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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Sir Menzies: full policy speech
This is the full text of the policy speech by Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

In these last 100 days, I have not had much time for sledging with huskies nor for discussing suitable venues for croquet with my colleagues.

In these last 100 days, I have been getting down to work.

Bluntly, if the Liberal Democrats want to show the country that we are serious about power, we must reform our party.

Our party has remained largely unchanged since we came together in 1988. Change is overdue, necessary and urgent.

In these last three months, I have begun the task of implementing that change. Every decision taken now must advance our cause at the next general election and put us at the centre of events.

My leadership will not be judged by the short-term pre-occupations of London commentators but by the long-term judgement of the British people.

I believe that given the Labour leadership - and deputy leadership - crisis, the general election could come as early as October next year.

That is why I am pleased to announce that at my invitation, Chris Rennard will chair our campaign. He is the man whom our opponents fear most. The work starts today.

I have already put in place five other key building blocks for success in that election.

First, I have appointed the strongest, youngest and most talented front bench team in the history of our party. A team which includes new talent like Nick Clegg, Julia Goldsworthy, Chris Huhne and Jo Swinson.

This is a real A-list, not a "dinner party" list from Notting Hill.

Second, Ed Davey, my choice to replace Tim Razzall as chairman of the campaigns and communications committee, is working to ensure that we run a powerful, modern national campaign. He has recently visited Canada and America.

We will be applying best practice. We will utilise the unlimited potential of the internet: two-thirds of Britons have the internet but only 60% of them vote.

We will build up a supporters' network from the millions who vote for us. They will be consulted on policy, brought into campaigns and asked to contribute their ideas.

We will connect our party directly with those who vote for us.

Third, we can only achieve our ambitions if the Liberal Democrats become the party of diversity and equality. We cannot represent Britain unless we are more representative of Britain.

At the moment a party review is taking place of what more needs to be done to achieve this.

But as a signal of my intent I have today written to the Chairs of all our local parties emphasising the priority I attach to diversity in candidate selection, and made it clear that diversity will be a significant factor in determining how much central support is made available to local parties.

I have asked Steve Hitchins, the former leader of Islington, to draw up proposals for a diversity fund to assist women, disabled, black and ethnic minority candidates to contest winnable seats for the party.

He has a proven track record of implementing programmes for diversity and will report directly to me.

Fourth, I am committed to open, transparent and broad-based funding of the party. Just as it is wrong for Labour to be in hock to an improbable alliance of trade unions and millionaires and it is wrong for Conservatives to be in hock to multi-millionaires, we Liberal Democrats must show the way by developing a broader base of donations to fund our campaigning.

Fifth, if we are to be credible then we must above all be credible on policy. We must streamline our policy-making process to make it more responsive and immediate.

Our party conference will always be the most important voice in determining our policies. But the conference committee is already looking at ways to professionalise the party conference and to make it more accessible to members of the public.

We will set up a Liberal Democrat Communications Agency consisting of some of our many supporters in the field of communications who will assist us with their advice.

I am determined that we will be fit to meet the political challenges of this parliament and the general election.

I was pleased when Labour was elected in 1997. We shared much with the new government. A desire for democratic reform. A commitment to social justice. A belief in the United Nations.

Liberal Democrats supported the government's spending increases in health and education. It was necessary to correct the under-investment of the Tory years.

But Labour has failed these great public services. Failed to ensure that the money has been well spent. Failed to allow the professionals to get on with the job they know best. And all the time inequality has continued to grow.

Taxation is complex, stealthy and unfair. Government is wasteful, inefficient and authoritarian. Labour tramples on freedom at home and ignores international law abroad.

What of the Conservatives?

Mr Cameron's words do not change the nature of his party.

Who believes that 198 Tory MPs, elected on one of the most right-wing manifestos ever seen in this country have changed their values? Mr Cameron's professed "liberalism" has found no echo in his party.

Our party must be the party of ideas, with policies founded on values and fashioned with rigour. Our instincts are against authoritarianism and based on the freedom of the individual. We should be unashamed in our pursuit of liberty and freedom and opportunity.

Britain needs a radical shake-up of government: a democratic revolution to restore accountability, legitimacy and representation, to restore power to local government and to give more influence to the electorate.

