Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech at Cityfathers Launch

nickclegg

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg on 23rd April 2014 at the launch of Cityfathers.

40 years ago, when women were first being allowed onto the trading floor of the London Stock Exchange, any talk of families in the workplace was confined to a framed photo on your desk.

Mothers were almost always expected to stay at home and an event like this just wouldn’t have happened.

Now we have the highest female employment rate on record, with 630,000 extra women in employment since 2010. And networks like Citymothers and Cityfathers show how many more parents are choosing to both earn and share their childcare responsibilities between them.

Yet the enormity of the challenge we face – to ensure genuine equality in work and across our society – requires even more radical change.

Change

First, we have to sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and work.

For decades, our parental leave system has been based on the assumption that it’s dad who goes out to work while mum cares for the kids – giving fathers 2 weeks off when your baby is first born and mothers up to a year.

But what about those households where the woman is the main earner? Or the families where a working father just wants to spend more time with his children, or both parents want to do their bit at home without sacrificing their careers?

In many ways, the system still treats these families as the exception not the norm.

As a Liberal, I’ve always believed the system should support not dictate our families’ choices. That’s why I, and the Liberal Democrats, have made building a Britain that’s fit for modern families one of our biggest priorities in government.

So we’ve worked hard to increase access to affordable, high-quality childcare for more families. And, from 2015, government is investing an extra £750 million in tax-free childcare: to help more working parents with children under 12 cover their childcare bill. This is support worth up to £2,000 a year per child for millions of families.

This is in addition to our offer of 15 hours a week of free early years’ education for every 3 and 4-year-old, as well as for 2-year-olds in those families most feeling the squeeze.

Most importantly, I’ve also fought to drag those clapped out rules into the 21st Century.

And, from next year, if a mother wants to return to work before her year’s maternity leave is up or go back to work for a particular project, she can – without losing out. Her partner will now be entitled to use up her remaining parental leave and pay, if that’s what they want. You can even – as parents – take off chunks of time together.

Yet changing laws like this is only the start. Culturally, we also need to recognise that we can’t build a more family-friendly Britain unless all of us see the world differently.

We need to tackle once and for all the hidden prejudices which still limit the choices of many men and women. And we need to create the same equal opportunities for both sexes to care as well as earn.

Creating equal opportunities

How do we do that?

Well, we’ve got to tear down those barriers which still prevent too many brilliant women from reaching the top of their professions. For example, despite progress in recent years, women still account for just 21% of board positions on FTSE 100 companies. And only 4 of those companies have a female CEO.

That impacts on all of us, with estimates showing that the UK could boost its GDP by up to £23 billion if we use the skills of our female workforce more effectively.

Parents and teachers have an incredibly important role to play here: inspiring every young girl to think big and aim high for their future. If they’ve got the talent and ambition to succeed, then no job should be closed off to them – whether it’s to build their own business, lead a top company or work at the cutting edge of science, technology or engineering.

This is also why brilliant campaigns like Inspiring Women, which Miriam is heavily involved in, are so important: to help more young women reach for the sky.

Government is doing its bit to help too: boosting support for female entrepreneurs, pushing for more women on boards and helping young girls see the full range of career options open to them, including in those traditionally male-dominated STEM industries.

But at the same time, we also need to encourage more boys to see the value of building a career in the caring professions. For too long, these kinds of jobs – in childcare, early years’ education and social care – have typically been seen as the preserve of women. There are around 4 million people working in health and social care jobs in the UK today and still 4 out of every 5 people working in those jobs are women.

Yet these are fields in which both men and women have a lot to offer and can excel. We are now starting to see that kind of change in nursing. But I want to see it happen right across the board: helping more people to make choices based on what’s right for them not outdated preconceptions about their gender.

Of course, if we’re to do it properly, then we also need to challenge the ways in which many fathers are still pushed to see themselves as a breadwinner first and carer second.

Tackling hidden prejudices

Whether it’s by a manager’s raised eyebrow when you ask for some family time off. Or your friends’ surprise when you say you’d like to be a stay at home parent if you could. Or your own ingrained fear that, if you choose to work more flexibly, you’ll find your career stuck in the slow lane and your peers overtaking you.

As your survey shows, it’s as if even asking to work differently marks you out as less committed, ambitious or capable than your colleagues without children. And according to official research, fathers are less likely to work part-time than other employed men. In fact, around a quarter of new fathers take only a week or less of paternity leave.

This is despite increasing numbers of employers, both big and small, which now recognise the benefits of work-life balance, such as a more productive, loyal and engaged work force. This includes many of your own employers, companies like KPMG, Citi, Lloyds, EY and others.

Yet that kind of fantastic corporate support still isn’t translating into the wholesale shift in attitudes we need. That’s especially true in jobs with an entrenched long hours’ culture like here in the City.

We’re all familiar with the objections that come up again and again when changes like this are proposed:

It’s bad for our economy.

This is an additional burden businesses just don’t need.

It’s going to make us less competitive.

Yet the reality is that countries like Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands which actively champion more family-friendly working arrangements are consistently rated amongst the top economies on global competitiveness and well-being.

UK research also shows that employees working flexibly are more prepared to go that extra mile. And, more widely, McGill University academics argue that family-friendly policies help to reduce staff turnover, boost performance and improve job satisfaction.

As you can see in almost every political debate these days, there’s a big difference emerging between those who want Britain to be open or closed and ready to change or anxious to turn the clock back.

I’m clear on that fundamental dividing line. I believe we should always point to the future not hanker after the past. And the simple reality is that we always see resistance to these types of reforms in the early days, but they rapidly become the norm.

As representatives of some of the UK’s leading organisations, you can help us make that happen now. By working with us to ensure every family who can benefit from these new rights is able to do so, including your own, we can make family-friendly working the new norm in Britain.

That means ensuring it’s a genuine option for every employee who works in your organisation. From the men and women serving meals in your canteen and cleaning your offices to those sitting in the boardroom.

Getting the chance to take these opportunities is always harder for those families on the lowest incomes. So talk to your bosses, customers and business partners. And together we can generate a once-in-a-generation chain reaction across our offices, factories and other workplaces.

As competition increases, no successful business leader would think twice about investing in the latest technology to help their business get ahead. In the same way, we need to show how an upgrade in old-fashioned attitudes to flexible working can sharpen competitiveness even more.

That’s the only way we’ll secure the best, most talented and diverse workforce for Britain’s success. Together we can ensure that, in the City and beyond, every British family – whatever their background or circumstances – gets an equal chance to thrive.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech at Easter

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, at Easter on 14th April 2014.

