Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference

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

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

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

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

Jobs

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

The Conservatives

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

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

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

Labour

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

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

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

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

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

Lib Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity

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

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

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

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

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech on Woolwich Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much.

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech on Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Clegg – 2012 Speech to CentreForum

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

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

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

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

Our offer is different from that of the Conservatives.

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

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

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

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

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

The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It means accepting compromise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, we have deregulated:

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

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

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

But we have also taken steps to drive demand:

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting, inspiring and facilitating growth and opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every one of our policies needs to meet this test.

Nick Clegg – 2012 Speech to ELDR Congress

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Unemployment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth 

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

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

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

Green Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

Security and Justice 

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Nick Clegg – 2012 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Clegg – 2011 Speech on the Media

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, on Freedom, Accountability and Plurality of the Media, held at the Institute for Government in London on Thursday 14th July 2011.

This has been one of those weeks in which it really feels like something big has changed. Pillars of the British establishment have been put under the spotlight – the media, politicians, the police – with public confidence in each crumbling before us.

As the Prime Minister explained yesterday, the Government has set up an Inquiry into these events. A two-stage, judge-led Inquiry looking, without delay, at the culture, ethics and practices of the British press as well as the role of the police and politicians. Reporting, we hope, in a year, and also looking at the specific allegations as soon as criminal investigations are complete.

Yesterday, News Corps’ bid to takeover BSkyB was dramatically withdrawn and, for the first time in days, it feels like this morning we have a chance to catch our breath, and ask: what next? What are we going to do about everything we have seen and heard over recent days? What are we going to build from the rubble of the last week? Is it enough to just clean up the current mess? Or, are we going to go further? Tackling the institutional failings that have allowed these gross intrusions to occur in the first place so that they can never happen again.

I want to set out today the principles that I believe must now guide future reform.

First, that the freedom of the press is vital. Liberty and democracy are founded on freedom of expression.

Second, that our media must be held to account ensuring it acts within the bounds of the law and decent behaviour, with politicians and police equally accountable for their role.

Third, that our free, accountable press must be plural, guaranteeing healthy competition and diverse debate.

Freedom, accountability, plurality. That is how we preserve the best qualities of investigative journalism, but mitigate the worst excesses of an unfettered press too.

Before I talk about those principles, we first need to be clear about the problem.

The charge sheet is, by now, familiar. Newspapers hacking into the phones of missing children, of the grieving parents of fallen soldiers, of the victims of terrorist attacks. We’ve also heard allegations of journalists bribing police officers. And, while we await the outcome of the criminal proceedings, the Government has been assured by the Independent Police Complaints Commission that it has the resources and powers necessary to properly deal with these allegations. No matter how senior or powerful the people in question.

These scandals are a disgrace and misconduct and lawbreaking must now be punished. But they are also symptomatic of problems that go much deeper.

They flow from a fundamentally corrupted relationship between politics, the media, and the police. All these groups are supposed to serve the people. But too often they have been serving only themselves or each other. A light has been shone on the murky underworld of British public life. A world in which confidential information is for sale; in which journalists cross the line from public interest into vulgar voyeurism; and politicians, petrified of the power of the media, fail in their duty to ensure a free, accountable, plural press.

So it’s time for fundamental reform. Liberalism, as a political creed, is deeply sceptical about untrammelled media power. In a liberal, open and democratic society, we are constantly alert to the dangers of power that is concentrated and unaccountable in government, politics, the economy and the media. That’s why plurality and diversity, along with accountability and transparency, are so vital. And liberals also believe it’s necessary to maintain a clear distinction between different domains of power. Because, when financial, political, law enforcement, and media power spill over into each other, the fabric of liberty is threatened.

So the problems we face can’t be put down to the behaviour of a few individuals. This isn’t just about Rebekah Brooks or the Murdochs or what happens with BSkyB. This is about a systemic failure. A failure, above all, to keep power in check.

We now have an opportunity to fix those failings. I know that there is real fear, among reformers, that this opportunity will pass us by. That there will be plenty of heat, but no light. That, now that the BSkyB bid has been withdrawn, now that one tabloid has been sacrificed, soon we will be back to business as usual.

The pessimists have a point. In recent decades the political class has consistently failed to stand up to the media. Seeking to curry favour with powerful media barons or prevent their own personal lives from being splashed across the front pages.

It’s not a new problem. It was the Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who warned in 1931 that the media was exercising: “power without responsibility”. But the same challenge plagues us today.

In 1981 the then Conservative government waved through Murdoch’s takeover of the Times newspapers and then excluded that same proprietor from rules preventing simultaneous ownership of newspapers and television stations.

When the rules were being redrawn on media ownership in the mid-1990s and John Major attempted, to his credit, to retain rules that that prevented major newspaper proprietors from controlling British television stations, Labour opposed. Tony Blair travelled to the other side of the world to speak at a conference in Murdoch’s defence. Literally flying to his rescue.

In 2006, when the Information Commissioner provided incontrovertible evidence of the unlawful trade in confidential information, proving that private medical records, tax records, financial records, phone records – even records only accessible through the police database, were being bought and sold on an industrial scale – nothing really changed. Labour refused to take on Murdoch. And, as Peter Mandelson admitted this week, the reason was simple: fear.

So the political establishment has hardly covered itself in glory. But, whatever this politician did, or that party did, we now have a rare opportunity to work together in the national interest. If we’ve learnt anything over the last few years it is that change in Britain’s institutions is best secured at moments of public outcry. That’s what brought about the clean up of MPs’ expenses, it’s what turned attention onto our big banks. Now, it’s the media’s turn.

So what are the three principles that should drive future reform?

The first is press freedom. It would be wholly wrong to respond to the present crisis with any action that inhibits a free and vigorous press. That is the lifeblood of liberal democracy. It is absolutely central to an open society in which information is dispersed, corruption is exposed, and the powerful are kept honest. And let’s not forget – while we are currently witnessing the humbling of certain types of journalism – the last week has also been a triumph for proper, investigative reporting.

So politicians must resist any temptation to impose knee-jerk, short-sighted restrictions on the media. This is an area where it would be easy to legislate in haste and repent at our leisure. The Coalition will not succumb to that temptation and if you needed proof of our commitment to press freedom – commitment that predates this crisis – let me remind you that we are already taking far-reaching action to reform England’s libel laws. So that public-spirited journalists can publish free from the threat of litigation by big businesses and wealthy individuals.

But, if we support press freedom, as we do, we have to be realistic about what that means. A raucous, probing press, able to hold politicians and public figures to account, comes at a price. Journalists will always operate at the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in order to unearth the truth for the sake of the public interest. And we need to now have a proper debate about where that line lies.

