A powerful selection on Ukraine, a call for Priti Patel to be sacked, a celebration of Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, a tribute to Lib Dem by-election stalwart Erlend Watson, a decent gag about Dick Turpin, an evisceration of the Tories over sleaze and partygate (including a call for a public enquiry into Boris Johnson’s relationship with Lebvedev) and an attack on Tory MPs for keeping Boris Johnson in power, setting out what the Lib Dems offer for health and education and a look forward to the local government elections in May…all this and more delivered by Ed Davey to Lib Dem members gathered in York.
We’ll put up the video when we have it, but the text is below.
We meet today under the heavy cloud of war, on our continent.
European skies raining death.
We’ve all watched in horror as Putin has unleashed his missiles on innocent Ukrainians.
As Russian bombs rip through schools and hospitals.
As children huddle in bomb shelters, hearing their homes shatter above them.
As millions of families are forced to flee for their lives, leaving everything behind.
Fathers hugging their children goodbye, not knowing when they will hold them again – or if they ever will.
Our hearts ache with the horrors being inflicted on the people of Ukraine.
But our hearts have also swelled for the incredible heroism we’ve witnessed.
The soldiers, bravely fighting for their homeland.
The unarmed civilians, boldly facing down Putin’s tanks.
President Zelenskyy, brilliantly firing up his nation in defiance.
Conference, their patriotism and their resolve – in the face of Putin’s war machine – is truly inspiring.
And so is the response of the British people, and our friends across Europe.
Opening their doors to refugees fleeing the violence.
Sending food, clothes and medicine to families in need.
Pushing governments and businesses to do far more.
And we Liberal Democrats stand in solidarity with our liberal brother, President Zelenskyy – and with all Ukrainians.
We stand too with the people of Russia, especially those who’ve so bravely protested against Putin’s war.
And we stand with those across eastern Europe who know only too well how Putin’s ambitions threaten their freedom and their democracy.
Who fear for their own security, even as they reach out to welcome their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
Conference, this must be a wake-up call for the West.
While Vladimir Putin bears sole responsibility for these atrocities, we must recognise that they have not happened in a vacuum.
Putin was emboldened by a West, destabilised by a rising tide of nationalism and populism.
Putin exploited a complacency that has seen nations take for granted our fragile alliances.
Putin has even been encouraged by some, like a certain former President of the United States, who has spent years actively undermining NATO.
If we are to stop Putin – and prevent future Putins – the UK and all who share our commitment to peace, freedom and democracy must remember the simple truth, demonstrated so clearly these past few weeks:
We are stronger when we act together.
That Liberal belief in international cooperation is what the world needs.
Now we must fight for that safer, more Liberal world.
For our collective defence, through NATO. Reversing this Government’s cuts to our armed forces. Working with allies, so Putin understands, free nations stand united against him.
For far, far tougher sanctions – where Boris Johnson’s Government has been way too slow, and much too weak.
And Conference, let’s be clear: the cosy relationship between Putin’s oligarchs and the Conservative political elite has been the dirty secret of the British establishment for far too long.
Now we have learned how Evgeny Lebedev courted Boris Johnson for years. Trading political favours. Taking him on holiday.
Even after MI6 had made their concerns clear.
And in return, Johnson gave him what he always wanted: a seat in the House of Lords.
Ignoring the warnings from the security services.
So today, I am calling for a full public inquiry into the Prime Minister’s decision to give Lebedev a peerage.
And we must fight too for a co-ordinated, generous humanitarian response to all refugees fleeing war and terror, whether from Ukraine, Syria or Afghanistan.
Where we never again have a Home Secretary turning away the innocent victims of a tyrant’s bombs.
Priti Patel’s response to this humanitarian catastrophe – the biggest in Europe since World War Two – is utterly shameful.
She has answered desperation with delays. Crisis with confusion. Pain with paperwork.
Friends, when we see parents and children, bombed out of their homes, journeying for days, in search of nothing more than a safe place to live.
People across the UK have said loud and clear: we want to welcome them, with open arms.
Just as we welcomed refugees of other conflicts in the past.
The British people want to offer them a home –
But Priti Patel has slammed the door in their face.
The incompetence, indifference and sheer inhumanity we have seen from the Home Secretary does not befit our United Kingdom, with its proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need.
Her inaction does not befit the British people, with all our compassion and generosity.
It couldn’t be clearer that Priti Patel is not up to the job. The buck stops with the Prime Minister. So Boris Johnson must sack her, now.
At a time of all this tragedy and turmoil, it’s good to be back amongst friends. To discuss how we can help others – whether in Ukraine or across the UK.
And just as we’re engaged in this battle for a fairer, more Liberal world, here at home we’re fighting the battle for a fairer, more Liberal Britain.