This Easter, millions of families and friends, of all faiths and none, will come together across Britain to enjoy the holiday period.

For Christians, of course, Easter is one of the most important festivals of the year. Following Lent, it is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and reflect upon his life and teachings. And whether you are Christian or not, I’m sure many people can relate to the messages of love, forgiveness and tolerance that Easter represents.

I want to pay tribute to the millions of Christians in the UK who work so hard to put those values into action. What you do enriches our society in so many ways, whether through charity work at home and abroad or your dialogue and cooperation with other faiths across communities.

And, to Christians and non-Christians alike, I hope you all get a chance to enjoy the break.

Happy Easter.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference

nickclegg

Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York on 9th March 2014.

Since I became the Deputy Prime Minister I have had the privilege of spending a bit of time representing Britain’s interests in other parts of the world.

I have visited Latin America and Asia to boost exports. I have been to Africa, where we are building better education systems as well as helping fight corruption, poverty and disease. I have travelled to different parts of Europe and the United States to promote British trade.

And while each trip varies from the last, there is a thread which runs through them all: you get to see Britain through other people’s eyes.

Everywhere I have been – every nation around the planet – has its own story about Britain.

On a trade mission to South Korea I paid my respects at a war memorial at the bottom of a hill where, during the Korean War, British soldiers – heavily outnumbered – fought for three solid days to hold back North Korean and Chinese forces.

It is a battle that every single South Korean schoolchild learns about. Had we given up or been defeated, it could have cost their grandparents the war.

For Mexico, Britain is the first European country to have officially recognised their independence following their liberation from colonial rule. That means something to them.

In Colombia Britain is the nation that built their first railways.

Lynne Featherstone and I were in Ethiopia, for whom Britain is now the first member of the G8 to have met the decades-old promise by rich countries to spend 0.7% of our national wealth on aid for the developing world. Something we have long argued for and this Coalition has delivered.

So wherever you go one thing is clear: people don’t listen to our country out of some nostalgic deference to an old power. They listen because of who we are. Because of the things we’ve done. Because of the leadership we continue to show. And that makes me incredibly proud.

I love Britain.

I love it for all its contradictions.

I love that we are as modest as we are proud.

I love the way we can cherish our traditions yet innovate relentlessly, churning out one ingenious invention after the next. The telephone, the steam engine, the jet engine, the world wide web; the same nation that came up with stainless steel is now developing graphene – the strongest material the world has ever seen. Oscar winning visual effects; cutting-edge design; theatre, fashion, music, film – you name it, we do it, and we’re up there with the best.

I love that a country capable of extraordinary pomp and ceremony can still retain a spiky irreverence towards its establishment. A country where we line the streets waving our Union Jacks wildly to welcome the arrival of Prince George, and the next moment we’re chuckling at Private Eye’s front page: ‘Woman Has Baby’.

I love that we insist on queuing when we go abroad, even when the locals don’t.

I love that the BBC and NHS are known and respected across the planet.

I love that our cities are home to every race, religion, colour and language in existence.

I love Miriam telling me that the feeling of freedom you get in Britain simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.

I love that the shipping forecast is listened to by insomniacs of all ages, right across the country, miles from the sea.

I love how excited we get at the glimpse of any sun, insisting on staying out in our t-shirts and flip-flops – even when it’s obviously still cold.

I love living in a country synonymous with human rights and the rule of law.

I love that it was British lawyers who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights and a British Prime Minister who helped launch the Single Market. And I enjoy reminding my Coalition partners that it was a Prime Minister from their party at that.

I love that we do respond – the cliché is true – to every problem no matter how big or small with the same thing: a cup of tea.

I love that, wherever you go in the world, you’ll find football fans obsessed with the Premier League.

I love that we are a family of four different countries, each with their own characters, traditions and good-natured rivalries. And that’s why I want to see – we all want to see – Scotland stay in our family of nations later this year.

I look at what’s happening in places like Russia, where the government is effectively criminalising homosexuality, and I love that Britain is a place where you can be gay and proud – and now you can get married too.

Above all I love that, while we may be an island, we have always looked beyond our shores. Throughout our history, when we have seen trouble in the world we haven’t just looked the other way; we haven’t just crossed to the other side of the street; Britain doesn’t peer out at the rest of the world and shrug its shoulders. We are always at our best when we play our part.

This summer marks the centenary of the First World War. One hundred years ago hundreds of thousands of British troops headed into a conflict from which many of them would never return. When it ended my grandfather, not long out of school, climbed onto the roof of Westminster Abbey and watched the survivors come home – bloody, bruised and broken by the things they had seen. He told me that, in spite of everything, he was desperately upset that he hadn’t been called up to the front: because he passionately believed that to be a British soldier, defending our values of liberty and peace, was the most noble thing you could be.

Years later he married a woman who had herself come here to avoid conflict and revolution: my grandmother. She escaped Russia during the revolution, crossing Europe with her family and eventually settling in London. For her Britain offered a place of stability and safety. At a moment of great upheaval, this country welcomed her in and let her call it home.

There are few nations as open-minded and warm-hearted as ours. Smart, funny, compassionate Britain. Always changing, always evolving Britain. Humble enough to understand that we must work with others. Confident enough to lead.

For me it is these qualities that make this nation great – these great liberal qualities. Not some sepia-tinted memory of Empire. Not some stuffy parochialism dressed up as patriotism.

In the 21st Century, in a highly competitive, fluid and fast-moving world we hold our own because of our ability to embrace the future rather than cling to the past. It is our ability to look forward and outward and our capacity for reinvention – in other words our liberalism – that ensures this small island remains a giant on the world stage.

The question – one of the biggest questions of our time – is how we protect the liberal values of this nation.

Six years ago we suffered an unprecedented cardiac arrest in our banks.

This wasn’t just a recession. It was a shattering collapse of the basic assumptions by which successive governments had run our economy since the Big Bang.

This wasn’t just a downturn. We were a nation plunged into uncertainty as the thumping heart of our economy ground to a halt.

And you have to remember: even before this happened a quiet crisis of confidence was already creeping over developed economies like ours. Global power, money and influence have been shifting from West to East and from North to South for years. The previously fashionable view that the world would automatically slide towards greater freedom and democracy now feels presumptuous and naïve. Within our lifetimes America will no longer be the world’s biggest economy. It will be China: an authoritarian state.

Taken together, in societies across the Western world, these experiences have created an entirely understandable but dangerous urge to turn inwards. An urge to reject the new or unfamiliar and to shun the outside world.

