Chris Huhne – 2008 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Chris Huhne on 16th September 2008 to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth.

Conference, there is a Tory and Labour conspiracy on crime.

Both are guilty of putting forward measures to tackle crime that are ineffective or even counter-productive.

These parties are not tough on crime. They are soft on hard thinking and tough choices. Just as our party has changed the public debate on climate change, we need to change the debate on crime and punishment.

We need a new consensus on what works, not what titillates the tabloids.

We need common sense not sensationalism. That’s why we proposed on Sunday a National Crime Reduction Agency to report on the evidence of what works in justice and policing as thoroughly as we assess medicines in the health service.

Instead, we now have a crime debate totally removed from reality.

Take an example in July. A Labour Home Secretary announced she would march young offenders into hospital to see the consequences of violence. She ignored the evidence from the United States that such programmes do not cut crime, but put it up. Four days later, she ditched the idea.

Or take David Cameron. He knows that you can get four years in jail for just carrying a knife, but he thinks that judges tiptoe around knife crime. So he wants to send every knife carrier to prison automatically.

Just a small problem. If he did, the prison population would nearly quadruple. The basic rate of income tax would go up by a penny in the pound.

Oh, and another problem. The evidence shows it wouldn’t work.

What works is visible policing to reassure people they do not need to carry a knife. Intelligence led stop and search of hot spots to catch knife carriers. Working with the local community to gather leads and encourage witnesses. Telling it how it is in schools and colleges. Taking back control of the streets.

But Labour and the Tories are addicted to punishment posturing, and that means legislative diarrhoea as a substitute for enforcing the law that we have. In their first decade in government, Labour’s new legislation takes the same amount of shelf space as 200 copies of War and Peace.

And it is twice as heavy as John Prescott. Labour has introduced 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997 even though nearly every offence that people care about has been illegal for years.

My favourite is a new offence which shows ministers getting really tough. You will be relieved to hear that it is now against the law to set off nuclear explosions.

Labour and the Tories have pretended that prison is the most effective way of deterring crime. They say that if someone is locked up, they cannot offend. But that ignores the fact that prisoners leave when they serve their time.

The whole point of prison ought to be to stop people reoffending. But if you put a young man into prison for the first time, there is a 92 per cent chance he will offend again. Our prisons are colleges of crime.

If prison works so well, why has crime gone down in Denmark while the number of prisoners has gone down? Why has crime fallen in Canada when the prison population is the same? The Government’s own top-notch research found no evidence that tougher penalties deterred crime.

Let’s be clear. We need prison for serious offenders and for serial offences. But we need reformed prisons that educate, occupy and prepare prisoners for life outside.

There’s another reason why prison does not work well. It is because so few people are caught. For every hundred crimes committed in Britain today, just one criminal will end up with a conviction in a court of law. That’s a 99 per cent chance of getting away with it. And if you don’t catch offenders, no amount of threatening punishments will work.

So if we want to cut crime, we should stop posturing about penalties because they are tough enough. The answer’s simple. Catch criminals to cut crime.

Yet Labour, like the Tories, has done the opposite of what works. The average prison sentence has gone up – that the ineffective bit that does not work. Meanwhile, the key factor that does work – the detection rate for crime – has fallen by nearly a fifth since the end of the eighties.

If the prison population was still the same as when crime peaked in 1996, there would be enough cash for 25,000 extra police officers. If the ID card scheme were scrapped, we could hire a further 10,000 police. That’s 35,000 extra police officers – a quarter extra – on the streets catching criminals and cutting crime.

Of course, more does not always mean better. Year after year, Labour and the Tories have ducked the tough choices on police reform. Sheehy, Flanagan, HM Inspectors’ reports. All have come and gone.

We need more police, but better policing too. Detection rates even for serious offences vary widely. For violent crime, just a third of recorded offences are detected in London compared with two thirds in North Yorkshire.

Spreading best practice would mean more detection. And more detection would mean less crime. Detection works.

That is why police performance matters. Poor performance is not tackled strongly enough. A senior police officer who has lost motivation is usually left alone. That’s not good for morale. It is not good for ambitious young officers to see deadwood prosper. The force needs to be able properly to reward not just time served, but effort, talent and skills.

Worst of all, police pay has become a political football. Police officers cannot by law strike. They suffer the same squeeze on pay and costs as the rest of us, but they cannot get a second job without their Chief Constable’s permission. In exchange for those restrictions, ministers must accept the recommendations of the independent police pay tribunal. Police need a pay system which is fair, independent and respected.

And we need local policing. The Tories and Labour have set central targets that meddle, but do not deliver. They have distorted local priorities. By awarding the same points for minor and serious crimes, they have sucked thousands unnecessarily into the criminal justice system.

Central targets mean wasted effort and resources chasing the wrong priorities, which is why they must go. We need local accountability to local people with the powers to set local priorities. If local people do not like the results, they can get rid of the decision-makers.

If the Liberal Democrats did not exist, all there would be on crime and justice from the Tories and Labour would be show-boating and grand-standing.

And if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, who would stand up for civil liberties? Not the so-called liberal Conservatives, who just this summer have called for tougher bail conditions, automatic sentences for knife-carrying, more prisons, and the removal of checks on police surveillance. I just hope the Conservatives can still be relied upon to vote against more detention without trial or ID cards. Goodbye David Davis, it was nice knowing you.

And if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, who would rebuild our fading democracy? Not David Cameron, who has gone strangely quiet on constitutional change. I’ve got a challenge for you David, Do you even stand by your commitment in your leadership campaign to fixed term parliaments?

And if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, who would stand up for our children’s future in a time of climate change? Not the green Tories. The first thing Boris Johnson did when he became London’s mayor was ditch green taxes on the biggest cars. As for George Osborne, he has already ditched green taxes in favour of cutting petrol taxes. Not the planet’s champion, but the gas guzzler’s friend.