Newsrooms will never be a place for shrinking violets. The daily cut-and-thrust of Fleet Street will always attract individuals hungry for a story – tenacious, irreverent, often idealistic and cynical in equal measure. And papers will never be owned by angels. Like any other business, they will compete ferociously with each other for their core product: information.

Yes, the press is a national institution, and a public good. But it is commercial too, serving private interests. At its best, the competitive instinct of journalists and proprietors to get the story first helps ensure other institutions are held to account. But, at its worst, the unscrupulous and illegal pursuit of a headline to drive sales has led to the revelations of the last week. That is the reality we face.

Like all liberals, I don’t want to live in a society where journalism is enfeebled and hemmed-in. So our challenge is getting the balance right, ensuring our media is as free as possible, but without sacrificing ethical standards or seeing itself as above the law.

Which brings me to accountability. Over the last few years, there has been greater awareness of the impact of certain institutions on the public good, including professions such as the law, and institutions like the banks. And there have been huge improvements in the way professional and public bodies are now held to account through professional codes of conduct and independent scrutineers. The medical profession, the legal profession, financial services, the police, although they have some way to go, as recent events have shown. And all are now far more accountable for their behaviour.

The media, however, has not kept up. Together, the political class, parts of the police, and the press have granted our media an institutionalised immunity from the basic standards that govern the rest of society.

Clearly, part of the problem has been a monumental failure of corporate governance. As a group of investors said of News Corps earlier this week. And all media organisations, the senior staff and board at News International included, should now be looking very hard at the composition of their boards and their systems of corporate governance.

But we also need to ask more widely whether corporate law in the UK does enough to push managers and directors into being more active. Something must be wrong when misconduct and lawbreaking can become endemic within an organisation. While the senior staff do nothing. So we need to look at whether or not there is a failure of enforcement of the existing corporate governance rules. Or if the problems lie within the rules themselves.

We also need to address the lack of clarity over who or what constitutes a fit and proper owner of a media corporation. It is not clear whether or not institutions can be deemed unfit and improper. Or if the issue is strictly one of personal liability. And even legal experts well-versed in these issues do not agree. That then creates potential for organisations to evade responsibility by blaming a handful of individuals, when clearly the problem is ingrained across the culture of an institution.

Beyond that, there is now an inescapable need for an overhaul of the regulatory system too. The PCC has failed as an effective watchdog.

It is a complaints body at best, and a limited one at that, able only to respond to complaints made by the individuals directly affected by the reports in question. So, for example, anyone who was shocked in 2007 by the sight of Kate Middleton being hounded by photographers and film crews couldn’t complain. In that situation, until she herself complains, the PCC won’t investigate. That is absolutely ludicrous – as if the public have no say whatsoever over the conduct of journalists.

Nor is the PCC independent. It is run by the newspapers, for the newspapers, who act as their own judge and jury. No wonder it has no teeth – that’s exactly how the industry wants it. It doesn’t provide real redress. A person can have their public reputation left in tatters after ruinous accusations splashed across a front page and all the PCC gets them is a short apology hidden somewhere at the back of the paper. And the PCC doesn’t even cover the whole industry.

Major news outlets can opt out. And that is precisely what has happened with the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and the Daily Star.

No one now believes that the status quo can continue. Much of the debate has been about whether or not we should replace it with a reformed system of self-regulation or else a new system of statutory regulation. But, in my view, that misses the key point: what we need is independent regulation, insulated from vested interests within the media, and free from Government interference too.

There are a number of very sensible proposals out there already, not least the need for the regulator to have proper sanctions at their disposal, including financial penalties, against editors, journalists and proprietors who breach the Code of Conduct.

Greater accountability and scrutiny must also extend to dealings between the press, politicians and the police. That’s why the Government will amend the Ministerial Code so that Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Special Advisers have to record all meetings with newspaper proprietors, editors and chief executives, regardless of the nature of the meeting with the information published quarterly.

On the police, we’ve heard some extraordinary things from the Met this week. Not least that a high-ranking officer felt it acceptable to be wined and dined by senior newspaper executives under investigation. The Met now has a big job on its hands winning back the public confidence that has been lost and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is now looking into allegations over criminality and misconduct.

On the issue of selling confidential information to journalists specifically, a whole range of professions have been implicated. Not just the police, but also private investigators, medical professionals and phone companies. Under the current law, for fraud and phone hacking you can go to prison. Whereas, under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act, unlawful use of personal data can get you a fine. The Information Commissioner recommended in 2006 that that offence should also attract a custodial sentence. It wasn’t taken up then, and this Government has said it will keep it under review. I think that now – where it cannot be proved that information was obtained in the public interest – there is a case for looking at this issue again.

That leaves the third principle: plurality.

It is not the place of politicians – not least liberal politicians – to dictate who should own which newspapers. But diversity of ownership is an indelible liberal principle because a corporate media monopoly threatens a free press almost as much as a state monopoly does. For liberals, a cacophony of dissenting and conflicting voices is a prerequisite for healthy competition and vibrant debate. Some say that the rise in social media and internet news means we should worry less about plurality.

It is true that the media landscape is changing, but it simply is not the case that traditional media no longer matters. It is still responsible for the majority of original journalism and so it is as important as ever to ensure it is not concentrated in a small number of hands. That said, the increasing diversification of media sources does raise new issues over cross-media ownership, which is something the Inquiry will now look at.

We also need to address the way in which the rules on plurality are applied.

At the moment we have a plurality test which can be used to prevent media mergers when they are deemed to undermine the public interest. However, it only made it onto the statute book in the first place as a concession from the previous government. When they were passing legislation that otherwise relaxed the rules on ownership, so it was never developed as a comprehensive safeguard. We now need to go back to first principles to make sure we get the framework right for the future.

Crucially, the plurality test can only be applied at the point of mergers or acquisitions, but why doesn’t it cover companies which expand their market share gradually, over time, by natural growth? And can we be sure plurality will be defined sufficiently broadly? In the case of the BSkyB bid it only covered news and current affairs, but would a broader understanding be better? These are all questions we must now ask.

We should also look at the way competition law operates and one idea we are investigating is to give the competition authority the power to report on public interest issues, which could include media plurality, in the same way as it can now for mergers.

So, to sum up, three principles: freedom, accountability, plurality.

That is how we create a press that is bold, dissenting, and fearless but bound by fair rules and decent standards. That is the best of all worlds, and it is the balance we seek.

The hacking scandals will no doubt continue to lurch from one headline to the next, but we must stay focused on the endgame. If we get this right, if we get the ball rolling while the demand for change is still strong, we can rebuild the confidence in our major institutions that, this week, has been so badly knocked. And we can make sure this never, ever happens again.

Thank you.

Nick Clegg – 2011 Speech on Education

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, at Southfields School in Wandsworth, London on 5th September 2011.