If anyone doesn’t believe it, just glance across the Channel at our European neighbours, where a number of extremist parties are on the rise.

In Greece’s last parliamentary election the Golden Dawn Party secured 18 MPs. They ran on an anti-immigration platform. Their slogan? ‘So we can rid the land of this filth’.

Hungary’s Jobbik Party now has 43 MPs, one of whom has called for a register of Jews who he claims ‘pose a national security risk’.

In Bulgaria, Ataka makes up 10% of the National Assembly. One of their MPs has reviled Syrian refugees as ‘terrible, despicable primates’.

In the Netherlands Geert Wilder’s PVV party is polling at around 18%. They have called for the Koran to be banned, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

Front National. Around 21%. Their leader, Marine Le Pen, has compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France.

These are not far flung places. This is our backyard. The forces of chauvinism, protectionism and xenophobia have been emboldened. And there is no doubt about it: the fight is now on for the future direction of our continent.

We are lucky. Thankfully we do not have the same extremism here in the UK. But that’s not to say the fight isn’t on for the future of our country too.

An ungenerous, backwards looking politics has emerged in Britain. The politics of blame has found an acceptable face: it wears a big smile and looks like someone you could have a pint with down the pub. So I’m drawing a line in the sand. I am going to defend the tolerant and modern Britain we love, and I am going to start by showing people what’s at stake at the upcoming European elections: do you want Britain in Europe, or out?

That’s the real question in May. One party wants out. Another is flirting with exit. The other lot don’t have the courage of their convictions on this – they’re saying nothing at all.

The Liberal Democrats are now Britain’s only party of IN. The only party out there explaining the clear benefits of Britain’s place in Europe. The only party giving people the facts.

IN because Europe is our biggest export market and vital to British jobs. Because pulling up the drawbridge is the surest way to wreck our economic recovery.

IN because in the fight against climate change, and in a world where some of the biggest players are also the biggest polluters, Europe’s nations can only make a difference if we work together.

IN because cooperation between our police forces is essential for catching the criminals who cross our borders. Crime crosses borders, so must we.

IN because Britain stands tallest in the world when we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

This isn’t about some starry eyed affection for the EU – of course it needs reform. But you can’t change it with one foot out the door. You change it by taking your place at the table – which is where you protect Britain’s national interest and promote our values too.

How else would we, right now, be making our presence felt against Vladimir Putin’s Cold War aggression in the Ukraine?

The EU is a global economic superpower. By standing shoulder to shoulder with our European partners we have the clout to defend not just our own interests, but the interests of our continent as a whole.

So, for all these reasons, I’m IN.

Forget the lazy assumption that, in the court of public opinion, the eurosceptics will automatically win. There is nothing automatic about election results. A few months ago, when I asked people to take to Twitter to tell me why they’re IN, they did so in their thousands. It was our most successful online campaign ever.

There are plenty of people out there who don’t want anger. They don’t want bile. They want jobs. They want our country to have influence. They want opportunities. Ultimately they want hope.

And that, Liberal Democrats, is what it all comes down to. Hope. It’s the oldest dividing line in politics – hope versus fear – and it’s back.

We talk a lot about reducing the deficit, fiscal consolidation, bringing down public sector debt, increasing GDP, creating private sector jobs. But in the end what we’re really talking about is giving the British people the confidence to once again look to their futures with hope.

That’s how you lead a nation through difficult times. That’s how you hold a country together when its citizens are feeling the pressure. And that’s what the last four years in government have been about.

There is still a long way to go and many people are still feeling the squeeze. But after a period of grave uncertainty, the British people can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope that makes each and every one of you feel proud: there would be no recovery without the Liberal Democrats.

No recovery if we hadn’t decided to enter into coalition in order to provide the country with strong government.

No recovery if we hadn’t held our nerve and stuck to the plan.

No recovery if we had allowed the Coalition’s economic strategy to be solely about cuts. Sorting out the nation’s finances is essential but equally as important is investing in the foundations of lasting growth.

The unprecedented Treasury support that will transform Britain’s roads and rail.

The world’s first Green Investment Bank.

The billions of pounds spent on businesses across the country.

The million more young people who are now qualifying as apprentices.

Don’t let anyone airbrush out our role. Thanks to the heroic efforts and sacrifices of millions of people we have been able to pull this country back from the brink. Under extraordinary pressure we have achieved extraordinary things. And no matter what our critics say, when the history books are written they will say that, most extraordinary of all, the country was put back on the right track by a party which had never been in government before but which had the guts and the courage to do what it took.

And now a different challenge awaits.

We’ve been in emergency mode for the last four years, but that is slowly changing. If this parliament has been about a rescue, the next will be about reconstruction and renewal.

If we are truly ambitious for our country, Britain’s future cannot be like its past.

Successive governments relying on an overheated financial sector; presiding over a wildly imbalanced economy where the gap between rich and poor grew; where the North fell further and further behind the South.

Successive administrations jumping from one set of public service reforms to the next and Whitehall just seemed to carry on regardless as more and more power was sucked up to the centre.

I don’t want us ever to go back there. It cannot be right that the country goes through all of this pain only to end up where we started when it all went wrong.

In this coalition we have begun to turn the page, but the real test will come in the next parliament – when government will have to show whether or not we have really, genuinely, learnt from the mistakes of the past.

And I simply do not believe that our opponents have. I simply do not believe that they are up to this task.

Left to their own devices what are they offering the British people?

Profligacy. Economic incompetence. A bloated and cumbersome state. Politicians who think that all they need to do to prove themselves is posture against business. A leadership desperate but unable to break free from the grip of its Union paymasters. A party that cannot be relied upon to keep the economy safe; that wants us to put them back behind the wheel even though they still won’t admit how badly they got it wrong.

Or how about widening inequality. A remorseless shrinking of our public services. A party that claims we’re all in it together and yet refuses to ask the wealthy to pay even a penny more in tax towards the on-going fiscal effort. A party which will instead single out one group – the working age poor – for especially tough sacrifices. £12bn worth of especially tough sacrifices, from people who are trying to work their way out of poverty and who we should be helping stand on their own two feet.

A weak economy. An unfair society. If it all sounds depressingly familiar it’s because most of us have lived through it all before. Two parties encumbered by the same old prejudices; straitjacketed by the same old ideologies. And whichever way you look at it, left or right, if either of them get into government on their own, they will drag Britain in the same direction: backwards.

No. That’s not my Britain. That’s not the Britain I love. And I am not going to sit back while either of them sweep in and leave this nation diminished and divided because they still don’t understand what makes our country great.