And if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, who would stand up for fairness? Not Labour, who thought it was a good idea to increase income tax on the worst off to give better-off taxpayers a cut. And not the Conservatives either, whatever they now pretend. David Cameron and George Osborne both abstained on Labour’s budget. Remember their first tax cut promise? Abolishing stamp duty on share dealing for their friends in the City. And their second was a cut in inheritance tax for households with £2 million.

We are now told that David Cameron and George Osborne were idealistic young people who cared about fairness. Perhaps they agonised over their options as they adjusted their fancy tailcoats – mirror, mirror on the wall, which party is the fairest of them all? Tory, Lib Dem or Labour?

Well, when young David and young George were wondering which party to join, we had a Conservative government. For eighteen years. And during that period the poor got poorer and the rich got richer, and the gap got wider. And the reason was not some force of nature, but Tory policy decisions that were hard-nosed, sharp-eyed and mean-minded.

A Tory decision to scrap the link between pensions and earnings. Result? More pensioner poverty.

A Tory decision to scrap the uprating of out of work and in work benefits. Result? More working poverty.

A Tory decision to scrap the uprating of child benefit. Result? More child poverty.

These chaps are not stupid, so why do they think we were born yesterday?

George Osborne will go fair when George Bush goes green. Fairness will be a Tory value when hell freezes over, Notting Hill becomes a workers’ republic, and the Bullingdon club affiliates to the Socialist International.

I’ve got news for David Cameron. You don’t make society fairer by hoping for it, or by talking about it. You can only make society fairer by helping the poor and the powerless, and that means giving them more money and more power over their own lives.

And I’ve got a challenge for David Cameron. Name a single period of Conservative government when Britain has become more equal. Name a single Conservative measure which even helped.

David Cameron, like Tony Blair, wants to be all things to all people. Tories would have us believe they are the party of the environment, and of owners of big cars. Of  traditional values, and of change. Of equality, and of lower taxes on the best off. Of liberty, and of removing checks on police surveillance. Of European membership for Georgia, and of pulling out of Europe’s social chapter for us. If politics is about making tough choices, the Tory party is about ducking hard decisions. A party which has every priority is a party that has none. A party with no heart, no core values and no direction.

There’s only one party committed to the environment, and always has been. Only one party committed to civil liberties, and always was. Only one party committed to fairness. Only one party committed to handing power back to the people. And only one party for building a world based on the rule of law not the law of the jungle.

Conference, Labour can’t deliver the change that our nation needs. The Conservatives won’t. Only the Liberal Democrats will.

Simon Hughes – 2008 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech

Conference, it is a pleasure and a privilege for our conference to meet in this great northern seaport city of Liverpool, the city where focus began. Our party is committed to build on the progress of liberal democracy in the north of England – in this city, in Leeds and Manchester, in Newcastle and Sheffield and in many other places besides. Mike Storey was a hugely effective leader for our party in this city and this party owes him a huge political debt. Warren Bradley has proved a tough and worthy successor, and he and his team deserve all our continuing support – above all in this European Capital of Culture year – as they seek a new mandate for our party from the people in May. Offers to help will be gladly received all weekend at the ALDC stall. (With, I am told, a tickling stick for reward!)

No sooner had I finished my last speech to Conference than I had to leave very quickly for Birmingham, where my dear mother Paddy was critically ill. My brothers and I were really touched at the very warm and generous wishes sent to us from Brighton that week. Paddy miraculously pulled through that crisis but very sadly died last November. Our party, as well as her family and friends, owe her a great debt of gratitude, as we do to people like Claire Brooks, Cyril Carr and so many others up and down the length of Britain who have given so much of their energy, skill and time to deliver liberal democracy locally and nationally. As we work ambitiously for the future we should always be encouraged by the work and witness of so many great campaigners who have brought us to our present position – stronger than for over 80 years.

Since Brighton, the party has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

But four people in particular deserve our very special thanks.

I want first to pay a very warm tribute to Ming – and to Elspeth – for all Ming did for our party as leader, to thank him most sincerely, and to express our warmest wishes for his continuing contribution to liberal democracy in parliament, in Scotland, across Britain, and beyond. Ming has added hugely to the respect and credibility of our party, both at home and abroad.

Next I pay tribute to Chris Huhne – on his very doughty leadership contest, and on his unqualified support for Nick since then. After winning huge credibility on environmental issues, Chris has got off to a flying start as our new Shadow Home Secretary – absolutely clear in our opposition to ID cards and further detention without charge, and standing up for the liberties of our people.

A third parliamentary colleague has become a complete star since our last conference – Vince Cable. Vince not only has now been touted as possibly the most popular politician in Britain, but in his opposition to the regime in Saudi Arabia and his proposals for dealing with Northern Rock, he has earned huge respect across the country.

And then Nick. Our new leader has done us proud, from the very day of his election. We all know that the last few days have been difficult – but a week is a long time in politics. I can tell you conference that no leader could have made the party’s position more clear or been more principled. Nick is determined that our party will make the positive case for maximum participation in the European Union, but never to the detriment of the rights of the British people. All Liberal Democrat MPs are united in our belief that we need to make the case for the European Union direct to the British people, so that, once and for all, Britain can shed its reputation for being so lukewarm on Europe. Britain will never be trusted in the leadership of our continent until we show that our commitment to Europe is for life, not just for one more Christmas. And we will take no lectures from Labour or the Conservatives over leadership and the EU.

Thank you, Nick, for your leadership, your principle and your vision. We share your ambition and look forward to great things ahead.

Since Nick’s election we have done best of the three major parties in local elections. That is a good sign. But as we all know, the next big test is May 1st – just 54 days time. In the north-west alone there are 33 councils up for election in the North West of England. Across England there are so many prizes to be won. Hull and North East Lincolnshire are just waiting for majority Liberal Democrat control. Cheltenham, Maidstone and many other places are champing at the bit to push back the Conservatives, Oldham and Sheffield to push back Labour.