Today is the first Monday back for teachers and pupils up and down the country. A day always marked by renewed optimism. Pupils plan to work harder. Teachers come back refreshed. And all parents – I know this myself – have the best intentions for the months ahead: Whether that means making sure you’re there for sports day and the class play. Or finding that bit of time at the end of the day to help with homework. Just doing whatever you can to give your children some extra support.

This year, there’s a feeling of optimism in Government too. The Coalition has made some big changes to our education system. To improve the quality, choice and opportunities available to families. And we’re looking forward to seeing those take root.

The problem with new-term-enthusiasm, however, is: it doesn’t always last. It isn’t shared by everyone. And, as a society, we tend to let it fade too quickly.

Replacing our high hopes with an equally familiar fatalism. We allow ourselves to believe some basic assumptions as if they are facts of life. There are good schools, and there are bad schools. Some children are bound to do well – the brightest, the wealthiest. The troublemakers, the children from the tougher neighbourhoods, will inevitably lag behind. Most parents will at least try to take an active interest. But the daily grind will often get in the way. And a difficult, uninterested minority will never be brought on board. That’s the way things are. The way they’ve always been. And, notwithstanding some improvements here and there. The way they always will be.

I don’t accept that. There is some truth to these assumptions – because they  are based on consistent patterns. But they aren’t inevitable.  And we do the next generation a disservice by cursing them with our low expectations.

Sometimes you hear commentators slamming school standards as if teachers are lazy and feckless just because some schools are failing. Condemning children and young people in the country just because some of them have gone off the rails.  Yes, our country has problems but they will not be solved by denigrating our teachers and our schools. We won’t get more young people to take responsibility for themselves, or find work, if all we do is perpetuate the myth that no-one under the age of 25 can be trusted. There were young people on the streets rioting last month. They should face the full force of the law. But there were young people on the streets cleaning up the next day, too. And we cannot let our anxieties about some parts of our society undermine the hopes and dreams of a generation.

Today I want to talk about the Coalition Government’s twin ambitions for our education system: A decent start for every child and a good local school for every family.  That may sound basic, but it’s absolutely fundamental to  creating a fair, liberal and socially mobile society. Helping individuals fulfil their potential. Helping make Britain a place where anyone who works hard can get ahead.

To get there, Government needs to be innovative. Schools need to step up to the challenge. And, crucially, parents need to do their bit, supporting teachers, too.

Before I come to that, let’s pause on the problems.  Labour spent vast sums on schools. And, to be fair to them, some things did get better. Education is clearly an area where money makes a difference.

My party has always understood that. It was the Liberal Democrats who  advocated a penny on income tax for education in 1997, and again in 2001.

And now, despite unprecedented pressure on the public purse, the Coalition is protecting the current schools budget, in real terms.

But, what Labour’s record also shows is that big budgets, directed from Whitehall, aren’t enough. And if your aim is simply to get a bit better, that isn’t enough either. We live in a globalised age; if we are to thrive in the economy of the future, we need our children to excel. And we cannot afford to leave some behind.

Ours is now one of the most unequal school systems in the world. In the UK your background has more of an impact on how well you do at school than in nearly any other developed country. Despite the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs having hit record highs. The gap between poorer and wealthier children getting these grades has stayed the same.  Teenagers from disadvantaged homes are still only half as likely to do as well. And there are schools where not a single pupil on Free School Meals is even entered for the most academic subjects. Or sits the exams where they can achieve the top grades.

Bluntly, the best schools are still in the nicest areas, populated by the children whose parents are better off. Poorer children tend to go to worse schools. And wherever they go, they usually get lower grades. That is the stark reality we face.

For liberals, education is meant to free individuals from the circumstances of their birth. But in our society school doesn’t always provide that kind of opportunity to fulfil your potential. Too often our education system ties children to their beginnings; it denies their parents choice; and it deepens social  divides.

That’s a problem for everyone.

It costs our economy. According to one estimate, if we could get all under-achieving pupils up to the national average. By 2050 we could add 4% to our GDP.

It holds back the whole class. When a handful of students switch off, they play up, monopolising their teachers’ attentions and everyone suffers.

And, when the best schools are concentrated in some communities but not others, poorer families get the raw deal. And all parents are faced with the well-known stresses and strains of trying to get into the right catchment area.

So we need fundamental reform to break the traditional patterns of winners and losers in our schools.

First, that means a decent start for every child. Closing the gap between disadvantaged children and their better off classmates.

Given how early that gap appears, you cannot wait to intervene. That’s why, for example, the Government has extended the free nursery care three and four year olds currently receive from 12.5 hours to 15. And is going even further, making this vital early education available free to every disadvantaged two year old as well.

Once these children reach school they’ll benefit from our £2.5bn Pupil Premium. Additional money that follows them throughout their primary and secondary education.

The Coalition isn’t going to prescribe to schools how they spend the money…

But today I do want to urge them to look carefully at the research that already exists: We know that there are a host of tried-and-tested methods for raising attainment. Investing in teachers’ training and professional development.

Smaller class sizes. More pastoral support, outside the classroom. Or more intensive, individual tuition.

The Sutton Trust recently looked into this. And found that, especially for younger children who need to catch up. An extra half an hour of more intensive time with the teacher. Three times a week, for up to twelve weeks.

Can do as much good as five months in the classroom.

The same report found that when children are older, they benefit from sitting down with teachers to plan and monitor their own progress. They do better if they are given specific, personalised feedback.

Not just on how well they did at a task, but also how they approached it. And the report concludes that behaviour improves when older pupils have clubs to go to after school.

All that takes time. It needs staff. It costs money. But it works. And it is precisely the kind of help the Pupil Premium is for.

And though schools will be free to spend the money as they think best – Experimenting with new ways to support those who need help. Schools will have to publish information about what the pupil premium money was spent on. And they will have to publish information to show if it’s making a difference and helping these children achieve more. That transparency is vital for  parents – and communities – to be able to hold schools to account.  And for all of us to learn about what really works in breaking the link between background and life chances.

Discipline matters, too. Everyone knows you can’t teach in a disrupted classroom. And teachers need the authority to be able to deal with bad behaviour. Which is why this government is strengthening their hand, and being stricter about school rules and teachers’ power to enforce them.

We need order in the classroom. But can’t simply write off children who do wrong. Children who are violent, who struggle to keep calm and control their behaviour – so often because of chaotic lives at home – do need to be taken out of the classroom. But they mustn’t be thrown on the scrap heap. It doesn’t do them, or society any good.