Where people get the fair deal they deserve, with the opportunity to get on in life, and the power to make a difference.
That’s always been our cause as Liberal Democrats, and it remains our mission today.
Fighting to give every child the best possible start in life, and help them catch-up on the learning lost from this pandemic.
To cut waiting times for GPs and ambulances, and waiting lists for hospital treatment.
To protect our precious natural environment and tackle the existential threat of climate change.
And as Liberal Democrats have always known, so much of that work happens in local communities.
That’s why it’s so great to be back here in York –
A city with an incredible history, a vibrant culture, and – of course – a brilliant Liberal Democrat-led council –
Where Liberal Democrats are making an unprecedented investment in social care, for both adults and children.
And planting trees for a new one-hundred-and-ninety-four-acre community woodland.
Liberal Democrat councillors, delivering for local people and the local environment – here in York, just like we are in communities across the UK.
Now, York is also famous for being the final resting place of the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.
Imprisoned just over the river in York Castle, executed down the road in Knavesmire, and buried at Saint George’s Church.
A serial lawbreaker. Who cheated, schemed and blagged his way through life.
Who lied over and over again.
Who thought he could escape any consequences for his actions.
Sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?
You know, if Dick Turpin were around today, I bet Conservative MPs would be on Newsnight explaining why he should be let off.
The Conservatives love to claim others are soft on crime. The truth is they’re soft on a criminal in Number 10.
The lawbreaking and lies of this Prime Minister are matched only by the cowardice and complicity of Conservative MPs.
They ducked their responsibility to kick Boris Johnson out of Downing Street.
They chose to keep as Prime Minister a man who broke his own laws –
Laws he was telling everyone else to follow –
Laws that forced countless families to make enormous sacrifices.
And Conservative MPs have chosen to keep a man who has lied and lied and lied – to Parliament and to the British people.
And do you know? People are seeing through his lies.
On a recent visit to a secondary school in my constituency, the pupils asked me “Was it a party or a work event?”
Eager to hear their views first, I asked back: “What do you think?”
“Was it a work event?” Nothing.
“Was it a party?” Every single hand shot up.
I know it. You know it. The teenagers at Chessington School know it.
And Conservative MPs know it too.
But they’ve chosen to do nothing.
The truth is, Conservative MPs are all Boris Johnsons now.
With a few honourable exceptions, they now all subscribe to his new Conservative philosophy:
Truth doesn’t matter.
Laws are for other people.
Rules don’t apply to them.
That’s not right.
The Conservative party of the past is turning in its grave.
Decent lifelong Conservatives are repulsed by this Government.
They remember that powerful image of Her Majesty the Queen, sitting alone to mourn her husband.
Following the rules, like everyone else. Except Boris Johnson and his friends.
And what angers everyone, whatever their views – what really sticks in the craw – is that these Tory MPs think they can get away with it.
The Conservatives think they can take you for fools, just as they take your votes for granted.
But they won’t get away with it. We won’t let them get away with it.
Being taken for granted was what caused the people of Buckinghamshire to rise up. In their thousands. And vote for Sarah Green last summer.
It’s what caused the people of Shropshire to rise up. And vote for Helen Morgan last December.
What we achieved in Chesham and Amersham was incredible.
But what we did in North Shropshire was even more remarkable.
A six-thousand-vote majority, in a seat where we came third in twenty-nineteen.
One of the biggest by-election swings –
Not just in our party’s history, but the entire history of British politics.
Giving people hope. Showing the Tories can be beaten anywhere.
And what a campaign it was.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trips to Shropshire, and it was great to see so many of you enjoying yourselves there too.
But friends, I know I wasn’t alone in missing the presence of one very special member of our Liberal Democrat family.
A stalwart of so many by-elections.
Our dear friend, Erlend Watson.
A true Liberal, whose infectious energy, encyclopaedic mind and big heart are legendary.
Erlend, taken from us this January, long before his time.
We miss him. But it is fitting that the final by-election of Erlend’s life was a historic Lib Dem gain.
Our amazing campaign director, Dave McCobb, told me about the moment he realised victory in North Shropshire was possible.
It was very early on, when he was doing some door-knocking – to hear how people felt.
The first person he spoke to actually worked at the local Conservative club.
But, unprompted, they told Dave the Conservatives were “taking us for granted” and it was “time for a change”. So they were now voting for us.
At the very next house Dave spoke to an elderly lady who had always voted Conservative.
But after a chat about the issues facing the area, she didn’t just say she would vote Lib Dem, she actually put up a Lib Dem poster.
That’s when Dave knew it was game on.
And we won in North Shropshire because we listened to local people. And found out that they weren’t just angry about Conservative lies and Conservative corruption.
Don’t forget, Dave’s door-knocking was weeks before we’d learnt about law-breaking parties at Number Ten.
