Paddy Ashdown – 1985 Speech on Westland

Below is the text of the speech made by Paddy Ashdown, the then Liberal MP for Yeovil, in the House of Commons on 8 July 1985.

The subject of this Adjournment debate is the future of Westland, but first the House may want to know of another future, which was established not many hours ago. I am told that at 10.20 this evening the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) gave birth to a daughter, Helen Grace. I am sure that the House will wish to assure the hon. Member, his wife and Helen Grace of its best wishes.

I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate. I am also grateful to the Minister for Information Technology for his attendance, particularly in view of his past contact with Westland as Minister for Defence Procurement, and to other hon. Members who have agreed to take part in the debate and join me in supporting Westland. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) may seek to catch your eye later on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the Government Benches, as may the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) from the Labour Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross).

It must be very nearly unprecedented to have so many hon. Members take part in an Adjournment debate. I hope that the Minister will recognise the cross-party support for Westland that this indicates. What is also, I suspect, practically unprecedented is to have such a degree of outside interest taken in such a debate at such a late hour. Nearly 40 of the Westland work force travelled up especially from Yeovil and elsewhere after work today to attend this half hour debate and to show their support for their company and their belief and pride in the work that they do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not refer to strangers in the Gallery.

Mr. Ashdown

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for referring to anybody who may or may not be in the Strangers Gallery. I merely wanted to show that there is support for Westland outside the House. I am sure the Minister recognises that their effort demonstrates the kind of commitment that is one of the greatest strengths of Westland.

This is at once the most difficult speech that I have made in the House and perhaps the most important. Westland is not only the pride of my community, and of others in the west of England; it is also the source of much of our prosperity. But more than that, Westland has served Her Majesty’s forces as one of the nation’s principal defence industries, with exceptional distinction, most recently in the Falklands, where our helicopters were recognised by all, from the Secretary of State for Defence to the ordinary Royal Marine in the field, to have been one of the principal causes of our victory.

Westland is our only national helicopter manufacturer and our only hope for major participation in the European collaborative helicopter projects of the 1990s. Westland is one of the key components of Britain’s aerospace industry. It is one of our nation’s first centres of the new technology. Its work force, from specialised design teams to those ​ using the newest technologies on the production line, is loyal, skilled, committed, proud of its work and confident that, as a team, it can keep Britain at the forward edge of world skills in the future.

In short, Westland is not just vital to Yeovil. It is vital to Britain. The first thing, the chief thing, that I want the Minister to do tonight is to say just that: to say to those listening outside that the Government believe that Westland is an important national asset and that they are committed to playing their role in maintaining the overall integrity of the company.

I know, as the Minister knows, that the Government have a confidential report confirming the importance of Westland. I know also that the Minister’s Department has shown its confidence in the company by investing in the development of the W30. I know that, whatever the Ministry of Defence does, his Department will want to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that that investment is not lost.

Why is it, then, that throughout the recent crisis we heard not one word from the Government to strengthen the company’s position? Why is it that the Government stayed silent and allowed those in City boardrooms a free hand to play fast and loose with a great company’s reputation and the livelihood of thousands of workers? Let the Minister tonight make good that deficiency. He knows the company’s underlying strength. He knows that its long-term prospects are excellent. He knows that we have a new chairman in Sir John Cuckney. He knows that there is now, throughout Westland, a grim determination to do all that is necessary to ensure the company’s future. Let the Government make their contribution tonight by committing themselves, in terms that cannot be misunderstood, to playing their part with the work force and the management to ensure that future.

Let the Minister recognise that one of the chief ways in which the Government can show that commitment is to make a decision soon about the AST404. Is it not the case that Westland has put in the most effective bid for this order? Did not its submission for an uprated W30 meet that specification in detail and in full? Is it not the case that Westland was the only British participant in the competition, and that in purchase price and running costs it was cheaper than the others by up to 30 per cent.? Is not the W30 300 series the best aircraft of its sort in the world, with considerable foreign sales potential? Is it not the case, for example, that Spain, Scandinavia and Australia are almost certainly ready to buy the Westland aircraft as soon as the British Government make up their mind?