That’s why we’re piloting a dramatic change in the way we deal with pupils who are excluded from mainstream education. Strengthening the power of schools to remove disruptive pupils. But ensuring they cannot then forget them. Or leave someone else to pick up the pieces. Over time, schools themselves will become responsible for the budgets for excluded pupils. They will be expected to commission the alternative education they receive. And their exam results and later progress will be included in the original school’s data. There will be no washing your hands of a pupil once you have asked them to leave the room. And it will be in your interests to see those pupils brought back on track.

Those are measures aimed at closing the gaps between pupils. How do we close the gaps between schools?

We currently have one of the most segregated school systems in the world. With a huge gulf between the best and worst. And the latter concentrated disproportionately in the poorest places.

The only way to bridge that divide is to learn from the evidence. From the experiences of other countries. Understanding what drives school improvement, and where we have been going wrong.

And the evidence is overwhelming: good schools need high-quality teaching; sufficient freedom; diversity and choice. So we are taking action on each.

On teaching standards, we need to continually raise the quality of new entrants to the profession. That’s why, for example, from next year, funding for PGCE training will only be available to graduates with at least a 2:2 degree, or equivalent. We’re reforming teacher training so that trainees spend more time in the classroom.  And we’ve increased the grant for Teach First.

Which has proved hugely successful in getting some of our most talented graduates into our most challenging schools. We’re also making it easier for people who already have a career to make the step into teaching.

On greater autonomy we have reduced the reams of bureaucracy that eat up endless work hours and stifle innovation. And we’re offering all schools the chance to take on Academy status, either individually or as part of a chain. Where they have full control over their curriculums, staffing and budgets.

Of course, that freedom must be matched with accountability. So, for example, from now on all schools will need to publish ‘destination data’. Showing in black and white what pupils go on to do once they leave. We’re overhauling OFSTED’s framework to focus more squarely on school’s core responsibilities: learning, leadership, attainment and behaviour. And we want inspectors to engage more directly with teachers, students and parents. Rather than simply relying on data and spreadsheets. And, where schools persistently struggle, and cannot show signs of improvement. They will have their management replaced by schools with a proven track record.

Clearly, as the number of Academies expands, we will need to make sure that we get the right balance between school freedom and local accountability.

I think some confusion has been allowed to grow around our long term vision for schools:  There’s an increasing belief that we are trying to sideline local authorities altogether because Academies so far have only had a direct relationship with the Secretary of State and the department in Whitehall.

So let me straighten this out once and for all. This government wants all schools, over time, to have the opportunity to be autonomous with Academy freedoms. Both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives promised that in our manifestos. But we do not want that to lead to mass centralisation of the schools system.

Far from it: as Academies become more commonplace, and eventually the norm, we will make sure people do not lose their voice over what local schools provide. So we will need to develop a new role and relationship between schools, central and local government.

Councils have an essential job. We will ensure they have a stronger role in making sure there are school places in the area for every child, not just those who know how to play the system.

We have strengthened their role in admissions. They will oversee our new, fairer, admissions code. A code which makes it easier for the poorest to get the best places and easier for any citizen to complain if the rules are broken.

We will strengthen their role supporting children with special needs. Sarah Teather is bringing forward a radical set of reforms which will ensure local councils can help knock heads together to get a better deal for disabled and disadvantaged children.

And we will give them a critical role ensuring there is fairer funding Local authorities will help ensure the schools forums which currently divide up the cake locally are more transparent and they will help guarantee that academies, and other schools, are funded on exactly the same basis.

But we can – and we will – go further. Where there are no schools the local authority “owns” any more – there should be no barrier to the local authority working in a new relationship with academies, in partnership with central government.

The local authority could have a key role in deciding who new providers are and holding existing providers more sharply to account.

Local authorities, closer by their very nature to their community than the Secretary of State, could be more determined than distant Whitehall to drive up attainment in their own patch – for example by setting higher standards for all schools in their area.

That is why I am inviting those local authorities which wish to move to the new phase to grasp this opportunity and be involved in piloting this new role, starting from next year.

Working with the Department for Education we will use this pilot to develop a model which allows local communities to show they can develop new partnerships – built on greater freedom for professionals – but buttressed by real local accountability.

Finally, we’re introducing more choice into the system – encouraging under-performing schools to raise their game. We know diversity pushes up standards. I’ve seen it myself: Years ago I travelled around Europe comparing school systems for a pamphlet on educational performance across the EU.

What I learned then planted the seed for the idea of the pupil premium. But it also convinced me that diversity of schools is also important. It’s something Liberals championed more than 100 years ago when we challenged the Conservatives’ plans to outlaw non-conformist schools.

Parents, children and communities benefit from innovation, diversity, and choice. One size fits no-one.

And it’s part of the rationale behind free schools.

The first wave of free schools will open this week. The idea is that parent groups, charities and other organisations can open schools where they are not happy with the existing choice. It is controversial with many, and there are risks – but I am confident we have mitigated those risks to make sure this is now a policy which will promote higher standards, better integration, and fairer chances especially for children from the most deprived backgrounds.

Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it. They must not be the preserve of the privileged few – creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that.

The Coalition has made it clear that our overriding social policy objective is improving social mobility. Reducing social segregation; making sure what counts in our society are ability and drive, not privilege and good connections.

Free Schools will only be acceptable so long as they promote those goals.

That’s why I am pleased that half of the first wave will be in deprived areas. And the vast majority in areas where they desperately need school places.

Michael Gove will be making decisions on the second wave over the coming weeks. I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods. Or in areas crying out for more school places.

We are also taking unprecedented steps to make sure disadvantaged pupils actually get into these schools. Along with academies, free schools will, for the first time, be able to give them special priority in their admissions.

How can we be confident they will? Because, crudely, these pupils receive the pupil premium. The more of them the school takes, the more money it gets.

That’s a simple, but crucial, financial incentive. No one has reformed the admissions code like this for years. In future, free schools must use this power to do all they can to make sure that they have the same proportion of Free School Meals pupils as the local average – at least.

Schools prepared to open up their facilities to the whole community will also be further up the queue for government funds. These steps, taken together, should alleviate people’s concerns. Free schools, yes, but only if they are fair schools too.

And, to anyone who is worried that, by expanding the mix of providers in our education system. We are inching towards inserting the profit motive into our school system. Again, let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents; But no to running schools for profit, not in our state-funded education sector.

So, opportunities for every child, in every neighbourhood – an ambitious agenda.

But, for this to work, parents need to do their bit too. The fact is: if you don’t take an interest in your child’s education, teachers cannot make up the shortfall. We currently have the most talented generation of teachers this country has ever seen. But they cannot do everything.

We already expect our teachers to be social workers; child psychologists; nutritionists; child protection officers. We expect them to police the classroom, take care of our children’s health; counsel our sons and daughters. Guide them, worry about them. And, on top of that, educate them too. When you consider that list, it is phenomenal that so many rise to the challenge. But it is too much to ask. Teachers are not surrogate mothers and fathers; they cannot do it all.

