August 17, 2006: Ming Campbell emailed party members as follows:
Politics never stands still. Even in the short time since my election as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in March, the landscape now looks quite different.
Tony Blair is looking increasingly insecure as Prime Minister. His handling of the crisis in the Middle East has laid bare just how exposed he is in his party and in the country. His Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott clings to office despite the media ridicule. The Home Office is being overhauled after years of mismanagement. The Identity Card project is looking more and more expensive and less and less practical. Cash deficits in the Health Service continue to rise, leading to ward closures and cuts in frontline staff.
We are surely now in the dog days of the Blair premiership.
While Labour falters, the Liberal Democrats in Parliament have been getting on with our job as the real opposition to the Government. Our Shadow Home Affairs secretary Nick Clegg led the debate which uncovered so many of the failures in the Home Office. Our Shadow Pensions Secretary David Laws has exposed just how shambolic the Child Support Agency has become. Our Shadow Health Secretary Steve Webb has been fighting to protect the National Health Service in the face of crippling deficits and central government diktat.
The Liberal Democrats are stronger than ever. After the local elections in May we now have the highest proportion of Liberal Democrat councillors ever. The by-election in Gordon Brown’s back yard in Dunfermline returned the Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie as MP boosting our numbers in Parliament to an all time high. And in one of the Tories’ safest seats in Bromley we reduced their 13,000 majority to just 641 – so much for David Cameron’s appeal.
David Cameron has shown all the worst traits of modern politics – the spin, the obsession with headlines, the belief that you only have to change your image to get people to vote for you. Being green is not about inviting the cameras to film you cycling to work while your chauffeur follows behind. Being green takes the kind of political courage necessary to say to people that we can’t go on driving cars with big engines without paying the price and that polluting aeroplanes can’t get off scott-free either.
Politics is about substance. It’s about putting your values and principles into practice with credible policies. That is what our Party conference in September will be about.
The Liberal Democrat conference is unique among the major parties. The Liberal Democrat conference makes policy. Its debates are meaningful, and its decisions binding. It means that as the Leader of the party and chair of the Federal Policy Committee, I don’t just announce proposals and expect you to go along with them like the Conservative and Labour party leaders. I need to win members’ support for the platform on which we will fight the next general election.
At our conference, We will be debating and setting policy on a number of crucial issues – from international law to local government, from taxation to the environment – and we will be consulting representatives on the future of Trident, on crime and on measures to alleviate poverty and inequality.
We will also be debating the policy framework paper “Trust in People: Make Britain Free, Fair and Green” which is the result of the “Meeting the Challenge” process set in train by my predecessor Charles Kennedy. This paper is the product of the widest and most vigorous party consultation we have ever had. It lays the foundations for the direction of our party for the next few years and beyond.
We aim to make Britain a free, fair and green country. The UK is a liberal nation. British people are tolerant, energetic, enterprising and compassionate. But they are badly served by a centralised and failing political system that excludes the views of most of them. Britain is also an unequal society in which too many are prevented from making the best of their lives. And it has been burdened by governments which have failed to face up to long-term challenges such as climate change.
A different Britain is possible – one in which people and communities are able to wield real political power on their own behalf, where people are not shut out by a lack of income or wealth or respect, and where the environment is valued and protected.
Our democratic values impose upon our conference both power and responsibility. The message I want our conference to send to the country is that we are a mature and credible party – sure in our principles and ready for the rigours of government. That we are innovative and forward thinking – not just tackling the problems of today but looking ahead to the problems Britain and the world will face over the next decades and setting out practical liberal solutions that will help to make people’s lives better. We must be a party of substance not symbolism.
As Liberal Democrats we are ambitious, but not for our own sake. We are ambitious for Britain.
P.S. You can read more about our Tax Commission’s report, and watch a video interview, at http://www.libdems.org.uk/tax-commission.html