Nick Clegg's** Speech
to Bournemouth 2008 Rally
Sat, 13 Sep 2008
During his speech at the Liberal Democrat opening night rally in Bournemouth Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg set out bold plans to fix the political system of the UK, which LibDems believe to be broken and outdated. In his speech, he attempts to answer a question from a ten-year-old girl: "what do politicians do?"
Hello everyone, welcome to Autumn Conference 2008. Thank you very much to Dorothy and Henry for their speeches.
When we decided to talk about democracy tonight I immediately remembered a primary school I visited in Sheffield recently. I was trying to explain to the pupils how Westminster works and what it means to be an MP. I talked about elections, about making decisions on grand matters of state...that kind of thing... And a little girl put up her hand and said:
"But what is it that you do?"
She had that look on her face that only children can do - my eldest son does it all the time. Earnest. Innocent. Deadly.
The thing was, although she probably didn't realise it, she had a real point. What do politicians do?
Frankly, what we do in Parliament probably isn't a million miles away from what that little girl sees in the playground every day. We jump around and shout at each other like children. But worse behaved.
I don't know how many of you have spent much time in Parliament, but I'm sure the MPs and Westminster staff here will back me up.
The place is obsessed with pointless procedures and rules that make no sense in the modern world.
Take my first committee room debate. I was new to Parliament, and I had been under the impression that outside of the big, set pieces in the main debating chamber, I could skip the "Rt Hon Member for such and such" stuff and call people by their names. Not their first names - obviously. Just a bit of "Mr this", "Mrs that" - 1950s style. Big mistake. Ann Widdecombe, was chairing the debate. She stood up. She screeched at me...
"Please refrain immediately from calling people by their names..."
Even the cafes in Westminster have silly rules. There's a sort of coffee shop-cum-bar arrangement in the Commons where you can go if you're an MP. Or if you're a Peer that used to be an MP. But not if you're a peer that wasn't. And if you're an MP you can take three guests. But if you're an MP's spouse you can only take one.
And down the corridor there's a very ordinary canteen where anyone who works in Westminster can get lunch. Except temps. Temps can't have lunch at lunchtime because they're temps. And this is the place where we legislate on workers' rights.
I could go on all night with these kind of stories - don't even get me started on who can use the lifts. But I don't just want to carp about the silliness of Westminster. Because this stuff matters - it matters a lot.
What is left of "the Mother of Parliaments" when you take away the wigs, the rods, the cat-calls and the jeers?
Not a lot. Just broken politics. We know that every time there's a vote in Parliament, it's not the argument that wins. It's the Government. Labour was elected with the support of 22% of Britain's voters. And in 11 years they have been defeated just three times.
Three times. One of which was a vote on whether or not MPs should all go home early. That's not accountability. It's not democracy. It's got to end.
This is broken politics. Westminster is home to a political class sheltered from reality and shielded from an increasingly alienated society. Its rules are designed to keep out real protest, real emotion, the hardships endured by real people.
Earlier this year I met fifty retired Gurkha soldiers who had been refused the right to live in Britain. They felt so let down, so dejected, that they surrendered their long service and distinguished conduct medals to me as a symbol of protest.
They were awarded these medals after risking their lives for this nation. Just imagine what it means to give up something so hard-won, so treasured, so meaningful.
I was ashamed of the government that day. Ashamed that any veteran of our British Army could be so mistreated he would want to return his medals. I wanted to take one of these medals into the Chamber, for the Prime Minister to see it for himself.
Because those medals convey more strongly than words ever could their sense of betrayal. But I was told it was impossible. The same rule book that concerns itself with knee breeches and silver buckles forbids anyone taking a "prop" into a debate.
You can dismiss this silly rule as trivia. You can dismiss every one of the thousands of rules. But you can't dismiss what they add up to.
When I look at that medal it has even more meaning for me now than before. It tells me you shouldn't look for freedom of expression in parliament. You should look in village halls, in kitchens, in staff rooms. Anywhere where you can have real debate.
Britain needs a real change if we're going to mend our broken politics. And you can be sure the Conservatives won't ever offer it. Because they are waiting for their "go".
David Cameron thinks that two parties take it in turns to run this country. Neither is willing to change the system because it's that very system that returns them to power every few elections.
British politics has become like a giant dance of the hokey cokey. David and Gordon skipping round in circles, hand in hand. Taking it in turns, left foot in, right foot out, left foot out, right foot in.
You see, while Labour and the Conservatives purport to be the greatest of enemies, when it comes to keeping power, they are actually the best of friends. And let's face it the Prime Minister needs all the friends he can get.
