Kirsty Williams – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow on 16th August 2013.

Conference,

In just over a year, the people of Scotland will come to a fork in the road.

As Liberal Democrats we must welcome the opportunity for the people of Scotland to have their voice heard in a referendum,

But also, as Liberal Democrats, we must campaign harder than ever before to persuade the people of Scotland to remain with us.

Our mantra of being stronger together in the European Union applies equally, if not more, for the union of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

And Conference, it is no surprise that Liberals have played such an important part in trying to create a federal Britain.

Gladstone, practically inventing the concept of home rule.

Lloyd George, championing home rule at the beginning of the last century.

Jo Grimond who called for a federal United Kingdom in his House of Commons maiden speech in 1950.

Liberals who have fought hard before us had the vision and the courage to call for greater autonomy for the people of these nations.

I would like to thank Sir Menzies Campbell for continuing that fight for home rule.

His commission, set up by Willie Rennie, seeks to put the United Kingdom on track to become a federal union.

Because we cannot allow the SNP to run the constitutional agenda of the UK.

It is up to us, Liberal Democrats, to steer that debate, and to bring it back from the extremes of separation towards a more balanced settlement.

A settlement that recognises the need for more autonomy across the UK

In Wales and Scotland  – yes

But also London, England, the regions.

On this most important of issues, people agree with us.

Only 9% of people in Wales want independence but they do want more powers

In Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and I have been making a strong case for the devolution of fiscal and further powers for the National Assembly through the work of the Silk Commission.

It was hard work writing that commission into the coalition agreement in the first place

It was a struggle to get the Tories to make good on that agreement.

It will be harder still to get the Conservatives to implement its recommendations.

But I know that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Jenny Randerson will push and push and push for the powers that Wales needs.

This isn’t power for its own sake.

Wales needs power over stamp duty to boost the housing industry.

Wales needs the power to vary income tax to ensure the Welsh Government takes responsibility for spending.

Wales needs borrowing powers to invest in infrastructure to stimulate the economy.

The Scots are not buying the idea of being separated either but they do want to have more say over their own affairs.

As Sir Menzies eloquently said in his commission,

“Liberal Democrats strive to ensure that individuals have the freedoms to control the circumstances of their lives for the benefit of themselves, their families and their community”.

“A federal framework with as much power as feasible exercised by the nations and regions”.

That is what our constitution says.

Because when the nations of the United Kingdom come together, we are stronger, it is a much fairer system.

Stronger and fairer because individuals and communities will have more say in the governance of their own lives.

Stronger and fairer because every part of the United Kingdom will have more responsibility over their own affairs.

Devolution and federalism, it’s not just a Scottish thing or a Welsh idea.

It is a key Liberal Democrat philosophy and a belief that we need to continue to fight for.

The Conservatives are conflicted.

Labour confused.

Nationalists just want separation.

Our view, the Liberal view for 100 years and more is the people’s view.

Now, while Willie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are fighting the SNP government here in Scotland, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are playing opposition to a weak and lacklustre Labour Government in Wales.

Labour, governing on their own, cannot be trusted to run a country.

Labour, in charge, by themselves, cannot run a decent health service that provides for those in need, or an education system that gets the best out of our pupils, or grow an economy that will give us those much needed jobs.

Ed Miliband has said that accident and emergency is the barometer of the NHS and that A&E waiting times hadn’t been met in England for the past two months.

According to Mr Miliband’s barometer “the NHS was in distress.”

I wonder what he says behind closed doors about the A&E waiting times in Wales – under the leadership of his colleague, Carwyn Jones, the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK, the First Minister of Wales, because those A&E targets have NEVER been met in Wales.

Last March, Mr. Miliband said that “We have a great deal to learn from the great things that Carwyn and his government are doing.”

Great things? Really?

If you need an ambulance urgently in Powys, the Welsh side of the border, there’s only a 50/50 chance that the ambulance will get to you within the target 8 minutes.

Are you waiting for an operation on the Welsh side of the border?

Good luck to you as you could be waiting more than 8 months for treatment while your neighbour just across the border waits 18 weeks.