Liberal Democrats think of that when you’re out campaigning in the crucial coming weeks – in your wards, in your communities, in your regions for our hardworking councillors and our excellent team of MEPs.

When I tell you that we need to get back into government again – protecting Britain from one party rule – this is why:

Because we are the guardians of a modern, open and tolerant Britain.

Because we are the only party who will not ask the British people to choose between a stronger economy and a fairer society. They don’t have to. They can have both if we make our shared mission enabling every single person to get on in life.

Because we are the only party with the imagination and ambition needed to ensure Britain draws a line under some of our worst times with our best qualities intact.

In government again the Liberal Democrats will continue rewiring our economy so that our banks are the servant and not the master. So that, instead of fake booms and reckless consumption, we invest in growth that is balanced and sustainable, which stretches across every corner of Britain and which conserves our natural resources too.

That is how we embrace a better future rather than repeat the mistakes of the past.

We’ll finish the job of balancing the books, but continuing to spread the burden fairly, as we have been in this government – giving Britain a stronger economy and a fairer society too.

The future, not the past.

We’ll continue correcting the imbalance in our tax system, so that it doesn’t just protect the wealthy but properly rewards work.

And, yes, that means that in the coming Budget Danny Alexander and I are pushing to take the Liberal Democrat income tax cut even further than we had originally planned in this parliament.

We are about to hit the target that was on the front page of our manifesto: raising the personal allowance so that no one pays a penny of income tax on the first £10,000 they earn, saving over 20 million people £700. Now we want to go beyond that, taking the total tax cut to £800.

And if we’re in government again we’ll go further still: no one paying a penny in tax on the first £12,500 they earn.

Fairer taxes. The future, not the past.

We’ll create an education system that, from toddler to graduate, allows our all of our children to rise as far as their talents and efforts will take them, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth.

The future, not the past.

We’ll transfer ever more power to our cities and communities so that they can drive their own destinies and we break Whitehall’s grip for good.

The future, not the past.

We will ensure that this country rises to the challenge that will define the 21st Century: playing our part in the fight against climate change, for the sake of our children and the planet we leave behind.

The future, not the past.

And we will live up to our greatest traditions by keeping Britain engaged, outward facing, a heavyweight in Europe and a leader in the world.

If this sounds like the Britain you want, the Liberal Democrats are the party for you.

Between now and the election my aim – our aim – is to build a coalition bringing together all of the liberal-minded, liberal-hearted men and women who love the Britain we love – and who want a party prepared to fight for it. That’s the coalition I care about. A coalition of all the people who want to keep this nation open, tolerant, compassionate and strong.

So to the people out there who may not have voted for us before: it doesn’t matter, that’s the past. What matters now is the kind of country you want to live in. The kind of nation you want us to be.

Open not closed.

In not out.

Great Britain not little England.

Forward not back.

Hope not fear.

The future not the past.

If you have faith in this country, if you believe in Britain’s values, if you still want this incredible island of ours to keep punching above our weight and shaping the world so that it is a better place, put the Liberal Democrats back in government again – let us protect the Britain you love.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech on Security

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, at the Royal United Services Institute on 4th March 2014.

The internet is of course an awe-inspiring achievement.

Look at what it does – it allows people to access vast amounts of information and to connect across the globe in ever more complex ways. It is a fantastic tool for innovation and creativity, with digital startups and clusters in every corner of the UK, creating jobs and driving growth, and it has been instrumental in supporting the push for greater freedom, civil liberties and democracy around the world.

The security services are similarly awe-inspiring. Look at what they do: GCHQ has an illustrious history, from the code-breakers who defeated the Enigma machine and shortened the Second World War by at least 2 years, through to the contemporary fight against terrorism. As Deputy Prime Minister I have of course visited all 3 intelligence agencies and met the public servants who work there, and I have huge admiration for their talent and for their dedication.

International terrorism continues to present major challenges. Since 9/11 we have seen serious attempts at major acts of terrorism in Britain typically once or twice a year. Most of these plots have been thwarted and around 330 people have been convicted of terrorism-related offences. New threats arise all the time from new sources – we face a new source now from people travelling to Syria, becoming radicalised and then returning to the UK. But it is not just terrorism. The threats we are facing are many and varied. They include the dangers posed by rogue and failing states, nuclear proliferation, transnational serious and organised crime, and cybercrime.

In an increasingly interconnected world, where the threats to our safety are also globalised, we rely more and more on intelligence-led security interventions to protect our people from harm. That means agencies who understand the internet, who understand how those who would do us harm use it, and who have the capability to identify and pursue them.

There will always be a question about how we balance the competing principles of freedom and security, and how – in a democracy – we achieve widespread political consent for the way in which we strike that balance.

This has been true in every age. But it is a particular question for now, as the potential and opportunities of the internet stretch out before us, as new technologies connect us ever closer together, and as terrorists, criminals and the authorities who try to track them down become ever more sophisticated in their operations and techniques.

Unfortunately, this debate has become caricatured in a way I believe is neither helpful, nor allows us to make progress on some of the vital questions of principle that are at stake.

This is not a binary debate between good and evil, between the forces of freedom, democracy and civil liberty on the one hand; and on the other a surveillance state, concerned only with mass collection of information on its citizens for the purposes of social control.

It is, rather, a debate about the strength of our democracy and its interaction with parts of the state that are, by their nature, secret.

It is this set of questions:

– are the capabilities of the state proportionate to the risks we face?

– do we have the right legal frameworks to protect our citizens’ human rights, freedom of communication and privacy, even as technology develops?

– do we have the right oversight regime so that the agencies and those who work in them are held to account for their activities within those frameworks?

– are we completely unstinting in the pursuit of transparency so that we are always confident that secrecy – where it is used – is a necessity, rather than simply a habit?

As President Obama has done in America, it is time to bring these questions into the mainstream of political debate.

This is a set of questions that I have been involved in for a long time, and one that requires constant discussion and challenge.

The public debate that has surrounded the Snowden leaks came on the back of a long running public and parliamentary debate about communications data.

Again, this was a debate that some caricatured in very black and white terms. But again, viewing this debate only from its 2 poles misses the point.

My challenge to the Home Office’s comms data proposals was not an argument with law enforcement about the need for investigations to keep pace with new modes of communication on the internet. But in a world where internet freedoms are so highly fought for and highly prized, had we found the right, proportionate response to this capability challenge? Had we struck the right balance? My answer to this was no, and so I said that the proposed Comms Data Bill could not proceed.

