Charles Kennedy – 1986 Speech on Statutory Sick Pay

Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Liberal MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, in the House of Commons on 15 January 1986.

The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was reasonably credible, and I agreed with much of what he said until his closing sentiments—perhaps that does not surprise him. It will certainly not surprise those sitting on the Treasury Bench. A return of the Labour party to power would greatly surprise the British people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I welcome the fact that, on this occasion, the DHSS is staying within and upholding the law of the land, and will uprate accordingly. We have no argument with that. It was sensible of the DHSS to bring the uprating procedure into line as from 1987. My noble Friend Lord Banks and others have argued for that, and we welcome it.

My basic point on the uprating order relates to the impact that statutory sick pay has on small businesses. The Minister will recall that my hon. Friend and I have moved amendments and made speeches, in Committee and in the House, on the effect of the statutory sick pay scheme in this respect. That is why we welcome the reference in the explanatory details that accompanied the order to the DHSS consultation paper on the reduction of burdens on business. It would be helpful if the Minister would say briefly how matters are progressing in that respect—by which I mean the suggestion that employers should be allowed to opt out of SSP, provided that they pay wages to their sick employees at least as good as their SSP entitlement.

The Government will recall that the announcement of an extension of the SSP scheme was met with horror by, among others, the National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West that the bureaucracy of the SSP scheme and the extension which has been announced would discriminate against the employment potential of small businesses, and encourage more part-time employment rather than full-time employment. The Government said during SSP debates that they were conscious of the difficulty, and made some concessions in terms of bridging the gap.

You have been tolerant of my similarly lateral interpretation of the order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I end by saying that we welcome the fact that the uprating will go ahead, and especially the fact that the SSP uprating will be brought into line with other benefits. Any comments which the Minister can make on these broader points, based on the principle that we are debating this evening, would be helpful to my hon. Friend and myself.

Charles Kennedy – 1985 Speech on NHS Pay

Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then SDP MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, in the House of Commons on 15 July 1985.

From one argumentative Scot to another I beg to move,

That this House believes that district health authorities and Scottish health boards should not be expected to find the extra resources in the current financial year that are now necessary to implement the Government’s decisions arising out of the recommendations of the pay review bodies; and further believes that if no extra money is provided from the Contingency Reserve there will be a damaging in and unacceptable reduction in real terms in standards of health care.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister

Mr. Kennedy

In moving the motion, our task and objective is to highlight the disgraceful state of affairs into which the Government are plunging the National Health Service and important branches of it by rather inadequate and third-rate stealth, and to offer a constructive solution to the present financial paralysis facing many health authorities and the nation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), in a question to the Prime Minister, asked whether

“any pay settlement for the nurses which is above 3 per cent. must be paid for by savings inside the National Health Service? … Is that not an appallingly unfair way to treat a dedicated profession?”—[Official Report, 4 June 1985; Vol. 80,c. 153.]

If the Minister for Health speaks this afternoon, he may have to behave more in his capacity as a Queen’s Counsel than a Privy Councillor. The more one studies the Government’s financing of the NHS, the more one realises that the description applied to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in the previous Tory Government could well be applied to the Minister for Health, who displays all the attributes of a barrister trying his best to defend his client without realising that his client has seen the light and changed his plea to guilty.
The unfairness which my hon. Friend tried to highlight was that the lack of extra cash to fund the rewards would lead to job reductions. The complete lack of extra cash in the aftermath of the pay review body recommendations will, as an inevitable and direct consequence of ministerial decisions, lead to a lowering of health provision and a decline in the quality of patient care. That is why the alliance describes the Government’s NHS policy as cuts by stealth at the expense of patients. Today we seek to highlight the plight of the NHS, and to persuade the Government to make extra cash available from the contingency reserve.

It is worth putting into context the role and position of nurses within both the NHS and the community as a whole. Who better to quote than the Minister? In a debate on the NHS, referring to the nursing profession’s pay increase, the Minister said:

“The Government have made it available to them, because we recognise their abstention from industrial action and the fact that the country, the Government, and the patients in particular, owe them a great obligation. It is irrefutable that it is good news for nurses to have major pay increases, in the second instalment, particularly for the staff nurses and ward sisters. It is irrefutable ​ that it is a major advance for the nursing profession to have a lasting system.”—[Official Report, 2 July 1985; Vol. 82, c. 216.]

Those are noble and honourable sentiments, which will command support from both sides of the House. It is sad that, characteristically, the Minister is not living up to his rhetoric at the Dispatch Box in his funding of the NHS.

The Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Services have confirmed that the cost of the pay review body awards would be about £240 million in England in 1985–86. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) who is responsible for health in Scotland, is present, and I shall deal with the Scottish position later. DHSS Ministers make great play of the fact that this year they are cash allocating an additional £500 million, which is equivalent to 5·5 per cent., to branches of the NHS. They refer in particular to the hospital and community health services, and rightly so. However, we must consider what the figure means when it is analysed carefully and beyond the rhetoric of Ministers.

The January 1985 public expenditure White Paper notes that the hospital and community health services will account for more than 70 per cent. of the NHS budget. In 1985–86, current expenditure will increase by 5·8 per cent. over last year’s total. The inflation rate, which the Government estimate at 3·5 per cent. and which will produce a notional real terms increase of 2·3 per cent., reflects the Government’s general illustrative assumption of a 3 per cent. pay rise in the public sector and a 5 per cent. general price rise in the NHS sector. Those figures are taken directly from the Government’s White Paper.

However, there is an important qualification and, for the purposes of the debate, a fundamental point to be made. The assumptions about wage and price increases are fundamental to the forecasts, because the 2·2 per cent. real growth figure has disappeared as a result of the 6 June doctors and nurses pay review body reports. The additional pay costs in 1985–86 for cash-limited NHS services will be 5·4 per cent. for doctors and 5·6 per cent. for nurses. The inflation rate or relative price effect estimate has been pushed up to nearly 6 per cent.—I shall return to that figure and quote the Minister shortly—according to the Social Services Select Committee’s sixth report, which was published on 22 June. That would mean a real terms decrease of about 0·3 per cent., which is 0·2 per cent. higher than what the DHSS now concedes was one tenth of a 1 per cent. decrease in 1984–85.

Those detailed figures are based on a careful and serious analysis of the projections and on hard accurate statistics, which the Government have made available in their forecasting and White Paper. The figures are extremely damaging because they point the way to further reductions in patient care and health service facilities to fund the costs of legitimate and well-deserved pay increases for the professions allied to medicine—nursing, health visiting and midwifery.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe) rose

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) rose

Mr. Kennedy

I shall take my pick, but it is something of a Hobson’s choice.​

Mr. Hickmet

That is not a nice way to describe my hon. Friend and me.

The hon. Gentleman talks about further cuts. Why does he expect further cuts when, since May 1979, the NHS budget has increased by 20 per cent., there are 55,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors and dentists, more outpatients and inpatients have been treated, and there are more day patients and home visits? Why does he speak of further cuts when that is manifestly not the case? Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the Government’s record on the NHS is the finest since the war?

Mr. Kennedy

I have been a Member of the House for only two years, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman, who entered at the same time as me, that the gullibility of Tory Back-Bench Members never ceases to amaze me. Let us consider the real world and leave the Thatcherite monetarist universe which the hon. Gentleman seems to occupy. Let us consider what those in the front line of the service say about the figures. The hon. Gentleman did not listen—[Interruption.] The public school boys on the Treasury Bench should keep quiet, because we are quoting their figures.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) did not listen to what I said. When he talks about last year’s figures, he should remember what I said about a 0·1 per cent. cut in real terms, which, on current predictions, will be trebled this year. That will be extremely damaging.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the National Association of Health Authorities is aware of the difficulties and realities of providing health care. The Minister for Health visited Cardiff last month, and much good that did the Tory party when the voters were asked for their opinion—[HON. MEMBERS: “Cheap.”] It was not cheap. I was an expensive mistake for the Tory party to send the Minister to address the annual conference of the National Association of Health Authorities. To be fair to the Minister, we should argue on his terms this afternoon and use his words as the parameters within which the debate should be conducted. When the general manager of West Lancashire health authority asked him what the funding consequences would be for next year’s allocation, the Minister said:

“I do not accept that the award poses any threat to standards of care.”

Within the NHS, the Minister’s is a lone voice compared with what is being said in the authorities of England and Wales and in the Scottish boards. He continued:

“I just hope we are not looking too far ahead”—

it is good to know that the Health Service is being governed by ad hoc expediency

“with the implications of this”—

—[Interruption.] Those are the Minister’s words. Hon. Members should heckle him, not me. The Minister continued:

“After all, we have until next February to fund the full award and I hope we will not hear about cutbacks, which I frankly regard as the routine small talk of NHS politics and not necessary in a well-managed and well-run health service.”

That demonstration of arrogance and insensitivity to those who must make the painful choices that will be made necessary by having to fund the nurses’ pay award is extremely disturbing.

We should examine what some of those who live in the real world said in response to the Minister’s comment. The ​ national association passed a motion calling on the Government fully to meet the costs of the award. The member of Salford health authority who moved the motion said that her authority had already used its efficiency savings—no doubt the Minister will try to tell us about those—and faced a burden of £1 million for wage claims during next year. The person who seconded the motion, who came from North Tees authority, said that patient care would suffer if authorities had to find the cash for awards. Simply to balance the budget, his authority would have to make a 2 per cent. cut, and he referred to this as “crisis management” leading to inefficiency. I ask the House to compare that statement with the Minister’s statement that the routine small talk of NHS politics is

“not necessary in a well-managed and well-run health service.”

We now know who realises the damage that will be caused by the Government’s decision in relation to the nurses’ pay award.
However, the matter goes deeper and further than that. During a debate on nurses’ pay on 25 March this year, the Minister talked about the expected outcome of the pay review structure. Hon. Members should not let him off of that hook this afternoon. He said:

“The result is that all we are doing is facing everybody—Government, health authorities, staff and review body—with the reality that there is a relationship between pay and service provision.”—[Official Report, 25 March 1985; Vol. 76, c. 195.]

I am glad that we have established that reality, because the thrust of the argument by alliance Members today will be that, given that the Minister has signalled clearly that we cannot divorce the two elements of Health Service management and delivery of patient care, it is wrong for the Government to argue that, even if they do not provide additional funds to meet the pay increases, there will be no detrimental impact on patient care.

Mr. Tracey rose——

Mr. Kennedy

We have had Tweedledum, so we had better have Tweedledee.

Mr. Tracey

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give serious instead of frivolous consideration to my point. He talked about service provision. Has he heard about cost effectiveness in service provision? Will he say anything about putting ancillary services out to tender? Has he said a word to the officers of his local health authority about putting services out to tender? He must realise that many costs can be saved in that way.

Mr. Kennedy

Like the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said at the outset. I quoted from a representative of one authority at the NAHA conference, which the Minister addressed, who recognised immediately that the efficiency savings that the authority had achieved, and which I hope the Minister will confirm have been achieved in many cases, have already been swallowed up as a result of the Government’s decision. I was extremely interested to note that the Institute of Health Services Management said that it makes nonsense of Health Service management to try to encourage efficiency savings and then to tell managers that those savings cannot be ploughed back into providing better patient care.

Charles Kennedy – 2000 Speech on the EU and the Euro


Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, in Brussels on 5 December 2000.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be able to be here today to talk about Britain’s role in the EU and the case for the Single Currency.

So much of the discourse about Europe or the Euro in Britain is characterised by scare stories and misinformation that it is scarcely possible to have a serious debate on the issues any more. Any positive news stories about the benefits of EU membership or the virtues of the Single Currency tend to be subverted by the sceptical British press in favour of scare stories about straight bananas or the fact that the European Union flag will fly alongside the Union Jack over Downing Street for one day this year to mark our membership of the EU.