The Minister knows that these facts are true. Why, then, just at the moment when Westland was about to put the ball in the net, have the Government allowed the Army and the Ministry of Defence to move the goal posts? Is that an appropriate way to treat a great company which has served Britain so well? I ask the Minister to give us an assurance that he will use his best endeavours to ensure that the AST404 decision is taken soon and in favour of Westland.

He should realise that his answer can make a great contribution to a great company, can help sustain prosperity and jobs in the west of England, can support one of our nation’s key sectors and can strengthen Britain’s defence.
Westland is not seeking charity, nor special treatment — it needs neither. We are asking for a fair chance to ​ do what we do best—make the best helicopters in the world for Britain’s defence. All the ingredients are there to ensure the company’s future: the product is excellent; the work force is dedicated; the management has a new look; and the determination is evident. All that is missing is a clear commitment from the Government to join us to secure that future. I ask the Minister to provide that tonight.

Paddy Ashdown – 1999 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, at the 1999 Liberal Democrat Conference.


The easy thing for me to do today would be to give you one of those sort of end of jumble sale speeches, where you say thank you to everyone, and say what a success it all was.

Well, there are a great many people who deserve to be thanked.

But I have always tried to avoid making comfortable speeches to you. And I see no reason to make this an exception.

My first ever speech to you – 11 years and 22 conference speeches ago – was about signposts for the way ahead.

I’d like you to treat this one, not as a signpost, but as a message left behind for you to consider as you plan the future under our new leader, Charles Kennedy.

And incidentally, a word about Charles.

In choosing him you have, I believe, chosen a leader of exceptional ability, who will, I have absolute confidence, lead us to greater and greater success in the future.

I look forward to being able to support him in that task. And I know that you will give him and the Party the same unfailing commitment which has made our successes possible over the last eleven years.

And now, a brief look back before looking forward.

Eleven years ago, the first thing we did in the Liberal Democrats was take our liberal agenda and update it.

That new thinking gave us the distinctive messages, which won us the votes, that made us strong, that gave us a role to play on the field of politics as we do today.

That’s the order. First the ideas; then the votes; then the influence; and then the power.

Recently, we have talked a lot about strategy. And rightly so.

But no strategy will work, unless we have something fresh to say and offer something distinctive to vote for.

As a Party, we now have some of the most long-established policies in British politics.

And that can be good.

We have been a party ahead of our time.

Many of our most long-standing policies are actually being implemented. Many more have stood the test of time.

But in some areas we are, I fear, running the risk of becoming rather lazy and complacent in our thinking.

If we Liberal Democrats will not think afresh, then we risk falling into the easy trap of leftist, oppositional politics. And that would mean making ourselves irrelevant again for a generation.

Political parties are always prone to bouts of introspection. We love discussing ourselves with ourselves. We too often believe that all the important questions are internal ones.

They are not.

We live at a time when the questions before us are, quite literally, of global proportions.

Before I say my goodbyes, I want to talk to you about two of these.

I make no apologies that I have spoken to you of them before. Because I believe they are at the centre of the new politics, which we should be at the centre of.

The first is the globalisation of power.

And the second our growing interdependence on each other.

They are the two big facts of our times.

You know, whenever, in history, power breaks free from the structures created to control it, change becomes inevitable – often violent change.

So it was with the barons and Magna Carta. So with Cromwell’s Parliament and the King. So with the growth of industrial power and the Great Reform Act.

And so it is today.

Power is accumulating, often with frightening speed, in the hands of the global players – the commodity brokers, the internet operators, the satellite broadcasters, the multinational traders. All operating unfettered and unlimited by the structures of any government or the constraints of any ideology, or the limits of any creed or culture.

We have begun to talk about this at this Conference.

But do we yet realise the scale of what is involved ?

Here is a thought for you.

