Five years ago, the British people chose to do things differently. You decided that no one party had the right to govern our country on their own. You chose to make politicians work together in the national interest. And, you know what, it worked.
Your decision turned round an economy in crisis and made it the fastest growing in the western world. Your decision made sure that the difficult choices needed to get us back on track were taken, but taken with compassion and a sense of fairness. Your decision meant that instead of a Conservative government chasing UKIP off to the extremes, you had Liberal Democrats to keep the government stable and anchored firmly in the centre ground.
But the truth is, I could be stood in front of you today in very different circumstances. Five years ago, when you gave no party the right to govern on their own, when you gave the Liberal Democrats the chance to join the Government for the first time in generations, we could have ignored you, taken the easy way out and said ‘no thanks’. We could have left a Conservative party without a majority in parliament to deal with an economy on the brink of collapse. We could have watched them fail. We could have stood by as the economy went under and people lost their jobs. And we could have watched the Conservatives make the poorest in society pay the price. Then I could have stood in front of you on platforms like this and criticised them for it.
But the Liberal Democrats didn’t do that. We did the responsible thing. We did the fair thing. We did the gutsy thing. We stepped up to the plate and put the good of the country first even though it meant working with people we disagreed with. Even though we knew we would have to make some compromises. Even though we knew we would take a hit to our popularity.
But, you know what, every day has been worth it. Because we made Britain better.
Today, because of what you chose and what we, the Liberal Democrats, did, we have a stronger economy and a fairer society. We brought stability. We turned round the economy. We stopped the Conservatives from putting people like them above people like you. And we made Britain fairer.
We cut taxes for millions of working people and lifted the lowest paid out of tax altogether. We directed more funding to the poorest children in our schools. We created a record 2m apprenticeships. We undertook a bold, liberal reform of our pensions system and have given millions generous rises in the state pension. We oversaw a quiet revolution in renewable technology, with twice as many homes powered by renewable electricity. And we legislated so that all love – gay or straight – is valued equally.
This time round, it is obvious once again that neither Labour nor the Conservatives will win a majority. The era of single-party government is over. I’m not denying that either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister. One of them will. But you know and they know that neither of them will win outright. Neither of them will have a majority in Parliament.
So what really matters is who they will have by their side. Someone is going to hold the balance of power on the 8th of May and it won’t be David Cameron or Ed Miliband. But it could be Nigel Farage. It could be Alex Salmond. Or it could be me and the Liberal Democrats.
So ask yourself this: Do you want Nigel Farage walking through the door of No 10? Do you want Alex Salmond sat at the cabinet table? Or do you want the Liberal Democrats?
The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one. We won’t allow the Conservatives to cut too much and jeopardise our schools and hospitals and we won’t allow Labour to borrow too much and risk our economy again.
But imagine for a moment, what will become of Britain in the next five years if Nigel Farage and his friends on the right wing of the Conservative Party are calling the shots. Our public services cut to the bone; our communities divided; our shared British values of decency, tolerance and generosity cast aside.
Now imagine a Britain run by Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond. By the way, the reason I am talking about him and not Nicola Sturgeon is that he is the one who is running for parliament. He is one who wants to sit in Westminster having his say over how our whole country is run – and if you want to stop him the best way to do it is really very simple – vote for the fantastic Christine Jardine in Gordon. So imagine Miliband and Salmond’s Britain. Our economy crippled by reckless borrowing; our children destined to pay for it for years to come; the future of our United Kingdom in the balance once again.
Last time round, you chose to end the old red-blue, blue-red pendulum swing that has short-changed you time and time again. This time round, you decide what comes next once again.
That’s why every vote for the Liberal Democrats matters. That’s why every Liberal Democrat MP elected next month matters. Only the Liberal Democrats can make sure the next government keeps Britain on track. Every Liberal Democrat MP makes Labour’s reckless borrowing less likely. Every Liberal Democrat MP makes George Osborne’s ideological cuts less likely. And every Liberal Democrat MP is a barrier between Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond and the door to 10 Downing Street. Because the Liberal Democrats will always act responsibly. We will always act fairly. And we will always act in the best interests of the whole United Kingdom.
The truth is a few hundred votes in a small number of seats could decide whether it is Liberal Democrat MPs, UKIP MPs or SNP MPs who the next Prime Minister will be forced to listen to. There is a very thin line between Britain being governed by a coalition with a conscience or a government with a grievance.
But we can and will win in those seats that will make the difference. I’ve seen for myself over the last few weeks the momentum that is building behind Liberal Democrat candidates like Layla Moran, Lisa Smart and Vikki Slade. And when they win, when we have the chance to influence the next government, this is what we will set out to do. This manifesto is a blueprint for a stronger economy and a fairer society. This manifesto is a plan to finish the job of balancing the books, and to do so fairly by protecting our schools, hospitals and public services. This manifesto is an insurance policy against a government lurching off to the extremes.
At its heart is one word that is absolutely central to what Liberal Democrats believe: opportunity. No matter who you are, where you were born, what sexuality or religion you are or what colour your skin is, you should have the same opportunity to get on in life. We want to tear down the barriers that stop you from reaching your potential. We want to smash the glass ceilings that keep you from achieving what you want to achieve. Your talent and your hard work, not the circumstances of your birth, should decide what you can be.
When we formed the Coalition in 2010, three quarters of our manifesto became part of the Government’s agenda. The priorities on its front page: fairer taxes; investment in the poorest children in schools; fixing the economy; and political reform, became central to what the Coalition Government did.
That’s why this manifesto matters. It is a programme for a liberal Government with decency, tolerance and generosity at its heart. And once again, we have set out our top priorities on the front page: prosperity for all, with the budget balanced fairly and investment in a high-skill, low-carbon economy; opportunity for every child, with guaranteed funding from nursery to 19 and qualified teachers in every classroom; fair taxes, with a further £400 tax cut for working people by raising the Personal Allowance to £12,500; quality healthcare for all, with an extra £8bn for the NHS and equal care for mental health; and our environment protected, with five green laws to protect nature and fight climate change.
These are our top priorities. These are the things we will fight tooth and nail for in the next parliament. And make no mistake, this is a programme for government, not opposition. It is not a shopping list of pie in the sky ideas, but a set of proposals that builds on our record of action in government. We can say we will cut taxes for millions of working people because that is what we have done every year in government. We can say we will invest in education because we have protected schools funding and created the Pupil Premium in government. We can say we will properly fund the NHS and ensure equality for mental health because we have increased health spending and directed hundreds of millions of pounds to mental health treatment in government.
I would not have recommended to the Liberal Democrats that we join the coalition in 2010 if our front page priorities were not included in the Coalition Agreement. And I will take the same approach this time. That’s why we have made our top priorities crystal clear this time too: five steps to a stronger economy and a fairer society slap bang on the front page of our manifesto. They are the building blocks of a modern liberal Britain, where you, no matter what your background, have the opportunity to reach your potential.
This document is how we keep Britain on track. We won’t lurch off to the right with excessive cuts, as the Conservatives will. We won’t lurch off to the left, with excessive borrowing, as Labour will. And we won’t drag Britain away from the mainstream, centre ground, as Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond and their friends on the fringes will.
Most people want a stronger economy and a fairer society and they’re fed up of having to choose one or the other. This manifesto proves you don’t need to choose between them. If you choose the Liberal Democrats: you can have both. If you choose the Liberal Democrats, you can stop the next Government from cutting too much or borrowing too much. If you choose the Liberal Democrats, you can stop Nigel Farage or Alex Salmond holding the Government to ransom. And you can have what we all want: a stronger economy and a fairer society, with opportunity for everyone.