won’t make a difference unless matched by greater ambition. Which is why money must be accompanied by reform. Reform to ensure all children can read and write. To make schools focus on the performance of every child. To turn around failing schools, and put more pressure on coasting schools. And yes, reform to replace GCSEs, not with an O Level, but with a new more rigorous qualification that virtually every child will be able to take, and every well taught child will be able to pass.

And to ensure they do, I can announce that from this year, we will provide a new ‘catch-up premium’ – an additional £500 for every child who leaves primary school below the expected level in English or maths. If you’re a parent whose child has fallen behind; who fears they might get lost in that daunting leap from primary to secondary school; and who is worried by talk about making exams tougher, let me reassure you. We will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind. A place in a summer school; catch-up classes; one-to-one tuition; we are providing the help they need. So yes, we’re raising the bar. But we’re ensuring every child can clear it too.

I am proud of the resolve we Liberal Democrats have shown over the last two and a half years. We’ve had some real disappointments: tough election results, a bruising referendum. But through it all, we have remained focused, determined, disciplined. It hasn’t always been easy, and, when we’ve made mistakes, we’ve put our hands up. But we’ve stuck to our task – and to the Coalition Agreement – even as others have wavered. The received wisdom, prior to the election, was that we wouldn’t be capable of making the transition from opposition to government. The choices would be too sharp, the decisions too hard.

The Liberal Democrats, it was said, are a party of protest, not power. Well two years on, the critics have been confounded. Our mettle has been tested in the toughest of circumstances, and we haven’t been found wanting. We have taken the difficult decisions to reduce the deficit by a quarter and have laid the foundations for a stronger, more balanced economy capable of delivering real and lasting growth. But conference, our task is far from complete, our party’s journey far from over.

I know that there are some in the party – some in this hall even – who, faced with several more years of spending restraint, would rather turn back than press on. Break our deal with the Conservatives, give up on the Coalition, and present ourselves to the electorate in 2015 as a party unchanged. It’s an alluring prospect in some ways. Gone would be the difficult choices, the hard decisions, the necessary compromises. And gone too would be the vitriol and abuse, from Right and Left, as we work every day to keep this Government anchored in the centre ground.

But conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.

There’s been a lot of discussion on the fringe of this conference about our party’s next steps; about our relationship with the other parties; and about what we should do in the event of another hung parliament. It’s the sort of discussion politicians love – full of speculation and rumour. But I have to tell you, it is all based on a false, and deeply illiberal, assumption: that it is we, rather than the people, who get to decide. In a democracy, politicians take their orders from the voters.

So let’s forget all the Westminster gossip and focus on what really matters: not our relationship with the other parties, but our relationship with the British people. Imagine yourself standing on the doorstep in 2015 talking to someone who hasn’t decided who to vote for. This is what you’ll be able to say: we cut taxes for ordinary families and made sure the wealthiest paid their fair share. We put more money into schools to give every child a chance. We did everything possible to get people into work – millions of new jobs and more apprenticeships than ever before. And we did the right thing by our older people too – the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension. But most importantly, we brought our country back from the brink and put it on the right path.

Then ask them: are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer? Because the truth is, only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society too.  And to help get that message out there, I can announce today that Paddy Ashdown has agreed to front up our campaign as chair of the 2015 General Election team. I must admit, I’m not quite sure I’m ready for all those urgent e-mails and 5am phone calls. But I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have by my side. Paddy, it’s great to have you back.

Fifty, sixty years ago, before I was born, small groups of Liberal activists would meet up to talk politics and plan their campaigns. Stubborn and principled, they ignored the cynics who mocked them. They simply refused to give up on their dreams. They refused to accept that Liberals would never again be in government. And they refused to accept that Liberalism, that most decent, enlightened and British of creeds, which did so much to shape our past, would not shape our future. We think we’ve got it tough now. But it was much, much tougher in their day. It was only their resolve, their resilience and their unwavering determination that kept the flickering flame of Liberalism alive through our party’s darkest days.

At our last conference in Gateshead, I urged you to stop looking in the rear view mirror as we journey from the party of opposition that we were, to the party of government we are becoming. But before we head off on the next stage of our journey, I want you to take one last look in that mirror to see how far we’ve come. I tell you what I see.

I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire. And yes, I see them going back to their constituencies to prepare for government. It took us a while but we got there in the end. These are the people on whose shoulders we stand. They never flinched, and nor should we. We owe it to them to seize the opportunity they gave us, but which they never had. Taking on the vested interests. Refusing to be bullied. Refusing to give up. Always overturning the odds. Fighting for what we believe in, because we know that nothing worthwhile can be won without a battle. A fair, free and open society. That’s the prize. It’s within our grasp. So let’s go for it.