Simon Hughes speech in full

Read Simon Hughes speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in full on politics.co.uk.

“Conference I am a bit nervous about today – people keep on saying. Everyone will be watching – you do realise you will be speaking to the biggest conference you have ever had.

And lots of other people say – Simon you do realise that everyone will be watching and everything you say will be misinterpreted

So conference I decided – the only safe option – was not to make a speech at all. Sorry.

But then I thought you know me – I’ve never turned down an opportunity to do a speech before! So I am not going to do so this time.

Conference – In my last speech as Party President two years ago I told you to be more ambitious.
Well, we’ve done ourselves proud.

What a year this has been: Millwall promoted, a coalition – and with the Tories!
Then, since May when the new government was formed, four and a half thousand new members have joined us.

And in Liverpool this week our largest party conference ever.

Under Nick’s leadership and with your work Liberal Democrats are in government in Whitehall for the first time in generations.

Nick gave me some far fetched excuse last night about why he had to miss my speech today – something about representing Britain at the UN.

But I forgive him, and although he can’t be with us for the rest of conference I want to start by paying tribute to him as leader.

We could not at this most important year in our party’s history have wished for a leader with greater determination, energy and integrity and yes ambition – ambition not for himself but for the party we all love and determination for the liberty and social justice which Liberal Democrats work daily to achieve.

It is also truly a privilege to succeed Vince Cable to serve our party as our deputy leader in the Commons.

The role Vince played as shadow chancellor and deputy leader in the last parliament – without any doubt was one of the main reasons why the public judged we were fit and ready for government.

Vince you have our grateful best wishes for your hugely important job as the Business Secretary of our country.

I am a rock solid supporter of the coalition – which our party has democratically agreed will last for five years.

One of my jobs as Deputy Leader in the House of Commons is to make sure that decisions of government and parliament in the months to come, reflect the views and concerns of all my parliamentary colleagues and them the wider party.

I would like to extend a warm Liberal Democrat welcome to all the people attending conference for the first time – our new members, diplomats, exhibitors and lobbyists.

And members of the press.

I have been told that this is the first time ever that two particular national papers have sent their senior political editor to a Liberal Democrat conference.

Hello – I can see you. We know who you are. You are particularly welcome

So just one tip if I may for first timers.

There is a very easy way to remember which party conference you’re at.

Labour conference – some members with loads of votes.

Tory conference – plenty of members – but no votes!

Liberal Democrat conference – I know it’s daring and radical – loads of members each with one vote!

Conference, this last point is really important. At last Britain has in government a fully democratic party which gives all members a real say in how our party is governed and the policies we promote.

Conference let me be clear with you about our job as a party

Our job as a party – our magnificent party is to debate and decide on policies, to campaign for change, to build up the movement that is liberal democracy in Britain.

And now to use all our influence in the coalition government – sometimes to put on pressure, sometimes to warn and often to encourage.

On issues which are important to us:

In opposition to a like for like replacement of Trident

In opposition to nuclear power

Scrapping tuition fees

Always defending human rights and civil liberties

And always campaigning against obscene profits and obscene bonuses whilst others struggle to make ends meet.

This is why you are so important. Motions passed here and your views as members can from now on have real influence on ministers and government and therefore the everyday lives of the people of Britain.

Conference no Liberal Democrat minister has become any less radical or any less committed to freedom and fairness since they joined the government.

Like you they have spent years knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and campaigning for liberal democracy.

I know from all my contacts with them that all our ministers are fighting every day to deliver liberal democracy in Britain.

Of course I understand the concerns of some of you and some of our supporters.

Coalition will not always be easy.

You may not like everything that this government will do.

But I have been on the opposition benches for 27 years watching things I didn’t like and it didn’t make it any easier for me or my south London constituents to suffer those things just because I knew I was not in any way responsible.

When you move from the touchline to the pitch, there is a risk you may get some knocks and pick up a few bruises – but on the touchline you never get the chance to change the game.

Now that we are in the game, one thing that we can say with absolute certainty is that from now we will not be ignored. Look at this conference.

Now we are a party which everybody is listening to – and I am not just referring to my voicemails.

Our new position provides us with a huge opportunity.

We will be failing generations of liberals if we do not seize this opportunity to reach out across the country and spread the message of liberal democracy far and wide.
We must not give up for a moment in our mission to attract new sympathisers, new supporters and new voters, from every walk of life and from every community and country of the United Kingdom.

More than at any moment since I joined this party in 1971, more than at any moment in British post war history – this is not the time for the liberal voice in Britain to be quiet or subdued or marginalised.

This is the time to be talking and working to show what liberal democracy can do in all our councils and in all our communities and in government in England, Scotland and Wales.

Now is the time to mobilise and organise and win more seats and votes next May in the elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and every English council.

Now we are at last in the government of the United Kingdom, now more than ever is the time to stand for liberal democracy and win the battles for liberal democracy – to create a freer, fairer, greener and more democratic Britain, entirely different from the legacy of Tory and Labour single party governments over the last 50 years.

Now more than ever is the time for us to say to people outside this conference and our party, from business and the trade unions, whether you are a school leaver or an older person: join us, work with us, we can change the future of Britain.

