If you are a liberal then you will walk the walk, committed to your community.
Your community. The place you live. The experiences and identities you share. The people with whom you feel you belong.
Community is what you make it, and where we – where you – make a difference.
We say we care about people, and we prove it by serving people, empowering people, getting things done.
And it is what makes us liberals.
We stand for election not to be something, but because we want to do something. We campaign not to be grand, but to do grand things – make a difference. It is what makes us different.
I joined the Liberal Party at 16.
Now, you may be surprised to discover this, but this was not a carefully calculated career move. Not a career move, but not a cop-out either.
I didn’t join a pressure group. I joined a movement.
Determined to use power to make a difference – and give people opportunities.
Because every family, every small business, everyone in Britain deserves a clear path to fulfil their own ambition.
Now, as well as Stylist, I’ve also made the hallowed feature pages of Autocar magazine.
They had heard that my car had been written off in the floods. They were impressed by my dedication and commitment to something so battered and beaten up…
They also wanted to know about my Volvo…
It was early December and I had agreed to do an interview with BBC News about the floods. Half an hour before I was on air, I was in the car with my kids and the river wall in front of me broke. In two seconds flat the car had filled up to our waists…
We had to bail out and do it quickly. We were a few miles from the nearest village, stranded, and completely soaked by the side of the road… and then the phone went, it was the BBC. So, John Simpson style, me and the kids reported live from the scene while my Volvo, and a very large number of precious Prefab Sprout CDs disappeared from view.
Now, we lost a car. That’s nothing. I lost my beloved Prefab Sprout CDs. Even they can be replaced, but friends of mine lost their homes, their businesses.
And here in York more than six hundred homes and businesses, some just a couple of hundred yards from where we are today, were under water. Many are yet to recover. And yet, when I look around York, as I did on Friday, I see the same tremendous spirit I see at home in Cumbria – testament to the determination of people who come together and support one another.
When a community is tested, you see it’s true character. And as we can see by being here for Conference, York is open for business – Cumbria, the Scottish borders, the north, we’re all open for business.
Even when this Government is barely lifting a finger to help, the spirit of the people is the real Northern Powerhouse.
Within a few weeks of my birth in 1970, two disastrous things happened.
1. England got knocked out of the World Cup by West Germany
2. The Liberals had an electoral disaster that made last May look quite good by comparison.
We almost disappeared altogether. But we fought back. Not by accident, but by careful design.
And we fought back by making a virtue of the fact that there is more to life than Westminster.
Young Liberals led the rebuild of our party by taking our philosophy and our ideals into their communities and putting them into practice.
They got their hands well and truly dirty, turning a belief in the individual into action, galvanising communities, winning change, challenging the self-satisfied power of the town hall and Whitehall.
In 2016 let us choose that path back to power. Community Politics is what we are for.
The establishment is increasingly out of reach and out of touch, locally and nationally, it is down to us to make the difference.
In every community I want us to be the antidote to the kind of politics that makes people go off politics altogether.
In 1997 The Liberal Democrats made a tremendous leap forward, securing 46 MPs. One of those MPs was our excellent Chief Whip Tom Brake. I recently found out that Tom has also been a magazine star. It was an interview that had originally been offered to me, but without me knowing, my team decided Tom was much better suited for such a challenge. So you all have the press office to thank for the fact that last April’s centrefold in Men’s Health magazine, was not this gut on stage before you, but the rather more toned one of the Chief Whip.
The feature involved posing without a shirt on, exercising every day for seven weeks, and eating healthily. Alistair was devastated not to have been asked.
In 2001 and 2005 our numbers increased to 52 and 62. We got to 63 when Willie won Dunfermline.
Indeed we reached that peak at a point when we didn’t even have a leader… Don’t go getting any ideas.
We must return to our roots. No matter the office, always remaining true to our instincts. It’s time to focus not on Parliamentary games, but on real life. It’s time we got back to community politics.
It’s about making a difference to people’s lives.
Lives across the country and across the globe are better because of the work we do. The work that you do.
Just this week they voted through plans to cut £30 a week from the benefits of sick and disabled people. They are pushing ahead with cuts to Universal Credit, so low income working families will lose on average £1,000 a year. And they still plan to exclude youngsters from being able to claim housing benefit, leaving vulnerable young people with nowhere else to go.
Their benefit cuts are a calculated political choice – hurting millions of people. And their latest move is to cut Personal Independence Payments, by more than £1 billion.
640,000 people with disabilities are set to lose vital support that helps them live truly independent lives.
As is his style, this Chancellor uses smoke and mirrors to distort the truth. His clever accounting and theatrical budgets mask the true scale of what he has planned. His agenda isn’t just a Parliamentary game, it strikes right at the heart of the communities we represent. And we will not stand for it.
We start, not with politics but with people, with communities. But the Chancellor is currently placing the very foundations of a happy and healthy community – under threat. Our schools, our homes, our environment, even our health. The basic building blocks for life that can have the biggest impact.
Communities thrive when enterprise and small business can thrive. But far too often the cards are stacked against them.