Wales’ biggest hospital has been branded dangerous by the Royal College of Surgeons.

Senior medical staff are openly writing about lives being put at risk in our A&E departments.

We have cancer treatment targets that have not been met in five years, A&E targets that have never been met and ambulance response times that are by far the worst in the UK.

All this despite the huge efforts and commitment by NHS staff in Wales.

But don’t take my word for it.

Listen to senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who is conducting a review into the English NHS

Her verdict?

“Wales is behind England in every instance”

“Great things” Mr. Miliband?

What about education?

In Wrexham, a child on free school meals gets £450 under the Welsh pupil premium.

A child from a few miles across the border, in Chester, gets £1,300 towards their education.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats had to bring the Labour party kicking and screaming to fund the pupil premium in our budget deal. You would have thought that Labour would jump at the change of helping poorer students.

In the next budget round, my team and I are fighting to see that amount increased.

Because £1,300 per child compared to £450 per child. Well that’s simply not right.

Poorer Welsh children will fall even further behind their English counterparts.

So much for Labour’s commitment to social justice.

6 out of 22 local education authorities have been placed in special measures.

Over 65,000 children being taught in education authorities assessed as inadequate by the government’s own inspectors.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?

Or what about job creation and the economy?

On the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary, not a single brick laid and not a single job created in the Cardiff Enterprise Zone.

The Bristol enterprise zone on the other hand is employing hundreds of people since last April.

Unemployment in Wales is consistently higher than in England, especially amongst our young people.

There’s been a 35% increase in the number of apprenticeships offered in England since 2010.

In Wales, that number has fallen by a third and communities risk losing a generation of talented young people.

Welsh businesses complain

– of a muddled approach to small businesses.

– of a review of business rates sat gathering dust.

– of stifling bureaucracy and red tape.

But then the Welsh Labour Economy minister famously once said that she regretted capitalism.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?

For anyone who needs a reminder to see what Britain would look like under Labour, come to Wales.

We can show you what it’s like to have Labour in charge.

Miliband has tried to distance himself from the legacy of New Labour.

But in Wales we’ve never had new Labour, just 14 years of the same old Labour party.

So come and see for yourselves how Labour can’t be trusted to run the economy.

See for yourselves how Labour can’t handle public finances.

See for yourselves how our education system and health service struggles.

Labour has no vision for Wales.

Tom Jones may have famously sung about the Green Green Grass of Home,

But I can assure you.

The grass is not greener on Labour’s pastures.

Now if you think that Labour governing on their own is bad just what kind of country would we be living in if the Conservatives were let off the leash in Westminster?

When the Liberal Democrats were busy ensuring that the Queen’s Speech was full of new laws to strengthen our economy and ensure fairness in our society, Tory backbenchers were also busy conjuring up their own alternative legislation.

We had Steve Webb’s Pensions Bill ensuring that saving for retirement is simpler and fairer, while the True Blue squad wanted to decimate the overseas aid budget.

Ed Davey wants the Energy Bill to create as many as 250,000 jobs, creating that stronger, greener economy we all strive for.

The Tory climate change deniers want to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change altogether.

Liberal Democrats want to legislate to help families with the cost of childcare, supporting people who want to get back to work.

The Bone-Squad wanted to turn back the clocks and reintroduce national service for young people. And ban the burka, and abolish sexual harassment claims in the workplace, send all asylum seekers away, come out of the EU altogether, reintroduce capital punishment, and my favourite of all – a day celebrating Margaret Thatcher,

We may well laugh, but these people are serious.

And Peter Bone said those madcap ideas “could form the basis of a future Conservative manifesto.”

Well I don’t share his vision for Britain. I want my children to grow up in a country that is liberal, accepting of the fact that regardless of your sexuality, you should be able to marry the person you love.

And a country that is tolerant, recognising that diversity is a strength, not a threat,

And a country that is fair, where your future is determined by your abilities not your parent’s pay cheque.

The Liberal Democrat stamp was on that Queen’s Speech back in May.

