I want us, the Liberal Democrats, to be the champions of the constitutional revolution our country desperately needs.

I am very pleased to be back here in the North West, speaking again in this famous Town Hall.

Before I start I am sure you will want to join with me in sending our best wishes to Sir Cyril Smith who is recovering after a recent fall at home.

Like Sir Cyril I am an instinctive liberal.

Yet over the years’ people as diverse as John Patten – remember him? – and John Smith – who could forget him – have tried to tempt me away.

But I have never been tempted, since I have always has confidence in our open, tolerant, optimistic liberal message. In the North West and across Britain I know our best days are yet to come.

Here we have so much on which to build. In the last election this was the party’s most successful region. You doubled your numbers, sending six MPs to Westminster.

We need more of that.

Lots, lots more!

Less than two weeks ago all the London pundits were writing off our party’s chances. Prospects for the local elections looked grim. Indeed many questioned the very survival of our party.

Our party, our movement is not going to be buried under newspaper headlines – however unwelcome- we have too much work to do.

And now thanks to voters in Dunfermline and West Fife – we look to the future with enthusiasm.

The Conservative leader David Cameron is desperate to bring about a return of two party politics. He wishes us out of the way. But here in the North West we will prove in the local elections that Tory wishes don’t often come true.

Liverpool will stay strong in capable Liberal Democrat hands.

Here in Manchester, 28 years after Audrey Jones became our first Liberal councillor; we are poised to take control.

And nowhere is there room for the Conservatives – “Dave” may come here for a day and smile for the cameras, but it is us, Liberal Democrats, who do the work, day-in, day-out.

We run now two of Greater Manchester’s 10 councils.

We are within touching distance of taking control of a further three.

Think of that. In a great urban metropolis of two and a half million people the Liberal Democrats are set to become the main political force.

I wonder what the London pundits make of that?

It’s a dream for us, and a well deserved nightmare for our opponents.

But much though I welcome our council progress here and elsewhere it is of limited value if we continue to have governments determined to centralise power.

I want to win power, so that we can give power away.

I want us, the Liberal Democrats, to be the champions of the constitutional revolution our country desperately needs.

I want us to be the champions, again, of people power.

Proportional representation for each and every election.

A fully elected House of Lords.

A robust Freedom of Information Act.

A Civil Service that has its independence guaranteed.

Local government able to make decisions over the running of local schools, hospitals and transport.

Citizens able to initiate inquiries; ask questions direct of decision-takers and have petitions debated.

In short, people power to replace unelected quango power so that government is servant and not master.

In order to break the political mould and bring about this revolution we need more votes and more seats at Westminster.

I don’t simply want you to double the number of your MPs at the next election, ambitious though that may be. I want you to do much better than that.

The party needs to look to you, here in the North West where you have already proven that you know how to win, to make a real breakthrough at Labour’s expense.

Let’s build on our council successes by securing many more parliamentary victories.

Let’s ensure that we have a Parliamentary party to represent Britain because it is representative of Britain.

Let’s work as a strong united team in Westminster and in the country so that we can show that Dunfermline and West Fife was the beginning of the end for the old, failed two-party system.

As you will be aware I have outlined my themes, my values and my policies for this campaign.

Summed up as a fairer, greener, democratic, decentralised Britain with an ethical foreign policy.

Let me today give some more details on my views on transport.

In the week that it was revealed that the North West has Britain’s most congested road – between the M56 and M6 – we have to think again about this country’s transport policies so important to both our economy and our environment.

Building new roads is no real answer.

New roads change travel patterns and generate more traffic.

Indeed we have to allow councils to be as bold as in London with the congestion charge – with the ability to use new revenues for local transport improvements.

We have got to start looking to the long term and planning for the future.

We allow the problems to get worse.

Out of town stores and out of town housing estates are built across the country with no thought to transport needs.

This must change.

Our planning policies must be fundamentally rethought.

The principles of sustainable development must be put into practice.

There will be no quick answers or short term solutions, but every council and every planner must be required now to start the process of shaping towns that reduce car use.

People say, “I would use public transport if only it was efficient and available.”

Well it could be.

Look at Zurich for inspiration – a city where car ownership continues to rise but where car usage is actually falling.

In three years, between 1844 and 1847 the Victorians in this country built 7,000 miles of main line railway.

During the 18 years of Conservative Government what did we get?

We got one mile of urban tramway, the Metrolink line at the back of this building.

When Labour came in we looked for leadership, but what did we get?

The Metrolink expansion programme slashed to ribbons.

The Merseyside tram proposal knocked back at the start gate.

Now even the famous Blackpool tram line, the oldest of its kind in the world, is set to close because the Government will not pay for its renewal.

As ever, this Government talked a good game, but just hasn’t delivered and just won’t allow towns and cities to deliver.

And on the railways, busier now than before Beeching, in a region of seven million people which is bigger than ten EU member states, what did we get?

In the North of England not one single major improvement plan has been given approval.

This cannot go on.

There must be rail investment and expansion in our urban areas.

We need to follow our continental cousins in building a brand new North-South high speed line to connect the North of England with the North of France.

Finally, let’s look at our airports. Both Manchester and Liverpool are success stories, but their growth comes at an environmental cost.

If the expansion of air travel continues as planned it will wipe out all the savings in CO2 emissions achieved through other means. The consequences of global warming are too high a price for the world to pay so that a few can pay a weekend visit to their second homes abroad.

So I put forward a simple principle.

We can accept an increase in air travel, but the growth in passenger numbers must not exceed the savings in CO2 emissions achieved through technological improvements.

We must take measures nationally and through the EU to ensure that the target is met.

So transport will under my leadership be an area for radical change based on the clear premise that it must make a real positive contribution to both economic success and environmental sustainability.

I want to lead this party; I want to lead a strong team into battle to take on Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

My message is that this leadership contest has shown the strength of this party.

The time to come together to take on New Labour and the Old Tories or is it Old Labour and the New Tories is fast approaching.

In doing so let us have no ceiling on our ambition, no anchors on our aspiration.