You would think from the hysterical reaction in one particular Sunday newspaper a couple of days ago to that story that we weren’t actually members of the European Union at all. It is becoming more and more necessary in Britain for those of us who support Britain’s membership of the European Union and think that a successful Single Currency will yield benefits for British businesses, and British workers, and British consumers to go out and make the case for them both time and time again.

The Liberal Democrats are strong advocates of the European Union. Let us not forget the dream of the original members of what is now the EU. It was that a degree of economic and political integration would bring co-operation and, more importantly, peace and stability to Western Europe, which had been notably absent for centuries.

Having, most of us, grown up in the last fifty years it is perhaps easy to underestimate the degree to which the European Union has been the cause and the guarantor of that peace. The longest continual period of peace in Western Europe since Roman times. Membership of the European Union also gives Britain more power and influence than if we were a nation alone.

Look at the example of British beef and the BSE crisis. The United States has banned the import of British beef for a number of years. and we have absolutely no power to stop them. Yet France also maintains an unwarranted ban on our beef. The difference is that in this case, we are able to complain to the European Union who are now taking legal steps to force the French to lift this unnecessary and unacceptable ban.

Indeed, given the current fears over the safety beef produced in other EU countries, notably France, I find it hard to understand any justification for the French action. Measures must be taken speedily to reassure public opinion as to the safety of beef in the EU, so as not to undermine confidence in beef produced in this country. I want to see nothing less than a total EU-wide ban on all cattle over 30-months old entering the food-chain. The European Union must provide 100 per cent compensation to farmers for destroying cattle of that age.

The EU must not shy away from taking the strong action necessary to ensure public safety and reassure public opinion. Membership of the European Union gives us the leverage to fight for this to happen. If we were not members our calls would mean nothing.

In a wider sense, Britain’s place in the world order has changed dramatically, in the years since we joined what was then the Common Market. Britain is now a stronger trading nation than at any time since World War Two.

In the years since 1973, our trade has increased by 138%. More than half of British trade now is actually with other EU countries. In 1999, the value of Britain’s trade with the EU approached £350 billion. Almost a tenth of that was with Belgium. As businessmen and women, you will know how easily levels of trade are affected by tariffs, barriers to entry, and exchange rate fluctuations.

So long as we are members of the European Union we will enjoy the benefits of a common market. But if we remain outside of the Single Currency we remain open to the damage that an unstable and high exchange rate can do to our exporters and to inward investment in Britain. The high pound has already been doing serious damage to our manufacturing industry and exporters in recent years. If this were to be perpetuated in the future it could have a seriously adverse impact on Britain as a trading nation.

The Liberal Democrats have not been alone in arguing this case. But we have perhaps been the most consistent. The Prime Minister, for example, probably shares this view. Although some of his ministers, including the Chancellor, may not. But he is timid when it comes to discussing the benefits of joining a successful Single Currency, preferring to hide behind a series of utterly subjective economic tests laid down by Gordon Brown. They are a fig leaf to hide the Government’s indecision.

Yet, I believe people need the British Government to take a lead, more than ever, on the issue of the Single Currency. To give them the certainty they need to plan their businesses or to give them the certainty that their job is secure.

It is important also to take heed of the views of those in business and industry when looking at the case for or against the Euro. Over the course of the last year, numerous big hitters in business have spoken out in favour of Britain joining a successful Single Currency. Richard Branson, for example, has let it be known that he is increasingly concerned about our non-membership. Earlier this year he wrote: “Outside the Euro we will be much poorer both as a nation and as individuals.” A month later, the President of the Japanese electronics giant Matsushita spoke out of his concerns that Britain had still not made a commitment to join the Euro. “The immediate question is when the pound will be included in the Euro” he said. “If Britain does nothing to solve the problem, foreign companies, regardless of whether they are Japanese American, or whatever nationality, may exit the country.”

These words should be heard by all politicians when deciding whether we should join the Single Currency. But I readily accept that this issue cannot, and should not, just be decided on economic grounds. There are constitutional implications to consider also. That is why the Liberal Democrats were the first major political party to call for a referendum on this issue. To call for the British people to have the final say on whether to adopt the Euro.

All I ask is that the public are given all the information on the pros and cons of membership in order to make an informed decision when the times comes, rather than being fed a diet of half-truths, exaggeration and plain hysteria as is the case all too often at present. The British people deserve nothing less than the whole truth.

Charles Kennedy – 2001 Speech to the Financial Markets Association


Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, in London on 23 January 2001.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here this evening.

I’d like to begin by thanking Hugh Macdonald and Martin Ely

for inviting me to meet you all.

The former Conservative Chancellor

Nigel Lawson once famously called ACI UK

“a bunch of City scribblers”.

Diplomacy was never really his strong point.

I can assure you that I have a higher opinion of your organisation

and look forward to talking to many of you later to hear your views.

London remains the largest financial centre in the world

accounting for almost one third of global currency business.

As such issues that affect that City and those who work in it

are of great importance to politicians of all parties

and naturally to government, let me be clear from the outset.

I want the City of London and the UK financial services industry

to be the global leader. Government should do all that it can

to enable you to do this.

At home that means competitive taxes, consistent policy, and sensible regulation.

In Europe – completing the Single Market,

winning for the City of London

and getting the economy right for Euro entry.

In the world, opening up the market for financial services.

Where regulators need to be tough they should be,

with the full support of politicians.

Tough because reputation and confidence

The most important ingredient for a healthy economy,

I believe, is financial stability.

That is why the Liberal Democrats entered the last election campaign

advocating independence for the Bank of England.

We were delighted that the Government chose to adopt our policy

which has proved to be very successful.

No decision has done more to end boom and bust economics.

However, the other chief ingredient in economic stability is

exchange rate stability.

On this, the Government has failed.

Prolonged over-valuation of sterling

has done a great deal of harm

to certain sectors of the UK economy.

Which is why the Liberal Democrats

advocate membership of a successful Single Currency

at an appropriate exchange rate

subject to the consent of the British people.

Last May, my party set up a commission,

chaired by Chris Huhne MEP,

whose members included such people as

Willem Buiter of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee,

and a variety of other distinguished

City practitioners and economists,

to advise on those measures Britain needs to take

in order to join the Euro-zone successfully.

Their report was published in September.

Yet, almost five months later the Government

still has not taken a lead on this issue.

My Party welcomed the step forward

that was taken in financial regulation

in the City in the last few years.

We have a high personal regard for Howard Davies

and believe the concept of the FSA is the right one.

Whilst regulation must never be over-bearing

we have always believed that the FSA

must take full account of the need

for proper consumer protection

in the job that they do.

In this respect,

regulators need

to be prepared, on occasion, to be tough to ensure that

And that means there should be no hiding place

for those who have mis-sold pensions,

failed to deliver on endowment mortgages

or closed rural bank branches.

Economic efficiency and social justice can, and must,

go hand in hand.

Before moving on to the main theme of my speech

I want to take a moment to

make some points on two specific regulatory issues

of which you will no doubt be aware

and which are of great importance to financial service institutions

as well as to politicians both as public policy makers

and as representatives of our constituents’ interests.

The first is the recent AXA deal on disposing

of its ‘orphan assets’,

And the second is the plight of Equitable Life

whose many policyholders

may suffer some heavy losses

as a result of the company’s difficulties.

Both of these issues are linked,

in my mind,

by the role of the FSA in regulating each company.

And they have implications

for the job that the FSA is doing more widely.

The recent controversy over the AXA deal on ‘orphan assets’

and particularly the role of the FSA

in giving it the green light to that deal

is a source of great concern to me and has been much commented on.

We have great sympathy with the Consumer Association

in the action that they took on behalf of consumers.

Government ministers

seemed to indicate a few years ago

that ‘orphan assets’ belonged to policyholders

in a ratio of 9 to 1.

Yet now, the AXA case would now seem to imply

that this principle has been undermined.

Previously I had understood

that ‘orphan assets’ were to be allocated

according to the ‘90% rule’

whereby nine tenths of the value of those assets

is given over to policyholders.

In the AXA case, the figure is much closer to a mere one-third.

This case is particularly important not only because it affects

the 660,000 with-profits policy holders

who are disputing the £1.68 billion worth of AXA ‘orphan assets’

but also because it has implications for those

with a potential claim on the £20 – 30 billion worth

of unallocated ‘orphan assets’ in other insurance companies.

Many thousands of people

throughout the country could be affected.

How to best dispose of ‘orphan assets’

is a source of some debate I acknowledge,

but I am not at all convinced that the regulator should have agreed

to in effect transfer well- over £1 billion

from AXA policyholders to AXA shareholders.

And I’m not at all convinced that the regulator should have agreed

to a ballot where AXA policyholders

were asked to agree a deal on the basis of

a ‘take it or leave it’ cash offer.

in which only those who voted in favour of that deal

would actually be entitled to the cash.

This is rather like Gordon Brown giving pension increases

only to those pensioners who voted Labour.

Ballots – whether of AXA policyholders, trade unionists or Florida electors – must not be open to question.but at first sight the outcome of the AXA case would seem

to contradict the Government’s intentions.

Moreover, the FSA’s stance throws doubt

on its willingness to defend the consumer interest.

This is not the only issue

in which the role of the FSA has been controversial.

The Equitable Life case is a cause of enormous concern too.

I appreciate that Equitable Life is not insolvent,

but it is in severe financial difficulties.

Many policyholders could suffer losses,

or returns below reasonable expectations.

There has clearly been a serious failure by management,

by the FSA, and quite possibly by the DTI at an earlier stage

which has allowed the situation to develop

into the crisis we see now.

Last year, Vincent Cable MP,

the Liberal Democrat Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary,

called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer

to instigate an immediate independent assessment

into possible regulatory failure by the FSA in this case

which could lead to compensation for any investors

who have been misled.

he Government has acknowledged

that the FSA has a case to answer

but responded to this by announcing

that the FSA itself would be charged with investigating

its own performance as regulator.

This is simply not good enough.

In both the AXA ‘orphan assets’ decision,

and the Equitable Life case,

the performance of the FSA as regulator

would seem to have been inadequate at best.

Many people would call it incompetent

The FSA was set up

to be champion of the consumers interests –

it should be just that.

London cannot afford a ‘paper tiger’.

It is time for the Government to

force the FSA to be more rigorous

and to take its share of responsibility

for any mistakes that have been made.

Investors and the wider public

must have confidence that it is doing its job on their behalf.

The City of London must not be over-regulated,

but must be regulated in a way also needs to must be regulated

in a proper way

so that protects and enhances London’s

excellent reputation

around the globe is maintained.

The reputation of politicians on the other hand

is probably beyond redemption.

You may be surprised to hear someone like me say that,

but I am genuinely concerned that

the public’s perception of politics

and the political class

is at an all time low.

You may have seen some press speculation recently

about the probable date of the next General Election.

Indeed, the media have

reported that an unofficial election campaign

by the three main parties is already underway.

Given that the likely date of the General Election

is the 3rd of May

I am truly depressed that the electoral “Phoney War”

seems to have begun

almost four months before anyone

is likely to walk into a polling booth.

And I am particularly angry because

this is exactly the kind of behaviour

that is putting more and more people off voting

and off participating in the electoral process.

At the last round of local elections in May 2000

voter turn-out in some parts of the country

was as low as ten per cent.

That is an horrendous figure to anyone

who cares about inclusive politics.

I am deeply, deeply worried by it.

And the other two parties are already engaging

in the usual pre-election Dutch auction

over tax and spending –

pretending that you can magically tax people

less and less

and yet spend more and more

on the things that people care about.

The public know that you don’t get

something for nothing.

This kind of debate

with both other parties striving

to reach the lowest common denominator

does a great deal to turn the public off politics

and create cynicism about the promises of politicians.

I fully intend that the Liberal Democrats will enter

into the forthcoming election battle

as the only major political party

who are prepared to be honest with people

about the cost of investing properly

in our public services:

in schools, in hospitals, in pensions and in the police.