Our Liberal Democrat team, Nick, Danny, Vince, Ed and the others, they’re all ensuring that a strong Liberal streak runs through the UK government’s policies.

Fighting to ensure that the coalition’s moral compass is pointing the right way.

A headline in the Daily Mail read……… Now, I know it’s not a promising start to a sentence in any speech but bear with me…

A headline in the Daily Mail last year read:

“I’d govern like a true Tory………… if it wasn’t for the Lib Dems.”

David Cameron’s own words.

He’s right.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, regional pay would have been introduced, making Wales and our poor regions even poorer.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, the police and the intelligence service would be allowed to read our emails, snooping into your affairs.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, we would be on our way out of Europe, languishing on the side-lines without power and influence.

The Tory axe would have cut deeper into the welfare budget.

The super-rich would be hoarding more of their money, aided and abetted by Tory inheritance tax breaks.

And private companies would have taken over our schools and running them for a profit.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems, Britain would be a very different country now.

But with Liberal Democrats in government, we have a fairer tax system where millions of low and middle income workers see more of their hard earned money back in their pocket.

A policy that was on the front page of our manifesto.

In difficult times, these are the people who we should be helping.

Pushing the income tax threshold up and up is already having a huge impact on many people.

If you are on the minimum wage, the Liberal Democrat income tax policy means that you will have had your income tax bill halved.

In Wales, over 100,000 workers aren’t paying any income tax at all and over a million are seeing 600 pounds back in their pocket.

With Liberal Democrats in government, pensioners have seen the link between the basic state pension and earnings restored.

With Liberal Democrats in government, thousands of young people are being offered training as apprentices, ensuring them a good job with skills and a decent salary – and more importantly, a stake in our society.

But as much as I like seeing Nick stop the excesses of the Conservatives, we are not in government just to hold back the Tories.

We are in government to push forward our policies, our vision and our liberal agenda.

Liberal Democrats, we can be proud of what we are achieving in government.

We’ve stopped talking about how we want to make a difference.

In government, we are making a difference.

And I want us to continue turning party policy into the laws of this land after May 2015.

But conference, Nick, Paddy, Willie and I, we can boast, brag and blow our own trumpets about our achievements in government, about how we are actually creating a stronger economy and a fairer society

However, unless the people of Britain know what we’re doing and how hard we are working to deliver our policies on their behalf, we can forget about being in government in May 2015 and retreat back into opposition. On the side-lines.

The people of Wales and Scotland are used to coalitions.

Liberal Democrats have been in government twice in Scotland and once in Wales.

I know that the junior party in any coalition has to be able to show it has made a difference.

Not just on issues of concern to their core supporters, but on issues that matter the most to the rest of the voters in the country.

Welsh Liberal Democrats were proud of what we achieved in coalition, but when you have three other parties also campaigning in an election, also trying to catch the attention of the voters, your achievements can be lost in the political ether.

We weren’t rewarded in the ballot box for our successes in government because we didn’t concentrate on the issues that mattered the most to people.

So from now until 2015 we have to be more focused in what we say, our campaigning issues relevant to voters and the people in this hall and beyond, we must take ownership of that message and deliver it over and over and over again.

Jobs – A million plus new jobs and a million more on the way

The economy – Back from the brink of Labour’s disaster.

Fair taxes – £700 back in your pocket. The super rich paying more.

Pupil premium – enabling everyone to get on in life.

Liberal Democrats delivering.

Like all of you in this hall today, I am campaigner, with leaflet ink on my fingers and letter box scars on my hands.

Give me an evening, a village and a bundle of leaflets, and I will deliver and so will my team.

But we all need to deliver.

Like many of you in this hall today, my campaign is to get as many Liberal Democrat MPs back to Westminster as possible.

Because without Liberal Democrats in government, you know what will happen;

We’ll have a lacklustre, uninspiring, incompetent Labour Government, like in Wales, wreaking havoc on our public services.

Or an intolerant Conservative government, hell bent on protecting the very wealthy while trampling on everyone else.

With Liberal Democrats in government,

Britain is recovering, our economy, stronger

– our society, fairer

– our country, one where everyone can get on in life

Thank you.

