In his speech to the Liberal Democrat Scottish conference in Glasgow, Liberal Democrat Leader Ming Campbell made clear that the party is ready for a general election whenever Gordon Brown calls it. He called on Gordon Brown to end the election speculation and apologise to our services about his announcement on troop withdrawals from Iraq.
We may be just 72 hours away from the start of the General Election campaign.
And I can’t wait. This party has the candidates, the organisation and the determination to fight the most effective campaign in our history.
On a manifesto of policies that would change Scotland and Britain forever.
And whenever Gordon Brown calls the election – whether it’s next week or next year – we’ll be ready.
Whenever he calls the election he will face a Liberal Democrat party determined to rattle the cage of British politics.
Whenever he calls the election he will face a Liberal Democrat party which will compete for every vote and for every seat.
And I promise you this:
I will make every effort, seize every opportunity, and work every day to return the maximum number of Liberal Democrat MPs in the next House of Commons.
And I know – I know – that I can expect nothing less from you.
For some weeks now we have had increasingly fevered speculation about a General Election.
All the indications are that the government, both in public and private, has deliberately encouraged the belief that an election is imminent.
That has meant the management of government business has been in the interests of the Labour Party, not the public.
Ministers have been distracted from their responsibilities by party considerations.
And the British people have been badly served by this uncertainty and partisanship.
It is now time for the Prime Minister to put an end to the speculation by stating his intentions clearly and unequivocally.
The British people are entitled to nothing less.
And when that election is held we will offer the country a political party that is prepared to take the lead and to speak the truth.
Britain needs a competition of ideas, not the stifling of debate and the undermining of accountability. But on so many of the major political issues Labour and the Tories at Westminster indulge in a two-party consensus – comfortable, cosy and complacent.
On the environment, taxes, pensions, nuclear power – Iraq.
And that’s a consensus that we alone can break:
That we must break – for the benefit of Britain.
And when Scotland votes, people need to know who will really deliver the change that Scotland needs.
Our priority is the national interest – first and last – Scotland and Britain.
Only the Liberal Democrats can break open the complacent consensus between Labour and the Tories at the next election.
We alone will confront the difficult issues.
Take tough decisions.
Yes – and say controversial things too.
And that’s why the Liberal Democrats are the cutting edge of the debates on tax, on poverty, on crime, and, most of all, on the environment.
Last month the Green Alliance rated our environmental policies top of all the major parties – just as Friends of the Earth did in the recent election campaign here in Scotland.
And on both occasions the Conservatives scored zero.
Only we have the honesty to propose the green taxes that will really change polluters’ behaviour.
Only we have the foresight to map out the route to a zero carbon Britain.
Only we have the vision to insist on British leadership in the international effort to tackle climate change.
That’s what real leadership is about.
I won’t have it any other way.
Mr Brown is working hard to convince us that there has been real change in Number 10:
That his arrival has somehow wiped the slate clean.
That the last ten years of waste, failure and disappointment are to be forgiven and forgotten –
Well, not so fast Gordon.
You spent a decade blaming everything on the previous Conservative government.
But as Chancellor over the last ten years you had unparalleled influence over government.
You could have raised green taxes to tackle climate change.
You could have stopped the ineffective, expensive and unnecessary identity card scheme.
And you could have prevented Tony Blair from embarking on the catastrophe of the Iraq war.
But you didn’t do any of these things.
This is your legacy, Mr Brown:
The environment degraded.
Civil liberties eroded.
Not to mention the record for which you – and you alone – were responsible as Chancellor.
A smash and grab raid on private pensions.
A steady, disturbing rise in the number of home repossessions.
And a national economic backdrop of £1.3 trillion in personal debt.
With a record like that it’s no wonder that the Prime Minister wants to start afresh.
But it’s a record for which we will ensure that he takes responsibility:
In spite of your claims of change, Mr Brown, not much has changed.
New Labour remains blue Labour.
And you’re still wrong.
Wrong on nuclear energy.
Wrong on council tax.
Wrong on student fees.
And you are wrong, wrong, wrong on detention without charge.
We don’t need a change of tone in this country:
We need a change of policies.
And you, Gordon Brown, have not delivered.
And we know – we know – the Tories could do no better.
Just look at their record.
They criticise the government’s handling of the war in Iraq.
But it was their votes that made that war possible.
They protest against a “broken society”.
But it was their policies – under Margaret Thatcher – that widened inequalities and shattered social cohesion.
They talk about climate change.
But they cannot reconcile their relationship with business and the need to take action on the environment now.
The Tories have had a bucketful of proposals put to them in recent months.
We’ve had the Clarke Commission, the Duncan Smith Commission, the Dorrell Commission, the Gummer Commission, and – of course – the Redwood Commission.
A morass of contradictory ideas.
But what good has it done them?
David Cameron told us this week that we need a change from the “old politics” in this “new world”.
But his conference speech showed a retreat to the past – the Tory leader going back to basics.
Pro-family, anti-welfare, tax cuts for married couples.
These are not big ideas, they are dog whistle gestures.
And we’ve heard it all before.
Well, we do things differently.
Our party will take the lead and speak the truth.
Because things have to change if we want our country to be one truly united Britain.
Whether you are black or white, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, sick or healthy, young or old.
Government must stand for the interests of all, but the vested interests of none.