In Wales, Cardiff, Bridgend, Swansea and Wrexham all deserve to have larger Liberal Democrat groups after May.

But good results will not just happen, as we all know. We will all need to work hard, focus our collective efforts and get our messages out to voters. To achieve the results we know Liberal Democrats are capable of, we need those of you who have no elections to cross local boundaries to help those who have. We need local efforts to be directed first to the ‘swing wards’. And we need maximum numbers of friends and supporters to be asked to help out with delivery of literature and knocking on doors.

And in London, the battle is well and truly on.

Brian Paddick is an exceptionally well qualified candidate to take on Ken Livingstone, who on reducing crime, building social housing and much else has promised much but quite simply failed to deliver.

And Brian Paddick is also a seriously well qualified candidate to take on the Boris-Johnson-come-lately of the London political scene.

All of Britain knows our capital would be better led by a senior copper than a serial clown.

It is our job to convert that belief into votes and reality.

And what fantastic campaigning opportunities the government has given us.

Following Labour policy, Post Office Ltd .have just announced proposals to close 169 post offices across Greater London. And we must not let the Tories get away with hiding the fact that they did just the same. Liberal Democrats – at conference – agreed not just that we should oppose the present closure programme, but also where new funding to support the post office network would come from. The public are behind us in fighting for these vital local services and we must not let Labour off the hook.

Nationally, we have a Gordon Brown government which has all the disadvantages of New Labour, but without the style.

In London, we have a Ken Livingstone government, which has all the disadvantages of old Labour, but without the style.

In London, as across the UK, we need a government which has none of the disadvantages of old or new Labour, but with lots of style. With Nick leading us nationally, and Brian leading us in London, that’s just what we’ll have.

In Bermondsey, we are this year celebrating 25 years since this party helped me win our momentous by-election and we went on to win our first council seat – and nineteen years later to run the council. With determination and the right approach, any and every seat is winnable, and there should be no ‘no-go’ areas.

We must field candidates in every possible election, and when we’re successful, make sure that our work and our record means that we don’t slip back. We must never forget that we win hearts and minds, not principally by votes and speeches in committee meetings or in debating chambers, but by campaigning with and for people when they need us, and where they have been ignored by complacent councils and supposedly safe MPs.

I am delighted to report that party membership is now growing strongly. I still believe thousands more people will join us if we ask. We all have a responsibility for recruiting and retaining members all of the time. With Nick at the helm, determined to lead a party that challenges the establishment at Westminster and campaigns vigorously around the country, there will be many ready and willing to join us. Just look at the motivating effect of Barack Obama’s campaign across the Atlantic – the excitement, and the opportunity.

If we are determined to make politics exciting as well as principled, to lead the movement for change in corrupt regimes abroad and outdated practices at home, then the widespread cynicism can be countered, and we can achieve our next goal of more than doubling our parliamentary seats within two elections.

Tonight in London, David Haye from Bermondsey can become the undisputed cruiserweight boxing champion of the world. Today Wales can beat Ireland, and next week Liverpool can beat Milan in the Champions League.

In this hall are many individual champions and local council champion teams. Liberal Democrats have the capacity and ideas to be the new champions in Wales, Scotland, England, and for Britain.

Go for it, friends. Nothing should be beyond our reach.

Nick Clegg – 2008 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference


Nick Clegg made his first leader’s speech to the Liberal Democrat party conference, which was held in Liverpool in 2008. He set out his personal beliefs and the need to change Britain’s political system:

My grandmother was a Russian exile.

She fled the Russian revolution as a child, escaping through Europe and finally settling here in Britain.

My mother spent part of her childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia.

My mother and my grandmother – their lives torn and reshaped by the great wars and upheavals of the twentieth century.

And they found a home in Britain because ours is a nation of tolerance, of freedom, and of compassion.

And what my mother and grandmother endured taught me the extraordinary, precious value of those beliefs.

They understood that beliefs matter. They make all the difference between war and peace. Beliefs shape our world, for better and for worse.

And my family taught me never to give up on problems, and no matter what the odds or opposition, always to seek to do what’s right.

And there are problems in Britain today.

Too many.

Families stuck in grinding poverty.

Liberty taken and abused by government officials.

Climate change starting to tighten its deathly grip.

But they aren’t problems with the British people.

They’re problems faced by the British people.

We are not the problem.

It’s the system that’s the problem.

And that’s what gives me hope.

Because there is nothing we cannot change.

Our party is growing.

We’re going from strength to strength.

More supporters, more members, more MPs.

It’s not that long ago, if 13 MPs wanted to rebel, we’d have had to borrow some from the other parties.

You want to know the great political story of our generation?

It isn’t New Labour.

It isn’t New Conservatives.

Those are just the dying sparks of a fire that’s running out of fuel.

No. The great political story of our time is the story of the vast and growing army of people who look at the two main parties and say “no thanks.”

People who, like me, like you, want something different.

In 1951, only 2% of voters chose someone other than Labour or the Tories.

At the last general election, it was 32%.

Now a gimmick here, or a lucky break there may boost Labour or Conservative poll ratings for a few weeks or months.

But it cannot, and will not reverse the trend.

Who seriously believes that the British people, offered so much choice in every aspect of our daily lives, will ever again settle for a two-party system?

If you have two parties, you only ever have two ideas.

Actually that’s on a good day.

Most of the time they can’t even rustle up a single good idea between them.

No wonder people are tired of politics.

Tired of a system that swings like a pendulum between two establishment parties.

Tired of the same old politicians, the same old fake choices, the same old feeling that nothing ever changes.

But this isn’t a story of indifference.

People do care about issues. Climate change. Poverty. Their local school or hospital.

There are marches and campaigns and petitions launched every day of the week.

People care. They just don’t care about politicians.

So this is the end of the line for politics-as-usual.

If we want a political system that works for the future, we need to start again.

From scratch.

I am not just talking about electoral reform.

A change in our voting system is a vital part of what we need, but it isn’t enough.