You see there are friends, there are enemies. And then there are Cabinet colleagues. And then - there are party whips.
Poor Gordon - he must know its bad - he's even been jilted by his beloved Darling.
Do you know David Cameron has already held conversations with "the security people" about measures he'll need to take "once" he's in Number 10? How's that for arrogance?
Here's a man who'll speak fondly of "hardworking families" but has no actual plans to help them. A man who - with recession looming - puts millionaires first. A man who hopes that soundbites can fix the economy.
The best George Osborne can offer is that Gordon has failed to "save for a rainy day". Apparently George would "fix the roof while the sun is shining". What is this? Just William? The Secret Seven?
If you want real solutions for Britain's economy are you really going to call this bunch of Conservative Cowboys? There's only one man who can be trusted with our economic future, and it's Vince Cable.
And there's only one party that can be trusted with our political future, and it's the Liberal Democrats. In 2001, for the first time in election history, more people stayed at home than voted for the party that took power.
The same happened in 2005. It's not right. It's up to us to change that, and I know we can. We can do things differently to make our country better.
And that's what I told that little girl in Sheffield when she asked me what politicians do. I told her that the job of a politician is to give a voice to the voiceless. Maybe it sounded a bit sentimental for an 8 year old's taste. But even if it's cheesy, it's true.
Our Government just isn't listening. It keeps the public at arms length with layers of confusing, impersonal and inefficient bureaucracy. Faceless Britain. Where form-filling and paper pushing have become a national sport.
I could at least understand it if the computerised bureaucracy replacing human face-to-face contact was doing the job properly.
But when it comes to Government IT systems, the computer can't even say no. The Department's lost the file.
Is it really a surprise that millions of people feel powerless? This sense of helplessness - of not being able to control your own life - is a blight on our society.
It breeds anger, cynicism and fear. It creates hopelessness. Frustration. It is fertile breeding ground for extremism.
This is broken politics. This is not the society that I want to live in. This is not the society I want my children - any of our children - to live in. This is not a Liberal Britain.
But we - we together - can change it. We can rock the establishment. We can shake-up the system so that Whitehall doesn't control our lives. We can put power back in the hands of those who know best.
Let's give patients, parents and pupils power.
Let's give school and hospital staff a say over the services they provide each day. Let's give communities control. Where Liberal Democrats are in power locally this is already happening. You heard it earlier tonight from Dorothy.
In Liberal Democrat controlled Kingston any 100 local people can call in any council decision. In Sheffield within days of winning power we announced new community panels to take power from the town hall down into the hands of the people who count.
Imagine that. Real control. Real accountability.
Liberal Democrats trust people.
That's why I'm announcing today that over the next nine months we'll be knocking on one million doors across the nation. Listening, connecting, and engaging with people.
I want us to reinvent community politics for a new generation. The Liberal Democrat vision is shaped by the experiences of real people. Which is why only the Liberal Democrats will bring down the faceless state.
We will protect the front line services at the heart of communities across the country. We will redirect billions of pounds of tax payers' money by making central Government accountable for every penny they spend in our name. We will protect the privacy of British individuals by scrapping the preposterous and expensive ID card scheme.
We are the only party committed to taking the price tag off power - capping donations, slashing party spending and keeping politics clean.
And - we will reform the voting system so that each and every person counts.
Only the Liberal Democrats can reunite people and politics. Because we do it up and down the country every day.
Our councillors make change happen. Our councils give power and money back to the communities they serve. Our MPs stand up for people when the system lets them down. Our MEPs are the difference between a Europe that tackles climate change and one that turns a blind eye.
Liberal Democrats - make no mistake we are already a party of power.
And this week we will set out our blueprint for a freer, fairer Britain.
** Nick Clegg is the elected leader of the LibDems.
- What do politicians do in Egypt?
* You mean apart from sending ex-police chiefs to kill ex-wives in x-countries?
When they are not busy drafting corrupt "anti-monopoly" laws which will only protect their turfs and possibly double their profits, profiteering or really racketeering from monopolized commodities?
What do politicians do in Egypt?
Politicians in Egypt come in three kinds really ... the opposition kind ... often ending up in jail, like Ayman Nour ... and the NDP unkind, which has obtained "a permit to exploit the people" from the regime ... for and on behalf of the regime itself ... the third kind ... is the harmless opposition or independent kind ... minding its own business ... often busy in interpreting dreams and singing the praises for Mubarak and his regime ...
... and that's about it ... that is what politicians do in Egypt ...