Let me just sketch what this means on five key domestic issues.

First, how do we create a fairer Britain not scarred with persistent and high levels of poverty?

Tax is at the heart of this. I want to redefine our approach to tax to reflect the growing sense in many low income and middle class households that taxes are unfair, over-complicated and penalise hard work.

My aim is to cut the burden of direct taxes on the low-paid and Middle Britain and pay for it by raising taxes on those who pollute the environment and on the very wealthy.

Specifically I envisage a 2p cut in the national rate of income tax to 20p and lifting around two million low-paid workers and one million pensioners out of income tax.

We are the one major party which takes the environment seriously and that does mean that environmental taxes will rise. We are the one major party which believes in redistribution: the very wealthy should pay more; but not in the form of 50p marginal rates on high incomes.

The 50p rate was an important symbol that we are a redistributive party. But the substance of the tax commission proposals shows that we can be both redistributive and innovative.

Our thinking is necessarily work in progress. We intend to publish the full proposals for debate in July. But I am quite clear that we are in a new political environment in which the era of big increases in central government spending is over.

The Liberal Democrats will not propose any spending increases without identifying savings. We will move from tax and spend to save and spend. I see no reason for any increase in the overall tax burden.

Second, as a chancellor of a great university, I know that education is the liberal way to improve the life chances of every individual.

Education and learning provide a route out of poverty. That is why we must aim higher.

It should be a badge of national shame that 40,000 children go to secondary school each year unable to read. These children are invariably the poorest and the most disadvantaged.

We should investigate the possibility of targeted funding by pupil so that schools have an incentive to accept and improve the education of the poorest in society.

We should use prominent sportsmen and women as role models to encourage children to perform well in the classroom and on the pitch. In World Cup year, we should enlist David Beckham, and in Ashes year "Freddie" Flintoff.

I know personally the power of the Olympics. In the run-up to London in 2012 it should be a priority to find ways in which Kelly Holmes can not only encourage sporting effort but learning effort as well.

Third, how do we halt environmental degradation and begin the complex task of changing individual behaviour for the future of the planet?

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world. The next 10 years are the point of no return - what we do now affects our children and our grand children.

For me a foreign photo opportunity or a small increase in vehicle excise duty for the biggest cars is tinkering while the planet warms up. We all have to change our behaviour and government has to take the lead.

That is why we need the changes to the tax system, to provide incentives to encourage the right behaviour and to penalise the polluters.

That is why Liberal Democrats proposed in the recent Finance Bill that there should be an increase to 2,000 in vehicle excise duty for the most polluting cars.

That is why we need a decentralised system for producing and supplying Britain's energy with a strong emphasis on renewables and clean-coal technology.

Let me be clear. New nuclear power is not the answer to climate change. It would come too late. It is far too expensive. And it is just too risky.

Fourth, how do we make Britain a safer country in a dangerous world?

I have recently made clear my position that crime is a liberal issue. Those of us who care about social justice must also care about criminal justice.

It is not illiberal to be prepared to defend the rule of law. There is nothing liberal about people living in an atmosphere of fear. There is nothing liberal about tolerating violence.

I will never waver in my determination to uphold civil liberties and fundamental freedoms; nor will I waver in my view that breaking the law has consequences and in appropriate cases should carry punishment.

I will never waver in my view that deterrence and detection are much more likely with locally based, neighbourhood policing with strong ties to the local community. That is why we oppose the creation of super-regional police forces.

Events of the last few weeks underline why I will continue to argue that the Home Office should be broken up.

We must never give in to terrorists. They should be pursued through international co-operation and stronger intelligence services. We do not need impractical policies like ID cards, but rather the use of intercept evidence, as in every other Western nation.

It also does little for public confidence to refuse a public inquiry into the events of 7/7. The prime minister should recognise that his acceptance of this would be an act of statesmanship.

Fifth, how do we empower citizens who increasingly feel unable to influence the decisions of their government?

The prime minister promised that Labour would "clean up politics". The sad truth is that he has failed to deliver. With fewer people voting and cynicism on the increase, I believe it is only by a full-scale democratic revolution that the tide can be turned.