A nations currency, perhaps more than anything else today, is seen as a symbol of its national identity – look at the destructive emotions so easily stirred up by the anti-Europeans in this year’s elections. And look out for more of it – much more of it – at the next General Election.

Yet the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, speaking at a conference of central bankers three weeks ago, said that the growth of internet trading risks making central banks completely irrelevant. And with them, incidentally, the capacity for Exchequers to collect taxes for public expenditure – and so for governments to govern in the traditional modern sense. Indeed there is no reason why private firms like Microsoft or News International, should not set up their own currency for internet trading and investment. The Gates Groat. Or the Murdoch Shilling. Rupert’s Rupee!

And that is only one example of the changes that globalisation will bring

Here is the inescapable fact.

Power is now moving, increasingly, beyond the confines of the nation state and is rapidly making many of its institutions irrelevant.

We must start taking global governance seriously.

The nation states, their governments and their politicians are going to hate it. But the longer they leave it the more powerless they will become; the more chaos will be caused and the more painful the transition.

If we as the Party of internationalism will not lead this new thinking, who will?

We will need new doctrines for international intervention in places like Kosovo and, more recently and tragically, East Timor. New structures to enforce control of global pollution; new ways to harness the power of the global market place whilst placing limits on its capacity to destabilise and disrupt.

The new world order needs institutions and rules to match.

But if globalisation is the most important change in the exercise of power in our age, then our increasing interdependence on each other is the key condition that governs our existence as individuals.

The question that has plagued me is this. If nation states cannot any longer protect their citizens from the effects of global power, who can ?

That question took me all the way back to that great revolutionary and thinker, Tom Paine.

The times may have changed, but the question hasn’t. We may be talking about global power, not the power of kings. But the central issue remains: How do we give people dignity and control over their own lives?

And the answer remains, by giving them power and encouraging them to work together.

We used to look on society as a machine. Well ordered, neatly constructed. If only the right person pulled the right levers in the right order – hey presto! All would be well. Marxists believed this. Socialists believed it. Some Social Democrats – forgive me – believed it. Some Liberal Democrats still seem to believe it. And Conservatives, above all, believed it.

And they were all wrong.

Society is not a machine. It is a living, breathing organism, like the people who make it up. It needs to be understood as an entity. Each portion is dependent on the other. Damage one and you damage the whole.

Now we need a name for this idea. And the one I am going to use is mutualism – or, at the risk of offending – new mutualism.

I have tried to persuade you of this idea before. I first wrote about it 10 years ago in ‘Citizen’s Britain’. And I have become increasingly convinced that this idea of mutualism lies at the centre of the new politics.

One commentator, Peter Kellner, says this about it:

Mutualism understands that: we have both rights and responsibilities…. It seeks to rescue the virtues of co-operation and the principles that gave birth to the co-operative movement, from the strangling embrace of socialism. “What matters is not where power comes from, but how it is used, how it is checked and how far it is dispersed”.


Mutualism recognises that our own capacities and self reliance, together with the strength of the communities we live in, matters, probably, more than the governments who govern us, or the nations we belong to.

Here is a theme for liberals, in the widest sense, in the years ahead.

How do we create mutual economic structures, that recognise the common shared interest and interdependence of shareholders and customers and workers?

Do we understand that Governments have a duty to regulate market behaviour, but ought to avoid becoming a market player?

Do we accept the revelation that markets too, are social institutions, whose players, too, have responsibilities as well as rights?

Do we recognise that the key equality that we seek, is not equality of outcome – or even, as I used to think, equality of opportunity – but equality of access?

And do we understand that, because of this, the free market and strong competition are the best means by which ordinary people can get access to what is otherwise always going to be dominated by the bandit capitalists and the economically powerful ?

Perhaps most difficult of all for us as self confessed radicals; are we prepared, to liberate the great institutions that deliver our public services – education, health, justice, welfare – from the clammy embrace of corporatism, whether national or local, in order to make them human in scale and responsive to the interests of the consumer, not the producer?

We have become far too staid, far too conservative – yes, conservative – in our thinking about public services in the Liberal Democrats.