First, let’s clean up politics.

Scandals over pay and expenses have shattered confidence.

Thousands of voters have seen their MP exposed for corruption – and been told there’s nothing they can do about it.

I want a Derek Conway Clause.

So if an MP is suspended for serious misconduct there is an automatic recall ballot so people can call for a by-election.

If your MP lets you down, you should have the power to fire them.

Second, let’s give people the say they deserve.

I hold town hall meetings up and down the country every couple of weeks – where I answer any question, on any topic, and anyone can come along.

I say to Gordon Brown and David Cameron: do the same.

Today I’m writing to invite them to join me at any one of the town hall meetings coming up.

Not as a media stunt, but a direct conversation with people – no spin, no hand-picked audiences, no planted questions.

And our plans for the NHS, approved this weekend, would give every citizen an even more direct say.

The power to run their local health service, by standing for election to their local health board.

This is real democracy in action.

Giving local people the chance to run services which really matter to them, and being held accountable at the ballot box by their own communities.

It’s our health service – it’s time to put it back in our hands.

Third, let’s design a new political system for the 21st century.

It shouldn’t be hammered out in secret, smoke-filled rooms, by the powers that be.

I want a citizens’ jury of 100 people to sit in a Constitutional Convention with all the political parties, churches, civil society groups and more – to look across the board, and redesign the way Britain is governed.

I wrote to David Cameron and Gordon Brown proposing such a Convention just after Christmas.

Their replies were laughable.

Dave suggested he and I gang up on Gordon.

And Gordon sent me six pages of legalistic waffle.

Willie Goodhart, Anthony Lester and the rest of our top legal experts are still locked in a Committee room trying to decipher it.

You see, only the Liberal Democrats will ever champion the sort of change we need.

Only we can transform the system, because we aren’t part of it.

I joined the Liberal Democrats because we’re independent.

When I was a teenager, Labour were in the pockets of the trade unions.

Conservatives in the pockets of big business.

What drew me to the Liberal Democrats was that we weren’t in anyone’s pocket.

It’s still the same.

The establishment parties will manipulate the system to get the power they want.

But they’ll never change it.

They like having power and privilege sewn up between a few chums in the Westminster bubble.

That’s why they won’t do what’s needed and get the money out of politics.

They don’t see we’re heading for the skids.

If we don’t act, Britain will end up like America, where political influence is all about cash.

That’s why I want a universal £25,000 cap on donations.

A real cap on spending.

And yes, an end to big union donations, and an end to offshore finance from Belize.

Transparency. Openness. A new constitutional settlement. And an end to big money politics.

That’s what Britain needs and we will get it done.

I’m not shy about doing whatever it takes.

If it means walking out of Parliament when the big parties collude against us, I say: fine.

If it means boycotting banquets that celebrate our relationship with dodgy regimes, like Vince Cable did, or speaking up to expose corruption like Chris Davies did, I say: so be it.

If it means risking court, and refusing to sign up for an Identity Card, I say: bring it on.

And you can expect more – much more – of that from me

It’s a high-risk strategy.

And I warn you, we can only make it work if we are united and if we are disciplined.

United and disciplined in the face of attacks from the establishment parties and the establishment media.

If we are not the radical force in British politics, who will be?

Not Gordon Brown.

Until last summer, we all thought we knew what Gordon Brown was all about.

We knew he’d signed the cheques for Iraq.

We knew he had an arrogant, centralising obsession with controlling everything.

And a steely determination to get his hands on the keys to Downing Street.

But at least people thought he would be able to manage things with a little competence.

Then look what happened.

A bottled election.

Northern Rock.

Party funding scandals.

Data losses.

This government had the audacity to advise every family in Britain to get a paper shredder, to protect them from identity fraud – and then proceeded to lose more of our personal data than any government in the history of the world.

But there’s worse.

Remember last autumn, after the election-that-never-was?

Alistair Darling stole a policy from the Tories and announced an inheritance tax cut that will help only the richest 6% of people.

And do you know where they found the money?

If the reports are true, they scrapped a plan they’d been developing all summer.

A plan to cut child poverty.

The future of hundreds of thousands of children sold down the river because the Labour party sold its soul and became the second Conservative party.

Money taken from the poorest kids and given to the richest adults, no questions asked.

Gutless, heartless, incompetent.

Gordon Cameron. David Brown. What’s the difference any more?

I’ve actually found out why it’s going so wrong for Gordon.

I’ve got my hands on a secret memo.

Drafted by Ed Miliband, redrafted by Ed Balls, leaked by Charlie Whelan.

Gordon Brown’s masterplan.

Number one: get into Downing Street.

Number two: don’t leave.

Number three: errr, that’s it.

No vision. No agenda. No hope.

And the Conservatives are just the same.

They’re in favour of winning, they’re against losing, and that’s it.

David Cameron has taken a conscious, strategic decision? not to have any policies.

They have commissions, and papers, and ideas, and possibilities.

But not one concrete promise.

This is sham politics from a party bereft of belief, that will say anything to get elected – and Britain deserves more.

You know their proposals for tax breaks for marriage are so ill-thought out, they would even give cash to a man who’s ditched his stay-at-home-wife and shacked up with his secretary.

Think about the alternatives to Alistair Darling.

In the yellow corner: Vince Cable, former chief economist at Shell.

In the blue corner: George Osborne, former Tory research assistant.

On tax: Vince Cable has carefully costed plans for a fairer, greener Britain.

And George Osborne has a review by Lord Howe, famously described as a dead sheep.

On Northern Rock, Vince Cable had a sensible plan for temporary national ownership.

And George Osborne has had more positions than the Kama Sutra.

On every issue, Vince is streets ahead, the Liberal Democrats are streets ahead of the Conservatives.

But have you heard the latest wheeze from the Tories?

It’s the extraordinary claim that David Cameron wants to mimic Barack Obama and be “anti-establishment”.

