Happy New Year to each and every one of you.
For me, 2006 has been a year unlike any other. Becoming leader of a political party is both a privilege and a great responsibility. I am determined to make the very best of our Party’s opportunities and I believe that we have made a good start.
I want to take this opportunity to draw your attention to a serious matter. It makes me angry when I meet people up and down the country who have had their lives ruined by crime. We all want to live in a safe and secure environment. I am determined that our Party should use next year as an opportunity to show how we can make that happen.
But we need your help.
I want you to join our New Year campaign: We Can Cut Crime. It will set out our ideas about how to make Britain safer for everyone.
Liberal Democrats are already working at a local level to cut crime. Through positive and pragmatic measures, our Party has had great success in cutting crime.
In Liverpool, we have slashed domestic burglary by 24% through such practical policies as gating off back alleys between homes, and in Newcastle violent crime has fallen by 12%, after a rise of 54% in 2002-04, when its Council was under Labour control.
By contrast our opponents talk tough, but Labour has presided over the wholesale degeneration of our criminal justice system: overcrowded prisons; one of the highest reoffending rates in the western world; falling conviction rates for serious violent crimes like rape; high levels of public fear of crime and antisocial behaviour; a demoralised probation service; and constant attacks by the government on judges. Making matters worse, Tony Blair has put more than 3,000 new criminal offences on to the statute book since coming to power. His legacy is clear: tough talk, headline-grabbing gimmicks and poor performance.
As for the Conservatives, who knows what they think? One day David Cameron wants to hug a hoodie, the next he is calling for ever-larger prison numbers.
By contrast, we have effective ideas for cutting crime. Together, we can put these into action with concrete results.
Ours is a party that is liberal in principle, but more effective in cutting crime than our opponents.
The Party is currently considering a policy document entitled Crime in the Community and I have asked our Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg to do some radical and innovative thinking about the best and most practical ways to cut crime.
This will include a new approach to sentencing, the reform of our over-crowded prison system, tackling town centre violence and closing the revolving door of repeat offending.
That thinking will form the basis of the We Can Cut Crime campaign.
Our campaign is aptly named. We know that crime can be reduced and we know that we are the party to do it. I am determined to show that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can tackle crime both honestly and effectively.
We can and should be seen as the party that will cut crime.
But we need your help to ensure that this message reaches the public.
So I want to set you a challenge for the New Year. I am asking you to consider how you think the Party can sharpen its message on crime and make clear our priorities. Below are five questions on crime. Please consider them carefully and let me know your views. Your experiences and opinions will be crucial to informing this vital campaign.
- Have you ever been the victim of crime and, if so, would you be prepared to share your experiences?
- How do you think that we can make prison, and other aspects of the criminal justice system, work better?
- What are the crime issues of most concern to people in your area?
- What have been the most successful local initiatives for cutting crime in your area?
- Are you, or any other Liberal Democrat member or supporter in your area, involved in any part of the criminal justice system?
This year began with some challenges for the Liberal Democrats. But our stunning victory over Labour in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, our outstanding by-election performance in the Tory stronghold of Bromley and Chislehurst, and a strong and consistent position in the opinion polls have shown that this is a party heading in the right direction.
But our continued success depends upon having a strong and motivated team working together. That team includes each and every one of you: the party’s members and supporters.
Please do send me your responses to the questions above and help us to ensure that we reach our full potential in 2007.
With every best wish for the year ahead.