Speaking to the Welsh Liberal Democrats conference, Ming Campbell said:
It is a pleasure to be here in Wales this weekend.
And as the Six Nations clash between Scotland and Wales is now a full month ago, I feel relieved to be here today rather than on 10th February.
I trust that good relations are now fully restored.
It is a very fine judgement for me which is the more important – rugby or politics.
For me politics is about determining what is in the national interest and acting upon it.
And we should do it with determination, seriousness and vigour.
Liberal Democrats should always see politics in this positive way.
We should always see political challenges not as obstacles but as opportunities.
And that is how I see this May’s Assembly election.
It’s an opportunity.
An opportunity for the Welsh Liberal Democrats to win more votes and more seats.
An opportunity to increase the influence of liberalism in Welsh politics.
Last weekend in Harrogate I made clear that I am not content to lead a party whose sole purpose is opposition. I did so because it is by governing that we have the opportunity to make the changes that will benefit people. And our experience in Wales is testament to that fact.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats lead councils in Bridgend, Cardiff and Wrexham. And here in Swansea too.
It is under Liberal Democrat leadership that those councils have increased recycling rates, regenerated local areas and reconnected local people to their councils by ending the one-party mentality.
And don’t forget that it was by positioning ourselves as the driving force in the Government of Wales’ first term that over one hundred Liberal Democrat policies were put into action.
You know, it was proportional representation that made that possible.
Both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are elected by a proportional system. A system that encourages parties to work together more, and to work against each other less. A system that ensures that every vote counts. A system which is fair, democratic and inclusive.
So be in no doubt that my commitment to proportional representation – for every election – is absolute.
We made a real difference in Welsh government, and we can make a real difference now. The Liberal Democrats will fight this election in the interests of the Welsh people. Our policies offer a radical programme for government.
They provide an opportunity to use the Assembly’s new powers in Wales’ best interests. And they mirror our party’s successful approach to governing in Scotland.
There, we have been the driving force behind radical reform in government.
There, we are not only responsible for the headline achievements of the Scottish Executive’s first terms – the abolition of tuition fees, free personal care for the elderly, and proportional representation for local government – but we have also been behind the detailed policies which have made a real difference to Scots’ daily lives – investing in medical diagnostics, trebling recycling rates, and freeing up teachers so that they can spend more time helping children to learn.
Our successes in Scotland can be repeated in Wales. Because it’s the Welsh Liberal Democrats who are setting the policy agenda here.
It’s the Welsh Liberal Democrats who propose a health service that puts patients first, with a single pathway to local quality healthcare.
It’s the Welsh Liberal Democrats who propose creating a better environment in which young people can learn, with investment in school buildings, smaller class sizes, and a clamp-down on ill-discipline and bullying.
And it’s the Welsh Liberal Democrats who propose practical measures to put Wales at the forefront of the green revolution. Creating jobs in a cleaner and greener Wales.
No other party has a plan for Wales that is both as ambitious and achievable as ours. Because no other party shares our understanding of devolution in action. No other party shares our commitment to empowering local people to take the decisions that will benefit their lives.
Labour may have delivered a Welsh Assembly, but its first eight years have been marred by a lack of power.
It’s ironic that having accepted the case for a more powerful Assembly, Labour appears to have even fewer ideas for providing better government. Rhodri Morgan leads a party that has failed to deliver on its key promises for this term. And lacks any vision for the next. Labour suffers from a poverty of ambition.
By contrast the Welsh Liberal Democrats are ambitious for Wales, with a programme for a progressive government.
And who else can meet that challenge?
The Conservatives? Certainly not.
This is a party that fought against devolution, tooth and nail. The Tories do not embrace devolution, they merely tolerate it. They remain out of step with modern Welsh government. And out of touch with the Welsh people. I doubt the people of Wales are any more enthusiastic than the people of Scotland would be about a Conservative First Minister.
But what of Plaid Cymru?
They have changed their official colours from green to yellow, but we all know they would lead Wales straight into the red. Theirs is an unreliable party standing on an uncosted manifesto. But behind their extravagant promises lies a more fundamental problem for Plaid. They cannot be the party of Wales’ devolved future, because they do not believe in that future. They want a different constitutional settlement. And they choose their words carefully to describe it.
Plaid Cymru says it wants “to promote the constitutional advancement of Wales with a view to attaining Full National Status for Wales within the European Union.” Well I know what that means and it doesn’t require twenty one words to describe it: it requires just one – separatism. Be under no illusion – Plaid might not put independence at the top of its manifesto, but it is at the forefront of their minds.
They are playing fast and loose with the future of Wales.
For the nationalists the aim is not good government in Cardiff, but populism in pursuit of divorce from the rest of the UK.
It is no secret that I care passionately about international affairs.
