The speech made by Charles Kennedy on 18 September 2000.
Sometimes – just sometimes there are defining moments for a country and its character.
Perhaps – just perhaps Britain came across one of those moments last week.
A sense of perspective is called for in all of this.
Ours is a stable country. Ours is a sensible country. And ours is a fundamentally decent country.
Stability – sense – decency.
These are not assets lightly to be squandered.
A society which is liberal democratic has to operate – it cannot function otherwise on a sense of mutual consent.
Last week mutual consent showed signs of breaking down.
If it had it would have broken all of us. It almost did. But it didn’t.
Sense – sanity – decency prevailed.
Put to one side the issue at stake. Put to the forefront the principle involved.
A society which is liberal democratic cannot have public policy determined upon the basis of who has got the loudest voice – or who can brings things to a halt.
However just. However well behaved. However well meaning.
The petrol protesters – to their credit – knew that. They conducted themselves accordingly.
The issue now is that the government must conduct itself accordingly. Democracy demands trust. It demands that sense of mutual understanding. And – it’s a two way street. You’ve got to give – as much as you take.
The government is taking a lot. It’s not giving nearly as much. No wonder public confidence collapses.
We say two things. First – fuel tax policy has to be fair. If it’s not it won’t work. Second – let’s be up front about the environmental agenda. And let’s be clear about what we would do.
We want a fair deal on fuel. We call on the government:
1. To place a cap on fuel taxes (in real terms) for five years so that the government does not profit from future increases in fuel prices.
2. To use the VAT windfall that it has received from the higher than expected fuel prices to ease the burden on the travelling public.
3. To ensure that oil companies recognise their social responsibilities, both in respect of pricing and security of supply.
If they fail to do so, we will take measures to tax their excess profits.
4. To support people in rural communities who rely on fuel through, for example, rate relief on rural fuel stations and increased investment in community public transport.
Those are the principles that we want the government to accept. That is a fair deal on fuel. The events of the past week have also highlighted a more profound consideration.
It’s time to pause and reflect.
Why do citizens think that they’re more likely – more able – to influence the course of public policy by direct action, rather than by conventional party politics? Why do less and less people bother to vote? Why do so few folk even bother to join political parties? You’ve got to ask questions before you answer them.
I’ve been asking these questions for quite some time now.
This party – and this party conference has got to start providing answers.
And it is – and it will.
People won’t be spoken to as they’ve been spoken to in the past.