That is why I am delighted to announce that Vince Cable has agreed to chair an expert panel for me to look at how we radically reform the way we tax businesses. Over the next year, Vince’s team will come forward with a new approach, that’s fit for the future. Because when the system is broken, we Liberal Democrats will not defend it, we should fix it.
We will be the beacon of tolerance and acceptance. Standing for what unites us, not the differences that divide us.
So, when you are a new leader, you fight to get attention, to make a mark. A journalist said to me the other day ‘all I know about you is that you’re that bloke who keeps banging on about refugees’. He meant it as a rebuke. I took it as badge of honour.
The biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe for 70 years, with no sign of this tragedy coming to an end. 190,000 refugees entered Europe in 2014, a post war record. Last year that number increased to 1 million. This year, the UN thinks there could be 3 million.
And most refugees aren’t even coming to Europe. There’s a million in Lebanon, 700,000 in Jordan, 2.7 million in Turkey.
So many facts and figures. Such big numbers. Every one of them an individual, a person.
In Calais, Cologne, Lesbos and in refugee centres here in the UK I’ve only met a hundred or so of them. But they are meetings I cannot forget. I will not forget.
I confess that I am personally affected by every one of them. And so I feel personally ashamed by our Government’s response to this crisis.
Because this is not about statistics. This is about people just like you and me. This is about dignity and decency. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
On the morning of October 27th last year, I stood on the beach on the island of Lesbos and I met a couple in their thirties: a carpenter and a nursery teacher from the Daesh occupied region of Iraq. With them, still in their flimsy life jackets, they had their two little girls, aged three and five. To distract them from the terror of the journey over the sea to Europe they’d sung songs to the girls and told them stories for hours and hours.
Why did they put them through this? They love their children as much as I love mine yet they risked their daughters’ lives…why? Because the bigger risk was to stay and not to flee. And the Britain I believe in, offers that family sanctuary, hope and a future.
David Cameron has gone through Calais plenty of times recently on his way to Brussels. But he’s never got off the train there. He’s never seen for himself the heartbreak of those who have had to leave everything, to flee towards a country and a continent that you thought represented peace and security but got there only to be treated like dirt. He’s refused to meet the proud people, broken by the wickedness of those who sought to kill them at home, and broken again by the callous indifference of those to whom they looked for sanctuary.
Being 12 and alone in a camp thousands of miles from home. Being in a boat tossed to and fro as you sought land in the darkness, hearing the screams of the people in the neighbouring vessel as it went down. Having to leave your town at night, the town you grew up in, the only home you ever knew.
Refugees in Germany, welcomed, trained, empowered – transformed into enthusiastic, tax-paying Germans. Refugees in Britain, held in contempt, trapped, their talents wasted, and let down by people who act in our name.
Britain is better than that. And so I will continue bang on about it.
To speak for British values, for common sense, for action to help the desperate, for fear to give way to opportunity.
And our national security is being challenged by more than the referendum. Right now the Government are using it as an excuse to extend snooping powers. Theresa May won’t just have access to your Facebook messages, but to everything from your medical records to your child’s baby monitor. And it’s not just MI5 and MI6 – your local council will be able to know where you’ve been and who you’ve spoken to, as will the tax office. Not even the Home Office can pretend that this is purely about keeping people safe.
Trying to fight terrorism by gathering more and more irrelevant information is illiberal and totally counterproductive. The haystacks of information will become so huge that finding the needle will be near impossible. No matter what the government calls it, don’t make any mistake – this is the Snoopers’ Charter back again and we won’t have it.
Even if you are a hardened Tory, you should be appalled by what this Government is doing to our democracy.
And you know what? It makes me unbelievably angry…. with Labour.
Let me be clear about this. I’m not angry because Labour is now run by the kind of people who used to try and sell me tedious newspapers outside the Students’ Union. That’s their funeral.
I am angry with Labour because their internal chaos is letting this government off the hook. The Corbyn agenda is about taking over the Labour party, not rescuing Britain.
I will not stand by while the Tories dig in for a generation. We can be, we must be, what stands in their way. We have to build that force.
Ward by ward, house by house, issue by issue.
Pick a ward and win it.
This May, next May, all year round.
We can win anywhere, you can win anywhere if you immerse yourself in your community.
You keep in touch, you get things done.
We know, that no matter where you’re from, your parents’ wealth, the colour of your skin, your gender, your faith, or who you love, you must have every opportunity to succeed. And you have a home with us.
Together we can show a liberal vision for Britain that isn’t obsessed with self interest, or the here and now, but the long term future of our country.
With strategic capital investment.
Strong, local public services.
And a well paid public sector.
Where enterprise is encouraged.
Where clean energy creates jobs.
And where everyone has the right to a decent home.
And where desperate people fleeing war and persecution are not demonised, they are welcomed.
We are the opposition that will talk to our country about our country.
A champion for communities when they need it.
The voice for junior doctors.
Standing by our teachers.
We can be the voice that Britain needs, and become the movement to make that difference.
Find your community, and make that difference.
Liberal Democrats. This is our vision for Britain.