Because it is in that area that I know a strong and united Britain can be a force for good. A Britain committed to the rule of law and the United Nations. The challenges facing the world today are more complex than at any time in our history. Terrorism. Conflict. Third world poverty and debt. And climate change.
These challenges can only be met by concerted international action and support for international institutions.
The United Kingdom has a proud record in its support for these values. Only recently has that record has been tarnished. The core values of democracy are the best foundations to underpin international affairs. The world needs countries that stand for these values.
That’s what I think of when I consider the Union between the United Kingdom’s four nations. And that is why I attach real worth to the United Kingdom.
Because standing together the countries that comprise the UK state can be a force for good on a scale that would be impossible if they were standing apart.
The end of Great Britain would not only spell uncertainty for Wales’ domestic future, it would weaken Wales’ voice for good in the world.
That is not to say that Britain’s constitutional arrangements should be set in stone. We welcomed the Richard Commission and the prospect of a more powerful Assembly. And we are open-minded about how devolution might be adapted further to meet the needs and aspirations of the Welsh people. Because we believe that government should be shaped around the priorities of those it serves, and devolution allows us to achieve that.
It is those values, coupled with our bold policies that have helped this party to grow stronger in Wales over recent years.
In the 2005 Westminster election we finished in second place.
Our incumbent MPs Roger Williams and Welsh Leader Lembit Opik were joined by two new members. Jenny Willott gained Cardiff Central from Labour. And Mark Williams took Ceredigion from Plaid Cymru.
All four have made valuable contributions to the increased strength and credibility of our Welsh Party. And I have every confidence that our successful candidates for the Welsh Assembly will only add to that success.
One of them, John Davies, has already spoken to you from this platform, and I have every confidence that he will have a well-deserved victory in Ceredigion this May. And he’s not the only candidate knocking at the door.
John Dixon in South Wales Central. Veronica Watkins in South Wales East. Jackie Radford in South Wales West. Tudor Jones and Bruce Roberts in the North.
In all parts of Wales we have candidates who can win, and make a real difference in the Assembly. This is a party on the move.
I know it, you know it, and our opponents know it too.
The Prime Minister went to Llandudno last month to talk about Labour’s “extraordinary” progress in Wales.
But he doth protest too much.
But he’s right in a way.
You know, given their record, if they do make any progress in Wales, it will be extraordinary. The reality is that Labour’s record here is one of missed opportunities. Poverty and well-being is a case in point.
How can it be fair that homelessness in Wales has risen sharply under Labour?
How can it be fair that in today’s Wales one in five pensioners lives in poverty?
And how can it be fair that in 21st century Britain one in every four Welsh children lives in poverty too?
Wales needs a government that will stop meddling in our health service, and set the experts free to raise the standard to world class.
A government that will give families the opportunity for decent housing. A government that will give our children the best start in life. A Liberal Democrat government for Wales.
And our party is ready to use tax policy at a federal level to show our commitment to fairness throughout the United Kingdom.
Under the Blair-Brown administration, the lowest earning fifth of households in this country still pays more of their income in tax than the richest fifth.
Is that Labour’s message for this election? That under Labour those who earn less should pay more? Is that what Labour means when they tell us that they are getting tough? Are they ready to take that message to the voters in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire Gwynedd and Powys, where low pay is prevalent?
Well let’s be clear – their way is not our way. Our principle is simple. Those who earn less should pay less.
And by increasing green taxes and abolishing generous tax subsidies that benefit the rich, we can afford to cut taxes for lower and middle income families.
Remember what that means. By abolishing the 10 pence starting rate; by cutting the basic rate from 22 pence to 20; and by raising the top rate threshold to £50,000, we will cut the national income tax bill of 1.4 million Welsh people. Almost two hundred thousand of the poorest Welsh tax payers will come out of national income tax altogether.
Don’t whisper it softly – shout it out loudly – Liberal Democrats would cut national income tax for those who need it most.
And shout just as loudly that Liberal Democrats can cut crime. That we can succeed where Labour and the Tories have failed.
Under Labour, there has been abject failure at the Home Office. The prison population is at record levels, and re-offending rates are the highest in Europe. This Labour government has given us twenty five new bills relating to criminal law since 1997. It has imposed on us some of the most authoritarian peacetime legislation this country has ever seen. More than 3000 new crimes have been put on the statute book. And yet the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour has not diminished one bit.
Wales deserves better than this.
To fight crime effectively, we don’t need to get tougher. We need to get smarter.
The Liberal Democrats recognise that challenge. And we are ready to meet it.
A liberal approach to crime is an honest approach to crime: it is based on what works rather than just what sounds good. Our approach, in Wales and the rest of Britain, targets the offender rather than the innocent.
And it has the courage to engage with the criminal and to reform their behaviour.
That philosophy underpins our plan for a five step campaign for a safer Wales.