And Friends, ours is the privilege of leading that change.

But if we are serious about growing our movement we still have two big pieces of work to do.
From early next year it is absolutely vital we have processes which guarantee similar numbers of women and men standing as Liberal Democrat candidates across Britain and in all target seats.

And from early next year it is also absolutely vital we have processes which guarantee black, Asian, and mixed race people and those with disabilities standing as Liberal Democrat candidates across Britain and in our target seats.

Tomorrow’s debate on diversity gives us the opportunity take decisions which build much more quickly the diverse political party which will do justice to our liberal beliefs and ideals.

When we go into the next general election in 2015 we must do so leading the largest, most popular and diverse Liberal Democrat party that we have ever had.

But this speech is not only about what coalition government can do for our party – it is about what our party can do for this government and this country.

Conference. We know what we are in government to do. We know the challenge in front of us.

Particularly to reassure our coalition partners and in the sprit of pluralism, I would like to make clear our commitment to respectful consideration of all political views – and paraphrase Karl Marx:

‘Men make their own histories but not in circumstances of their own choosing’.

We would not have chosen these circumstances.

A ballooning deficit already consumes a quater of the government’s total budget on interest payments.

Nearly two and half million people unemployed.

A climate crisis on the horizon.

The reality is, that in so many ways, Labour let Britain down

Labour let down millions of individuals and families – homeless or badly housed – who are left on a never ending waiting list for a decent home.

Labour let millions of students and graduates – who now leave education thousands of pounds in debt and struggling to find a job.

Labour let down the next generation – leaving all of us with one of the lowest amounts of energy generated from renewable resources in Europe.

David Milliband says that under him Labour will suddenly be attractive to Liberal Democrats members.

Ed Miliband said that we will ‘decline and fray’.

How deluded can Labour be?

Do they still not understand why Labour had their worst election result in nearly thirty years?

I have a message for the Milibands – grow up!

And for all those people who were let down by Labour. I have a message for you too.

Liberal Democrats plan to end tuition fees and replace them with a fairer system of funding our students and universities.

We plan to build more affordable housing in each year of this government than in any one of the thirteen years of Labour government.

We plan to be the greenest government ever.

We are in government to build a different kind of Britain.

A fair Britain – with an economy that works for us, an economy which creates good sustainable jobs with good pay and provides for a decent living.

A green Britain – where we use only what we need and conserve what we have, handing our planet on to future generations in a better condition than we found it.

A free Britain – where citizens are trusted to go about their daily lives without interference from the state – because a government that cannot trust its citizens does not deserve the trust of its citizens.

A democratic Britain – where power is in the hands in the many and not the few, where citizens can participate in how they want their country and their communities to be governed and where they can elect a government that truly represents our country.

Put simply – over five years we plan to create a more liberal Britain than we have today – and we are determined to succeed.

The government has already achieved a remarkable amount in these few months.

We have already torn down many of the shameful abuses of civil liberties which the authoritarian Labour government introduced.

Ending ID cards, initiating a review of pre charge detention, ending the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Chris Huhne is working hard to boost production of renewable energy, letting councils sell the energy they produce, which building on the feed-in tariff has completely changed the outlook for renewable energy generation by local communities across our country.

Danny Alexander showed us the other day how our government is determined to take on the tax evaders.

When we return to parliament Nick Clegg will steer the bill for a choice of a fairer voting system through the Commons

Our great team in the House of Lords will as always work day and night under Tom McNally’s determined leadership to give us political and constitutional reform.

The fairer votes referendum to be held next year is hugely important – not just for us but for our country.

It is simply unacceptable that so many people feel that their vote does not count and so many MPs are elected by a minority of their voters.

We are regularly told that this country needs strong government.

But a strong government elected by a minority of the electorate does not mean good government.

It was a government elected on a minority of the vote which introduced the poll tax.

It was a government elected on a minority of the vote which took us into a disastrous and illegal war in Iraq.

This government commands the support of the majority of those who voted – for the first time since the second world war.

Liberals in government are really important and not just here.

If France had a really strong liberal party I believe there would be no risk of mass expulsions of the Roma people.

If Italy had a really strong liberal party I believe it would not have had a prime minster who shamefully legislated to protect himself from the proper workings of justice.
We have the strongest Liberal party in Europe – now is the time to play to all our strength.

The oldest resident in Bermondsey and one of my most enthusiastic supporters – now aged over 110 and a liberal for over 80 years – is a lady called Grace Jones.

She grew up in the era of the great radical liberal government which introduced the state pension and national insurance.

We owe it to the Liberal votes and campaigners over the last seven decades, people like Grace, but also those who have left us like Maud Hardy and Hilary Wines in Southwark and Jo Grimond, Nancy Seear, Cyril Smith and Richard Livsey – who have kept the flame of liberal democracy so proudly alive.

At the beginning of this century we must be equally proud, equally ambitions and equally radical.

So that at the next election, when the public see the difference we have made, delivering a Britain which is fairer, freer and greener – they will know that it would not have happened without us.

This is our moment.

This is the best opportunity of our lifetimes.

We are taking it. Together.”