That’s like Margaret Thatcher claiming to be the champion of the unions.

Or Boris Johnson giving a master-class in the art of diplomacy.

This is a man who’s still not welcome in the great city of Liverpool. Or Portsmouth. Or Papua New Guinea.

And we must keep him out of City Hall too.

Ken Livingstone has let London down and the only man fit to replace him is Brian Paddick.

An outstanding candidate who will transform London.

It’s not just in London where we’re facing elections in May.

There are three thousand seats to be won.

So let’s campaign as we’ve never campaigned before.

Win more votes and more seats so even more British people can have the opportunity of a Liberal Democrat council.

The day before I was elected leader, Mr Cameron suggested we join them.

He talked about a “progressive alliance”.

This talk of alliances comes up a lot, doesn’t it?

Everyone wants to be in our gang.

So I want to make something very clear today.

Will I ever join a Conservative government?


Will I ever join a Labour government?


I will never allow the Liberal Democrats to be a mere annex to another party’s agenda.

But am I interested in building a new type of government? Yes.

Based on pluralism instead of one party rule? Yes.

A new system, that empowers people not parties? Yes.

We want a new, more liberal Britain.

And the Liberal Democrats will be the gathering point for everyone who wants that liberal Britain too – no matter their background, no matter their party.

So for anyone who shares our ambitions I have two words: join us.

What will it look like, this new Britain?

First the great monoliths of centrally-run bureaucracies must be opened up – and run for the sake of the people, the patients, the pupils.

These days individuals are powerless in the face of the rules and regulations that run everything.

Every sensible request is met with a mindless “Computer Says No”.

Who hasn’t got stuck in the nightmarish world of an automatic phone service they laughably call a “helpline”?

The lift music. The menus. The mechanical voice that tells you “your call is important to us”.

It’s frustrating when you’re trying to sort out your gas bill.

But what if that helpline’s your only route to getting money for food, heating, clothes for your kids?

That’s what happened to Hayley Sandford, a young single mum from Camborne, in Cornwall.

She didn’t want to be stuck on benefits.

So she took a job over the summer.

She and her friend Donna spent six weeks doing face-painting for kids.

But the season ended, the crowds went home, and the job stopped.

Hayley’s tax credits had been mistakenly stopped too. And now she had no wages either.

Just imagine. No money, and a young son to feed.

She was desperate.

Tipped into financial chaos because the system couldn’t keep up.

Because bureaucrats were interested only in forms and rules.

They couldn’t see the human tragedy emerging in front of them.

In the end, Hayley was lucky. Her MP, Julia Goldsworthy, stepped in and helped sort out the chaos.

But it shouldn’t have to be like this.

We can’t all rely on Julia.

We want services that are human-sized, personal in nature, and designed for real people.

We don’t want these services handed down by the faceless state.

Gordon Brown is obsessed with building bigger and bigger database systems.

I sometimes wonder if it’s a mid-life crisis thing.

You know – instead of buying a Porsche or trying to climb Everest.

It’s an international game of “mine’s bigger than yours”.

They’re actually proud of the fact Britain has more innocent people’s DNA on file than any other country in the world.

Proud that Britain is leading the world in fingerprinting children at school.

Proud that the Identity Card database will be the biggest and most complex the world has ever seen.

They shouldn’t be proud, they should be ashamed.

Our civil liberties are a hard-won inheritance from our forefathers who fought and died for our freedom.

And our party will defend them to the end.

It’s a funny thing, freedom.

It ought to belong to everyone, in equal measure.

But in Britain today, some people are still more free than others.

Pensioners spending a whole winter in the bedroom, because it’s the only room they can afford to heat.

That isn’t freedom.

Children shunted from one damp, temporary flat to another – sharing a bed with their parents because there’s no space for a room of their own.

That isn’t freedom.

Teenagers trapped in a cycle of drink and drugs and crime, because they have never known anything different.

That isn’t freedom.

And it doesn’t have to be like this.

A better Britain would put education and opportunity at its very heart so no child, no parent, is ever trapped in poverty.

These days, a clever, but poor child, will be overtaken at school by a less clever, but wealthier child by the age of six.

The age of six.

Just two thousand days old, and already let down by the system.

We cannot let this go on.

I met a remarkable young man a couple of months ago in Southwark.

Ashley had the kind of drive and charisma that fills you with hope – and the kind of childhood that makes you want to weep.

Passed about from one set of foster parents to another.

These days, the government calls kids in care “looked-after children”.

Too often, “looked-after” is just a painful euphemism for a childhood on the scrap heap.

You know how many looked-after children go to university?

Five percent.

But Ashley defied the system, defied the statistics, and got into Cambridge.

By sheer force of personality, and with the help of a good school, he has conquered circumstance.

But it shouldn’t be so hard.

The system should pave the way for people like Ashley, not set up roadblocks.

That’s why our idea for a Pupil Premium is so important, to get investment in education for the poorest children up to the levels of private schools.

And I will find the £2.5 billion it will cost.

I want to build an education system where the people who need the most help get the most help.

Where schools that take on children who are harder to teach get extra cash to fund catch up classes, Saturday school, one-to-one tuition – whatever it takes.

I’ve seen it work.

In the Netherlands, classes in deprived areas are half the size of classes in more affluent areas.

And as a result everyone gets a good education, no matter what their background.

We can have that here.

We can have a better education system, and through it a better Britain.

But, inequality today isn’t just about what happens at school.

The crisis reaches so deep that where you are born, and who your parents are, affects everything about how your life will pan out.

It even affects how long that life will be.

Some day, if you’re in London, get on the tube at Westminster, on the Jubilee line.

Take an eastbound train towards the Docklands.

Every station you pass, every time the train stops, every time the doors open and close, for every stop you travel east, life expectancy drops by a year.

It’s the same across Britain.

In Sheffield, a child born in the poorest neighbourhood will live 14 years less than a child born just a few miles away.

The NHS is a great national institution.

