No glass ceiling for our party, no limit on our aspirations, and no anchor on our ambitions

Ming Campbell made the following speech in Bristol on the evening of January 27th

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Liberal Democrats, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak after my two dear friends and colleagues – Graham Watson and Don Foster.

We all owe Graham and Don so much for showing week in, week out the value of campaigning and community politics.

Their work in this part of the country has been – I know – has been a real help to thousands of people in need and a real inspiration to so many Liberal Democrats.

I remember well Don’s great victory in 1992 – at the high tide of Toryism – when he took on and defeated Chris Patten.

When the history books are written this will go down as one of the great Liberal Democrat wins – a 2,009 majority in a turnout of 83 per cent.

Graham has led our European efforts in a distinguished way and now is our distinguished leader of all the Liberals in the European Parliament.

As Foreign Affairs spokesman I know what service and wisdom he brings to our party and our country in ensuring that the Liberal Democrat voice is heard on critical European issues.

I am thrilled that both Don and Graham are supporting my campaign.

I am also thrilled to be here at Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol City.

Indeed thinking about our party and Bristol City I know that although both of us are suffering temporary difficulties and real challenges – I also know that we can both come through to greater things!

I took note of what Gary Johnson, the Bristol City manager said after the recent draw with Blackpool, “We worked hard, showed commitment and looked strong, so I can take those positives.”

And when I consider the situation in Bristol and the West Country today, I too know that we, Liberal Democrats have, worked hard, shown commitment, looked strong – and I take those as enormous positives to build on.

Under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown and then Charles Kennedy, combined with your hard work and effort we have made extraordinary advances in this part of Britain.

Consider this.

  • In 1992 over 100,000 votes behind the Tories – in 2005 neck and neck.
  • In 1992 we had 1 seat and the Tories had 6 – in 2005 we were ahead 3 to 2.
  • In 1997 over 50,000 votes behind Labour – in 2005 neck and neck.
  • In 1997 nearly 5,000 behind Labour in Bristol West – in 2005 over 5,000 ahead of Labour in Bristol West.

These are achievements of which you should all be proud, of which the party should all be proud and of which I am exceptionally proud.

Stephen Williams won a great victory at the last election and I thought he summed up so well the purpose of an MP – a Liberal Democrat MP – when he quoted in his maiden speech, Edmund Burke.

Burke said, “I want to be a Member of Parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil”.

It is a motto that should go on each and every desk, not only of Liberal Democrat MPs but Liberal Democrat councillors.

Here – I know that under Barbara Janke’s leadership Liberal Democrats have begun to transform Bristol.

This May provides here in Bristol an opportunity to further enhance our position and continue the work in improving this great City for the benefit of all.

Let me make it clear tonight, that whatever the results in our leadership contest, I will return to support the campaign to elect Liberal Democrats in Bristol in May.

My focus as acting leader has been to support Liberal Democrat campaigning – wherever it is needed – from the Parliamentary by-election in Scotland to the local elections in England.

Whatever, the difficulties; whatever, the problems; whatever, the distractions – let us never lose our focus on fighting hard for local people who desperately need a strong Liberal Democrat party.

I came into liberal politics as a student in Glasgow – inspired not by history books or by family but by the idealism, the imagination and the radicalism of Jo Grimond.

It was Jo Grimond who pioneered policies like entry into Europe; like tough economic policies to reverse decline; like bringing government closer to people; like challenging bureaucracy and empowering citizens and like involvement in local public services.
Ideas fresh for the 1950s and 1960s but not only for the 1950s and 1960s but also powerful for today.

I have fought every election since 1974.

I won North East Fife in 1987 from 4th place after 3 elections.

I know from experience how to campaign – I know from experience how to lead a team – I know from experience how to win.
I also know that politics has become too managerial, too technocratic, and too remote.

Tony Blair and David Cameron are driving values out of politics in search of a drab conformity.

But I am passionate about my politics, determined to lead this party, not for my own sake but for what liberal democracy can achieve.

I have said before – there should be no glass ceiling for our party, no limit on our aspirations, and no anchor on our ambitions.
We need to restate our enduring values of liberty, equality and community in a modern way.

That is why I have set out five key areas for our policy development and our future direction.

First, as a radical I will pursue the war on poverty.

We must lift those on the lowest incomes from tax and help women who bear the brunt of low pay, poor pensions and inadequate childcare.

Second, as liberal I will be a strong advocate of civil liberties, equal opportunities and political reform.

Parliament, fairly elected, must hold the Government to account both with a stronger Commons and an elected Lords.

Third, as an environmentalist I will be relentless in my emphasis on tackling the crisis we face.

At home we must give a big boost to energy saving technology and use the tax system to give incentives to change individual behaviour.

Fourth, as an internationalist I am determined that Britain must co-operate to ensure a safer and more secure world.

Britain has a unique role to play at the heart of our international system and we must restore political confidence in international institutions and the international rule of law.

In this way we find long term solutions which will build a strong global economy and so make poverty history.

Fifth, as a democrat, I will reduce the power of the over-mighty state – with community services, locally provided, democratically accountable.

In short, here in Bristol, locally elected people responsible for local schools, local hospitals, local police and local transport.
It is time to trust people in Bristol to make the key decisions about services for Bristol rather than wait on people in London.

If it is good enough for the people of Scotland, it is good enough for the people of Bristol.

Liberal Democracy is about change or it is nothing.

My commitment is not to obsolete policies but to the values of liberal democracy – liberty, equality, community.

Liberal Democrats must offer a radical programme of conscience and reform.

Liberal Democrats must be a strong, principled, distinctive party.

As we have shown in Bristol, Liberal Democrats are the party of the future; it is now time to show the whole country.