As liberals, our place is to be on the side of the citizen, not the state. Of the consumer, not the producer. What matters is not who provides the service, but how good the service is.

You know, in Jo Grimond’s time we used to have a slogan. “We hate the Tories. But we distrust the state”. It’s not a bad one for the years ahead!


Now to the bit I’ve dreaded.

I hate good-byes. So I will use the words of one of my heroes, William Wilberforce.

A few days before his death he wrote his last letter to a friend who had asked him, how he had done this extraordinary thing, the conquest of slavery. He wrote this:

We did not march as a marshalled army towards a distant obelisk. We travelled the highways and byways, gathering friends and flowers as we went.

Over the last 11 years we have travelled many highways and by-ways together.

And Jane and I have gathered so many friends and so many flowers.

You have given me, quite simply, the pride and the purpose of my life. To have had the privilege to lead you has been the greatest thing I have ever done _ or ever will do.

And you have been a great Party to lead.

Which is not the same thing, incidentally, as an easy Party to lead. You have been uncompromising at times, when I wanted you to bend a little.

Uncomfortable at others, when I could have done with an easier ride.

You have been unbelievably stubborn when I tried to take you in a direction you didn’t want to go.

And unbelievably curmudgeonly at times when I thought I was delivering you a success.

But you have been recklessly generous in forgiving my faults.

Indomitable, especially when we had to face defeat.

And through it all, you have done all I have asked of you and more.

So often I left Westminster tired and dejected, to go out to meet you and campaign with you, in the knowledge that it was my job to inspire you. But ending up with you inspiring me by your trust and your hope and your unshakeable will to win.

And we have achieved great things together.

Things which they said could not be done – but which we have done. We have given millions of our fellow citizens the benefit of government informed by the things we stand for.

We have helped to bring a tidal wave of change which will, for ever, alter the nature of the country that we serve.

We have laid the foundation stone, at last, for a modern Britain, in which the liberal ideal will be stronger and more relevant than it has been since the very earliest years of this century.

It has been a privilege to have been a member of this Party these last 11 years, let alone its leader.

And I have been able to hand over that leadership to Charles Kennedy, with pride and love and confidence.

I can think of no good way to end this.

So I will do so with what my grandmother used to tell me was the Irishman’s blessing.

May the road rise with you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Paddy Ashdown – 1997 Speech at Oxford General Election Rally


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, on 29th April 1997 in Oxford.


There are now just three days left in this campaign.

It’s been a long campaign. For many people, a pretty uninspiring and pretty unintelligent campaign.

A campaign which John Major hoped would uncover the holes in his opponent’s policies – but which has served only to expose the divisions in his own Party.

A campaign in which the Labour Party told us it’s time for a change – then promised that it would change nothing at all.

A campaign in which the media pundits said the Liberal Democrats would be swept aside. But in which we have instead swept forward.

Getting our message across as never before.

Winning respect for our realism about what needs to be done and how it will be paid for.

Winning support for our clear vision of Britain’s future in the years ahead.

And so we end this campaign, not with a whimper, but with the full-blown clarion call of a Party which has struck a true note, a clear, consistent note, a note which has found a resonance in the national mood, reflecting the nation’s needs.

Five years ago, we as a nation contemplated change, but clung on for fear of something worse.

And in the end, that’s what we got. Something much worse!

Not the Labour tax bombshell we were threatened, but an even bigger Tory tax explosion instead. The biggest tax hike in British peacetime history.

They said they had no plans to increase VAT – then put VAT on our fuel bills.

They said they would put a thousand more police officers on our streets – then cut the numbers by a thousand.

They said they would give our children a better education – and instead they have cut budgets and increased class sizes.

The promised strong leadership – and have given us weak leadership.

They promised strong government – and have given us a government paralysed by divisions.

They promised us government that listened – and have grown completely out of touch.

They promised us economic recovery – and immediately plunged us into economic recession, costing thousands of people their jobs.

Well, it is now time for the Government to lose their jobs.