People will have confidence in government only when they know that it is open, honest and transparent.
And you know, government will never gain peoples’ confidence whilst the malevolent culture of spin pervades British government.
And it does still pervade British government.
For all the effort to convince us that Tony Blair took the showmanship with him when he left Number 10, Labour is spinning as much as ever.
Can Gordon Brown really have missed the irony that his “spin-free” image is being sold to us by Saatchi and Saatchi?
The truth is that the new Prime Minister is as wedded to spin as his predecessor.
And he proved it this week.
The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that 1000 British troops would come home from Iraq by Christmas.
But then we discovered that 270 of them have already gone.
Another 230 had already been due to leave.
And the remaining 500 are currently stationed in Germany.
From dodgy dossiers to dodgy deployments, Labour has not learned the folly of spin.
Gordon Brown owes our services an apology.
And the best apology that he could give them would be a cast iron commitment to bring all the troops home.
We know that Britain’s armed forces were sent to Iraq on a flawed prospectus.
And over these past four years we have watched as their great efforts have been undermined by ineptitude.
So if Gordon Brown wants to improve the situation in Iraq, phantom troop withdrawals are not the way.
He should listen to Britain’s most senior soldier, Sir Richard Dannatt, who said almost a year ago that our presence in Iraq is making the situation worse.
And he should listen to us when we say that we need a framework for the phased withdrawal of our forces.
That’s the politics of substance, not the politics of spin.
Our mission is to change the British political landscape, once and for all:
To throw open the doors of government and let the people in.
No more sleazy patronage, no more dodgy dossiers, no more abandoned investigations into secret arms deals – in fact, no more secret arms deals, full stop!
And on the constitution, not piecemeal change or pick and mix proposals.
But a commitment to fair votes, and an end to the lottery of first past the post.
Real freedom of information, and an end to government efforts to undermine it.
Fixed parliamentary terms and an end to elections held in the interests of the prime minister rather than the people.
A wholly elected House of Lords, and an end to politics based on the power of patronage.
And at the foundation of it all a Bill of Rights –
A Bill of Rights to reclaim the civil liberties stolen from us by this Labour government.
A Bill of Rights to anchor freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of association within our law.
You know, I joined this party because I believe in freedom.
Not just the intellectual freedom of politicians and academics, but freedom in its most practical sense.
The freedom we get from decent education, a clean environment, and decent standard of living.
And the Liberal Democrat challenge is to show how we can extend that freedom to every citizen in this country.
Who’d have thought that after a decade of Labour government – a Labour government – the gap between rich and poor in this country would be wider than it was when Labour came to office?
Who’d have thought that after a decade of Labour government social mobility would be in decline?
And who’d have thought that our country would languish – shamefully – at the bottom of the UNICEF league table for the well-being of children.
That’s the record of Gordon Brown and the Labour government.
And you know what:
The people out there know it.
The people on low incomes who will pay more tax from March to fund tax cuts for higher earners: they know it.
The families who are reliant on failed tax credit system that pursues them through the courts for money they don’t have: they know it.
The millions of older people who struggle to get by on inadequate pensions: they know it too.
This is unacceptable in the 21st century.
Freedoms for Scotland:
So, at this election, let me be clear.
The Liberal Democrats will offer Scotland freedoms that Labour and the Tories have failed to deliver.
First, the freedom born of prosperity for all.
We will cut the standard rate of national income tax to its lowest level for nearly a century.
We will shift the burden of taxation from people to pollution.
And the average family will see their taxes cut by one thousand pounds a year.
Second, the freedom born of a clean environment.
It’s a disgrace that this government pays no more than lip service to fighting climate change.
This party would take action now.
By raising green taxes, by investing in renewables – by making Britain carbon neutral, with Scotland leading the way.
And by ruling out further investment in nuclear power stations – on environmental, security and financial grounds too.
And third, the freedom born of empowerment.
This party – the Scottish Liberal Democrats – under the leadership of Nicol Stephen, is leading the debate on future of devolution.
We will continue to cooperate with other parties where they share our wish to strengthen devolution and empower the Scottish people.
Over the past eight years, Liberal Democrats have used their voice in government to improve Scottish healthcare, to strengthen Scottish education, and to create Scottish opportunity.
This is freedom in its truest sense – and we will pursue it with vigour.
These are the freedoms for which we will fight.
I relish the prospect of that fight.
And so should you.
Let me tell you this.
I will lead this party into the next election with energy, ambition and determination.
Because the stakes have never been higher.
And liberalism has never been needed more than it is today.
So whenever people ask you:
“Why vote Liberal Democrat?” tell them this:
We alone are prepared to break the complacent consensus of British politics and face up to the challenges confronting our society.
To create a country that is fair, free and green.
Free in thought, expression and conscience.
Free from the disadvantage and discouragement that still blight the prospects of far too many of our people.
And free from the growing threat of climate change.
Only we can achieve that fair, free and green society.
Because only we believe in it –
Only we will work for it –
Only we will fight for it.
I joined this party because, like you, I wanted change.
I joined this party because, like you, I wanted opportunity for all.
I joined this party because, like you, I wanted a different kind of politics -yes, and a different kind of country too:
This is what Liberal Democrats stand for.
This is what we offer.
And this is what we can achieve together.