This debate should not be characterised simply as “tax and spend”.

All Governments raise taxes

in order to spend the revenue they bring.

I want the debate to focus on

what we as a nation see as our priorities

for investing in public services

based on how we as a nation are prepared to fund them.

I believe that the British people

do want to see investment in public services in this country.

A country in which the NHS

provides decent care for all, free at the point of delivery.

A country in which schools are properly funded

and teachers properly valued.

A country in which older people share fairly in increasing prosperity.

And a country in which all in society feel free from the fear of crime.

And that investment is funded by all of us

through the tax system.

That is why I will enter the forthcoming election

promising honesty in taxation.

Telling people exactly how we would invest their money

in the services which they use,

and from which they may benefit.

In an age of political cynicism

one of the ways that these and many other policies

could best be discussed

in front of as wide an audience as possible

would have been through a debate

between the three main UK party leaders

during the election campaign itself.

As you may know, the BBC and ITV

approached Tony Blair, William Hague and myself

with a set of non-negotiable proposals

for two debates to take place between us during the

final two weeks of the General Election campaign.

I have long believed that in a television age such debates

would be an important addition to the democratic process

allowing the public to see the Party Leaders debating

outside of the juvenile environment of Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Because of this I have agreed to the broadcasters’ proposals for a debate.

William Hague has agreed also.

Unfortunately, as you may have seen in the papers,

Tony Blair has refused to take part,

arguing that the British people are not electing a President

but rather individual MPs.

This is true, and I do not want British electoral campaigns

or British politics

to become presidential in nature.

Well, I accept it is always good to see a sinner repenting.

But only a Labour spin doctor could argue

that the farce of Prime Ministers Questions

is a substitute for a serious leaders’ debate.

Mind you self-evidently debates are dangerous.

So dangerous that they have had them in the United States since 1960.

Canada since 1962.

Germany since 1969.

Holland since 1977.

Australia and New Zealand since 1984.

And South Africa since 1994.


No, Tony it’s called democracy.

But I do believe that Leader’s debates

would have done a great deal to re-engage

and hopefully re-enthuse the public

ahead of election day.

And now that these debates will not take place

I think Tony Blair must be prepared

to accept much of the blame if

voter turn-out is down again at this election.

By shying-away from debating with William Hague and myself

he is doing the country and the electoral process

a great disservice.

Nevertheless, it would be unfortunate if

arguments over the Leader’s debates

to detract from the issues that will be

crucial in the forthcoming election campaign.

Because there are real reasons

why the next General Election

should concentrate on issues of greater importance

to the British people

and to the future direction of our country.

The Liberal Democrats will enter that election promising

further targeted investment in our public services.

Honesty and openness in taxation.

More decentralisation away from Westminster and Whitehall

to the nations and regions of Britain.

A sensible relationship with our European partners

with whom we, as a nation, do so much of our trade –

not least in the financial services sector.

For the Liberal Democrats 2000 was a very successful year.

In May we recorded 28% of the vote in the local elections,

the highest share of the vote

we have ever received in a national election

which enabled us to capture

previous Labour strongholds like Oldham.

And on the same night we captured

what had previously been the safe Tory parliamentary seat of Romsey

in a Westminster by-election.

I want to translate those results

into further success at the polls this year.

There is every chance for my party to do so.

Liberal Democrats are already in national government

in Scotland and Wales.

We are already in local government in town halls

up and down the United Kingdom.

We will be fighting this election hard.

I intend for my Party to take more votes and more seats

from both Labour and the Conservatives.

No-one should expect us to do any other.

Charles Kennedy – 2001 Speech to the Social Market Foundation


Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, on 29 January 2001.


What’s it’s all about?

Does it matter?

Why, above all, is a party leader here this evening,

talking about an abstract political concept,

just three or four months before an election.

That could be a risky strategy,

when all the pollsters and pundits tell us,

that people are bored by politics,

and that the only chance we have of getting any message across,

is to talk about schools, hospitals and pensions,

in only the most basic terms.

Well, one of the arguments I shall make this evening,

is that schools, hospitals and pensions are issues of liberty,

and that progressive politicians have all too often lost sight of that basic case.

More of that later

But I want to start off focusing,

on one of the traditional liberty issues:

civil liberties.

When I look at the current government,

and its record on civil liberties,

I find it very difficult to attach the label progresssive to it.

Just look at Labour’s record.

Preventive detention of people with ‘severe personality disorders’.

Snooping on private e-mails.

Removing benefits from offenders,

if they don’t meet all the requirements of community service.

Mandatory drug testing of those arrested.

Denying bail to drug addicts.

Restricting the right to trial by jury.

Failing to tackle drugs afresh.

Labour’s priorities veer too much towards punitive populism.

Neither treating the causes of crime,

nor safeguarding the rights of the individual.

There is, I sometimes think, a judgement made by Labour politicians,

that they have to out-Tory the Tories on crime.

That somehow, knee-jerk reactions are the best.

policies like ending jury trials.

Or blanket curfews for kids.

That’s just a hammer to crack a nut,

And the kind of policy you would expect,

from a Conservative Home Secretary,

not an allegedly progressive one.

It’s not just the policies of the government that worry me.

It’s also the tone.

The current Home Secretary likes to lash out

at so-called ‘woolly Hampstead liberals’,

joining William Hague’s refrain

that liberals are the cause of most of Britain’s ills.

I don’t just blame Jack Straw.

I do think that Labour’s obsession with spin,

is partly to blame.

On that subject, I like the quote from the 1997 election.

It came from a Labour Party press officer.

” Later today Tony Blair will be spontaneous. Tomorrow he will be passionate.”

But the problem doesn’t just lie in Number Ten.

The New Statesman said a while back,

in an interview with David Blunkett,

that if he became Home Secretary,

he’d make Jack Straw look like a woolly liberal.

Well, if Jack Straw is a liberal,

then I’m Ann Widdecombe.

There are too many signs of the centralising, bossy and collectivist tendency

that was so much at the heart of Old Labour.

Unfortunately, it seems also be part of New Labour.

Little change there,

as far as I can see

in the basic culture of the party.

It’s a travesty of what this Labour government could have been.

A concern for liberty should not be alien to the Labour Party.

It was deeply rooted in the ethical socialism of the early part of the last century.

The early speeches of Ramsay MacDonald spoke vividly of individual freedom.

And Roy Jenkins’ record as a liberalising Home Secretary,

was an impressive one.

But the differences now,

embodied in the figures of ministers like Jack Straw,

are all too apparent.

And that’s why all this recent talk,

of electoral pacts between ourselves and Labour,

is so preposterous.

For four reasons.

First, we are fighting to defend seats against Labour

and to win some more from them.

In my own seat, Labour was in second place in 1997,

so I need no lesson in how to win against Labour.

Second, I don’t just want to win more seats at this election.

Wherever we fight, I want to win more votes for the Liberal Democrats,

so that we can get into second place where we are third,

and so that in the election after next, we can win even more seats.

Third, across the country,

we will be fighting Labour hard on civil liberties.

Highlighting the government’s illiberal policies on asylum and law and order.

It is our territory, and we are deeply disappointed with Labour’s record.

And finally,

I don’t believe that party leaders should dictate to the voters,

by restricting their choice at election time.

Only Labour, with its centralising approach,

could believe that is the right way,

or even that it’s possible.

But it’s not the Liberal Democrat way.

And it’s a basic issue of political liberty

that I think all progressives should feel strongly about.

So at this election,

there will be no pacts, no deals,

where the Liberal Democrats and Labour are concerned.

Wherever we stand,

and that will be every seat in England, Scotland and Wales,

our candidates will be fighting for every single vote.

Anything else would be betraying the cause we believe in,

and which Labour does not.

I’ve talked about civil liberties.

And I want to talk now about wider issues of liberty.

The ones that aren’t always seen as liberty issues.

Liberty is of course about government not telling you how to live your life.

But it should also mean social justice.

Nearly a hundred years ago,

The Liberal philosopher Hobhouse said,

‘the struggle for liberty … is the struggle for equality’.

He was right.

If you live in a high rise flat,

bringing up a child on your own,

or struggling on a pension,

liberty isn’t about government making you buy healthcare or education.

If you live in those conditions, liberty is about social justice.


Decent public services.

Decent welfare support when times are hard.

A first class education system.

Whatever your income, whatever your background.

That means a key role for politics,

and a role for government.

And it is a great contrast to the Hague approach.

The Conservatives tend to equate liberty with rampant market forces.

They think that government,

especially at a European level,

is public enemy number one.

But I take the view

that liberty does not mean ‘minimum government’ for the sake of it.

It seems to me preposterous to assert that people are more free,

when government does less.

If government did nothing to provide decent health and education services,

then many people in Britain would be manifestly less free,

because they would not be able to provide these services for themselves.

For me, social justice,

protected and enhanced by government,

equals more liberty.

If progressives recognised this openly,

that would represent a major shift in progressive thought.

Traditionally, we have been hung up on the conflicts between liberty and equality,

seeing them as somehow contradictory.

But I don’t think we should see them as contradictory.

Instead, we should recognise them to be two sides of the same coin.

For guidance on how to do that, we can turn to Isaiah Berlin.

Isaiah Berlin was the first person to argue that there were actually two sorts of liberty.

Negative liberty and positive liberty.

Negative liberty, he said,

means wanting to curb authority,

leaving individuals alone to do what they want,

providing that their actions do not restrict the freedom of others.

Positive liberty was different.

It meant using political power to emancipate.

It meant groups, or the state, judging what was best for individuals.

Berlin did not oppose positive liberty entirely.

In fact, as Michael Ignatieff’s biography points out,

Berlin was, in politics, a New Deal liberal.

He was neither a conservative,

nor a laissez-faire individualist.

He accepted that poverty and ignorance were not the ideal conditions for liberty.

But Berlin did urge us to recognise the contradictions between liberties.

The conflict between negative liberty and positive liberty.

He would want us to recognise

that although we may tax somebody to create opportunities,

we may still be restricting the liberty of the taxed.

That is the heart of the conflict between positive and negative liberty.

I think this is a conflict that can help us.

Although not quite in the way Isaiah Berlin would have liked.

What we have to accept,

is that although there are conflicts between negative and positive liberty,

they are still both forms of liberty.

Both are about promoting individual freedom,

giving everybody the chance to make the most of their life.

So I think that it is now time to recast the liberty-equality debate,

into a simple liberty-liberty debate.

We have to recognise that we are not,

when we speak of investment in education,

talking about creating equality.

We are talking about creating liberty.

Yes, it is positive liberty, but it is liberty nevertheless,

and that can, I think, make it easier to pursue an agenda

which incorporates both traditional liberty issues,

and traditional equality issues.

That is where New Labour has, I believe, failed.

Although we hear a lot less about the Third Way than we used to,

it still lies at the heart of the Labour approach.

The logic goes something like this:

do something left-wing one day, and right-wing another,

or talk right and act left.

and all will be fine

You will build a Big Tent,

that everyone can enter.

But all you end up doing,

is building a Big Dome,

which has no Big Idea,

and very few people want to enter a Big Dome.

This is where, in my view, the Liberal Democrats are succeeding.

We published our general approach to this last summer,

in our pre-manifesto, Freedom in a Liberal Society.

It states quite clearly our view that there can be a modern progressive politics,

that takes traditional equality issues,

and recasts them into liberty issues.

It takes the issue of the liberty,

and places it right at the forefront of the message we will take to the country.

By doing that, I hope that we can make liberty not only the challenge for progressives, but the challenge for the country as a whole.

Charles Kennedy – 2001 Speech on Terrorism

Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy on 24 September 2001.

We meet against an unimaginable backdrop.

It is hard to find words adequate to give proper voice by way of response, far less respect.

How can day-to-day vocabulary, measure up to such sheer criminality?