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

nickclegg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No’ does not mean no change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Clegg – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference

nickclegg

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.

Danny Alexander – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow on 17th September 2013.

 

Conference, it’s great to have you here in Scotland. In Glasgow or, as we like to call it in Inverness, ‘the deep south.’

This great city has many claims to fame: its industrial heritage, culture, football, it’s even the home of the new Doctor Who. So, let take me you back in time. It’s spring 2010. We’re in the depths of the economic storm. Greeks rioting on our TV screens.

Labour had dug a gigantic hole of debt – the bankers had pushed us in. We were forecast to have the largest deficit in the EU. The polls had closed; we were in the uncharted waters of a hung Parliament. Action was needed. And as a Party, we stepped up.

Colleagues, just think if we’d acted differently. A minority government. Weak. Unstable. Unable to take decisions. And at the mercy of factions and extremists.

We would likely have seen another General Election within months.

A toxic mix of political and economic uncertainty. The hardships inflicted on other economies could so easily have happened here.

Yes, it has been tough, but those nightmare scenarios did not happen. They did not happen for one reason only.

Because of us. The Liberal Democrats. Because of our decision to ensure we had a stable government with a strong Liberal voice,

Able to act decisively. We didn’t duck the challenge.

We rose to it. There were plenty of people who didn’t think we were up to it. When I first became the Chief Secretary, there were even some people who questioned my, how should I put this, my employment record.

Clearly they hadn’t looked closely enough at my CV. You see, as a teenager I worked in the Tomdoun hotel in Glengarry. I washed plates in the kitchen, I polished pint glasses in the bar, I even cleaned the toilets. I basically spent most of my teenage years cleaning up other peoples’ mess. Perfect work experience for an aspiring Chief Secretary.

But with every step towards economic recovery we take, the party that caused the mess, the Labour Party, become even less credible.

Ed Balls bet the house on a failing economy. He banked on a double dip that never happened. He predicted a triple dip that never came.

And now even his closest colleagues admit he is a busted flush.

The Labour Party has opposed every single decision we’ve made.

That was until Ed Balls declared that the Labour party would adopt a new found “iron discipline” in public spending.

In fact, so strong is that commitment that the two Eds have managed to limit themselves to a meagre £45bn of extra spending commitments. To be fair, once you’ve left the next generation with a debt of £828bn to pay off. Rising at the rate of £3 billion a week,

Without any plan to deal with it, what’s another £45bn between friends? They derailed the economy. And if they had the chance, they’d do it all over again. The last thing Britain needs is a Labour majority. Conference, I was going to read you a list of barmy right wing Tory ideas that we’ve stopped in government.

But it’s so long I don’t have time, and after Nick’s appearance yesterday, I’m worried about Justine McGuiness cutting me off.

But I can’t resist just two. Two Tory ideas that put jobs at risk.

First, some Tories believe that the best way to help businesses hire someone is to make it easier to fire someone.

They believe that people that work hard, do their job day in day out,

Let’s call them ‘strivers’. Should be allowed to be fired at the will of the employer. Well conference, let me tell you this – it will never happen. Not while there are Liberal Democrats around the Cabinet table.

And then there’s Europe. For many Conservatives, the EU is the bogeyman responsible for every wrong. But for 3.5m people in Britain, it’s the reason they have a job. That’s 3.5m jobs that some Tories want to put at risk by leaving the European Union.

They should know, you can’t win the global race, unless you’re part of a strong team.

The last thing Britain needs is a Conservative majority. But the Conservatives aren’t the only ones wanting to break up a union, whatever the costs.

As a Scot, I believe that being part of the United Kingdom offers Scotland huge advantages in the 21st century. I believe the best choice is for us to stick with a family of nations in which we have thrived and prospered. To grow together, not break apart.

In the end, nationalism is all about building barriers between peoples, whatever the cost. Liberalism is about knocking those barriers down.

Today’s National Institute report shows that with Scotland as part of the UK, interest rates are lower and taxes are lower. That’s the value of the United Kingdom.