And, when you talk to teachers, it’s clear they are desperate for parents’ help.

They know, like we all know, the importance of parental involvement in a child’s development. In his review of life chances, Frank Field found it to be the single most important factor in a child’s progress. Just last week we heard from Demos that children are much less likely to binge drink and get into trouble during adolescence. If they experience warmth in the home when they are young, and clear discipline as they grow up.

The fact is: parents hold their children’s fortunes in their hands. I know it’s not always easy. But, when you speak to teachers, they’re not making unrealistic requests. They aren’t demanding parents break the bank on private tutors, or top of the range computers. They aren’t insisting parents cut down on their working hours to spend more time at home. They just want mothers and fathers to get into simple, commonsense, inexpensive routines. Small changes that make the world of difference to their classrooms.

Because a teacher can’t make sure that children take time at home to get a proper breakfast that sees them through until lunch. They can listen to a child read at school – but they can’t do an extra fifteen minutes at home in the evening. A teacher can’t turn the TV off when it’s time for homework. Or make sure children get to bed on time so they don’t come to school tired. Teachers tell me what a huge difference these little things can make. They also know that they can’t do them. But they know that parents can.

I know that it is not easy. Do I get it right every day? No I don’t. But do I, like so many parents, want to do more? Yes I do. And I know parents up and down the country feel the same. Now is the time to do it. We expect teachers to do so much. And they invariably do. But we all have a part to play in transforming the nation’s schools.

So, to sum up. On a day where everyone is determined to make the best of the new school year. Let’s set our sights even higher. Lets work together: government, schools and families to deliver the best for our children. No more shrugging our shoulders. No more accepting the status quo. A society where we celebrate the work our teachers do for our children. But where we all play our part in teaching them, too. With the right opportunities, every child can do well. With better teachers and more freedom, every school can do better.

Through choice and diversity – spread fairly – every community can have access to the schools they need.

Thank you.

Nick Clegg – 2011 Speech on the Riots

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to party members on the 2011 riots.

This has been a traumatic week.

Traumatic for the nation; for police forces around the country; and above all for the innocent victims who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and even, in the most tragic cases, their lives.

The images of burning buses, looted shops and wrecked homes will not fade quickly. But our country must not – and will not – be defined by the actions of lawless rioters, opportunistic thieves and the members of violent gangs.

So now the work of rebuilding begins. Of the homes, shops and streets that have been damaged. In many places the work has been started by communities that have voluntarily and spontaneously come together to reclaim and clean up their neighbourhoods.

The best of Britain clearing up after the worst.

But there is also the slower, more painstaking, less visible rebuilding – the rebuilding of the affected communities themselves, and of people’s lives. This is the work of years, not days.

Some long-standing social problems have been thrown into sharper relief: gang culture; failing families; a welfare system that traps too many in dependency.

The Government is already moving on all these fronts. Tougher action on knife crime; a radical welfare reform agenda; national citizens service; more investment in parenting; support for councils who want sanctions against those who wreck property. The last week gives these efforts even greater urgency.

So we will step up our efforts to deal with some of the long term problems at source. We will intervene more to deal with the hard core of the most problematic families, and we will, for the first time, provide early years education specifically targeted at two year-olds from the most disadvantaged families.

Intervening early saves a lot of heartache, crime and cost years down the line.

But right now the immediate need is to get to the bottom of what happened on our streets in the last week.

Nobody can credibly claim to know for sure, at this early stage, the precise reasons for the various acts of disorder, to have perfectly discerned the motives of the criminals on our streets.

We need to know who did what, and why they did it. We need to understand. I don’t mean ‘understand’ in the sense of being understanding, or offering even the hint of an excuse. I mean understand what happened, to get as much evidence as we can. Then we can respond, ruthlessly but thoughtfully.

That is why we are commissioning independent research into the riots. Of course we don’t need research to tell us that much of this was pure criminality, but the more we can learn the better.

Why did some areas and people explode and others not? What can we learn from those neighbourhoods and young people who remained peaceful? After all, it is worth remembering that the rioters were the exception, not the rule.

We need to know what kind of people the rioters were, and why they did it. That is also why we are looking into gang culture, so that we can combat it more effectively. In policy-making as in war, it is important to know your enemy.

Our policy response will be guided by our values of freedom, fairness and responsibility. It will also be based soundly on evidence, not anecdote or prejudice. Kneejerk reactions are not always wrong – but they usually are.

Overnight courts and instant justice are an essential part of the response. But while of course we have had to act swiftly and decisively, we have resisted the temptation to engage in overnight policy or instant announcements.

For me, what was most striking about the disorder was that so many of those involved clearly felt like they had nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose from destroying property and stealing goods, from getting a criminal record, from deeply damaging their future prospects for a job or education.

For many of the rioters, it was as if their own future had little value. It was about what they could get, here and now, and hang the consequences – above all the consequences for their victims, but even for themselves.

Clearly the people on the streets this week have felt little stake in society, and no responsibility towards their own communities.

Let me be clear. There is no excuse for this behaviour. None. As a liberal, I see violence and disorder of this kind as an attack on liberty, on the freedom for individuals to live and trade in peace in their own communities.

I think the best defence against this kind of nihilistic behaviour is to ensure that everyone has a stake in society, and everyone feels a sense of responsibility towards their own community. That, in turn, means giving people the opportunities to get ahead so they feel they have a stake in their own future.

That is why this Government has decided to focus our social policies on social mobility, because having opportunity – real opportunity – gives people the drive, discipline and responsibility to do the right thing.

Putting more money into schools with disadvantaged youngsters, expanding apprenticeships, increasing the provision of early years education. None of these will be quick fixes. There are no quick fixes. But these are the kind of investments that we need to make now, to spread opportunity in the future.

And I want to be clear about one important point. While I passionately believe that it is the responsibility of government and broader society to ensure that every individual has real opportunities, I am equally clear that it is the responsibility of the individual themselves to take those opportunities up, and to play by the rules.

What guides us should be the following conviction: people who play by the rules should be the ones who thrive. Those who think they can break the rules and reap rewards need to know that their time is up. This applies, above all, to those who broke not only the laws of the land, but also the rules of common decency, with their behaviour this week.

But there’s a broader challenge here too. Too often, it looks as if people who break the rules can prosper. Tax evaders and benefit cheats; bankers who break the bank but feather their own nests; MPs who rob from the public purse.

At all times and in all parts of a society, we have to guard against the danger of a ‘smash and grab’ culture. A smash and grab culture in which, as the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it yesterday, the only commandment is ‘thou shalt not be found out’’.

There is a danger that the only thing that stops people obeying rules is the fear that they might get caught.