There is another reason that I think we should be talking about this now. Over the past several years we have seen many of the pillars of our society deeply weakened through crises that eroded public trust. Parliament through the expenses scandal, the press through phone hacking, our banks, the BBC, the police. In each case we are having to work hard to rebuild public confidence. From these examples we have also learned that unless we act quickly to strengthen public support for these institutions, these failures can quickly become corrosive for the future. I do not want the agencies to suffer the same fate.

It is vital for the future safety and security of our country – as well as the rights and freedoms of our citizens – that we work tirelessly to sustain and support public trust in the security services, and secure widespread political consent for their activities and reach. And we should not be afraid if this means greater openness, and reform.

Privacy is integral to a free, fair and open society. A society in which views can be freely expressed in public and in private, whether it’s criticism of the government or an idea for a new business. A society in which people can move around freely and associate with whomever they please. A society in which people can reach their full potential, where no-one is enslaved by ignorance or conformity.

None of these is possible if we are constantly worrying about who might be reading our words, watching our movements, or monitoring the company we keep.

This idea – the notion that privacy is fundamental to democracy – is enshrined in article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to private and family life. Crucially, it is not what is termed an absolute right. Your private affairs are protected, but only up to a point: if you’re intent on breaking the law and harming others, the state can invade your privacy.

This is a balancing test – the public interest in preventing crime has to justify the level of intrusion that the state wishes to impose.

Or as John Stuart Mill put it:

…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Our intelligence agencies work within this legal and ethical framework in the defence of a liberal, open society. They have a duty to uphold the privacy of law-abiding citizens as well as the responsibility for investigating and disrupting threats to our national security.

The question is not whether the agencies uphold these values or comply with the framework. I don’t doubt that. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the frameworks we have set for them are fit for the internet age.

The agencies’ practices, of course, have evolved along with the communications they seek to intercept: first telegrams, then telephones, fax, email. When the internet went mainstream in the late 1990s, a new information medium was born and with it new modes of communication: discussion forums, web-based email, instant messaging, voice and videostreaming over IP, social networks, blogs, and micro-blogs.

The online world engulfed and digitised established technologies like video, music and print. Encryption flourished as individuals and businesses became increasingly concerned about cybercrime. And the web of course went mobile, extending its reach via smart phones and tablets into every corner of our lives.

This new medium has brought unprecedented opportunity, innovation, and the spread of new ideas. But it has also opened up new possibilities for criminals, terrorists and hostile states to plot, recruit and carry out attacks, while concealing their identities.

So the agencies have, rightly, harnessed the power of new technologies to ensure that our ‘signals intelligence’ (or SIGINT) capability keeps pace with the technologies that people are using.

Meanwhile, the sheer amount of data we are generating has just gone through the roof. 22 billion letters are delivered by Royal Mail each year. That sounds like a lot, but roughly 2.4 trillion emails are sent every year in the UK. That’s more emails sent in 4 days than letters delivered in a whole year.

Then there’s the 1 billion tweets, 23 billion Google searches, 70 billion Facebook views, 145 billion text messages, and 160 billion instant messages sent in the UK each year. Our online data and communications dwarf our real-life, real-world communications; and this trend is set to continue.

As the data mountain has grown, so has the capacity to store it, analyse it, and extract value from it. That is in many ways good news: for example, it means companies can offer us free services and applications driven solely by advertising revenues.

On the other hand, few of us are really aware of the size and nature of our electronic footprint. Smart phones, for instance, keep track of so much more about us than could ever have been possible in the past – including recording our location on a regular basis. But we understand little about who retains such data, and what it might reveal.

All this puts a lot of stress on the notion of privacy. We had a foretaste of this with the ID cards scheme, where people started to understand the potential for abuse if government was able to link together disparate databases (banking, immigration, health, benefits, criminal justice).

The coalition government acted quickly to respond to public concerns about ID cards, decommissioning the scheme and destroying the national identity register that sat behind it.

But that was a public scheme, debated in parliament and in living rooms up and down the country; the recent leaks have triggered a global debate about what governments can do with this data in secret.

The issue I want to focus on today is what happens when personal internet data is collected in bulk by our intelligence agencies.

As President Obama has said in his speech on 17th January, responding to the report of his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies:

The combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

President Obama is referring there to the vast quantity of information that is generated by us all, every day, in our communications over the internet. This includes so-called metadata, the contextual information which describes the ‘who’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ of our communications, alongside the ‘what’ – the content itself. When this is collected on a large scale, it is referred to as bulk data.

GCHQ is legally able to collect bulk data as part of its work in countering threats from abroad. The national security justification for doing so is straightforward. If we are talking about an international terrorist network that we want to disrupt, then we want them to be able to find out who is talking to whom.

That network may be operating across several jurisdictions and in parts of the world where we could not access industry-held data even if we wanted to. And so bulk data allows our analysts to trace those interactions, those networks, while leaving the overwhelming majority of the data untouched. In other words, this is the way we collect the haystack in order to find the needles.

On the other hand, the civil liberty concern about holding bulk data is also clear. Some critics argue that the very act of collecting untargeted data on law-abiding citizens is an invasion of privacy, regardless of whether it is ever looked at.

Others argue that it is acceptable to do so abroad, but that data collection in the UK should be strictly limited to information on named individual suspects. All would agree that once governments hold bulk data, there is of course a risk that it could be misused, for example to monitor legitimate political protest.

Again, I don’t think the answer to the dilemma sits at either pole. The idea that the security services should be able to track communications in order to pursue or disrupt serious criminals and terrorists is not controversial. If, in order to do that effectively, the judgement is that there is no practical alternative to bulk data collection, then to some degree we should allow it.

But the questions are then those of necessity and proportionality, the same principles which govern established data protection law, and start from the principle that the government should intrude as little as possible into private affairs:

– how long is the data stored, by whom, and how much of it?

– how can the collection of extraneous data on law-abiding citizens be minimised?

– who should authorise access to the data that is collected? Should permission be granted internally within the agencies, or should it be signed off by a minister, an external body, or by a judge?

– should metadata be treated as less sensitive than content, despite that fact that it can tell a great deal about an individual’s private life?

– what kind of analysis can the data be subject to?

– oversight – is the way we supervise all this sufficiently robust?

Currently, the ability of the agencies to gather the content of a communication – what is actually said and its associated metadata – is governed by a legal framework, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which has a strict system of warrants that need to be signed off by democratically accountable ministers (the Foreign or Home Secretaries) before content can be accessed. In my experience, the agencies pride themselves, rightly, on their strict adherence to this framework.