But it isn’t good enough.

It isn’t good enough when the very number of days you will spend on this planet are determined by the place and circumstances of your birth.

So let us build a new NHS – a People’s NHS.

That’s why this week we’ve committed ourselves to a patient guarantee.

Treatment within a specified waiting time – or we’ll pay for you to go private.

That’s the way it works in Denmark – not to undermine the public health system, but to guarantee patients’ rights.

And patients should have more control over their care – with budgets in their own hands to treat long term and chronic conditions.

Nowhere is this more important than in mental health.

People are waiting for literally years for help.

In Plymouth you’ll be stranded for three and a half years before you even get to see a therapist.

So people languish on incapacity benefit, and stuff themselves with pills that might not even work.

And sometimes, help never comes.

Like for Petra Blanksby.

A childhood of sexual abuse. Beatings from her mother. Repeatedly locked with her twin sister in a cupboard with the dogs.

In a last desperate cry for help, she set fire to her own mattress.

Instead of receiving help, she was convicted of arson and sent to prison where she tied a ligature around her neck and hanged herself.

She was 19.

And what makes the tragedy even more agonizing is that her twin sister, locked as a child in the same cupboard, but given help and therapy in her teens, is OK.

That’s how it should be. People should get a second, a third, a fourth chance at life – however many chances it takes.

Take our criminal justice system.

It doesn’t have to be just a dustbin for people who’ve been failed by everyone else.

It should be a place where people and communities come together to tackle crime and deal with problems.

Where criminals are punished, of course, but also steered away from crime.

I visited a great drugs court in West London last year run by a Judge called Justin Philips.

He wants the drug addicts he sees to really feel they’ve achieved something when they’re staying away from drugs and crime.

He cajoles, encourages, admonishes, and praises the offenders as if they were from his own family.

And it makes such a difference.

I met a young man called Aaron. His story was like that of almost every drug addict.

Stealing to buy drugs.

Failed attempts at rehab.

A never-ending cycle of crime, punishment, cold turkey, falling off the wagon.

And then he was sent to Judge Justin.

Who – quite literally – held his hand through the huge task of getting clean, and keeping clean.

Aaron told me – “Justin was the first person I ever met, my whole life, who cared about what happened to me.”

It makes a difference when you treat a human being like a human being.

And it can be this way.

We don’t have to have to have tens of thousands of young people hooked on drugs.

We don’t have to have women selling themselves on the streets to fund their desperate need for a hit.

We can care for people as we punish them, not only for their sake but to make British communities safer too.

Change the system, and we can change Britain.

Education, health and crime.

The top three concerns of the British people.

They have been for decades.

But I want us to get the environment up there too.

Our planet is sick.

And we will only heal it if people – if millions of people – demand action.

Climate scientists trade all sorts of terrifying numbers and statistics: degrees of warming, metres rise in sea levels, numbers of people who’ll be driven from their homes.

But there’s one number that worries me most.

Just one in fourteen people thinks the environment is a big problem.

Everyone in this room knows the Liberal Democrats have the best policies on tackling climate change.

But I am not content to sit around, burnishing our policy credentials so that, some time in the future – if the apocalypse comes – we can say “I told you so”.

We’ve got to make concern about the environment a mass movement – now.

We must provide an optimistic, empowering case for action to tackle climate change.

You can’t hector people – they must be motivated and inspired.

Especially when they’re already struggling to meet their council tax bills, the gas, the electric, childcare.

When you’re struggling to keep your head above water, buying a wormery or going organic seems like a luxury for someone else.

We all need to feel like the system’s on our side.

There are too many rules, too many blockages, too many obstacles to making life greener.

It’s even difficult to make small steps.

It actually took me a year – a whole year – to get the Labour council in Sheffield to put a recycling bin in the playground of a primary school in my constituency.

Now, I’m an MP. It’s my job to campaign for this sort of thing sometimes.

But how many parents are there, across the country, who had the same idea – let’s get a recycling bin at school – and gave up?

By changing the system, to support people who want to do their bit, we can get business, government and people to act together.

If we all begin today, we can still save the planet.

We can harness environmental leadership to drive our economy too.

We will need it, if we’re to withstand the global downturn that’s on the doorstep.

Britain is in no fit state to endure the impact of a recession in the US.

Our government has created a system propped up on cheap credit.

We’ve been building castles on the sand. And the tide is coming in.

Poor Alistair Darling has become the chief mourner at his own political funeral.

But outside Westminster, we all know who will suffer first, and most.

It isn’t the hedge fund managers. It isn’t the wealthy tax exiles.

It’s ordinary families, already struggling with rising council tax, soaring gas and electricity bills, and the merciless upwards creep of the price of food.

Why is it that those ordinary families still pay more tax than the richest people in Britain today?

What kind of messed-up system is that?

If we want a better Britain, with opportunity for everyone, we’ve got to have fair taxes.

Cutting income tax by 4p in the pound is a great start.

But we must never stop thinking about how we make taxes fairer, greener and – if possible – lower.

Not loopholes for people with clever tax accountants and offshore trusts.

But lifting the burden on ordinary families.

We mustn’t be a party that taxes for the sake of it.

I have no interest in taxing people to “send a message”.

Taxes should be fair, and they should be green.

They should raise the money we need? and not a penny more.

So if, before the General Election, we find we can deliver our objectives with money to spare, we shouldn’t look for new ways to spend it.

We should look for new ways to hand it back, especially to those who need it most.

We have called for tax rises in the past, when investment in our public services was intolerably low.

We were right to do so.

But after a decade of unprecedented increases in spending the problem now is not “how much” – it’s “how”.

We need to think radically about how we improve our public services.

Change funding systems so there’s fair access for everyone.

Deliver services efficiently, instead of wasting money on massive centralised systems that do more harm than good.

And devolve control to councils, communities, families, parents, patients and pupils.

Change will upset some people, I know.

Change always does.

