Today, Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats closed Conference with a rousing speech outlining her vision for a Liberal Democrat government winning the next General Election powered by the surging Liberal Democrat movement across the country.
Tribute to Paddy Ashdown
Jo started with a warm tribute to former Liberal Democrat Leader, Paddy Ashdown following last week’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey. Speaking of his incredible energy and passion, she said:
"As I sat last week at his memorial service with thousands of others, we remembered a man who was bold, fearless, determined. A man who brought people together. A man whose impatience to create change was undimmed into his seventies."
The growing Lib Dem movement
She reflected on the success that we’ve seen in recent months, from our new MSP Beatrice Wishart to our 16 MEPs, 7 new MPs and our 700 new councillors, as well as our tens of thousands of new members. Jo said:
Jo then outlined our top priority: stopping Brexit. She outlined the terrible risks the country faces, which will inevitably harm the most vulnerable people in our society the most. Speaking about the scale and gravity of the task ahead, Jo said:
"The first task is clear. We must stop Brexit. And we are crystal clear: a Liberal Democrat majority government will revoke Article 50 on day one. Because there is no Brexit that will be good for our country. Europe makes our United Kingdom stronger. But Brexit hurts our family of nations."
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn being both unfit for office
Jo repeated her warnings about the terrible future the country faces with Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn in power, with Johnson failing to make any progress with negotiations and Corbyn’s tacit support for Brexit. She said:
"People across Britain deserve a better choice than an entitled Etonian or a 1970s socialist. If [Corbyn] had campaigned to Remain in 2016 with half of the energy he put into the 2017 election, we may have seen a different result. Nigel Farage might be Brexit by name, but it is very clear that Jeremy Corbyn is Brexit by nature. We all know that commitment has never been Boris Johnson’s strong suit, but it’s clear he’s determined when it comes to crashing us out without a deal."
Jo on the Environment
Jo also spoke of the imminent threat the whole world faces due to climate change and outlined far-reaching environmental policies to tackled climate change including:
- Introducing climate risk reporting
- Creating a new Green Investment Bank to channel investment into green projects and away from fossil fuels
- A programme of tree planting and retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient
- Significantly expanding the UK’s renewable energy infrastructure
- Establishing a UK Citizens’ Climate Assembly to drive a national debate about how exactly we will reach net-zero by 2045 - and earlier if possible
Jo explained the critical urgency of these measures, explaining that:
"We will do it all, not because it will create thousands of good new jobs – although it will; not because it will cut energy bills – although it will; not because it will make our country a cleaner, richer, happier nation – although it will. We will do it because we have to. Because, as the placards say, there is no Planet B."
Jo on tackling Knife Crime
Jo spoke about the new approach to tackling knife crime needed, with a focus on prevention and extra support for young people. She spoke of her experience of visiting the site of the tragic stabbing of a 15-year-old called Tashaûn to gain an understanding of the causes of knife crime, and of the critical importance of treating violent crime as a public health emergency. She said:
"To win this battle, we need to invest far more in providing young people with good youth services. That’s why the Liberal Democrats will give local authorities the funding they need so that they can all provide youth services and re-establish youth workers. Because every time a life like Tashaûn’s is cut short, we are failing our young people. And it must stop now."
Jo on Mental Health
Jo spoke of her pride in the progress Lib Dems made on mental health in the Coalition, and thanked Norman Lamb for his tireless work to improve services. She also outlined just how much more needs to be done, especially around children’s and young people’s mental health. She said:
"Why should any child travel as much as 339 miles to get a mental health bed? That’s from here in Bournemouth to Durham! Why have we as a society decided that that is something we can’t change, and that we should just accept it? A Liberal Democrat government will ringfence funding for mental health services. And we will invest far more heavily in the childhood and adolescent mental health services that communities need."
The battle ahead
Jo closed with a message of hope and a rallying cry to everyone with liberal and democratic values across the country. She acknowledged that there is a battle ahead but made it clear that we are aiming for nothing less than winning the next General Election. She said:
"This much I am sure of. The opportunity in front of us is huge. And it is for the taking. We can win. We must win. And to do so, we must build the biggest liberal movement this country has ever seen. Our job is to gather the forces of liberalism and be the rallying point for change.
Liberal Democrats, we can build the broad, open, liberal movement that our country needs. We can defeat nationalism and populism. We can change our politics, stop Brexit and win a brighter future."