But those laws were written 14 years ago, before the internet revolution had really taken hold.

Some privacy experts understood what might happen with the advent of the internet, and did raise concerns at the time of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. But these were not widely understood, and government proceeded regardless. The result is that some aspects of RIPA already feel outdated.

For example, in the internet age, is the distinction that RIPA strikes between external and internal communications valid, and what does it mean in practice? The mission of GCHQ is first and foremost about countering threats from abroad. But when it comes to internet communications, the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ is all but redundant.

The email that I send to my friend who lives a few streets away from me is likely to be routed via the United States; the video that I watch on YouTube may be retrieved from a server in Finland, Chile or Singapore. Transactions that feel intuitively like they take place within the UK now qualify as external communications, and traces of them may end up in GCHQ’s servers.

In other words in the course of carrying out its core function, monitoring the ‘external’ communications of those who threaten our national security, both the content and the ‘metadata’ of our domestic communications may as a consequence be collected and stored.

Whether that data is ever interrogated is a separate question, but that simple fact about collection jars with the perception that most people have of GCHQ as a predominantly foreign intelligence agency.

These facts pose intricate and difficult questions. The challenge, then, is for careful analysis and practical solutions, and to determine where the right balance can be struck.

How, therefore, should we proceed?

I have and will continue to have the highest respect for the professionalism of our agencies. They conduct their work in good faith and the scope of their activities is constrained by laws, including the Human Rights Act, which require them to operate in the public interest. That being said, I am concerned about 2 things which risk undermining their reputation and, by extension, their long-term effectiveness.

First, our current framework assumes that the collection of bulk data is uncontroversial as long as arrangements for accessing it are suitably stringent. I don’t accept that.

I agree, of course, that strong access controls are vital to prevent employees from going on ‘fishing expeditions’ once a store of data exists. But the case for collection itself has to be made, not assumed, and it must be shown to be proportionate. This is particularly true in a world where – as we have seen in recent weeks in the context of NHS data – people are starting to question the uses to which their data are put and to demand that government does more to obtain their informed consent.

Second, the public interest cannot be democratically determined behind closed doors. Decisions exercised in obscurity cannot be relied on to command public confidence when they come to light.

It is not enough for the agencies to claim that they accurately interpret the correct balance between privacy and national security: they must be seen to do so, and that means strong, exacting, third-party oversight.

The first of these observations is a cultural problem. The second is a systemic problem flowing from secrecy. Both point to the need for better scrutiny, oversight and challenge.

These issues will need to be revisited in the next Parliament. I believe that thinking and analysis needs to start now, so that we are in a position to take early decisions after the next election.

I would like the next government to be able to draw on an independent assessment of the issues at stake. The ISC is conducting a review into privacy and security which I expect will provide a valuable contribution to a wider discussion. But there is an important role for independent think tanks and NGOs too, and that’s why I’m delighted to be able to announce today that the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has agreed to establish an expert panel to review the use of internet data for surveillance purposes.

The panel will consist of a group of experts, drawn from the worlds of intelligence, technology, civil liberties, and law, and chaired by Professor Michael Clarke, RUSI’s Director General. They will look at the principles that ought to govern our use of surveillance, examine current practice, and make recommendations for reform and, where necessary, new legislation. They will look at the specific challenges I have set out today, including the proportionate use of bulk data, but also the question of access to communications data held by private companies too.

This is not an approach that I have been able to agree within government with my coalition partners. For now, Liberal Democrats are leading the way, and we will be the first political party to debate these issues at our Spring Conference later this week.

I hope that as it progresses, the review that RUSI will lead will be able to garner support from across the political spectrum.

I will now turn to the concrete changes that I would have liked to see enacted by this government, and which don’t in my view require the kind of detailed reflection that we need on data, and which could be done promptly.

To start with, we should introduce more transparency and openness where we can do so without jeopardising operations. Secrecy is essential for the agencies to conduct their operations, but if blanket secrecy becomes an unthinking default response then public trust will suffer.

The assumption should always be for openness where possible, secrecy where necessary.

We would set up a new single web portal – we could call it “surveillance.gov.uk”- to act as a single source of information about the work of the agencies. New reports, legal rulings and statistics would be posted here to give them due prominence.

More significantly, we would follow the example of the private sector and publish annual transparency reports with a breakdown of the requests made under RIPA for access to comms data held by internet service providers and telecoms firms.

For the first time people will be able to see which agencies request access to data, on how many individuals and for what purposes.

Next, oversight. The oversight mechanisms are complicated and – in my view – unnecessarily difficult for a layperson to understand. This means that the very mechanisms that are supposed to reassure the public are, in fact, inaccessible and unconvincing.

The public face of agency accountability, the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, has been criticised for being overly-deferential, and I think anyone who saw the recent public hearing with the 3 agency heads would agree that the pre-cooked questioning, whilst welcome as a new innovation, was no match for the kind of raw grilling that the US agencies receive in front of their congressional oversight committees. We have recently given the committee more powers and resources, but questions remain about its effectiveness and I consider the ISC to be on probation in its present form. The ISC has to persuade the public that they are really capable of holding the agencies’ feet to the fire.

The danger, whether in perception or reality, is that we have a closed shop, especially when the Chair of the Committee previously served as one of the sponsor ministers for the agencies in Whitehall. If the public believe that there is no grit in the machine – no real push to challenge the agencies in a tough and exacting way where needed – that in my judgement is a serious political liability for organisations that can only operate with a high degree of public trust. I am clear that we need to simplify and open up the systems and institutions that oversee agency activities, to ensure they behave in a sufficiently challenging way, and to increase engagement with the public.

That is why today I am calling for the following reforms.

First, the ISC should be further strengthened as the parliamentary body that provides scrutiny and challenge. The membership of the committee should be expanded from 9 to 11, to match the standard size of select committees. The holder of the chair should in future be an opposition party member, to avoid accusations that the committee is too cosy with the government of the day. Hearings should be held wherever possible in public. And budgets should be set in public for 5 years ahead, to allow it the stability to plan a long term work programme.

Secondly, changes should be made to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which considers complaints against the use of intrusive powers by the intelligence agencies and others. At the moment there is no right of appeal – if the IPT rules against an individual, his or her only recourse is to the European Court of Human Rights. We should enable appeals to be heard in this country. We should also introduce greater transparency to the work of the IPT, with the reasons for rulings published.

Thirdly, we should create an Inspector General for the UK intelligence services, with reinforced powers, remit and resources.