In crime research there is a well-known theory dubbed the ‘broken windows’ effect, where one broken window leads to more and more crime.

I think there is a similar danger of a ‘broken rule’ effect, with people who see rules being broken in one walk of life then being more likely to break them in another. Rule-breaking spreads through society like a virus.

There was a lot of copycat rioting this week, as people acted out in one city what they saw happening in another. But there is a deeper copycat effect at work here too: people copying what they see as a ‘take what you can, when you can’ attitude to life, to society and to each other.

So while we can and will ensure that justice is done this month, and that the rioters and looters are properly punished, we must make sure it is done every month, everywhere.

The ‘broken rule’ effect means that we have to take a zero tolerance approach to all rule-breaking, all of the time. Rules are for all of us.

Politicians usually say at times like these, ‘let’s learn the lessons’. But they rarely do. This time it can be different. The burning shame we feel at the disorder on our streets has to be combined with a thoughtful determination to understand it, and an unbending commitment to stop it from ever happening again.

Nick Clegg – 2011 Speech to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference

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Below is the text of a speech made by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, held on 13th March 2011.

This weekend is just the second time we’ve been together as a party again since those momentous events last May.

I’ve really enjoyed fielding questions, queries – yes, some criticisms too – from many of you over the last couple of days.

But it was a passing remark from one delegate that took me most by surprise.

‘It’s so nice to see you back’ she said. ‘I thought we’d lost you when you walked through that door of Number 10’.

Let me reassure you.

David Cameron hasn’t kidnapped me. Although I gather some people were planning to this weekend.

My life may have changed a fair bit since the last election. But I haven’t changed one bit.

We all know that we did not take the easy path last May. But we did take the right path.

Yes, being in Government with the problems we inherited is hard.

Explaining why we’re having to make cuts is hard.

And being in Coalition with another party isn’t always easy either.

Making compromises, settling differences, and going out to explain decisions which aren’t exactly the ones we’d make on our own.

But every single day I work flat out to make sure that what we’re doing is true to our values.

Because that’s what I owe to the country. To the millions of people we represent.

And I owe it to you.

I never forget that it is because of you, your tireless work, that Liberal Democrats are now in Government. I never forget that we are a party of fairness, freedom, progress and reform.

We cherished those values in opposition. Now we’re living by them in Government.

So yes, we’ve had to toughen up. But we will never lose our soul.

The slogan at this conference says: In government, on your side.

Some people have asked me: whose side, exactly?

My answer is simple.

We’re on the side of the people I call Alarm Clock Britain. On the side of everyone who wants to get up and get on.

People who, unlike the wealthy, have no choice but to work hard to make ends meet.

People who are proud to support themselves but are only ever one pay cheque from their overdraft.

People who believe in self-reliance but who don’t want to live in a dog-eat-dog world.

Who want everyone who can to work hard but they want children, the elderly and the vulnerable to be looked after too.

People who believe it is as wrong to opt out of tax as it is to opt out of work.

People who want the best for their children and need good local schools.

Who rely on our NHS.

Who want great public services but can’t stand seeing government waste.

People who don’t want politicians lecturing them on how to live.

And who are fed up with politicians taking their votes for granted.

These are the people liberals have always fought for.

Fought to get them votes, wages, jobs and welfare.

Lloyd George’s People’s Budget to make the wealthy pay their fair share and give a pension to all those who’d worked hard.

Keynes’ plans to make our economy work for everyone and provide jobs for all.

Beveridge’s radical blueprint for a welfare state to give security and dignity to every citizen

They may not have called it Alarm Clock Britain but they had the same people in mind.

The people liberals have always fought for. And we always will.

Those of you who were at the rally on Friday will remember that Ros Scott passed on to our new President, Tim Farron a copy of a book:

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.

A reminder that we are the inheritors of a century and a half of radical liberal tradition.

We’re not the heirs to Thatcher.

We’re not the heirs to Blair.

We are the heirs to Mill, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, Grimond.

We are the true radicals of British politics.

That was true a hundred and fifty years ago and it is still true today.

In government, especially in difficult times, it is more important than ever to know whose side you are on.

When money is tight you have to make choices. And the only way to get them right is to know who you are making those choices for.

We are on the side of Alarm Clock Britain.

They have been failed for generations.

Failed by the tired tribalism of left and right.

Failed because both of those political traditions forget about people and place their faith in institutions.

For the left, an obsession with the state.

For the right, a worship of the market.

But as liberals, we place our faith in people.

People with power and opportunity in their hands.

Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right.

But we are not on the left and we are not on the right.

We have our own label: Liberal.

We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics.

Our politics is the politics of the radical centre.

We are governing from the middle, for the middle.

In government. On your side.

The first order of business for this Government has of course been to tackle the budget deficit Labour left behind.

There is no hiding place.

There can be no ducking out.

But let’s be honest, this is not what we’re in politics for.

I didn’t get into politics to balance the books.

It is what we have to do – so we can do what we want to do.

When we came into office, we were borrowing an extra £400m every single day.

£400m we were asking our children to pay back.

Everything I want for Britain –

Great schools.

World class hospitals.

A balanced economy.

Can only be built on strong foundations, and on sound public finances.

Now, some people say to me: I understand we have to stop spending so much.

I understand we have to sort out the deficit. But aren’t we doing it too quickly?

In other words, why now?

Here’s why:

By cutting the deficit decisively we have restored confidence in Britain.

Essential – because without confidence there can be no growth.

We have helped keep interest rates lower for longer, helping families, helping businesses.

It has meant making difficult choices.

But at least they have been our choices…

Not forced on us by the bond markets as they have been in Greece and Ireland.

And the risks of delay far outweigh the risks of swift action.

Labour’s delay would certainly be costly and could be deadly.

And do you know what really annoys me about them?

They refuse to set out how they would make their own cuts.

Ed Miliband even boasted that their plans are: and I quote

“A blank sheet of paper.”

They call for us to produce a Plan B.

But they haven’t even got a Plan A.

Labour won’t take responsibility.

They say they would cut but they won’t tell us where.

They say their plan would be easier but they don’t admit their plan would mean three extra years of cuts.

They want to be saying to the people in 2015: ‘more cuts are needed’.

We want to say: we’ve done what needed to be done.

This is a question of fairness.

Above all, fairness to our children.

Racking up £400m of debt in their name every day is not right:

Our generation has a responsibility to the next.

When it comes to the deficit, the real question is not when, or if.

The real question is how.

We have protected spending on schools, on science and on health.

Found extra money for the pupil premium and apprenticeships

Given councils more financial freedom than they’ve ever had before

And we are increasing the amount we spend on overseas aid.

We won’t turn away from the task of fixing the deficit.

But nor will we ever turn our backs on the world’s poorest people.

