Lib Dems will “rattle the cage of British politics”

Ming Campbell this afternoon gave a speech to Liberal Democrat staff. In it, he set out the party’s approach to the new Brown government, which will take office tomorrow.

He promised that the party would be “rattling the cage of British politics and challenging the cosy consensus” between Labour and the Conservatives, exposing the government on issues such as BAE, freedom of information and the erosion of civil liberties. He said the party will “campaign constantly on behalf of all those betrayed by this government over the past decade – those without proper housing or healthcare.”

You can listen to Ming’s speech on YouTube (part 1 here, part 2 here). The full text is below.

Last week was a challenging one for the party.

But we have emerged from that challenge stronger and independent.

As you know, Gordon Brown has offered ministerial posts to Liberal Democrats.

I don’t blame him really.

If I were Prime Minister I’d go further: I’d offer every ministerial post to Liberal Democrats.

It’s understandable that the incoming Prime Minister wants to take advantage of the great talents on the Liberal Democrat benches.

But we are half way through a Parliament in which we have opposed the centralising and authoritarian tendencies of this Labour government.

And I am not prepared to cash that in for the sake of ministerial jobs.

In recent weeks we have rejected advances from the Conservatives, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and now Labour.


We were, we are and we will remain a party proud of our Liberal tradition: wedded to our core values of fairness, freedom and respect for the environment.

That is the kind of government that we want, and for which we will fight.

We must prepare to hold this government to account as never before.

The Liberal Democrats will put Gordon Brown in the dock and scrutinise his policies and pronouncements with relentless, forensic rigour.

This Chancellor has presided over growing inequality.

He was at the Cabinet table when civil liberties were being eroded.

And when the army was being despatched to fight in Iraq his name was on the cheque.

We will be there to remind everyone that his fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime.

The lead actor may have changed but the plot is just the same.

Never has there been a Chancellor who has exerted so much influence over domestic policy.

So it’s no good saying that we are starting afresh.

The record of the last ten years is the record of Gordon Brown.

Who has lost out under Labour?


Having fought against boom and bust in the economy, the government has created one in the NHS.


Eighteen billion pounds accrued in student debt thanks to tuition fees, top-up fees and loans.

The Vulnerable.

A bureaucratic maze of benefits and tax credits, to which many claimants aren’t even aware that they are entitled.

The environment.

A tax system that has pushed carbon emissions ever higher by cutting green taxes as a share of national income.

David Cameron says he wants to provide an alternative to what Gordon Brown will offer.

But the Tories cannot provide that alternative.

The Conservatives and Labour are in shameful collusion.

On council tax, nuclear power, City Academies, Iraq and student finance they have formed a shabby consensus.

It is ironic that of the few areas where the Tories actually have policies, they share so much in common with the government.

It is our duty to expose that consensus and, yes, to oppose it too.

We’ll do it by rattling the cage of British politics and challenging the cosy consensus of the centre right.

We’ll do it by sticking to Liberal Democrat principles of fairness, honesty and justice.

We’ll do it by relentlessly exposing the government on BAE, Freedom of Information and the erosion of civil liberties.

And while we’re on the subject of BAE, the question today for Mr Brown is whether he will cooperate fully with the United States Justice Department inquiry into the allegations about the Al Yamamah arms deal.

Isn’t a sad reflection on Britain that it is left to the US to investigate the conduct of a British company and its relationship with a Saudi prince?

What sort of signal does it send to the rest of the world when Jack Straw can congratulate the Conservative Party for failing to raise the issue of BAE in parliament?

On the eve of his appointment as Prime Minister of this country will Gordon Brown give us an undertaking that he will raise, not compromise, ethical standards in business and in diplomacy?

We will campaign constantly on behalf of all those betrayed by this government over the past decade – those without proper housing or healthcare.

Veterans of the iniquitous war in Iraq left to fend for themselves.

Children given poor education.

The elderly struggling to get by.

Families beset by mounting financial and work pressures.

We will do it by playing to our strengths.

Our instinctive lead on the key issues of the future – global warming, the liberty of the individual, localism.

Campaigning on specific issues.


Opportunity and its links to poverty and housing – an issue close to our hearts and at the centre of our economic and social differences with other parties.

It will be fertile territory in our battle with Brown and Cameron.

Global warming – an area where we must continue to show leadership, vision and knowledge.

Will my age be an issue?


Because I will make it an issue.

Politics would benefit from more people with experience.

If more experienced politicians had taken the decisions, we might not be mired in the conflict that we see in Iraq today.

What’s more we are prepared to take risks.

Not with our values – they must be our compass bearings.

But when we’ve taken risks in the past we have often been proved right.

Steel on apartheid, Jenkins on realignment, Ashdown on Bosnia, Kennedy on Iraq.

We took the courageous course and won through.

In every example these statements of principle were played out in a hostile House of Commons.

So we need conviction and courage in equal measure.

Our party must be the champion of individual rights and not vested interests.

I want ours to be the party of opportunity and ambition.

I want our party to be an advocate for the dispossessed and the disadvantaged.

Intellectually rigorous and politically courageous.

Driven by principle.

Devoid of prejudice.


And open-hearted.

Many of you here know my huge affection for Jo Grimond and I can’t do better than quote his view:

“More power to the individual, more power to the local community, less centralised government – a country of free men and women controlling far more of their lives, exploiting choice and competition but backed up by services – also as far as possible locally controlled.”

What more is there to say?

We can be defiantly optimistic about the future.

We should be fanatical about freedom and relentless about reform.

Europe should be seen as an opportunity not a burden.

Globalisation, migration, changing social attitudes and, above all, climate change require a new and different kind of politics.

A new, transparent, committed kind of politics that we alone can provide.

I want us to give all our strength, all our energy and dedication to put this party’s ambitions for Britain first.

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3 Responses to Lib Dems will “rattle the cage of British politics”

  1. Pingback: Jeremy Hargreaves » Blog Archive » Brown 1, Cameron 0

  2. Guto says:

    Playing a little hard and fast with the truth as regards to Wales, where they have negotiated a deal with Tories and Plaid Cymru, refused that deal, asked for it again and now, after Plaid Cymru refused them, contacted Labour again asking if there was any chance they could work something out!

  3. “We should be fanatical about freedom and relentless about reform”

    Really? How about some policy of drug liberalisation, and being relentless instead of nothing since the soundbite in march?

    My yellow Lib Dem membership card has the word ‘liberal’ written on it all over the place – shame I’m not seeing much of that theme in our policies serious social issues like drugs and the *** trade.

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