For me, watching those grim images on television – again, and again and again – there were all the normal, human reactions.

Disbelief. Then alarm.

Horror – as the truth sank in.

Compassion for all those people and their families, so many of whom were British.

Can you imagine that last mobile phone call from your husband, or wife or child?

The helplessness. And with it, the hopelessness. We’re here because we don’t believe in hopelessness. We actually believe in hope. But hope requires purpose. And purpose requires direction.
When I spoke again with the Prime Minister earlier today,
we were clear on a number of matters.

First, common resolve to root out terrorism wherever it may be. Second, the need to balance legislation with the interests of domestic civil rights. Third, vigilance against anyone who seeks to target and attack any of our ethnic communities. Fourth, no ruling out of a further recall of Parliament, if events require it.

Now immediate emotions inevitably begin to subside, but they will never go away. Nor should they. We Liberal Democrats must be clear about our intentions.

Resolve. There cannot be capitulation to the terrorist.

Determination. That we strike at the heart of international terrorism.

And equal determination that in combating terrorism we do not lose sight of the fact, at one at the same time, that we live – actually – in a liberal democracy, and the principles of democracy are what we’re all about. So as we gather here this week, this is one of the challenges facing us as Liberal Democrats.

One of our particular duties, is to make it clear that short-term knee-jerk responses, never provide long-term solutions.

We have to be especially vigilant against those people who would seek to make scapegoats of Muslims in Britain.

Let us be quite clear, we have no quarrel with the Muslim community and no quarrel with the Islamic faith. Last Friday, when I visited a Mosque in London, that was the message I took to our fellow citizens on all our behalves. And that message went out loud and clear from this conference hall this morning.

But let us also remember. There will be particularly difficult dilemmas ahead for our party. Those difficulties will involve a gauging between the balance of the liberty of the individual against the threat that the terrorist presents to that very liberty.

Do not underestimate the real, ongoing pressures and the public scrutiny that goes with that, which will be upon us in the times ahead. Proportionate response is not just about military measures.

Proportionate response is also about civil liberties. The scandal that is terrorism is all about civil liberties. In facing those dilemmas, we are best to remember our first principles. We subscribe to the rule of law, violated over the skyline of the United States, on September 11th.

But that subscription, as the very word implies, comes with a price tag attached. It involves realism and risk.

Realism means facing the stark truth, that the terrorist will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing. Risk is about the consequences of your response.

So let us be clear about these first principles.

Civil liberties – yes.

The rule of international law – yes.

Co-operation amongst sane-minded peoples across the globe – yes.

All underpinned by a philosophic and fundamental commitment to the integrity of the individual, and the supremacy of that individual over the power of the nation state. But recognising also that people need and are looking for security and reassurance, and that the proper role of the state is to provide that.

Now that’s where we stand. And that defines our response and our reasoning in the wake of these dreadful events. When Parliament was reconvened, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to such a happy year as a student in the mid-West of the States.

Friendships were made there. What struck me then, what I didn’t understand properly, was the extent to which the mid-West can almost be a country which is very different
from the rest of the country, which, when you think about it, itself is a continent.

But what is so striking now is the remarkable degree of spontaneous unity right across America. A unity of understandable anger. But the fear that can flow from that can be dangerous.

That’s where a candid friend comes in. Standing shoulder to shoulder, but always there for the occasional cautionary tap on the shoulder.

The most special relationships, in my experience, are based on a combination of trust and mutual respect.

And as America’s candid friend, we are able to say: there are no blank cheques to be issued to the United States.

The way to defeat international terrorism, is through international co-operation, based on international law, clear intelligence and a measured and appropriate military response.

And let me say this where military response is concerned: we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that where our armed forces are involved, the risks to them are quantified and minimised.

We cannot shelve or abandon that requirement.

That means supporting American actions only in the knowledge that Britain will be involved in all planning and risk assessment.

All that, we owe that to our armed forces.

And let me also, incidentally, pay tribute to the BBC World Service. As ever, one of the key contributions that Britain can make to the coalition against terror and suppression is to offer accurate information and rational analysis.

But do remember. War is not the word. Nor is crusade. Resolve is.

We have got to fashion a mindset, to find that approach which begins to address the roots of such evil.

We do need to get back to those first principles.

In the face of such violation, be inviolate.

Don’t flinch.

Democracy must prevail and it will.

Charles Kennedy – 2005 Speech to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, on 5 March 2005 to the party’s Spring Conference.


We Liberal Democrats are ready for a General Election.

And we are looking forward to it.

We have a strong message and a powerful case to put forward.

In so many ways the story of this parliament, now coming to an end, has been the way the Liberal Democrats have emerged as the real opposition to Tony Blair’s Labour Government.

The Real Opposition to an illegal war in Iraq.

The Real Opposition to Labour’s authoritarian instincts.

The Real Opposition against student top-up fees, against poverty pensions, against the Council Tax, against false choice in our public services.

We have been principled.
We have stood up for the people of Britain.
We have not wavered when the going got tough.

We have shown our resolve as a national opposition party.
As a result we have grown in strength and in support.

At this General Election – we will be the Real Alternative.
We will be the party that people turn to.
People want a credible, principled political party which offers a different vision of what Britain can be.

They want a real alternative to Labour.
At this General Election the Liberal Democrats will be that Real Alternative.

The main issue currently before parliament – is an issue and a set of principles alongside it which go to the very heart of our democracy.

And it shows just how important it is to have a real alternative in Britain.

I am talking of course of the proposed control orders being introduced by the Home Secretary.

The Liberal Democrats – for the past three years – have been principled and persistent critics of the situation at Belmarsh Prison.

For us it is utterly unacceptable for individuals to be incarcerated – facing indefinite detention – without charge and without trial.

That it is not the Liberal Democrat way.
And that is not the British way.

And that’s why the Law Lords declared the Government’s policy illegal.

So the government were duty-bound to respond.
And respond they did with their ill-fated proposals for house arrest.

3 weeks ago, at Prime Minister’s Questions, I raised with Tony Blair our central concern.

It must be a judge – never a politician – who decides whether someone is to be locked up.

Mark Oaten and I sustained that key concern at the Downing Street discussions which then followed.

And we welcomed the degree of undoubted movement on the Government’s part which had taken place in the intervening period.

Welcome movement – but by no means enough.

Fundamental objections remained.

And those concerns still remain.

Now, as this legislation is before the House of Lords, let us be crystal clear about the ongoing Liberal Democrat position.

There is an onus here on the politicians – irrespective of party – to seek a consensus where responding responsibly to what I acknowledge is both the threat and the reality of international terrorism.

We are willing to try and find a solution which delivers proper security with a respect for human rights.
We are not however about to set off down a path which leads inexorably to a surrender of principles.
Anything but.

That is the spirit in which we have engaged on these matters.
We have a real alternative which will maintain our security and protect our liberties:-
And these will continue to be our guiding principles.

1. Prosecution should always be the first option.

2. Decisions over detention must be judicial and not in the first instance political.

3. The standard of proof must be of the highest possible order.

4. Defendants must have access to defence lawyers and to see the evidence against them.

A sensible Government would have come up with proposals based on these principles in the first place.

Without these safeguards Liberal Democrats in Parliament will not support this Bill.

All too often with this government, when presented with a genuine problem the instinctive response is an authoritarian one.
Undermining trial by jury, house arrest, compulsory Identity Cards

That is not the Liberal Democrat way.
That is not the British way.

This issue is not the only one where our party has been well tested in this parliament.

Take of course the issue of Iraq.

With regard to the war itself, our views of course are well known.
We took that stand in Parliament against the war.
The Conservatives backed Tony Blair.

Tony Blair took us to war in Iraq on the basis of the supposed threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

Mere weeks before the war the Prime Minister was still telling Parliament “I detest his regime?but even now, he could save it.”

Now, because it has been shown that there were no weapons of mass destruction, the Prime Minister says that the removal of Saddam justifies the war in itself.
Not what he was saying just before it.

And today – if he is so confident of his case – why will he not allow the Attorney General’s legal advice to be published?

The Prime Minister wants us to move on – but we cannot until we know the full facts.

He should publish – and if necessary be damned.

Of course Britain should honour its legal and moral responsibilities with regard to the situation in Iraq.
But we need to focus on a proper exit strategy – as we warned at the outset.
That should mean a phased withdrawal of British troops to coincide with the end of the United Nations mandate this year.

It is vital to apply your principles with consistency – at home and abroad.

And nowhere is that responsibility more required of politicians than when it comes to discussion of the issues concerning immigration and asylum.

I believe the duty here for politicians is to begin with a straightforward statement of personal belief.

And this is mine.

I believe that our country is a richer, more vibrant society precisely because it is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society.

Let that be the starting point for any debate over immigration and asylum.

And let us not confuse the two in people’s minds either.

On immigration we have no problem over identifying quotas for skilled shortages in our society.

But we would do so on the basis of an independent evaluation of the needs of the British economy – not the prejudices of politicians.

Where would the National Health Service be without the numbers of migrant workers – doctors and nurses – on our wards?

On asylum, let us not go down the route of declaring artificial limits.

This country has a proud history of opening its doors to generations of people fleeing personal persecution, civil unrest and war.

We must never surrender that track record.

So my message here is clear.

Where immigration and asylum issues are concerned, the challenge is for the politicians to make the systems work in the best long-term interests of the country.

But never to pander and play to people’s fears.

In recent weeks, much of the political debate has centred on what the parties plan to put in their election manifestos – and rightly so.

But if you take the big issues of this Parliament – Iraq, the Hutton and Butler inquiries, anti-terrorist legislation, top up fees, foundation hospitals – these were scarcely mentioned during the campaign four years ago.
They largely fall into the category – which Harold McMillan once described as ‘events, dear boy, events.’

Manifestos will obviously matter, but voters will simultaneously be making a more fundamental judgement;
They will be assessing how the different parties might deal with those ‘events’ in the next four years;
And seeking solutions which reflect their personal hopes and fears.

How will they judge the Conservatives?
Their record in this parliament has been pathetic.
They have flip-flopped over the big issues of the day.
Iraq, Hutton, Butler, top-up fees, ID cards?I could go on.
When called upon to make a judgement – in the heat of the moment – the Conservatives have consistently made the wrong one – then tried to back-track when they see political advantage.
Poor judgement and opportunism.
You won’t win elections like that because people won’t trust you with Government.

And Labour?
What a squandering of the good will which greeted Tony Blair in 1997!
What an abuse of public trust!
Will voters really forgive being misled on Iraq?
Or the broken promises on tax?
Or top up fees?
Or the instinctive authoritarianism?

And what about the dismal failure to take a lead on Europe?

Which leaves us – the Liberal Democrats.  The Real Alternative.

Throughout the course of this parliament, week on week, issue after issue, we have acted in accordance with our principles.

We argue sincerely for what we believe is in the best interests of our country.

For us politics isn’t about gimmicky pledge cards with vacuous statements.
It’s about real solutions to real problems.
It’s about being straightforward about how you will deliver.
And it’s about being straightforward also about how much it will all cost.

Throughout this parliament, I have insisted that our balance sheet must add up.

And on tax, we seek to be both bold and fair.

Britain is the 4th largest economy in the world.
We have world class businesses and a world class workforce.
So why are 2 million of our pensioners living below the poverty line?
And why are the poorest in our society paying a higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest?

There is another way – that is what being the real alternative is all about.

Being bold doesn’t mean making promises we can’t keep.

Boldness requires us to make the case for taxation.  Why? Because people know you can’t get something for nothing.
And boldness means making the case for tax reform, so that it is fair.

At the last election Labour promised not to put up income tax. What did they do? They raised National Insurance.

The Conservatives are currently suggesting that they can cut income tax, stamp duty, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, council tax, savings tax, small business tax, environmental taxes AND increase public spending all at the same time.
Oh – and cut the national debt while they are at it.
No one really believes them. Candy floss economics.