This role would replace 2 existing offices, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, and the Intelligence Services Commissioner. The requirement for those individuals to have held high judicial office should be removed to allow recruitment of the new Inspector General from a wider pool. My hope would be that over time, this post would have a greater public impact, increasing the general understanding of the agencies’ work and how they are held to account.

So, in conclusion, what kind of internet do we want? An internet which is open, vibrant, a force for change, a place where private conversation can take place without fear? Or, at the other extreme, an internet that becomes a tool of social and political control rather than liberation? In some parts of the world, that dystopian version of the future is already becoming a dangerous reality.

In others, where people are only just becoming connected and the infrastructure for the internet is at its early stages, other governments are looking to this debate to guide them as to how the relationship between the state, the citizen, and the internet should be governed. We have a duty to ensure the UK stands proudly for the free and open internet.

Yet it is in all our interests to ensure that we can enforce the law in the online world in the same way we enforce the law in the offline world, targeting terrorist and criminal networks and preventing attacks from taking place, precisely to safeguard the free and open society that we want.

The challenge is to preserve their ability to keep us safe without altering the fundamentally open nature of the web.

I strongly believe that if we are going to establish an enduring basis of trust between the public and the intelligence agencies in the internet age, then the ideas I have set out today constitute the bare minimum that is needed. We cannot foresee what the internet will look like in 10 years, let alone 50 or 100 years. But we can confidently predict that the exponential growth of personal data and our ability to analyse it will continue unabated.

The way in which governments make use of that data should be of fundamental concern to anyone who cares about liberal democracy.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech on Education

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, at Southfields Academy on 27th February 2014.

I know that a lot of you are in the process of making some big decisions about your lives and I know how stressful and complicated that can be.

For your generation, more than any other previously, there are a dizzying array of options – endless courses and acronyms to choose from. That can be extremely difficult to navigate.

You’re also making these choices at a time when we’re emerging from the biggest economic crisis in living memory.

We already had a historical problem with youth unemployment in this country: even before the recession, it was rising. And this problem was exacerbated back in 2008, when our country was hit by the cardiac arrest in our banking system.

So, since we came to power, the coalition government has focused on doing what we can to help more young people get onto the right path.

We’ve created a record number of new apprenticeships, including establishing more high-level apprenticeships in professions like accountancy, publishing and law.

We’re raising the quality of vocational qualifications and, from this September, new Tech-Levels endorsed by employers will offer a genuine alternative to students seeking to enter a particular trade or occupation.

We’ve launched Traineeships, which are a stepping stone to more people getting a job or starting an apprenticeship.

Through the Youth Contract, we’re making it easier for businesses to take on young people. This includes a hugely successful work experience programme, which has created an extra 100,000 work placements so far.

We’re abolishing the job tax for young people: cutting the National Insurance contributions businesses need to make for employees under 21.

And, at last, the number of young people out of work is coming down. Over the last 3 months, youth unemployment has fallen by almost 50,000.

But we need to do more. As our economy gets stronger, I want to make sure that every young person shares in the recovery and that all of you can realise your ambitions and full potential.

For some of you that will mean going to university.

As I was saying earlier this week, it’s important you know that there is absolutely no financial barrier to you doing that: access to university is about your ability, not your ability to pay.

You’ll remember a couple of years ago the government took the decision to allow universities to raise tuition fees. At the time a lot of wild predictions were thrown around, claiming that thousands of young people would have to give up on the dream of a university degree. But I made sure that didn’t happen.

I made sure that no student pays a penny up front – you don’t pay anything back until you leave university, get a job and you’re earning at least £21,000.

I made sure that your repayments depend on your salary – so, if you earn less, you pay back less every month.

I made sure that, if you don’t earn enough to pay it back, eventually the money you owe is written off.

I made sure it’s actually easier than before for disadvantaged young people to get a degree by increasing the grants and support that’s available and by forcing universities to open up their doors and attract more students from lower income homes.

So not only have the predictions failed to materialise – the opposite has happened. We’re seeing more people applying to university than ever before; more young men and women are going to university to do full-time courses than ever before; and there is a higher proportion of young people from poorer backgrounds going to university than ever before.

So if you want to go to university, providing you work hard, you can.

But what if university isn’t the right option for you? Unfortunately, there is still a barely concealed snobbery in this country against vocational education. For far too long, academic qualifications have been seen as better than vocational qualifications. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Look at any successful economy, like Germany or the Netherlands, and you’ll see that their vocational system is every bit as strong, well-respected and popular as their higher education systems. These countries are getting it right.

So, last year, I commissioned a government review – along with the Prime Minister – to see what more we could do to boost vocational learning, simplify the system and give you a helping hand as you make these important decisions.

Today, I want to announce 3 specific changes we’re introducing to help you do that.

Ensuring the best advice and guidance possible

First, we’re going to make sure that every young person gets good careers advice and guidance at school. So you know what courses, training and jobs you could do in the future and the skills and experience you need to do them.

Some schools like here at Southfields Academy already do this brilliantly, but too many young people aren’t getting what they need. In a recent survey, Ofsted found only 1 in 5 schools were giving all their students detailed careers support. And, for a lot of the young people I meet, careers guidance currently feels like a tick box exercise squeezed into lunchtime break with a busy teacher, who no doubt already has a lot on their plate.

So, we are issuing new guidance for schools, in the next few weeks, that will set out just what good careers advice should look like. Ofsted will be looking more closely at the quality of careers advice and support available when they inspect schools.

We hope this guidance will give every student guaranteed access to the best-quality careers advice available, whether that is face-to-face, online or via the phone. And one of the most important changes we’re introducing is that schools will have a new responsibility to develop close links with employers, across their local area. This is so more young people can get the chance to meet successful business people, spend time working in their organisations and access valuable support like coaching or mentoring from people in the careers they want to do.

This shouldn’t just be down to our schools doing more.

All of us – as parents, employers and former students – have a responsibility to help prepare our young people for life in the real world and need to get involved.

If you want to become a lawyer, a chef, a plumber, accountant or IT engineer, what’s better than sitting down and talking to someone who actually does that job, or even visiting the place where they work to see what it’s like?

We’re giving schools the flexibility to decide how best they can meet the standard of support Ofsted is looking for and we will see how this works over the next few months.

But, if it still feels like young people aren’t getting the support they need, there are some specific things that I would like us to do in the next Parliament.

This includes encouraging a representative for local employers to sit on every school governing body and that also every school collects and publishes more detailed, up-to-date information about their pupils’ destinations post-16. This is to ensure more schools can be judged not only on their students’ exam results, but also on what they do after they leave.