There are vested interests at play – in the establishment parties, in the big central bureaucracies that run things in Britain today.

Someone’s got to take on the vested interests?

Someone’s got to challenge the established order of things?

And it’s got to be us? it can only be us.

I don’t just mean vested interests determining government policy here at home.

Our whole international political system – and Britain’s role within it – is twisted and warped by powerful people determined to promote their own interests.

What better example is there than Iraq?

If there is one thing this illegal war has taught us, it is this –

That when others choose to ride their tanks over the top of international law, our government must not roll over or join in.

Iraq was Bush’s war – and supporting it is Labour’s greatest shame.

Our whole political establishment is in thrall to the might of the Pentagon and the White House.

Only the Liberal Democrats say no.

Britain must embrace our relationship with other allies – especially Europe.

That’s why I will always be a passionate promoter of the European Union and Britain’s place at its heart.

But the Bush administration is coming to an end. At last.

We have a real chance now to break with the past.

Set priorities here in Britain, not in the Pentagon.

No more nods and winks to the abuse of human rights.

No more secretive deals to host American missile systems on British soil.

No more neo-con wars.

Now is the time for change.

Of course there will be times when military action is necessary.

We supported, and continue to support, the intervention in Afghanistan – and we must do more to make it a success.

But Britain’s response to threats must always be ethical, measured and legal.

Under Labour, quite simply, it isn’t any of those things.

This is a government which identifies twenty ‘major countries of concern’ for human rights abuses, then exports record levels of arms to nineteen of them.

This is a government which cancels an investigation into corrupt arms sales to Saudi, then rolls out the red carpet for a state visit from its king.

This is a Prime Minister who refuses to speak up on human rights abuses in China, then picks up his reward in the form of special trade deals.

For too long, vested interests have triumphed over doing what’s right and it’s got to stop.

Sometimes it makes you feel so helpless – and yes, angry too – when there’s so much you want to change.

I bet you’ve all felt like that once in a while.

Like there’s a mountain to climb, and it’s just too much to do alone.

The cynicism of so much public debate doesn’t help.

A cynicism that mocks anyone with the nerve to speak with sincerity about what they believe.

A cynicism that’s given up believing in hope.

But I am not embarrassed by sincerity.

I am not ashamed of believing in things.

I want to believe in a better Britain.

Every one of us is here today because we believe in a better Britain.

It’s time for a party that isn’t cowed by the system, or afraid to challenge it.

Because the chance for change is there – within our reach.

The chance to prise open, once and for all, the rotten old system, and build something new.

The chance is there.

It’s ours to take.

So let’s seize it.

Vince Cable – 2008 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Vince Cable at the 2008 Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Liverpool.

I don’t want to overdo my Stalin joke.

But I did, I think, capture the pathos of Gordon Brown’s sad decline: from ruthless to rudderless: bully to bumbler; from Brezhnev to Black Adder.

He genuinely saddens me.

After Blair was obsessed by image and positioning.

We hoped Brown would be a serious man with serious ideas and a serous commitment to social justice.

No chance.

Within weeks he was dressing up in a Penguin suit to grovel to a Saudi king who presides over the execution of women for immorality and corruption which makes the late President Mobutu look like a small time pick pocket.

The nuclear power lobby, the airport expansion lobby, the arms dealers all know they have a true friend in Downing Street. And, as for social justice, he stands ready to copy whatever regressive, badly thought out wheeze the Tories dream up on a boozy night out at the Bullingdon Club.

But the real issue is competence. Gordon Brown’s list of disasters is becoming as long as the list of Don Giovanni’s lovers:

Northern Rock; lost data on 15 million families;

mismanaged reforms to CGT and non-dom taxation;

Metronet and the disastrous London Underground PPP;

tax credit overpayments;

the QinetiQ sale;


IT mismanagement in HMRC;

the collapse of occupational pensions;

Equitable Life;

Individual Learning Accounts;

Film Tax Credit:

U-turns on SIPPs and Company Incorporation


Operating and Financial Reviews.

That’s just for starters.

In fact, the Conservative’s should be benefiting more than they are from the government’s serial incompetence.

They have a problem.

Their own history. Black Monday.

15% interest rates.

3 million unemployed.

Record repossessions.

All that.

Cameron and Osborne have an Alzheimer’s strategy: a fervent hope that the country will lose its collective memory of Conservative government.

These days the Tories simply don’t seem to know what they stand for.

They don’t even seem to believe in tax cutting any more.

Or perhaps I am being a little unfair.

They do have a programme of targeted tax cuts.

Top priority target is a further inheritance tax cuts designed to favour dead millionaires.

Dead millionaires are clearly at the heart of the Tory core vote strategy.

We, on the other hand, have been consistent and right in our analysis of the UK economy.

I warned Gordon Brown almost 5 years ago that there was a growing problem of personal debt, much of it secured against a dangerous bubble in the housing market.

Since then, inflation and house prices have reached levels, in relation to income, unsurpassed in our history and the highest in the western World.

The truth is that just as binge drinking has become one of Britain’s main recreational activities, binge lending has now become the mainstay of the economy.

Banks have become the financial equivalents of a Wetherspoons pub – but with even less of a sense of responsibility.

They make their money by getting people to borrow more than they can handle.

The mess afterwards is someone else’s problem.

The binge in lending has fuelled the house price boom.

Housing has become unaffordable for millions of young first time buyers.

Borrowers are struggling to maintain their debts.

Too much unsustainably cheap credit created an unsustainable ratcheting up of house prices.

People have been duped into believing that acquiring property is better than saving and a more reliable store of value than a bank account, shares or a pension.

Yet this is a market that is, and always has been, dangerously volatile.

After the binge, there is inevitably a hangover.

It is just starting.

House prices are now falling month by month across the country.

Debt arrears are mounting.

Repossession orders and repossessions are rising rapidly back towards levels last seen in the mid 1990’s.

Negative equity is back.

Serious economic analysts worry that our home grown problem of asset deflation will interact lethally with the global credit crunch.