And even if you do look at the small print of their plans it shows the tax burden will actually rise under the Conservatives – by £24 billion.
So much for straight-talking there.
In contrast, what we propose is credible.

Anyone who earns over £100,000 would pay 50p in the pound on every pound earned above £100,000.
According to government figures, that would raise £5.2 billion a year.
What would we use that sum for?
1. We would abolish top-up and tuition fees
2. We would provide free personal care for the elderly, just as we have delivered in Scotland
3. We would scrap the Council tax and hold down the rate of local taxes.

Now this is targeted taxation for targeted spending commitments.

And for those who predict gloom and doom, the end of civilisation as we know it – remind them, this is still a lower rate of top tax than was the case for the majority of the period that Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister of this country.

And, strange to record, the sun kept rising in the east and setting in the west.

What’s more, this tax change will affect just 1% of the wealthiest income tax payers in the country.
So by definition 99% of people will not be paying more.
But the benefits will be for 100% of people.
Now that is a real alternative.

As for tax reform – a fair tax system is one which is based on the principle of people’s ability to pay.

Council tax is fundamentally unfair.  It bears no relationship to earnings and means that the poorest in our society pay more from their income than do the richest.  That cannot be right.

So we would scrap the Council Tax and replace it with a local income tax.
We would do it through the Inland Revenue which is cheaper to administer.
As confirmed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies last week about half of people would pay less.  A quarter would be unaffected.  And a quarter would pay a bit more.
A typical family would be £450 a year better off.
And over half of all pensioners, would pay no local tax at all.
Now that is the real alternative.

Being in Government is all about priorities.
What you choose to spend tax payer’s money on – and what you choose not too.

Being the real alternative means spending public money differently.

We would raise £5 billion a year by scrapping departments like the DTI and ODPM and transferring key functions elsewhere.
We would scrap the next stage of Eurofighter, the baby bonds and the compulsory Identity Cards scheme.
Now these are tough choices.
But look at what we would deliver with that money

10,000 more police of the streets – cutting crime and the fear of crime.

A Citizen’s Pension for the over 75s – Over £100 a month extra on the basic state pension, millions of pensioners off means testing, and an end to the scandalous discrimination in the pensions system against women.

An end to the hidden NHS waiting lists – quick diagnosis so treatment is not delayed.

Free eye tests and dental checks.

Lower class sizes for our youngest children – because children taught well in their early years have a far better chance of successful and rewarding lives.

Now that is the Real Alternative –
Costed, affordable polices to make Britain better, fairer, safer.
The balance sheet is balanced; the costs add up.
It’s a matter of priority.
And I think it’s a good deal.
And what’s more – I think the people of Britain will think it is a good deal.

All of this will be underpinned by a Green thread running through our manifesto.

The environment is central to our vision.

A Britain in which sustainable living is a reality so that we minimise the impact of the way we live on the world around us.

A Britain that looks beyond the Kyoto treaty to the next stage of the battle to limit climate change; standing up to the conspiracy theorists and those in denial over the threat of global warming.

You know – a month ago I challenged Tony Blair and Michael Howard about just this issue because I think the seriousness of the threat transcends party colours.

I wanted the three parties to come together to agree that the science is real and the threat is real.

To pledge ourselves to pursue new and stronger international goals on climate change.

And to make sure Britain has its own house in order by agreeing a series of long-term baseline targets for our own environment.

Sensible, consensual politics to deal with a long-term threat that faces all of us now, and the generations to come.

But such an initiative simply does not fit in with Tony Blair or Michael Howard’s idea of politics.

So again at this election, the Liberal Democrats will be the Real Alternative on the environment.

So far this campaign has had all the hallmarks of the kind of spin that turns people off.

Take the latest row over cancelled hospital operations.

The slanging match between Labour and the Conservatives – as they both scrabble for headlines – demeans our politics.

What people want are positive solutions to sustain and strengthen our National Health Service.
Right now they deserve better than they are getting.

What they seek is good schools and hospitals – run efficiently.
They want proper public provision for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.
They want straight talk from politicians and fairness.
They don’t want to be patronised with token promises.

And they don’t want politicians always interfering.
People want to get on with their own lives.
They want to take their own decisions in and about their own neighbourhoods and communities.

So this election will be about more than just manifesto promises.

Our party has been the real opposition in this parliament.
If you voted Conservative in 2001, yet opposed the war in Iraq.
If you don’t want compulsory Identity Cards cards.
If you are suffering under the Council Tax.
If you are worried about the environment.
What good did it do you voting Conservative?
Your vote was wasted.

Because today, the Conservatives are out of the race in Scotland and Wales, and most of urban Britain.
While they are fading, we are growing.

The challenge for our party throughout this period, and my aim as your leader, has been to show that the Liberal Democrats are credible; that we are the real alternative.

When people grow tired of the old parties they turn to us to see what we can do.
This is what has been happening in Liverpool and Newcastle – big cities run by the Liberal Democrats.
And Liberal Democrat Ministers in Scotland.

Up and down the country the Liberal Democrats exercise real power and real responsibility.

As we enter this general election people now have a much clearer idea of what we’re about.

They do see in us a real alternative on offer.

And a real alternative that’s on their side.

Where the big issues are concerned.

Axing the council tax.

Abolishing student tuition fees.

Guaranteeing free personal care for the elderly.

Tackling pension unfairness – especially for women.

Pursuing positive engagement in Europe – and the wider world.

With real action to promote the environment.

Two years ago one million people took to the streets of Britain to try to make politicians listen –
They wanted to send a message to Tony Blair – don’t go to war in Iraq.
When I am told that people in Britain don’t care about politics,
I think about the people I marched alongside that day.

People of a different political persuasion from me and people of no political persuasion.

They were fed up with the way the Prime Minister was behaving;
Fed up with the way both the old parties – Labour and the Tories – were standing shoulder to shoulder in defence of George Bush.

What they needed was a real alternative;
A party which was listening to their concerns;
A party which was prepared to stand up and say so;
The party which said no to the Prime Minister.

I am proud that we were the real alternative then.
I am proud that we have continued to stand apart from the other two parties on important issues of principle.
I am proud that when it comes to tackling unfairness in this country,
the Liberal Democrats put that top of the agenda.

We enter this election as a truly independent political party.
We will campaign through this election as an independent political party.
And we will emerge in the next House of Commons as an independent political party.

That way we will do best – by ourselves and by the country.

More votes, more seats – beyond that no glass ceilings to our ambitions.

Now that’s the real alternative in this election.

And it’s called the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Kennedy – 2004 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, on 23 September 2004 to the Liberal Democrat Party Conference.

It’s three party British politics.  That’s been the real lesson of this year.  Take those local elections.  Big Liberal Democrat gains.

Taking on and trouncing Labour in places like Cardiff and Cambridge, Liverpool and Newcastle;

Making big gains from them in Leeds and Manchester as well.

While in most of these places the Conservatives just simply disappeared.

You know it is telling indeed that the voters did not think it worthwhile electing a single Conservative councillor in a place like Oxford.

And if you take Scotland and Wales into account and they’re scarcely a national UK political party any longer.

And Liberal Democrats continued making gains from the Conservatives in places like Portsmouth, St Albans and Watford.

In his first speech as the new Liberal Democrat Leader in Newcastle – after thirty years of one party Labour rule – this is what Peter Arnold had to say: –  “For Newcastle Liberal Democrats, one of the most important success criteria will be the extent to which we are able to give the city back to the people…We will be doing things differently, by making sure the Council is less politically partisan and more inclusive. We will be offering Opposition Groups the opportunity to adopt a more positive role in the council’s affairs.”

Now there’s the difference for you – in a nutshell.

As that onetime Liberal, Winston Churchill, put it: “In victory – magnanimity.”  That’s the breath of fresh air that we bring to British politics – and to local communities with it.  That’s why we’re on the move.  And that’s why we pushed Labour into third place for the first time ever in a national election.  Add to those the European elections results.

We stuck firmly to our reforming pro-European principles.

And the outcome?

Two more Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament.

Fiona Hall in the North East.  And Saj Karim in the North West.  Saj – our first ever elected Liberal Democrat parliamentarian from an ethnic minority community.  And about time too.  But not unique for long.  In Leicester South – just as in Brent East last year – we leapfrogged the Conservatives – we came from third place to take on Labour and win.  Congratulations, Parmjit Gill.  And never forget we came within an ace of doing the same in Birmingham Hodge Hill as well.  Well done, Nicola Davies.  So fantastic results. Each and every one.  And when you leave Bournemouth make sure that your next stop is Hartlepool.

That’s where I’m heading next.

Immediately after this speech.

Lembit Opik is flying me there.

I kid you not.

Greater love hath no man for our party than he is prepared to place his life in Lembit’s safe keeping in the skies above us.

So I expect to see you all there in Hartlepool.

Well, I really do hope to see you all there in Hartlepool!

We are the challengers.

The Conservatives have already conceded they aren’t in the Hartlepool race.

And it’s a simple statement of fact that the Conservatives are now out of the race in most of urban Britain.

And that the only effective challenge to Labour is coming from the Liberal Democrats.

People know we’ve done it before – and we can do it again in Hartlepool.

If we go out there and make our case – make no mistake.

We CAN do it.


I want to talk to you today about the future.

The future of two things.  The future of our party.  And also the future of our country.  We want the two increasingly to go hand in hand.

We know we can make the political weather – tuition fees, the council tax.

And we know we’re capable of much more yet.

But our success also poses certain questions – and rightly so.

Are these people up to it?

Are those Liberal Democrats ready for the task in hand?

Can we be sure we know what they stand for?

Well we stand for three things above all else.

Freedom. Fairness. Trust.   Those are our watchwords.

Those are the core principles against which our policies must be measured.

And they are the principles which match the increasingly liberal instincts of 21st century Britain.  A Britain now of many faiths, many colours, many languages; A variety of family structures; Far greater life expectancy.

And working patterns our grandparents would scarcely recognise. Social mobility and fast communications; High aspirations and far less deference; Openness and tolerance about sexual orientation.  A Britain where the individual counts for so much

But still a Britain where a sense of community matters.

In so many ways that’s a liberal Britain.

It’s our task now to turn these instinctively liberal attitudes into positive votes for the party of British liberal democracy.

And it is also a Britain in which the way we are governed is being transformed.

We have a Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales, both elected by fairer votes – involving proportional representation.

And -on November 4th people in the North East will have a referendum for a regional assembly. We’re out campaigning hard for that – and I’ll be back on that campaign trail again shortly.

Devolution is at its best when it gets things done. And it’s getting things done that show people what we value and what we stand for.

It’s been a big responsibility for us, in Wales, where we helped bring much needed stability to the Assembly at a crucial moment – and better policies as a result.

Reduced class sizes; more environmental initiatives; free school milk;

Free admission to art galleries and museums, recognising that the legacy and the vitality of Celtic culture demands the decision-makers to understand not just the price of things but also the value of things.

As a result – people know more about what we stand for. And they’re voting accordingly.

Impressive gains this year in Cardiff, Bridgend and Swansea – and so many other places across the country.

And in Wales we carry on pushing for an extension to the law making powers of the Assembly – that has to be the next logical and necessary step forward.

And in Scotland where the partnership there has been delivering on many of our top priorities;

Free personal care for the elderly – delivered.

Abolishing tuition fees – delivered.

Fair votes for local government elections – being delivered.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland have set the new agenda for devolution.

A Scottish agenda that deals with long-term challenges – like poor health; the environment; the need to improve education, the foundation for an enterprising country.

New legislation announced by Jim Wallace just this month to provide free eye and dental checks for all.

And a new Environment Bill announced by Ross Finnie so that a green thread runs through the heart of Scottish government, one where every policy will be audited for its environmental impact.

Liberal Democrats getting things done.