We are not just fixing the deficit

We are laying the foundations of a stronger Britain and a fairer world.

In local government, I know the cuts are difficult.

But our councillors are showing what imagination, compassion and a bit of liberalism can do.

I cannot tell you how proud I am that not a single Liberal Democrat-led council is closing a single Sure Start children’s centre.

Sheffield has had a budget cut of more than 8%

Every lost job is a loss we all feel keenly:

But the Liberal Democrat council here has kept compulsory redundancies down to 270.

And they have kept open every children’s centre, library and swimming pool.

But cross the Pennines into Manchester, a council having to make almost identical savings.

You’ll find a Labour council letting nearly 2,000 people go.

So don’t let Labour take the moral high ground:

In councils up and down the country they’re the ones making the decisions to cut services that could be protected.

Some people say Labour are making cuts for political reasons…

So they’ve got something to blame the coalition for in their local election campaigns.

Let me say this:

Anyone who sacks a member of staff or shuts down a public service for political purposes is a disgrace to politics and a disgrace to Britain.

So yes, we have to tackle the deficit. But we are not a cuts government.

If we get to 2015 and all we’ve done is pay off Labour’s deficit, we will have failed.

Deficit reduction is just a fraction of the work we are undertaking.

Bit by bit, step by step

We are putting in place the cornerstones of a fairer, more liberal Britain…

The four cornerstones we put on the front of our manifesto:

a fair politics a fair, sound economy fair taxes and fair chances for all our children

Maybe those changes don’t make the news every night like the cuts do.

But they will be the liberal legacy of this Government.

The legacy each and every one of us will be proud to share.

Part of that legacy is proving that a new politics is not just possible –

It’s better.

The old political establishment, on the left and on the right, hate what’s happening to our politics.

The old left screaming betrayal every time politicians work across party lines or make a compromise.

The old right simply horrified to see Liberal Democrats in government at all.

We are showing that new politics, plural politics, coalition politics, can work for this country.

And it terrifies them.

There are enemies of reason across the political spectrum.

But there are friends of progress too – and the future of politics belongs to them.

It belongs to us.

People used to say coalition governments weren’t British.

I am sure our coalition partners will forgive me for reminding them of their attempts, in the last days of the election campaign, to portray the horror show of a hung parliament.

Remember what they said? A hung parliament and coalition government would mean.

“Indecision”

“Weak government.”

“A paralysed economy”

Well, it hasn’t turned out like that, has it?

The Coalition Government is strong and it is radical.

The main criticism now made of the government is that we are doing too much.

That we are too ambitious.

Perhaps the new complaint about coalition governments is that coalitions are too strong.

But two parties sharing power in Westminster is just the start.

We need to share power with the people.

Let me quote you some words that inspired me many years ago:

‘The old politics is dying.

The battle to decide what the new politics will be like is just beginning.

It is possible, just possible, that it will be a politics for people.”

Shirley Williams wrote that three decades ago, as she and others set out to change the shape of British politics.

Shirley was an inspiration then, and is an inspiration today.

Shirley, perhaps it has taken longer than you thought, but here we are.

A new politics is beginning at last.

We must make it what you dreamt of: a politics for people.

The Coalition Government is shifting power from state to people:

Restoring civil liberties

Protecting personal freedom and privacy

Crushing the ID database

We’re ending the house arrest of Labour’s Control Orders

Guaranteeing freedom of the press

Undertaking the biggest devolution of financial power to Scotland since the formation of the United Kingdom

Tearing up the Whitehall rules that dictate to Town Halls how to spend local people’s money

Running a successful referendum to give more power to Wales

Putting public health in the hands of local authorities.

Reforming party funding

Giving voters the right to sack corrupt MPs

Creating an elected House of Lords, finishing the job this party started a century ago

We passed the policies, conference after conference…

Now, finally, we’re passing the laws.

And, of course, a referendum to change our voting system…

For the first time ever, the people of Britain choosing how to choose their MPs.

You can tell the ‘No’ campaign are desperate.

Making up ludicrous stories

Basically making it up as they go along.

What are they so scared of?

AV is a small change that makes a big difference.

It keeps what people like about the current system, like constituency MPs.

It simply puts people, rather than politicians, in charge.

Makes MPs work harder for your vote.

And helps end the scandal of safe seats for life.

On the Yes campaign we have the Liberal Democrats, Labour party supporters, the Green Party, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, Friends of the Earth, Colin Firth, Eddie Izzard and Helena Bonham Carter.

On the No side of the argument are the BNP, the Communists, the Conservative Party.

John Prescott, Norman Tebbit and David Owen.

Tricky one.

It’s simple.

If you want more duck houses: vote no.

If you want more democracy: vote yes.

In seven weeks, the British people can sound the last post for first past the post.

So we have seven weeks to get our message across:

If you want MPs to work harder for your vote, vote yes.

If you want politicians to listen to whole country, not just swing voters in marginal seats: vote yes.

If you want an end to jobs for life in safe seats, vote yes.

If you want a new politics, vote yes.

But it’s not just a new politics we need.

We need a new economy.

The deficit is the most obvious symptom of an unbalanced, unsound, unfair economy.

An economy based on speculation and debt, rather than growth and investment.

We need an economy that works for Alarm Clock Britain, not just for the financial elite

We need an economy that works for us all.

Dealing with the deficit is just the first step to making that possible.

We have to get growth going again.

A new kind of growth.

The budget ten days from now will be a budget for growth:

For green growth.

For balanced growth.

Building the homes our children will need.

Getting young people into work.

Investing in the low carbon economy of the future.

No more dependency on the City of London and its coffers:

A flourishing future for the great cities of the North and the Midlands…

Cities which will be the engines of growth in our economy.

As they were in the past and as they will be again.

As for the banks, I agree with Mervyn King.

The Governor of the Bank of England says that it simply isn’t sensible or right to have banks which are so big that if they fail we have to bail them out.

It’s not good for the economy.

It’s not good for taxpayers.

And it’s not good for Britain.

Under the old model, a handful of financial institutions were able effectively to hold the country to ransom.

And who paid the biggest price for Labour’s failure to regulate the banks properly?

Ordinary, hard-working taxpayers, that’s who.

We will not let that happen again.

So we are fixing the banks.

We are going to take £10 billion more than Labour planned in taxes off them this parliament.

We’re making sure they lend £10 billion to ordinary businesses this year alone.

Making them come clean about how much they pay their top people with the toughest disclosure regime in the world.

And – most importantly of all – we set up an independent Banking Commission to advise us on a sustainable future for the whole banking industry.

And we will act on what it recommends.

The banks must go back to being the servants of the economy, not the masters.

And people are fed up with a system where those on ordinary incomes have to pay taxes they can’t afford.