Tired, divided, sleazy, discredited. This, now, is a government which has more than run its course. If there is one clear mood in the country, it is to bring it to an end. It is time for them to go.

Yesterday, Edwina Currie said that on May 2nd, the bloodbath would begin. She’s wrong. It’s already started – and it’s not an edifying sight.

It is quite clear that the Conservative Party needs time to sort themselves out.

But let them do that in opposition, not in government. At their own expense, not at everyone else’s expense.

My message to the Tories is: Get out of office, have your civil war, and let the rest of us get down to the serious job of putting Britain back on track.

And I repeat tonight the message in the Times this morning from my colleagues Emma Nicholson and Peter Thurnham – the two MPs who made the historic, principled decision to leave the Conservative Party and join the Liberal Democrats in this Parliament.

Emma Nicholson and Peter Thurnham joined our Party, not because their principles have changed, but because the Conservative Party has changed.

They are both believers in ‘One Nation’. In values of decency and fairness. In the politics of conscience and compassion as well as enterprise and initiative. In a National Health Service our families can rely on and an education system that gives all our children the best possible education. And they now see the Liberal Democrats as their natural home.

I say to all who previously supported the Conservatives but who now feel disillusioned and let down: come and join us.

Don’t stay at home. Do something positive. Support the Liberal Democrats who now offer ‘One Nation’ Conservatives a warm welcome and a natural home.

And I extend that welcome to others, too.

To everyone who values education and despairs at another year of cuts in our schools – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who worries about beds being closed in our hospitals, services being cut, operations cancelled – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who wants more police officers on our streets – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who worries about the divisions and poverty in our society, and who believes in asking the super-rich to pay a little more to help the very poor – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who worries about threats to our civil liberties and who want reform and modernisation in our politics – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who wants clean air and clean water, safe food and a secure environment for our children and grandchildren – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who has been hammered by our boom and bust economy – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

To everyone who wants strong, positive leadership in Europe – I say: join our crusade and we can do something about it.

And to everyone who wants a referendum on future change in Europe – I say: join our crusade and you will get that referendum.

To everyone in Britain – from north to south, from left to right – I say, join us. The Liberal Democrats. Britain’s party of conscience and reform. Britain’s ‘One Nation’ party.

For this is now much, much more than a campaign. It is a crusade.

A crusade to make Britain the best-educated nation in the world.

A crusade to build a Health Service our families can rely on.

A crusade to preserve our environment for future generations.

A crusade to build a country fit for our children and grandchildren.

A crusade for new opportunity.

A crusade for a new kind of politics.

A crusade of new hope for a new century.

But you know, for there to be real hope for a new century, there has to be on Thursday much more than a change of government.

There has to be a change in the whole way we do things in this country.

It will be a disaster for Britain if the only thing that changes this week is the nameplate on Number Ten.

And that is why I have found Labour’s campaign so disappointing.

Their approach has been timid; their promises, unbelievable.

Labour’s Waiting for Growth policy is the economic equivalent of Waiting for Godot – and as everyone knows, Godot never came.

In the NHS, they have signed up to Tory spending plans that will mean devastating cuts.

In our schools, they offer no new money for the improvements that have to be made.

Many people will wonder if education really is their number one priority, when it so often appears that their priority is saying what needs to be said to win power.

Well I believe that, to coin a phrase, Britain deserves better.

Our campaign has at least been based on realism.

It has been about the challenges before our country, and the costs of putting things right in our country.

Put bluntly, our message has been that if you want better services, better education and better healthcare, then you have to pay for them. And we have won support for that message, because in the real world, everyone knows you don’t get something for nothing.

It’s not a question of whether the other two parties will break their promises. It’s a question of which promise they will break: their promise to maintain decent public services, or their promise to cut taxes.

But beyond the simple message comes the challenge. And it is here that what I have to say takes on a note of urgency.

The choices we make in the few remaining years of this century – in the Parliament we are about to elect – will, quite simply, determine our national success in the next century.

And nowhere is this more important than in our attitude to education.

