The Liberal Democrats must do much much better in reflecting the diverse nature of our society at every level of the party

I am delighted to be here.

I want to modernise our party – that’s why I want to be leader.

I believe the Liberal Democrats must do much much better in reflecting the diverse nature of our society at every level of the party.

The current position is just unsatisfactory – it damages our credibility and it undermines our claim to government.

I believe this is a leadership issue and that the party leader must take a lead.

If we are to achieve a society in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, as our constitution states, then we must ensure that no one in our party is disadvantaged or suffers discrimination.

Liberal Democrats have always been at the forefront of promoting equality and anti-discrimination legislation in our society. But we cannot accept that our own party has done enough.

I want everyone to be in the mainstream of our party, I want people from all communities, religions and cultures to feel that the Liberal Democrats are the party to join and be active in.

So that is why I support the specific goal – as a minimum – of at least 1 new black or minority ethnic MP and 40% of new MPs and 25% of the Parliamentary Party being female after the next election.

This I will make happen through a programme of positive action.

Positive action means looking at all our procedures and practices to ensure that there is no discrimination. There are too many examples that I have been told of wrong practice and wrong questions at selection meetings.

Positive action means identifying role models in the party.

Positive action means a positive lead from a positive leader.

So that is why I will ask every MP, every MEP, every MSP and every AM to mentor one potential candidate who is a woman and one who is from the ethnic minorities. I want them all to identify people from within their own constituencies and report back to me.

I repeat every MP, MEP, MSP and AM.

So that is why I will at Harrogate give a lead by making it clear that I endorse the motion before the conference to set up an Ethnic Minority Election Task Force on a comparable basis to the Gender Balance Task Force.

This motion is a direct result of work undertaken by Navnit Dholakia, who is a Vice-Chairman of my campaign, and – with others – pulled together the paper on Diversity, Racial Equality and the Party.

This document, approved by the Federal Executive, has been described as the best document to emerge from a political party by Operation Black Vote.

I will then want to see the party allocate sufficient energy and funds and resources to this.

Part of specific funding must be to help candidates to get selected. I want to task a small group to raise specific money to provide bursaries for candidates to win selection and then start their campaigning.

As leader I will certainly put my own energy and authority into making sure that we walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk.

That is why I will ask the candidates office to give me a monthly report on how many ethnic minority candidates we have and how many have been selected and in what seats.

Part of how we attract people from all faiths and all cultures to be part of our party is not through PR-gimmicky we can leave that to David Cameron; nor through assumptions of support we can leave that to Gordon Brown – but through engaging on the right issues.

The Leader chairs the Federal Policy Committee.

I will ensure that all our policies receive an equality audit.

I will ensure that as we review policies that whether it is schools, welfare reform or health-care that we recognise how our policies impact on all communities.

I will ensure that we draw in expertise – not least from our local council colleagues – to help us better focus our policies and campaign with vigour.

Our principled Opposition to the Iraq War which Charles Kennedy and I led did attract voters at the last election and I want our policies – a fairer, greener, democratic Britain to appeal as strongly next time as did that opposition to the war last time.

I am determined that Britain must co-operate with other nations to ensure a safer and more secure world.

Make no mistake – I want to bring our troops home from Iraq as soon as possible.

But I am clear that that process should be driven by events on the ground in Iraq, not by arbitrary deadlines marked on a calendar in London.

This hard headed position allows us to be credible when we speak of a two-state solution in the Middle East or our encouragement of India and Pakistan to resolve the issue together of Kashmir or our continuing demands to make poverty history.

So let us never lose our hard-won position as the party of credibility, authority and judgement on critical issues of foreign policy.

On the domestic front, I think the issue of a fair society with a strong attack on poverty and disadvantage will appeal to people from ethnic minorities. Of course it will appeal more widely but I know that the values of hard work, enterprise and self reliance will resonate amongst our ethnic minority communities.

So let me make it clear – our welfare system – Gordon Brown’s welfare state has failed Britain – it traps people in poverty instead of freeing them.

It makes people dependent instead of providing them with opportunities and second chances.

It penalises work instead of rewarding it.

It complicates tax rather than simplifying it.

We are the most unequal society amongst the major economies and that has worsened since the 1970s.

We must take the poorest out of tax whilst rewarding those who want to be helped into learning and jobs.

I want to encourage self reliance – not dependence.

I want to help those who can help themselves by championing effort, enterprise and entrepreneurs.

Too few of our young people continue with learning post-16 and our curriculum is weak on creativity, team working and communication the key skills of the next decade.

Some Muslim communities – Pakistani, Bangladeshi – are more at risk of social exclusion and poor school performance compared to Indians and Chinese communities.

I will always speak out against disadvantage and discrimination; I will be fearless in my view that Liberal Democrats should be for all faiths and all communities and all of Britain.

We cannot allow our Muslim communities to feel apart and left out – Liberal Democrats must champion equality, freedom and opportunity across all communities.

I will want us as a party – as a nation – to celebrate the contribution that all ethnic minority communities make to our society, our country and our prosperity.

This contribution – which enriches us all – is not recognised or celebrated enough.

But we have to do better as a party – to attract, retain and develop the talent in all our ethnic minority communities.

If elected – I will make this a priority.