Another credible, independent, factual analysis that backs the case for our United Kingdom. So our job, from now until the day of the referendum, is to prove that “Better Together” isn’t just a slogan. It’s the truth. Tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on us winning that fight. For the sake of our country, our children, and our grandchildren, we cannot, must not and will not lose.

We’ve seen the economy through its darkest hour, by ensuring that the Coalition’s economic plan is pragmatic. When the eurozone crisis was raging. When our growth forecasts were going backwards

Siren voices on the right called for us to respond by cutting further and faster. It was the Liberal Democrats who ensured the coalition remained anchored in the centre ground.

There is still a long way to go, but our stronger economy in a fairer society is beginning to take shape. We are rebuilding an economy that is sustainable, balanced and resilient. And we are making progress. Activity in the manufacturing sector has reached a two-and-a-half-year high, in construction a five-year high and in the services industry a six-year high.

Business confidence is at its highest level in six years. British businesses have created an extra 1.4m jobs in the private sector, supported by the decisions this Government has taken.

We have the lowest number of people claiming unemployment benefit in four years. A record number of women in work. A higher rate of employment than the US.

The highest number of people in work. Ever. Labour’s failure to regulate the banks meant that they had to spend billions of pounds of your money to bail them out. We’re fixing the banks and the economy is on the mend. So last night following advice from the Treasury we decided to start to get your money back.

The first sale of Lloyds’ shares, at above the price Labour paid, is an important milestone. And in future sales we will look for ways in which the British public to get involved. Because we are mending the economy, the tax payer is at last getting their money back.

The recovery is under way. Much more needs to be done to secure it.

And we won’t flinch from our task. Anyone who claims the better economic news is all down to the Conservatives is just plain wrong. The decisions we have implemented in government, decisions you have taken in this hall. The brighter future that lies ahead – it’s only there because of us. And we should shout it from the rooftops.

We still have work to do to finish the job. That’s not a task than can be entrusted to either of the other two parties. I say to the British people, if you want that job finished right – with balance, fairness, and resolve – you need the Liberal Democrats to do it.

We’ve taken tough decisions to get the deficit under control. And, yes, there will be more in the next Parliament. It will be another five years shaped by the necessity of fiscal restraint. But by the middle of the next Parliament we will have eliminated the structural deficit.

That doesn’t mean the country can then go back to bad old habits. There’s no spending bonanza round the corner. Our nation’s debt will need to be reduced. It wouldn’t be fair to pass it on to future generations. The pressures of an ageing and growing population will have to be paid for. Conference, when those difficult decisions need to be made, the British people now know that they can trust the Liberal Democrats to make them.

We’ve delivered long-held commitments too. This year, for the first time, the UK will deliver our long-held commitment to spend 0.7% of our nation’s wealth on international aid. Making a real difference to lives all over the world. Four weeks ago I met a young girl who told me how much she was enjoying school, and about her ambition to be a lawyer. Nothing extraordinary about that, you might think, but I met this girl in Kabul.

She is one of around two million Afghan girls who, thanks to the bravery of our armed forces and our international aid commitment, is now attending school on a regular basis. I also had the privilege of meeting an extraordinary group of serving men and women in our armed forces in Helmand, whose skill and bravery is making that change possible.

So, I hope you will join me in paying tribute to our armed forces in Afghanistan and across the rest of the world. As we look to the next Parliament, the tax policy we agreed yesterday puts us in a strong position to tackle the remaining deficit fairly. By committing to raise taxes on the very wealthy, through the mansion tax, through restricting pension tax relief, through increasing capital gains tax rates further, Liberal Democrats will ensure that those who have the most will continue to contribute the most.

These taxes on the very wealthy will be one of our central promises for the next Parliament. Making sure they can’t avoid their taxes is a job we are getting on with right now.

Benjamin Franklin said: “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.

And a conference announcement from Danny Alexander on tax avoidance”.

Ok, maybe he didn’t say that last bit. But conference, I make no apology for going after tax dodgers. Thanks to our efforts, by 2015 we will be clawing back an extra £10bn a year.