The POWER Inquiry demonstrates that the country is crying out for radical reform. This is a liberal cause, and this is my cause.

Whitehall and Westminster should regulate less, legislate less and tax less - power should be decentralised to cities and towns. It cannot be right that local government today in Birmingham has less power than when Joseph Chamberlain was its mayor in the 1870s.

What we need is smaller government and an end to bloated Westminster and Whitehall. Fewer ministers; fewer MPs; fewer special advisers; fewer civil servants; fewer departments; fewer quangos; electoral reform for the House of Commons and local government; and at long, long last, an elected second chamber.

New Britain with power at the local level will strengthen accountability and put decisions about schools, hospitals, transport and policing in the hands of local people.

It will help to re-connect citizens and the state. It will foster new ideas, new partnerships, and new relationships. It will allow local people to make decisions about working with public, private and voluntary sectors to improve local services.

Just as we need to provide progressive leadership at home, so we need to continue to do so abroad. The Liberal Democrats are founded in internationalism. Britain must play a positive role, using our influence to build a better world. As members of the G8, the Commonwealth, NATO, the EU, OSCE and the UN Security Council, we are in a unique position to do so.

Britain's foreign policy must be determined by balancing alliances, interests and legal obligations. Our relationship with the United States will always be fundamental. But it should become a partnership of influence, characterised by candour, honesty and mutual respect.

Our interests will not always be the same. The relationship should be strong enough to accommodate honest disagreement. The relationship should not be subordinate as to appear subservient.

I was proud that our party led the arguments in parliament and the country against the Iraq war.

Britain and the world will pay for a generation for the mistakes made in Iraq, for the failure to predict, and prepare for, the insurgency that followed; for the failure to fill the vacuum that emerged after disbanding the Iraqi security services; and for the failure to marginalise the aggressors, and enlist the unequivocal support of the majority of Iraqis.

Sooner or later we shall leave Iraq. But no matter when that may be, Iraq will have a poor chance of survival unless there is regional stability; unless there is a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; unless there is an accommodation with Iran.

The heady talk in Republican circles of a ripple of democracy through the Middle East has been quietened. The State Department is once again more influential than the Pentagon.

Here at home, apart from the prime minister, no member of the government rushes to defend our presence in Iraq as other than a hazardous necessity. It will take new leadership rather than Bush and Blair to endure the humiliation of seeking regional co-operation but without it the dismemberment of Iraq will remain more likely than not.

Under my leadership I am challenging our party to be bolder, to be more ambitious and to be more thoughtful. Unlike the Tories we don't have to abandon everything we stand for in order to reinvent ourselves. Unlike Labour, we don't have to shore up a crumbling edifice.

There is a great opportunity for the Liberal Democrats. Because we are closest to the heartbeat of the British people. Because we understand that people want a government that values freedom and opportunity; challenges unfairness; attacks injustice and confronts prejudice.

And there is much work to be done since this is not yet the liberal country that people want.

It is not a liberal country when so many are failed by our education system. It is not a liberal country when so many people in black and ethnic minority communities feel a sense of alienation and despair. It is not a liberal country when so many live in poverty.

It is not a liberal country when so many are unable to find decent homes. It is not a liberal country when so many are unable to save for their retirement.

I have been fortunate in my life. I have never lacked opportunity. Olympic athlete, practising as a QC, chancellor of a great university, elected as an MP and now Liberal Democrat party leader.

I have never lacked opportunity. But I want a Britain where opportunity is the birth right of every child, a Britain where ambition is nurtured and aspiration encouraged.

I was asked by one of my friends today what I want for my country.

I want what every Liberal Democrat wants: freedom, opportunity and compassion.

I want a liberal country. I want a Britain to be proud of.

How the Lib Dems have approached tax in the past

Lib Dems pledge to cut income tax
08 Jun 06 |  UK Politics
Lib Dems launch MP diversity push
08 Jun 06 |  UK Politics
Ming's 100 days policy blitz
07 Jun 06 |  UK Politics
Lib Dems plan a 2,000 road tax
19 May 06 |  UK Politics
Tories warn against tax pledges
01 Jun 06 |  UK Politics
Razzall quits Lib Dem poll role
31 May 06 |  UK Politics

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