And demonstrating how our approach – every time – is rooted in freedom, fairness and trust.

I’ve done a lot of travelling across Britain this year.  And with it a lot of listening.  I listened to the students on campus in Plymouth, worried about their steadily deepening debts and how on earth they would ever escape them.

I listened to the young mother in a Leicester shop, troubled that teachers are not getting the time to teach her children properly.

I listened to the Asian grandmother in Huddersfield, who told me about being genuinely afraid, for the first time in over thirty years in her local community, because of the growth of mindless racism among an unrepresentative few.

And then the high street traders in Birmingham, utterly sick and tired of senseless vandalism against their properties.

And their local customers, equally scared about street violence and the threat of crime as it affects them personally.

The pensioners in Exeter – bitter about their dwindling resources, confused about losing their pension books, unhappy about the level of pensions themselves and angry about seemingly never-ending council tax rises.  And to the doctor in Norwich, expressing his sheer frustration at the remote, command and control from London which characterises so much of this government’s mismanagement of our National Health Service.  And then the school pupils in Cardiff, thinking aloud about pollution and climate change – uncertain about the environment they would inherit.

This is our Britain today; these are typical of people’s concerns.

Well, if you seek to lead, first you must listen.

People have a huge desire to be listened to; for politicians to take the time to understand their problems.

And address those problems with solutions.

It is we Liberal Democrats that are now providing the answers.

For students – when the pupil aspires to become the student, we would encourage and enable them – by stopping tuition fees and axing top-up fees – one of the most socially retrograde acts of this government, when what Britain needs is a university system affordable to all.

For parents – we will equip children for life – because children well cared for and well taught in their early years have a far better chance of success.

So we will reduce class sizes for the youngest children and give teachers time to teach and children time to learn by abolishing unnecessary tests and red tape.

And we would ensure that every child, in every classroom, in every school is taught by a qualified teacher in the relevant subject.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.


For those in fear of racism – first, a real lead from politicians – celebrating the fact that our country is better, it’s richer and more diverse, precisely because it is a multicultural society.  And that we have been prepared to stand out and if necessary alone in having no truck with short-term, knee-jerk responses to complex social issues.  That we won’t pander to the lowest common denominator over asylum and immigration. But we’ll reform the systems – to make them fairer and faster.  And that we respect people’s genuine religious and cultural identities at community level.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.


On Crime – 10,000 more police on the streets and cutting the time spent on paperwork, so they can spend more time tackling drug dealers, muggers and yobs.

Use prison as an opportunity to educate in the basics – numeracy, literacy – so that when they get out people will be far better able to find work and far less likely to reoffend.  And for the victims of crime open up the courts so that they can confront the offenders – and speed up the system of compensation as well.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.


For pensioners – we will continue – to make and win the case for axing the unjust, unfair, increasingly unworkable council tax.  And its replacement by a fair, local income tax – based on people’s ability to pay.

We’ll stop the scandal of elderly people having to pay for their personal care – and probably losing the family home in the process.  We would deliver free long-term care for the elderly.  And all pensioners over 75 – the war generation – should be entitled to a pension which lifts them above mean-testing – £100 extra a month.  No-one should be demeaned in their old age anymore.  And this specific pledge to women, who have long been discriminated against because of the way the pension system works.

For the first time you will be treated equally.

For the first time you will have a pension in your own right.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.


On health – We would put patients first and free doctors and nurses from Whitehall meddling.  Liberal Democrats would hack away the red tape, abolish the absurd targets and free our frustrated doctors and nurses.

Let the local community and the local doctors and local nurses make the decisions. They are far better placed to get them right.   And more emphasis than ever before should be placed on prevention of ill health and promotion of healthy lifestyles.  We truly need a health and not just a sickness service.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.


On the environment – our determination to make the environment count at every level of Government means thinking green in every area.

Yes, it’s big picture stuff – from the food chain to climate change, energy to trade, aviation to sustainable international development.

Britain can’t do this alone.  The Prime Minister is right to use our presidency of the EU and the G8 next year to press for consensus.

But if we can lead by example, if we can achieve our Kyoto targets ahead of time, we can encourage other countries to sign up.

If we can deliver 20% of our electricity needs through renewable energy by 2020, that would be leading by example.

Take air travel – which is fast become the world’s biggest polluter.

We should be shifting taxes on aviation away from the passenger and onto the plane itself which does the polluting.

Now that would be leading by example too, encouraging better fuel efficiency and therefore less pollution.

But quality of life actually begins at home – it’s in your street, around your community.

And our approach to the environment must begin there too.

The green thread that should run through all aspects of government, should run through all aspects of our lives also.

So more park and ride schemes for our towns and cities – cutting pollution in our streets.  More local recycling initiatives – showing how all of us can make that difference within our own homes.

Cutting waste – reusing – improving.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats stand for.  Freedom. Fairness. Trust.  Because that’s what these – and many more – policies are rooted in.  Policies designed to create more freedom.

Based on social fairness.

Not bogus, false choices – designed to distract.

But real, quality local choice – designed to deliver.

And it’s all underpinned by economic fairness as well.

This is crucial to our credibility and critical to our success.

From the outset, I have insisted that we have the most watertight set of tax and expenditure proposals possible.   We want to tax more fairly and spend more wisely.  Isn’t it a disgrace that after 7 years of a supposedly Labour government the poorest 20% contribute more of their income in tax than do the richest 20%?  We don’t want the politics of economic envy. But we do want the politics of social equity.

What does that mean?  It means asking the top 1% of income earners to pay a top marginal rate of tax of 50p for every pound earned above £100,000.

That pays for our immediate commitments to:

* Scrap tuition and top-up fees for students;

* Introduce free personal care for elderly and disabled people;

* And keep down the level of local taxes.  But spending on our priorities does not mean higher taxes across the board.  It means looking hard as well at how much Government spends and getting value for money for taxpayers.

And we’ve already found further large savings – at least £5bn a year – by cutting back on big, centralised government and redirecting money to priority spending:

* Dropping plans for identity cards;

* Scrapping some government departments and relocating others away from high-cost central London;

* Doing less, better and more efficiently – and concentrating more on what really matters.

It is this approach which gives us the credibility to pledge.

* Axing the £1bn Child Trust Fund, the so called baby bonds scheme, and spending the money now when children need it most, not the state stashing it away until 2022;

* 10,000 more police on the streets – cutting crime and the fear of crime;

* Making sure that by 2011 Britain finally fulfils its UN obligations by boosting the overseas aid budget to 0.7% of GNP;

* £25 more on pensions every week for those aged 75 and over with a million pensioners taken off means testing.

The figures add up; the balance sheet is balanced.

Freedom. Fairness. Trust.  It is trust that has to underpin everything else.  And it’s winning public trust that is going to be the biggest challenge of all.  Over the course of this parliament one issue more than any other has helped define just what the Liberal Democrats stand for in the minds of millions of our fellow citizens.  You know what I’m talking about.  And the people know exactly what we’ve been talking about.  From the outset we have provided rational, principled and consistent opposition to the war in Iraq.

We’ve done it without exaggeration. We’ve done it without name-calling. We’ve done it – quite simply – because we believed it was the right thing to do.

Now I believe the vast majority of people have made their minds up – one way or the other.

Donald Rumsfeld promised shock and awe.

What we got was shock and then steadily increasing horror.

The Prime Minister promised action on the Middle East Road Map.

What we got was little progress and more violence.

There’s a sullen, and increasingly angry mood on the issue. And understandably so.

Not least when Kofi Annan declares the war illegal.

When the Iraq Survey Group is expected to conclude that the WMD were not there.

When the Foreign Office warned of the likely disastrous consequences.

And when it appears the Government told the Bush administration, a full year before the war started, that it would not budge in its support for their policy of regime change – and yet the Prime Minister told our Parliament and our people that it was all about weapons of mass destruction.

There is a fundamental question that the Prime Minister has consistently failed to answer.

I asked him this in the House of Commons in the run up to war, and again as recently as the 20th of July this year during the debate on the Butler Report.

“Did he advise President Bush privately – long before the United Nations route was formally abandoned – that if the President decided to prosecute an invasion of Iraq, the British would be in active military support, come what may?

“If he did advise the President to that effect, when did such an exchange take place?”

When Parliament next convenes, the Prime Minister must take the first opportunity to come to the Despatch Box and make a full statement.

It’s time we got an answer.

And if the Prime Minister still refuses, the people can make a judgement.

There is the ultimate verdict of the general election itself.  Lord Hutton did not provide the answer.  Nor did Lord Butler.  The decision to decline to participate in Lord Butler’s enquiry was a tough one at the time.

But it was the correct decision as events have proved.  And at the end of the day that is what trust in political leadership has to be all about.  What trust today in what our leaders told us at the time about Iraq?  And what kind of corrosive effect does that have on politics generally?  Yet the tragic experience of Iraq should have the opposite effect.  And I believe it can.  It should galvanise people to participate, to make their views known through the ballot box.  It should strengthen all of our resolves to rededicate ourselves to the rebuilding of effective international institutions, to the repairing of shattered alliances among long-standing friends.

But within our own country – one lesson must be learned.  This country is still crying out for an effective political system that responds to them and listens to the people.  More openness. More accountability. Politicians taking responsibility for their decisions.

Never again must this country be led into war on the basis of questionable intelligence.  Never again must this country be sold an incomplete and false prospectus as a basis for unilateral military action without the sanction of the United Nations.  Never again must Britain find itself on such a basis so distanced from principal partners within Europe.

Never again should our troops find themselves without proper and adequate equipment in a war zone.  Never again should such supreme Prime Ministerial power be allowed to progress without sufficient checks and balances.  And without the proper operation of collective Cabinet government itself.

And never again should a so-called “official opposition” be entitled to that name when it so pathetically fails to fulfil its most basic parliamentary function and duty – the provision of constructive and effective questioning of the executive of the day.

Never again.

But we should not just look back in anger.

There is every sign that we need to look forward with increasing anxiety.

And that is why the Prime Minister should also take that opportunity to give a cast iron guarantee that the United Kingdom will not support unilateral military action against Iran.

You know some commentators will tell you that our recent victories are just the fall out from Iraq.

That the Lib Dems are just the protest vote.

Well, let’s face it. There has been a lot for people to protest about.

But we are being seen more and more as a party which does win elections, which does exercise responsible representation, which has become increasingly comfortable with the duties and the disciplines of power.

Some also say that you can’t go chasing left-wing voters and right-wing voters at one and the same time – while remaining consistent and true to your principles.

It is a deeply flawed analysis – based on a fundamental misreading of today’s Britain.

Why? Because for the vast majority of people who live their lives in an increasingly inter-dependent world, facing increasingly complex issues, for them the old-fashioned nostrums of right and left no longer apply.

They’re looking for solution-based politics. Politics which address their everyday needs.

There is a shift in the way people view politics, one that transcends any single issue.

Iraq has been part of this, but by no means is it the whole story.

I come across it, day in and day out.

People see that the Labour and Conservative agendas are converging.

Where as ours is about having the freedom to make the most of our lives.

It’s about what is fair – taxation based on ability to pay and delivery for all not the few.

And that you have to be able to trust your political leaders and your political parties to deliver.

There’s a deep-rooted sense in our country that somehow all is not quite right.

That somehow all is not as we’re being told it is.

An underlying sense of doubt.

Made worse by the fact that people just don’t trust this Government.

This Government flags up the big, long-term difficult issues – pension provision, funding local services, global warming – but then puts off serious discussion and decisions until safely beyond another general election.

But people don’t identify with the Conservatives – because that party just doesn’t connect with them.

They hark back to a Britain that is no more.

They’re out of touch with the Britain of today.

No wonder they fall back on hard-core instincts – and increasingly belongs to all our yesterdays.

In huge swathes of the country it’s the Conservatives who are now firmly established – as the third party.

In so much of the country a vote for the Conservatives is now a wasted vote.