First, we will use money ear-marked for an expensive, ineffective and unworkable identity card scheme to pay for more police officers instead.
Second, we will take back our town centres with a raft of strong measures that will help local authorities to clamp down on binge-drinking and other antisocial behaviour.
Third, we will have honesty in sentencing. Sentences will mean what they say, and automatic early release will be abolished.
Fourth, we will make offenders work to pay back their communities. Where appropriate, offenders should put right the wrongs that they have done. Community justice panels and restorative justice schemes can achieve exactly that.
And fifth, we will introduce an entirely new approach to compensating victims of crime – paid for by prison work.
It is only fair that money raised by prisoners in employment should go towards compensating their victims.
By making prisoners do real work for a real wage, we can also instil a sense of responsibility and enhance their skills. After all, prisoners who do not participate in education or training are three times more likely to go back to crime. Yet well over half of offenders receive no training at all. And only one in five prisoners exceeds the standards expected of an 11 year old in writing.
Instead, we will treble the number of prisoners working, and make education and training compulsory. Prisoners will pay for their crimes, while gaining the skills and experience needed to discourage them from further criminal behaviour.
And for those with serious mental health problems there will be increased provision of secure mental health services.
This is a package of positive measures that show that, together, we can cut crime. And that is our clear message going in to this May’s elections in Wales.
Tony Blair intends to step down from office this summer – so far as we know. But if his domestic legacy is one of under-performance, his foreign legacy is one of spectacular failure.
Britain’s foreign policy should be based on our long term interests. Britain should have an independent foreign policy based on British priorities. It should have an ethical dimension with the promotion of human rights as its centre piece.
That is what Labour called for in opposition. But in Government it has delivered something different.
The alignment of the Bush and Blair foreign policies has sometimes been so close that it has been difficult to distinguish one from the other. The war in Iraq is the prime example. Our opposition to that war has always been clear and firm. It was an illegal war based on a flawed prospectus. The failure to plan sufficiently for Iraq’s reconstruction has brought into focus the reality that this war was about regime change.
But what has the change of regime brought to Iraq? A state of near civil war. With more than 34,000 civilians killed there last year. And with a degraded infrastructure where public services like water, electricity and sewerage are worse than they were under Saddam Hussein.
We have been there for four years now. And Britain’s position is no longer sustainable. Britain’s most senior soldier, Sir Richard Dannatt, has said that our presence in Iraq exacerbates the security situation. A majority of Iraqis think that coalition forces are legitimate targets and an even greater majority think we should leave.
Meanwhile President Bush dismissed the advice of the Iraq Study Group. The British Prime Minister welcomed it before it was taken off the table by the President. Its sensible recommendations for a change in strategy, for regional engagement and dialogue with Syria and Iran were unpalatable to the administration.
The irony is that, having dismissed the report, the United States will now attend a security conference on Iraq, at which both Syria and Iran will be present.
Against that background we would need overwhelming justification to remain in Iraq. I do not believe that justification exists.
In truth it is time to go.
Of course we must continue to fulfil our obligations to the UN and the Iraqi people to assist reconstruction and regional engagement. But we can do that without a military presence.
What I have offered is a clear, structured and honourable framework for withdrawal from Iraq by the end of October this year. The British-American relationship needs to be renewed, reviewed and rebalanced. And sooner rather than later.
Because there are ominous signs that some in the United States might consider military action against Iran in response to its nuclear programme. The regime in Tehran is authoritarian, nationalist and oppressive. But in spite of its distasteful characteristics it has interests and influence that cannot be ignored.
Iran must be engaged rather than isolated if we are to stand a real chance of neutralising its nuclear programme. Already international engagement has led to a possible breakthrough in persuading North Korea to modify its nuclear programme. This is an illustration of what can be done.
Military action against Iran would buttress the regime, fan nationalism, further destabilise the region, put coalition forces at risk and disperse nuclear material. The case against it is overwhelming.
By serving out the longest period of notice in British political history the Prime Minister is creating friction within his Government and uncertainty in the country. He says that he is speeding up reform but his continued presence is holding it back. Will a change in Labour’s leadership benefit Wales? I very much doubt it.
Regardless of our opponents we know that ours is the party determined to address Wales’ needs. We have the ambition. We have the policies. And we have the people too.
Mike German has led this party in government. He’s a doughty fighter and an experienced campaigner – with a vision for a fairer, greener Wales.
With the experience of the AMs, and the passion and potential of our candidates, we have the ability to achieve even greater things for Wales.
So, the message is clear.
There is a great deal at stake on 3rd May, and there is a great opportunity for our party. We can win more votes, more seats and more influence in the Assembly than we have ever had before.
In doing so Mike and his team will have the chance to ensure that Wales’ future is a Liberal Democrat future.
Seize that chance.