Unless we start giving education the priority it deserves; unless we invest in nursery education to give our children the best possible start in life; unless we invest in new books and equipment and smaller classes in our schools; unless we invest in training later on, Britain faces disaster in the years ahead.

For human history, as HG Wells put it, becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

That is true for our environment. It is true for our cohesion and stability as a society. It is true for our national prosperity, too.

We are slipping down the world prosperity league as fast as we are slipping down the league table for education and skills – the two trends inextricably linked.

To quote Sir Claus Moser, Chairman of the National Commission for Education and ex-Warden of Wadham College here in Oxford, without drastic action, Britain is one generation away from third world status. That is a devastating prediction.

But it is the truth. There is a catastrophe coming down the tracks for this county, unless we act now to do something about levels of education and skill in Britain.

It’s about time we all faced up to that truth – and that’s why this must be the ‘education election’ – the election when education really does become our nation’s number one priority.

We have, in the British people, in their skill and ingenuity, the natural resource with which to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

But we will never make the most of that enormous individual potential unless we invest. If we don’t, it will be like having a stretch of rich and fertile land, but refusing to invest in seed to sow, or tools to till the soil.

We must not, as a nation, creep timidly into the twenty-first century.

‘Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job’, cried Churchill in the face of a different kind of threat more than half a century ago.

Today the same cry goes up from our schools and colleges and universities.

Give us the resources and we will give you a generation of skill and ingenuity and talent as bright as any in our history.

That is the heart of our message.

We trust the people. We believe in them and in their capacity to respond – to make the most of their lives. But we have to nurture this precious resource with investment and care.

If we, as a political leadership, refuse that challenge, then we face, not brave new opportunities for talent to flower and flourish, but the management of genteel decline.

That is why the task before our Party in the next three days is so urgent.

The Liberal Democrats are the only Party who will fight for the investment that our schools and colleges need in the next Parliament.

And every vote we win and every seat we gain will give us the power to fight that fight.

In the next three days, we must remind people, again and again, of the urgent need to do something about education.

We must show that there is an alternative to the management of decline.

We must show people that they can make a difference in Britain. Because, with their support, we Liberal Democrats will make a difference.

Here in Oxford, Evan Harris is now neck and neck with the Conservatives. Work hard in the next three days, and you will have a Liberal Democrat MP on Thursday.

And with hard work, there will be Liberal Democrat MPs in many other seats across the country, too.

A powerful force of Liberal Democrats in the next Parliament, to put Britain on a new and different path.

What the Liberal Democrats offer in this election is the chance, not just to kick out this Government, but to change the priorities in this country.

A powerful force of Liberal Democrat MPs in the next Parliament will mean that education is never again allowed to be undervalued and underfunded.

It will mean that our Health Service is defended against the crippling cuts now inevitable under either of the other parties.

It will mean that the environment will at last be taken seriously in Westminster and Whitehall.

It will mean that the poor and disadvantaged – the millions left behind by the Thatcher years, and abandoned by Labour – will have a voice.

It will mean that we do at last begin to clean up the mess of our politics, and modernise our failing political system.

All these things can be done – and they will be done with the Liberal Democrats strong in the next Parliament.

In this campaign, we are winning the argument. Now, in these last three days, we must win the votes and win the seats.

To win the power and the mandate to make the difference in our schools and hospitals and communities in the years ahead.

If you believe in what we stand for, then make your vote count.

The effective vote is for investment in a better education for your children and grandchildren.

The effective vote is for a Health Service your family can rely on.

The effective vote is to put 3,000 more police officers on the street to tackle crime.

The effective vote is to strengthen our economy and get people back to work.

The effective vote is to tackle poverty and division.

The effective vote is to clean up our politics.

The effective vote is for a referendum on future change in Europe.

The effective vote is not just to kick out this discredited Government, but for something fresh and clear and strong to put in its place.

To give the Liberal Democrats the power and the mandate to make a difference.

To provide a better future for you, your family and your country.

The only vote that really will make a difference.