The third party – on their third leader in as many years – and a third leader who’s just had his third reshuffle in less than a year.

Well, they say variety is the spice of life. For the Conservatives it looks to me much more like the kiss of death.

They belong to the past. We’re working for the future.

We are moving from a party of protest to a party of power.

3 party politics is here – and here to stay.

You know, at times this past year I’ve felt rather nostalgic.  21 years as a Member of Parliament.  You learn quite a lot after more than two decades doing any job. Direct personal experience does teach along the way.

That’s why, whenever I’m asked to speculate – an occupational hazard – I always suggest to people not to waste time on the crystal ball, but instead learn from the history book.

It’s really quite simple.

For the country to believe in a political party – first that party has to believe in itself.

We’re at our best, we perform best, we persuade best – when we spend our time talking positively about what it is that we have to offer.

And we’re far more likely to achieve that from a position of principled party independence – not one distracted by noises off.  So when people ask me “Where does your party stand?” my starting point is not the crystal ball.  Instead, it’s crystal clear.  No nods, no winks, no deals, no stitch ups.

If, on polling day at next general election, more people vote Liberal Democrat – then the next day and in the next parliament what you will get are more Liberal Democrats working for more liberal democracy.

Not something else.

But working all out for better public policies from Parliament.

Prepared to work with others on issues of principle – like Europe.

But not prepared to surrender our essential political independence along the way.

That’s our Liberal Democrat pledge to the people.

So there is a fundamental choice before us all at the next General Election.  The British people have probably not more than 225 days left to choose between two essentially conservative parties – and the real alternative which is the Liberal Democrats.

225 days.

Then a stark choice. A serious choice.  And we, increasingly, are the winning choice.  Because all that we say and all that we do is based on those fundamentals.  Freedom. Fairness. Trust.

That’s us.

That’s what we want from our politics.

That’s what we stand for.

That’s what we want our country to stand for.

At home – and abroad.

That’s Liberal Democracy.

Charles Kennedy – 2005 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, to the 2005 Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool on 22nd September 2005.



Rival camps,


Leadership speculation.

How I wish I could be a fly on the wall here at the Tory party conference in two weeks time.

Some things just don’t change do they.

The Conservatives are having yet another leadership election.

Their fourth in seven years.

I can see their conference slogan already.

“We’re not sure what we’re thinking”.

Meanwhile, back in Labourland, the jockeying goes on as ever between the Blairites and the Brownites.

Tony Blair – desperate to protect his legacy.

Gordon Brown – desperate to end it.

The Prime Minister was delighted he had a hand in bringing the Olympics to London.

It’s said on hearing the news he punched the air.

He’s getting more like John Prescott everyday.

But at least he’s not yet claimed credit for the Ashes.

Even he has learned the lesson that you can’t win with a team of eleven spinners!

Now, at the general election it was crucially important to see our liberal tradition again confirmed as the growing force in politics.

Our championing of the individual and the community over the vested interests of the state.

Our defence of human rights and fundamental civil liberties.

Our innate sense of fairness.

Our commitment to social justice.

Our environmentalism.

It is my determination that we, as a party, continue to make that fundamental restatement of liberal values in the politics of our country.


It’s remarkable the pace of events since that General Election.

Some events of the most immediate and terrible seriousness – like the awful consequences of the hurricane in the United States.

The continuing nightmare in Iraq.

And of course, terrorism – here at home.

Above all, the London bombings in July have made it critical for those liberal values to be re-asserted.

The terrorist seeks to smash the most fundamental liberty of all – the right to lead our everyday lives on the basic assumption of safety.

There can be no compromise with such a mentality.

It is the Government’s fundamental duty to ensure the security of every individual citizen.

And the responsibility of politicians is to frame laws which give effect to that principle.

But the response must always be proportionate to the threat.

That has always been our party’s approach.

It long predates those appalling attacks in London in July.

The Government’s reaction to those tube bombings has been mixed – but so typical.

At first it was measured.

Then it was muddled.

Spin and counterspin.

When what we really needed was leadership and clarity.

This is no time for a turf war between No. 10 and the Home Office.

And it is no time either for the Prime Minister to play politics with the leaders of the opposition.

I believe when the country feels threatened it is important that we are seen to be working together to find an appropriate structure for dealing with terrorists in our midst.

But I won’t play a walk-on part.

This process can’t be all show and no substance.

We now have the details of what the Government is proposing.

And I want to make it clear.

We shall not accept what is on offer.

There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge.

That’s a prison sentence by any other name.

This party will oppose any blanket extension of custody powers.

This proposal undermines our most basic rights and eats into our most cherished freedoms.

If we undermine the foundations of our legal system then we let the terrorists win.

There is always a temptation for governments.

See a problem and announce a quick fix.

Labour’s gut reaction is to chase a headline.

Where as I said earlier, leadership has to be about judgement.

New law must be law which works – not a raft of unnecessary measures which simply sound tough.

That is why we will oppose the unworkable offence of ‘glorifying terrorism’.

It is a badly drafted proposal that frankly won’t stand up in court.

The Government says ‘but we all know what we are talking about’.

What complacency.

That is no way to make laws.

You can’t be vague when framing legislation.

In fact the bill already contains a better solution that will serve the same purpose – that of the incitement to commit terrorist acts.

It is my belief that how this administration deals with the ongoing threat of terrorism will be one of the defining aspects of this parliament.

Ours will be a distinct voice in this debate.

And just as we Liberal Democrats opposed the flawed logic of that war in Iraq – we will oppose the flawed Government claim that we have to surrender our fundamental rights in order to improve our security.

And I will take no lessons from the Conservatives on these matters.

They have only been consistent in their inconsistencies.

There is just one party which has been tested again and again and stuck firmly to its principles on these touchstone issues.

It’s our party, the Liberal Democrats.

That is not to say we will oppose for opposition’s sake.

Some aspects of the Government’s proposals are good.

We agree it should be an offence to plan terrorist acts.

We agree it should be an offence to provide training to terrorists.

We agree it should be an offence to incite terrorism.

But even if we can get our domestic response to terrorism right, we will not succeed unless, and until, we get our foreign policy right.

Along with President Bush, Tony Blair’s so-called ‘war on terror’ has been so badly implemented that it has actually boosted the terror threat not diminished it.

When they should have been concentrating on bringing a proper peace to Afghanistan – Bush and Blair waged war in Iraq.

It is our stance on the war in Iraq which has defined the Liberal Democrats for so many people.

And however hard this Government tries – it cannot ‘ move on’.

It cannot move on, when the Prime Minister remains in denial.

It can’t move on when people are dying every day.

And it cannot move on when our British troops are still there in the firing line.

It is absurd for this Government to pretend that what has happened in Iraq has no impact beyond its borders.

The reality is that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake.

And given all the warnings that I – and this party – made at the time – the failure to plan properly for the aftermath is unforgivable.

The invasion of Iraq has created a volatile, fragmented country now facing the threat of civil war.

The terrorists have been given a new lease of life.

Thousands have been killed in Iraq since the elections there.

The UN mandate is running out.

So hard choices must now be made.

Parliament must play a central part in those choices.

The Government must confront the fact that the presence of British and American forces in Iraq is a part of the problem.

After this week’s events in Basra we cannot sustain the myth that Iraqis see coalition troops as liberators.

What they see is an occupation.

The Government must wake up and admit its responsibility.

The Prime Minster’s pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq.

His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives –

Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers.

It’s time he laid before parliament a proper, structured exit strategy for the phased withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

They have served there with distinction, courage and skill.

But Prime Minister, what people are asking now is “when can our troops come home?”


Just as we showed over Iraq, we have achieved the most when we have stuck to our liberal values.

Now, more than ever, we must avoid getting distracted by noises off about whether we are left or right.

Viewing British politics through the prism of left vs. right is completely the wrong vantage point and it leads to quite a misleading view.


Because all experience shows that the vast majority of people no longer see their choices in old-fashioned left-right terms.

It is no longer possible to categorise most issues like that.

Just look at the things we have been discussing at conference this very week.

Meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals and controlling the flow of small arms to regions of conflict.

Maintaining both our security and our civil liberties.

Getting rid of the obsession with central control and target setting.

Race relations.

School discipline.

These don’t fall neatly into the old left/right axis.

Our solutions are liberal solutions based on our liberal principles.

Proposals to make the Post Office network viable and give Royal Mail the commercial freedom to compete.

Not left – not right – but liberal.

Proposals to reform the European Union budget.

Not left – not right – but liberal.

Proposals on tackling anti-social behaviour – solutions that Liberal Democrats in power up and down the country are already implementing.

Not left – not right – but liberal solutions that actually work.

Colleagues, we must not allow ourselves to be led by the media and define our debate in their terms.

This left/right, either/or mindset is out of date and out of time.

It is Liberal Democrat solutions that this country needs.

Our take on things.

Not the false interpretation of others, many of whom don’t wish us to succeed.

And let me say this clearly and firmly.

There is absolutely no contradiction between economic liberalism and financial discipline on the one hand, and fairness and social justice on the other.

I find it deeply ironic that as we approach the centenary of the greatest reforming Liberal Government ever that some people still believe you cannot reconcile the two.

Those who argue that somehow this party must choose one or the other would have received short shrift from Asquith and Lloyd George.

They would have found that argument utterly ludicrous.

We must display the liberal values that lie behind a particular stance on an issue, or a particular approach to a policy area.

In doing so we achieve lasting political credibility.

And it’s bringing results.

We run cities – Liverpool, Newcastle, Durham, Cambridge, York.

We run County Councils like Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

London boroughs like Islington and Southwark.

Today we have MPs in almost every major city – Manchester, Leeds, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh.

At the election we doubled our representation in Wales.

And in Scotland the result gave us more seats and more votes than any party except Labour.

The SNP down to third and the Tories a poor fourth.

When you look at our record in Government in Scotland it demonstrates how successful we are at implementing our policies that spring from those liberal values.

In Jenny Willott, Julia Goldsworthy and Jo Swinson we have the youngest MPs in Wales, England and Scotland – all women elected to parliament as Liberal Democrats.


So the political framework in Britain is changing.

And we are an integral part of that process.

But I believe the changes go deeper than that.

A debate has now been joined about Britishness, about our sense of national identity.

And what’s so telling are the morose tones of so many when they address the issue.

They talk of a disconnected country; a society ill at ease with itself; a crisis in our national identity.

Profound questions are being raised over race and faith as well; concerns which go to the heart of our multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural society.

Concerns which cannot adequately be addressed if politicians merely fall back on simplistic responses to complex questions, or speak in emotive or pejorative terms about what it should mean to be British today.

I am far more an optimist.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been born, educated and brought up, and always considered home to be the Highlands.

I think of myself as a highlander first.

But with it a Scot – and with that I’m British.

And through that a citizen of Europe.

When England play Scotland at rugby, or much more rarely now, in football – I have not doubt who I want to win.

But I cheered England through the Ashes.

I got caught up in the national mood.

I’m clear about my identity.

And in that, I am no different to tens of millions of British citizens.

We have recognise the complexity of our country – from city to city, community to community.

We have to recognise that the best way to tackle the tensions in our society is community by community.

We need stronger local politics.

And that requires a changed mindset among politicians and civil servants alike.

The truth is the gentleman in Whitehall does not know best.

If he had then many of the present difficulties might have been addressed more successfully and much sooner.

The same is true for our public services.

Labour’s obsession with authoritarian central control – with this culture of target setting and micromanaging – distorts community priorities.

It means that local people are making do with inadequate and badly structured services.

Yet they feel they don’t have the power to make real change in their communities.

That is why I am determined that in our policy review we will look at new and innovative ways of devolving power – of raising more money locally – to be spent locally – on what local people really want.

Ours is the liberal conscience and the liberal voice.

It’s vital and authentic.

Because to a far greater extent than any of the others we are a political party that is instinctively decentralist.