While people at the top accumulate vast wealth no questions asked.

Forget the tired arguments of the left and right focusing solely on top-rate tax.

We need proper tax reform. Liberal tax reform.

My philosophy on tax is simple:

Less tax on aspiration, enterprise and hard work.

More tax on pollution and unearned wealth.

These are the principles which are already shaping government tax policy and will continue to do so in the years to come.

From next month, 900,000 people will stop paying income tax altogether.

Every basic rate taxpayer will pay £200 less a year in tax.

We will take real steps every year, including in the Budget in ten days time, towards our goal that nobody earning less than £10,000 pays any income tax at all.

From the front of our manifesto to the pay-packets of 23 million people.

Do you know who did that?

You did that – everyone of you in this hall.

You did it.

You designed the policy.

You voted for it at a conference like this one.

You campaigned for it.

And now it’s happening.

So get out there and tell people about it.

On every doorstep and in every town.

An extra £200 in your pay packet starting next month.

By 2015, no tax on the first £10,000 you earn.

Labour think fairness means taking money off people and then making them fill out forms to get it back again.

We say no.

We say that you shouldn’t pay tax until you’ve got enough to get by.

Work has got to pay.

So we’re fixing welfare to make sure it always does – to break open the poverty trap Labour created.

As Beveridge himself said: “The State should not stifle incentive, opportunity or responsibility”

So our universal credit will send a simple, clear message:

Work pays.

Even an hour of work pays.

Do what you can, and we will help you.

There are of course some difficult welfare cuts coming.

We are building a system of welfare that is fair to recipients, and fair to the taxpayers.

A system Beveridge would be proud of.

And for pensioners, from next month our ‘triple guarantee’ will mean that everyone will be protected in retirement.

Never again the indignity of Labour’s 75p pension rise.

Under our plans, pensioners will get £15,000 more in state pension over their retirement than under Labour.

And who did that?

You did that.

So tell every pensioner in your community, on your street, about it.

About the difference you made.

And let me also be clear.

Responsibility goes all the way up the income scale.

So we’re going to make the top bankers come clean about their own pay and bonuses.

And we’re going to make sure they pay their taxes.

We will always be just as tough on tax evasion at the top as on benefit fraud at the bottom.

Because ordinary workers in alarm clock Britain don’t set up offshore trusts to avoid paying tax:

They pay their way – and that’s a standard everyone should live by.

They also deserve world-class public services,

That will mean change, some of which may feel uncomfortable.

But we have to open up our public services if we want them to improve.

I know that many of you have concerns about the Government’s plans for the health service.

What I need you to know is that all of us in Government are listening, and that we take those concerns seriously.

We have campaigned for years for an NHS that gives more power to professionals and to patients.

Do not believe for a moment Labour’s scare-mongering about privatising the NHS.

No government of which I am part will tamper with the essential contract at the heart of the NHS: to care collectively for each other as fellow citizens.

World-class health care for all.

Publicly funded. Free.

Centred on patients, not profit. So yes to health reforms.

But no – always no – to the privatisation of health.

We want a great NHS.

And we want great schools, too.

A fair start for every child.

Under Labour, the opportunity gap widened – even as billions of pounds were invested in our public services.

That’s their legacy of shame; the wasted money that could have made a difference.

We must do more, even though they left us with less.

Life chances should not be determined by background.

Prospects should never be narrowed by the postcode of the home you are born into.

Birth should never be destiny.

As liberals, we believe in an open society

Where the power to shape your own future is in your hands

Where all roads are open, to all of our children.

That is why Sarah Teather is providing free pre-school education to every two year-old from a poor backgrounds.

That is why we have introduced a pupil premium putting £2.5 billion extra into schools that take on the children most likely to fall behind.

That is why we are creating 350,000 new apprenticeships, helping people get a trade and get ahead.

And that is why we are opening up our universities to poorer students.

We are introducing a national scholarship scheme.

So that young people from any background can go to university.

It is no secret that we could not deliver our policy to abolish tuition fees.

And I know how deeply people regret that.

But though we have been divided, we can now unite, together, behind one clear mission:

To make university access fair, fair for all.

Right now, our best universities are almost monopolised by the better-off.

A pupil at a private school is fifty-five times more likely to get into Oxford or Cambridge than a pupil who qualifies for free school meals.

But what’s even more scandalous is that there are still some people in these institutions who shrug their shoulders and say:

That’s just the way things are.

They are wrong and they will have to change.

We are insisting that universities wanting to charge more for courses have to open their doors more, more than ever.

And let me be clear to the universities…

Open your doors or we will cut your fees back down to size.

No more blaming the system.

Fair access: fair access now. It isn’t just the universities.

Many of our liberal ambitions will be opposed by powerful interests.

But we are used to it.

We have faced them throughout our party’s history.

Let’s face them again.

The reform-blockers in the House of Lords, clinging to their unaccountable powers

The MPs in Westminster opposing voting reform that threatens their safe seats

The political party machines, afraid to wean themselves off big money

The unions standing in the way of reforms to give patients and parents more power

The financiers in the City of London, resisting fairer regulation and transparency

All looking out for themselves, protecting their turf, trying to close the doors against change.

Well, we’re not having it.

Who stands up for the interests of the people without a lobbying group?

I’ll tell you who does.

We do.

And we are not going to let them down.

I do not underestimate the scale of the tasks we face.

These are testing times for the country.

Testing times for the Government.

Testing times for us as a party.

Let’s be honest, after seven decades in opposition, 2010 was not the easiest time to return to Government.

But we have shown ourselves to be up to the task.

We will not shrink from our responsibilities as a party of government.

We will not flinch from taking the difficult decisions to put this country back on track.

We will not miss this opportunity to build a more liberal Britain.

I know that being in the Coalition Government means us having to take some difficult, even painful, decisions.

But clinging to the comfort blanket of opposition would not have made life more comfortable for our fellow citizens.

It would have been an abdication of responsibility.

Never, ever, doubt the value of being in Government.

Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have ended child detention?

Got an extra ten billion out of the banks?

Would it have held a referendum on the voting system?

Or put up capital gains tax?

Ordered an inquiry into torture?

Brought in a pupil premium?

Or replaced Control Orders?

Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for the poorest?

I don’t think so.

In just a few weeks time, we’ll be taking the liberal message to Scotland and Wales, and in council seats up and down the land.

When you go into this election campaign – and people are asking what difference we have made to government –

You go ahead and tell them.

Tell them that this government is getting our economy moving.

Tell them that this government is getting the banks lending.

Tell them that we are cutting income tax.

And raising the state pension.

Investing in our children.

Renewing our political system.

And restoring civil liberties.

Tell them how we are working to build a liberal Britain:

Tell them:

We are in government.

And we are on your side.