And also global inflation in energy and food prices could combine to create a perfect economic storm.

If there is an economic storm the public will want to know that the ship is being steered by people who know what they are doing.

During the Northern Rock crisis the boat was drifting listlessly.

Captain Brown was hiding in his cabin.

And Midshipman Osborne was jumping excitedly in and out of a lifeboat.

We knew what had to be done.

But the Government only finally listened after months of indecision.

The delay caused untold damage to Britain’s reputation and cost a fortune in legal and accountancy fees.

Now the Government has seen the benefits of listening to the Liberal Democrats perhaps they can make it a habit – to tackle the dangers of our slowing economy.

The Bank of England has to be freed up to use interest rates more aggressively by making sure that its inflation target reflects the fluctuations in house prices.

We cannot and should not try to stop lenders adjusting to higher standards of risk management.

But the binge lenders have to accept some of the pain they happily inflict on their borrowers.

There will have to be a check on repossessions so that we do not have a massive fire sale of homes and a pandemic of homelessness.

No one should face repossession until there has been an opportunity for independent financial advice.

The bank must be required to offer a range of alternative properly regulated options, including shared ownership.

The vultures who are exploiting the situation must be brought within mortgage regulation.

These are, necessarily, palliatives.

We also need to think ahead to a different model of growth.

It should not depend on a debt financed, unsustainable, short term splurge in consumer spending.

It should instead draw on long term investment in this country’s human resources of skill and science, respecting environmental limits and repairing a fractured sense of social solidarity.

But the truth is that in the immediate future there are hard times ahead.

There will be financial casualties.

Neither I nor anyone else can offer a pain free solution as the excesses of the last few years are purged from the system.

What we must insist on however is that everyone contributes according to their means.

We cannot tolerate a two nation society divided between the tax payers and the tax dodgers.

The extent of tax avoidance amongst many rich people has become a national scandal.

The super rich are complaining because our spineless government decided to tinker with capital gains tax.

But they will still pay far less than their cleaners – 18% versus 20% plus 10% NICs.

They will still pay less than half the tax rate they paid under Mrs Thatcher and Nigel Lawson.

But all we hear is a whine of self pity.

Let me be clear.

I have no problem with people making serious money through hard work building businesses and creating jobs.

There have to be realistic incentives in a market economy.

But the idea that the super rich should be elevated above taxation is immoral and deeply insulting to those on modest incomes who pay their full whack of tax.

Then we have the so called non-doms. These are people who, on the strength of having no more overseas connection that a foreign father, can choose not to pay any tax on their overseas income and capital.

And they can avail themselves of a battery of off-shore tax loopholes which enable them to avoid tax on UK income and capital. Probably 5 million people – many in this room – are eligible.

Growing numbers are taking advantage.

After ten years of dithering Gordon Brown has decided to act.

As a veteran of the struggle against Mrs Thatcher’s poll tax, he has decided – you’ve guessed already – to introduce a poll tax.

Billionaire Lakshmi Mittal is to pay the same tax as a non-dom shopkeeper.

Not surprisingly, the Tories agree that this is fair, indeed, they claim to have thought of it first.

Yet there has been an almost hysterical reaction from the City.

How dare British politicians query the tax privileges of the rich?

If we are not careful, they say, Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs living in £80 million houses will no longer feel welcome.

They might go somewhere else.

That’s tough.

Let them go.

We say that foreign expatriates are welcome to live and work in Britain.

But when they have been here seven years, they pay British tax like the rest of us.

Pay up or pack up.

And it isn’t just rich individuals who dodge tax.

Companies are at it as well.

There are only two reasons for British companies to operate from Caribbean tax havens: secrecy and tax.

I salute the journalists who are running the gauntlet of libel lawyers by exposing the tax affairs of leading British companies who use Caribbean bolt holes to avoid tax.

Tesco admitted last week that it had organised itself to avoid £250 million in stamp duty this way, £10 for every UK taxpayer.

While the super rich and corporate Britain uses every dodge in the book to avoid paying tax, those on low pay face higher taxes.

The one certainty about next week’s Budget – because a commitment was made last year – is that 23 million workers and pensioners will pay 20% on their first slab of taxable income, instead of 10%.

5.3 million people will pay more tax.

The Lib Dems don’t want higher overall levels of tax.

We want to see fairer taxes making sure that the tax dodgers are brought to book.

It means that the very well off pay a bit more in capital gains and income tax so that low and middle income families get a tax cut – 4p in the pound of national income tax.

We also believe that tax can be used, albeit carefully, to change behaviour.

That is why we argue for green taxes, particularly on polluting aircraft, raising revenue for our package of tax cuts elsewhere.

The evidence, from the Government’s Climate Change Levy, is that environmental taxes do change behaviour.

And they raise revenue – which we would use to cut taxes in a progressive way.

We should also be using taxes to discourage binge drinking.

There is massive evidence of the damaging effects of alcohol on health and crime.

Yet the Government has cut taxes in real terms on highly alcoholic beverages.

Many will wonder why a government which has raised income taxes on the low paid and Council Tax on pensioners is helping to promote cut price Bacardi Breezers and vodka shots.

Tax should be raised on drinks with high alcohol content – raising £225 million.

We would use the money to cut VAT on healthy, 100% fruit juice from 17.5% to 5%.

This will complete the transformation of the Lib Dems from being the party of beards and sandals to the party of Smoothies.

If I were to be self critical, I would say that we haven’t been radical enough.

I would like to see a much stronger commitment to cutting the taxes of low and middle income families.

And I would like to see a much tougher approach to the windfalls on property and land values enjoyed by the super rich.

Liberal Democrats represent the millions of families ignored by this Government.

Yes we believe in enterprise.

Yes we believe in an open economy.

But we don’t have to go down on our knees to the rich and powerful.

We will stand up for fair taxes.

We will stand up for green taxes.

And we will fight for a more equal Britain.