New investment, new specialist units, new tax rules announced from this podium are now closing the net on the immoral minority who believe paying the proper amount of tax just isn’t for them. But we must do more. We are cutting corporation tax to encourage firms to invest, not to give the wealthy a way to avoid the 45p tax rate.

So when the vast majority of people in an industry are finding ways to exploit that difference, and that industry is the preserve of the very wealthy, I have no hesitation in acting. So I can announce today that following a brief consultation we will be closing the loophole that allows private equity shareholders to siphon money out of their firms while dodging the intended income tax.

And it’s why I can also announce that we will also be closing the loophole that allows partners in partnership firms to structure their staff arrangements so that they avoid paying the correct amount of income tax. It’s wrong, it’s unfair, and it’s got to stop and with Liberal Democrats in government, it will.

Conference, the pressures on household budgets in this country are real. Liberal Democrats are doing all we can to help. We have introduced 15 hours of free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds, and this month introduced it for the poorest 40% of two-year-olds too.

Next year we will legislate for tax free childcare worth £1,200 for every eligible child. Unlike tax breaks for marriage, that’s a fair way to help families. We have frozen council tax for every year of this Parliament. Our triple lock is protecting the value of the basic state pension.

We have scrapped Labour’s fuel duty rises. So thanks to us petrol is now 13p a litre cheaper than it would have been. 18p a litre if you live on a remote island. Saving every business and family in the country money. And helping literally to keep the wheels of the economy turning. But there is more to be done.

In January we will launch the next phase of Help to Buy. Too many young people aspiring to get on in life are stuck. They earn enough to repay a mortgage, but don’t have the funds for a large deposit. It is right that the government should step in to help them. And it is also right that we need to build more homes, including affordable homes.

Over the last decade rents have risen twice as fast as wages, stretching family budgets. But some landlords still failed to pay the right tax due on the rents they receive. I’m talking about landlords who own more than one property, who rent to students, people with holiday lets and those who let houses in multiple occupations.

And it adds up to a staggering £500m owing to the taxman. And we want it back. So we’re launching a campaign with a simple message for the rogue minority of landlords. Pay up or face the consequences.

In my three-and-a-half years in the Treasury, tackling avoidance has been one of my obsessions. But my true passion has been delivering our tax promise to Britain’s working people.

It was Mr Gladstone, whose portrait hangs on the wall of my office, who said; “The idea of abolishing income tax is highly attractive.”

Now, conference, we don’t go that far. But we have abolished it for nearly 3m low income workers.

What’s more, we have given 25m working people the biggest tax cut in a generation. This would have been a big deal in times of plenty.

To have achieved it now, in these difficult times is extraordinary. Practical help for millions of working people – Liberal Democrats, we made it happen. And conference, yesterday, we committed to cutting the tax paid by ordinary workers even further.

So you don’t pay any income tax until you earn more than a full time salary on the minimum wage. £700 a year back in the pockets of 25m working people – that’s our record of action. Our promise of more – another £500 off your tax bill, if you put the Liberal Democrats back in government next time.

Conference, Liberal Democrats in Government has already helped businesses create more than 1m jobs, and now we’re working to help them to create a million more. That’s why this April, every business and charity will have their National Insurance cut through our £2,000 Employment Allowance. That’s enough money for a small business to employ four adults.

Or ten 18-20-year-olds on the National Minimum Wage. Without paying any employer national insurance at all. Real, tangible help for every small business in the country. At its heart, the next general election will be about who the British public trust to deliver a stronger economy. And who they trust to deliver a fairer society.

Because the benefits of a stronger economy must be shared. Shared in every corner of the United Kingdom. Shared across all the people of Britain. ‘The economy’ is not some abstract concept. It’s about people. It’s about their jobs, their aspirations and their hopes.

Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy in a fairer society so that everyone can get on in life. The last thing Britain needs is a Labour or Conservative majority. Labour can’t be trusted with the economy. The Tories can’t be trusted to create a fair society.

So if you’re looking for work and want a Government that will help you, if you have a job, but want security in your job, if you want to expand your business and employ more people, then there is one party that is on your side, The Liberal Democrats.