Community solutions are the first and best approach.

And why?

Because we trust people.


But what trust can people have in our electoral system in return.

Let’s be clear about one unarguable conclusion of this year’s general election.

Ask yourself – how many votes did it take to elect a Liberal Democrat MP?

Well it was 96,000.

And to elect a Labour MP? The equivalent figure? Just 26,000.

People have every right to feel cheated by a system in which 4 out of 5 eligible voters did not vote Labour, yet people woke up the next morning to find a majority Labour government.

After all the other arguments collapsed over Iraq, Tony Blair fell back into saying that it was essential to help establish democracy.

He might have had a bit more credibility if he set an example here at home.

Because what kind of democracy was it that delivered back in May?

A democracy which returns an outright majority on little more than a third of the popular vote.

How can we any longer call something like that “the popular vote”?

How “popular” was the Government – even among those who did vote Labour?

That’s Blairite democracy for you.

This Prime Minister has got to realise – he may have a working majority, but he cannot claim any moral mandate.

This argument – about Westminster voting reform – just won’t go away.

And we’re not going to let it go away.

Even with the odds stacked against us, the truth is, at this election, Labour became just as worried about the Liberal Democrats as they ever were about the Tories.

And in that they were undoubtedly correct.

We represent a change to the status quo.

An end to their comfortable two party system.

We threaten directly their arrogance in power.

And I say to all those who held their nose last May and voted Labour without conviction – don’t get fooled again.

But you know what I reject most of all is the idea of British politics being a desultory contest between two essentially conservative parties.

One calls itself Conservative.

The other conducts itself as conservative.

I don’t care if one is led by a Davis or a Clarke.

I don’t care if the other is led by a Blair or a Brown.

What people don’t want, don’t deserve and don’t demand is yet another conservative party in British politics.

Small c or capital c.

That part of the pitch is already overcrowded.

And I can assure all of you – I did not enter public life with the ambition of leading yet another conservative party in British politics.

I’m happy to leave it to others to compete over a law of diminishing returns.

One where the level of Labour support is on the slide.

And the Conservatives cannot break through a losing glass ceiling.

At the next general election you could well be looking at a situation where it is understood that the Conservatives cannot win –

But that Labour can certainly lose.

That’s our opportunity.

That’s our challenge.


When this Labour Government falls – which one day it surely will – the party that is ready for the challenge of government will be ours.

I will lead this party into the next election as the clear alternative to a discredited Labour Government.

It’s my ambition to lead the first government in the liberal tradition in the 21st Century.

Because, it is my ambition to restore to government in Britain the fairness, the decency and the tolerance that should be the hallmarks of our democracy and our society.

I want a Britain that tackles poverty – and with it the poverty of ambition.

I want a Britain in which every one of our children has the opportunities I had growing up – and more besides!

A Britain in which ambition and opportunity is not diminished by the circumstances of birth.

I want a Britain which pays its debt to our older generation.

Which looks after them when they are ill and in need.

Which provides our pensioners with dignity, security and peace of mind.

I want a society that tackles crime – but really does tackle the causes of crime.

I want a Britain where older people again feel safe to answer their doors.

Where parents can let their children walk to school – or play in the park – without the incessant worry.

Where our streets and town centres are free from fear at night.

And I want a system of prison, punishment and rehabilitation that produces people fit for work not just fit for re-offending.

I want a Britain with first class public services, so that people can be treated well in a local hospital, and they don’t have to shop around for a decent school – they are there on the doorstep.

I want a Britain that has a vibrant growing economy – that rewards success, not penalises it.

That encourages innovation and entrepreneurs, setting them free from over-regulation and the dead hand of government.

Only in that way can we hope to generate the revenue to afford the world-class services we need as a country.

I want my child to grow up in a Britain in which the environment is protected.

I want him to enjoy our natural landscape every bit as much as I do.

To breathe clean air.

It will be our children and their children who will feel the full consequences of climate change.

We have got to get serious about this.

I’m sick and tired of hearing Tony Blair make excuse after excuse for George Bush.

We need action and we need it now.

I want a Britain that is pro-European and proud of it.

That lives up to its responsibilities on the international stage – that values international law – that is genuinely outward looking and emphatically internationalist.

Because, I want a Britain that is respected around the world.

These are the ambitions that brought me into politics in the first place 25 years ago.

These are the things that have driven me over those years – and still drive me.

They are what I want the Liberal Democrats to achieve.

Not for me, not for us, but for Britain.

A Liberal Democrat Britain.

Charles Kennedy – 2002 Speech to the TUC


Below is the text of a speech made by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, to the 2002 TUC annual conference.

It gives me great pleasure to be the first leader of the Liberal Democrats to be invited to address Congress, although it’s by no means the first time that I’ve been in attendance.

This is, of course, a day of commemoration. I have my own indelible memory of visiting Ground Zero not long after September 11th. I had the privilege of meeting the members of the emergency services who had been there that day, risked their lives and seen so many of their colleagues and others forfeit theirs. It was a day which saw unimaginable horror but also unimaginable courage which will never be forgotten.

Two years ago, John Monks became the first TUC General Secretary to address a Liberal Democrat annual conference. So this speech, if you like, is a return match. A significant proportion of trades union members now regularly vote Liberal Democrat. So good, constructive dialogue is important and I’m grateful to the TUC for keeping us well briefed on issues of mutual concern.

The fruits of our cooperation have been seen at Westminster. We’ve continued our long campaign alongside the nurses’ unions against the disgracefully low pay which has led so many people to leave that vital profession.

We’ve supported the teachers in their attempts to reduce the bureaucracy which has demoralized their profession so much.

In industry, we backed the demands which were successfully made by a number of unions for more flexible working. That’s especially important to women.

And we’ve also campaigned alongside you for Britain to adopt the European directive on Information and Consultation. Personally I thought it was a scandal that, when Vauxhall decided to shut a plant down, the first the workforce heard about it was on the radio.

We’re strongly in favour too of tougher action on health and safety.

And we share your anxieties about company pensions. Some employers have arbitrarily curtailed pension entitlements in an outrageous way. Liberal Democrats believe that members of pension schemes should have much clearer rights and much better legal protection.

Such attention to detail is extremely important. But so is the big picture. There’s an emerging consensus between us – from Europe to environmental responsibility, from employee rights to worker participation, from public services to the welfare state.

I’m a lifelong believer in trade unionism. When I was given a job as a shelf-stacker as a teenager, I immediately joined the shop-workers union USDAW. And from my first days as an MP – facing the onslaught of Thatcherism – I was convinced that strong trades unions were healthy for society.

And that strength derived from being accountable to and representative of their individual members. And such strength gave greater legitimacy to the vital role of modern, progressive trades unionism in the national agenda of democratic governance .

In those days we were way behind too much of continental Europe in this respect.

So I was delighted when Jacques Delors as Commission President addressed this Congress. That was a real turning-point. Remember how infuriated Mrs. Thatcher was? Satisfaction enough in itself for many of us.

But there was also great long-term benefit to all the progressive forces across the British body politic. It began to help shift the rhetoric – and the real agenda followed on.

There’s a pleasing sense of historical continuity here. The earliest trades union members were Liberals; Liberals in government pioneered the state pension; it was a Liberal, Beveridge, drawing on the work of the trade unions, who went on to lay down the intellectual foundations of the welfare state, enacted by the Attlee government.

Our party is strongly attached to the ideal of freedom. But that doesn’t mean simply leaving everything to the market.

As Beveridge said himself: ‘Liberty means more than freedom from the arbitrary power of Governments. It means freedom from economic servitude to Want and Squalor and other social evils.’

We Liberal Democrats believe in dialogue. We believe in cooperation with both sides of industry and between both sides of industry. And we believe in the language of cooperation. We reject the language of confrontation.

Of course we’re not going to agree automatically with everything you say.

But we’ll listen. You won’t catch Liberal Democrats describing trade unionists as wreckers.

And I believe that the momentum of public opinion is swinging towards both of us –

Liberal Democrats and trade unionists alike.

When John addressed our conference two years ago he spoke tellingly about different approaches to capitalism. He rejected – and we do too – what he called ‘the deregulated wild-west devil take the hindmost style of the US.’

Two years on and the American model is looking distinctly shop-soiled and tarnished.

Slowly, but surely, the more socially-orientated European approach is coming to be appreciated. Not least when it involves a degree of social and environmental responsibility.

Consider these words:-

‘In business, the warts on the face of capitalism – every Enron story, every bit of creative accounting, every shoddy or overpriced product, every little exploitation of an employee or a supplier, every unjustified increase in executive remuneration, every bit of damage to the environment – each one of these has a cumulative, corrosive effect.

‘A company that simply dances to the fickle tunes of the financial markets does itself no good – nor the wider interests of business, nor the cause of capitalism.’

Karl Marx? Arthur Scargill? Tony Benn?

No, in fact I’m quoting from this year’s personal valedictory address by the retiring President of the CBI, Sir Iain Vallance. Incidentally, Sir Iain has subsequently

joined the Liberal Democrats.

It seems that Sir Edward Heath’s ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ is still with us.

But it’s not mission impossible to transform its appearance.

Of course we believe in markets. Nobody’s talking about a return to old fashioned state run bureaucracies. But the European approach to markets is preferable to the American model in almost every way. It treats workers decently. It protects their rights. It delivers quality public services. It’s better at long-term planning. And it makes for a stronger and more stable economy.

It would be better still for Britain to join the euro – at the right exchange rate. We look to the Government to give a lead.

But I’m not convinced that Ministers sufficiently grasp the broader merits of Europe.

Take the public services. Britain has fallen woefully behind our European partners when it comes to the standard of our hospitals, schools and transport system.

We Liberal Democrats – like you in the TUC – called for the Government to put in the investment needed much earlier and faster than they have.

But now at last they’ve done what we asked them to do. So it’s become a question of how the money’s best spent.

I don’t say that everything should be done through the public sector. I have no ideological hang-ups between public and private. What I do say is that there shouldn’t be an automatic American-style assumption that the private sector is always better.

So let’s retain all our collective, critical faculties over the next few years over the funding and the delivery of the public services.

I welcome the extra investment the Government has belatedly promised for public services.

But I am concerned about the fairness and transparency by which the sums involved are being raised. I fear that Gordon Brown’s extra billions for the NHS will be squandered unless we reform the tax system to make sure the taxpayer gets value for money. That’s why I shall strongly support a proposal to be put to our party conference later this month to take health funding out of general taxation.

Our proposal is to turn National Insurance into National Health Insurance. That would give people a cast-iron guarantee that the money raised for health is actually spent on the NHS – not sucked into the Treasury.

Earmarking National Insurance – perhaps to be renamed the NHS Contribution – can easily be achieved because it raises almost exactly the amount of money that needs to be spent on the NHS. What’s more, it’s set to rise above inflation in years to come. This way, we’ll guarantee extra funding for health in the long-term, regardless of the Chancellor’s short-term calculations at budget time.

Far too many decisions over public services are taken behind closed doors by the man – and, all too often, it still remains the man – in Whitehall. So the second part of our reform plan for health – and indeed for education too – is for a major shift in power away from Whitehall to each locality in Britain.

I want to see far more decisions taken far closer to the patients, the passengers and the pupils. Far more power for locally and regionally elected politicians who understand best the needs of their areas. And far more say too for the dedicated staff at all levels in health and education.

That way the extra resources stand a far better chance of getting through to the front line rather than being swallowed-up by bureaucrats in quango-land. The Liberal Democrats and the TUC are never going to be in each other’s pockets. From our financial point of view, chance would be a fine thing!

But just as we have to build a party that’s in no-one else’s pocket, largely by digging into our own, so the progressive forces in our society can only stand to mutual benefit by a principled process of cooperation.

Thank you for your invitation today. I hope that this contribution assists towards that highly desirable social and political aspiration.