Liberal Democrats under my leadership would vote against any Queens Speech without a clear and unambiguous commitment for proportional representation
It’s always a pleasure to be in Cambridge, and never more so than this evening.
This city, its university and its people have been an inspiration to Britain and the world for many years, and now the city boasts it’s first Lib Dem MP in David Howarth. I am proud to have David in Parliament – as part of an ever growing team.
We celebrate Cambridge today above all because it is a beacon to the world for scientific and technological endeavour.
Not only is Cambridge, with its 1,000-plus hi-tech companies the Silicon Valley of Europe, but right now, a City which leads for us all.
There is a team of university scientists working at the Addenbrookes Hospital who have developed the world’s first quick and simple test that enables doctors to know immediately whether a new-born baby has the HIV virus.
Medecins sans Frontieres have said that this diagnostic breakthrough could “revolutionise the world of Aids treatment”.
It is indeed a beacon of hope that has been lit here in Cambridge, and it serves to remind us of the desperate poverty that exists in Africa and many other parts of the world, where 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day.
It also reminds us that our country must continue the fight to make poverty history.
But make no mistake, there is poverty in Britain too – even here in Cambridge. And poverty is at the top of my personal list of priorities.
It is deeply shocking that the gap between rich and poor is now greater than it was when Labour came to power in 1997.
The party that I will lead into the next General Election and beyond will tackle the root causes of poverty by reducing health inequalities and raising educational standards.
We will also massively expand social and affordable housing so local people are able to buy and rent houses in their own communities – a key issue here in Cambridge and right across our nation.
The second crucial issue that I want to pursue as your leader is the environment and the energy crisis. At home we must give a big boost to energy saving and use the tax system to encourage people and businesses to play their part. Abroad we must work to persuade the United States to take climate change seriously.
On energy we must invest dramatically in renewable energy and new technology so that we can reduce our dependence on oil and say no to nuclear power. Again, the laboratories of Cambridge may play a crucial role in making that happen.
It just cannot be right that we tax jobs and income excessively whilst taxing pollution and congestion so leniently.
Thirdly, I am determined that Britain must work with other nations for a safer 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.
And I have to say that the latest news of the Basra authorities being reluctant to work with our soldiers after the release of that appalling video makes all this considerably more urgent.
But under my leadership there will be no panic measures, no arbitrary deadlines. We must never lose our hard-won position as the party of credibility, authority and judgment on critical issues of foreign policy.
My fourth priority is to reduce the power of the over-mighty state – with community services, locally provided, and democratically accountable.
That means locally elected people here in Cambridge being responsible for your schools, your hospitals, your police and your transport services.
Labour talks about this a lot now. But it strikes me that they suffer from what Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes Minister” described as the “Law of Inverse Relevance” – the less they intend to do about something; the more they talk about it!
Last, but by no means least, we must have a genuinely liberal approach to civil liberties, equal opportunities and political reform.
We will keep campaigning for a fairer voting system. As I have made clear – in the event of a hung Parliament, which I will never campaign for – Liberal Democrats under my leadership would vote against any Queens Speech without a clear and unambiguous commitment for proportional representation. Anything less would be a betrayal of our principles, our party and our country.
We will be vigilant against every kind of discrimination. And we will stand firm against this government’s attempts to circumscribe our freedoms, whether by detaining terrorist suspects without trial or introducing ID cards without any objective evidence that they will serve any useful purpose.
Gordon Brown made a speech this week defending ID cards. He is now part of a dual Premiership with Tony Blair. Perhaps at Prime Ministers Questions I should ask questions of Brown and Blair?
There are questions to ask Gordon Brown.
Will the Chancellor confirm that as Prime Minister he will run Labour’s election campaign with all the skill and determination he displayed in Dunfermline and West Fife?
And pray – let the answer be yes!
And what of Tory wonder boy David Cameron?
Well, credit where credit’s due: the Prime Minister did a great job last week characterising him, with wounding accuracy, as a flip-flopper, a man prepared to say anything to win votes.
He’s been on the road to Damascus so often he clearly needs a season ticket!
But this should not surprise us.
When young “Dave” was a PR man for Michael Green at Carlton Communications, this is what the business journalist Jeff Randall said of him: “In my experience, Cameron never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative, which probably makes him perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair.”
I don’t think the British public will fancy such an inexperienced prospect – a leader with L-Plates.
I think rather than the new spin of Cameron and the old spin of Brown voters will want substance, values and integrity, judgment and consistency.
With your help, I will use my experience, my authority, my energy – to marshall the remarkable array of talent that exists in this party.
The election contest has shown the voters the strength of our party.
The by-election has shown the voters the seriousness of the party.
We now have to show the voters that we stand for a better Britain – fair, green, democratic.
Last week we showed what we could do in Gordon Brown’s back yard, in my back yard in Dunfermline and West Fife.
At the last General Election you showed what we could do in Cambridge.
With your support Liberal Democrats can at long last break the mould of British politics.
That is my commitment to you.
That is my commitment to the party.
That is my commitment to Britain.
All I ask is for a chance to deliver.