So, if you’re fed up with the careers advice you’re getting now, you’ll be able to look forward to speaking to career experts, meeting people who know about the jobs you want to do and getting valuable experience in the workplace.

Planning for your future

Secondly, we want to create a UCAS style system for all 16 year olds.

Why do we need that?

Well, at the moment, if you want to go to university, all the information you could ever need about how to do that is available to you via the UCAS website. You can research different universities and courses, check what A-Level subjects and grades you need to get in and, of course, submit and check your application.

That doesn’t happen if you want to do some other kind of training.

So at 16, when a lot of you are having to choose whether you go to college, do an apprenticeship or train for a particular trade or occupation, we think it’s only right that you get the same guidance and support as those going to university.

That’s why, as you’re studying for your GCSEs, you’ll get the chance to sit down and search, via a single website, the full range of college courses, apprenticeships, traineeships and other work-based programmes on offer in your local area. Once you’ve found an option that works for you, you’ll be able to apply for your preferred course.

Your local authority will be responsible for providing that site, based on the latest information available from schools, colleges and employers. Your local authority will also need to ensure there’s a place for you in education and training. And we will publish data regularly to show how successful local authorities have been in helping their young people into training or employment.

Ultimately, I want to see this process become a rite of passage for every 16-year-old: helping you to make an active choice about your future and set out a clear plan for the road ahead.

Helping you back on your feet

Finally, what about those young people who can’t find a job and don’t know where to go for help?

Right now, if you’re 16 or 17, and looking for work, you can’t go to your local Jobcentre for advice about how to find a job. The rules say that you can only go to Jobcentre Plus at 18 or above. That just seems wrong. Surely we should be getting in there early and supplying you with the support you need right now to get into training or work.

So I’m pleased to announce that government will now be testing a new approach in selected Jobcentres across Britain. This, for the first time, will give 16 and 17-year-olds access to personalised jobs advice and support through Jobcentre Plus.

You’ll, finally, have someone there you can talk to about your options and who can give you information about different schemes like apprenticeships and traineeships and help you apply for jobs or training places. If needed, they’ll also work with organisations like the Princes Trust and other providers to ensure you can get valuable skills and experience.

In addition, we’re also going to increase the support available to 18 to 21-year-olds looking for work. From this autumn, we’ll be running pilots with 15,000 young jobseekers.

From day 1 of signing up for unemployment benefit, these young people will need to show they have those maths and English qualifications that every job demands. If they don’t, their adviser will get them on that training immediately to ensure that if you’re not earning, you’re still learning.

We’re looking at using the latest online learning technologies, so you can fit this training around the other responsibilities in your life.

If you don’t do this training, you won’t get your Jobseekers Allowance.

And critically, if you find a job, this training won’t just stop. You’ll be able to carry on with it, until you get the skills you need.

For all young jobseekers, after 6 months out of work, your advisor will also help you get a work placement.

This is so you can get first hand experience of being in a workplace, as well as help build your confidence and develop more of the skills prospective employers want.

If these pilots are successful, I want to see them rolled out across the country: putting earn or learn at the heart of the support we give you.

Conclusion

So, imagine: if you’re a young person who has felt that you can’t get the careers advice and guidance you need to figure out what you want to do next, you’ll now get it.

If you’re a young person who can’t get the same quality of information and support to make your choices as your friends who want to go to university, you’ll now get it.

And if you’re a young person who can’t find the help you need to get a job, we want to ensure you can get it through Jobcentre Plus. That includes making sure you have the essential skills for work.

Together, these changes will help us simplify your choices, end the snobbery surrounding vocational education that limits your prospects and support you as you make these decisions.

We want every young person to be able to follow their chosen path. This is my commitment, and that of the Liberal Democrats, to you: to do whatever we can to ensure you get an equal shot at the life you want.

That’s how we will secure your future and Britain’s long term success: building a stronger economy and fairer society for this generation, the next and all those that follow.

Thank you.

Nick Clegg – 2014 Speech on Higher Education

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, at Bishop Challoner Catholic School in London on 25th February 2014.

University isn’t for everyone. Sometimes vocational training is better – an apprenticeship or a course other than a degree.

But it is important that, if you aren’t considering university, it’s for the right reasons.

I want to make sure not a single one of you is being put off a degree because you think it’s something you can’t afford.

I’m sure you know that, a few years ago, government took the decision to allow universities to raise their fees.

There was a fair amount of anger about that.

The previous government had introduced fees, increased them and then commissioned a review into raising them again.

But what matters to me now is that you know you can still afford to go to university – and that you don’t let the myths that have emerged crowd out the facts.

I made absolutely sure that it wouldn’t turn a degree into a luxury for the very rich.

I made sure that no student pays a penny up front – you don’t pay anything back until you leave university, get a job and you’re earning at least £21,000.

I made sure that your repayments depend on your salary – so, if you earn less, you pay back less every month.

I made sure that, if you don’t earn enough to pay it back, eventually the money you owe is written off.

I made sure it’s actually easier than before for disadvantaged young people to get a degree by increasing the grants and support that’s available and by forcing universities to open up their doors and attract more students from lower income homes.

I understand why, when I said these things at the time, people were sceptical. That certainly wasn’t helped by some of the wild predictions being thrown around: student numbers would plummet; university places would need to be slashed; for thousands of Britain’s young people a university degree would become a thing of the past.

But not only have these predictions failed to materialise – the exact opposite has happened.

We now have the highest application rates ever.

More young men and women are going full-time to university than ever before.

A higher proportion of students from poorer backgrounds are going than ever before – 18-year-olds from disadvantaged homes are actually 70% more likely to enter higher education than they were 10 years ago.

Entry rates for students from nearly every ethnic minority are at their highest level ever.

So to all of you, to each and every one of you: if a degree is what you want, you can still have it – you’ve just got to work hard. We’ve even removed the arbitrary cap on the number of university places available so as many people who want to go, can.

To the mums and dads in the room: if you’ve always hoped to one day see that framed graduation photo of your son or daughter on your mantelpiece – you can still have it.

Whatever you heard in the past, don’t let it lower your sights for the future.

University may not be for everyone, but it is open to everyone.

Getting a degree depends on ability, not ability to pay.

The highest ever application rates. More people doing full-time courses than ever before. A higher proportion of young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds going. Higher grants to help the poorest students. No one paying back a penny until they’re earning a decent wage. And, if they can’t afford it, no one paying a penny back at all.

Forget the myths; be led by the facts, and make the right decision for you.

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.