People’s anger had far more to do with seeing local farmers sold out by Conservative Ministers, with a bad trade deal.
And watching loved ones suffer life-threatening delays, waiting hours for an ambulance –
Their agony growing and distress deepening –
Unable to get to hospital fast, because Conservative Governments had failed our NHS.
That’s what local people told us. That’s what we campaigned on.
And that’s what the brilliant Helen Morgan is now working on, in Parliament.
By electing Helen, the people of North Shropshire showed they won’t be taken for granted any more.
And they’ve shown the rest of the country what you get when you vote Liberal Democrat –
A real local champion. Working hard for her constituents. Fighting for a fair deal for them.
I’m so proud of Helen. And I’m proud of all of you – for those two historic by-election wins.
Through your tireless campaigning, we won support from across the political spectrum –
People who’d voted Conservative all their lives, but were fed up with being ignored and taken for granted –
People who’d never voted before but were inspired by our candidates and our campaigns –
And people who just wanted the Conservatives out, and who lent us their votes to make it happen.
Now we must do it again – at this year’s local elections in May.
To win seats from the Conservatives, Labour and the Nationalists, where their councils are taking people for granted.
To get more great Liberal Democrat Councillors elected, so more communities have strong local champions working hard for them.
Like down the road in Hull, where Labour have cut the crime prevention fund that Liberal Democrats put in place to keep communities safe.
Or in places along the Blue Wall, where Conservative talk of “levelling up” is just another way they’re letting people down.
And in Scotland, where the nationalists put their obsession with independence ahead of everything else.
Conference, this May, let’s get more Liberal Democrat councillors elected and deliver the fair deal our communities need.
Your hard work, your campaigning to win council seats in May can also deliver a bonus for our party – helping us set the ground for the next General Election –
When it will fall to us to win Conservative seats no other party can win – an essential role for getting Boris Johnson out of Downing Street.
Because the British people deserve so much better than Boris Johnson – and his government full of Boris Johnsons.
People do deserve better.
When I look at everything people do for each other, every day, across our country –
When I speak to parents making big sacrifices for their children –
When I hear from young carers, taking care of their parents –
When I visit local schools and hospitals, care homes and police stations, and meet the staff working hard to teach our children, care for our loved ones and keep us safe –
It makes me so proud to be British.
When I travel, and see the beautiful countryside that inspired Wordsworth and Barrett Browning, Thomas and Scott –
When I walk around towns and cities like York, with so much extraordinary history and breathtaking architecture –
I am filled with patriotism.
I love my country.
And it is because I love my country that I despair of this government.
So in case you think it’s just a question of getting Boris Johnson out of Number Ten, let’s remind ourselves of the man being lined up to replace him…
A Chancellor who’s wasted more of our money than any Chancellor in history – and now wants us to pay for it. In unfair tax rises.
Who merrily signed the cheques for billions on unusable protective gear. Who is cheerfully writing off billions in Covid fraud.
But who refuses to give our children the education funding they need to catch up from Covid.
Who slashed aid for the world’s poorest people in the middle of a global pandemic.
And who turned his back on three million self-employed people when their businesses were hit by lockdown.
Rishi Sunak is Mister Moneybags to his Tory donor mates. But he’s Ebenezer Scrooge to the rest of us.
Now, we’ve heard recently how the Chancellor is ramping up his leadership campaign.
I have to say, he’s doing a brilliant job of making himself Johnson’s heir apparent.
Giving privileged access to wealthy donors.
Wasting other people’s money on dodgy contracts.
And facing questions under caution by the Metropolitan Police.
Less the “Dishy Rishi”. More the Fishy Rishi.
Do you remember when Boris Johnson had to come to the Commons in January to apologise for his lockdown-breaking parties?
The Chancellor suddenly found he’d urgent business two-hundred miles away in Ilfracombe.
Apparently Fishy Rishi’s preparing for the police to finish their investigation…
With a flight to Antarctica!
But worse than his cowardice, is how the Chancellor is failing millions of people hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis.
He could have done what Liberal Democrats proposed.
He could have demanded the fossil fuel giants help out – as they rake in unbelievably high profits, thanks solely to the gas and oil price surge.
Our Robin Hood windfall tax – to raise the cash, so we can cut people’s energy bills now.
But no. Not Fishy Rishi.
He’s not interested in fairness. He protects fossil fuel profits – and pushes you to pay instead.
And as if that weren’t bad enough –
As if families didn’t already have enough to deal with –
Just look at what Rishi’s actually doing with taxes.
A big tax cut for the banks. A big tax rise for you.
And such unfair tax hikes.
A new jobs tax hurting firms and employees alike.
Tax rises costing every family six hundred pounds a year.
It’s time the Chancellor listened. It’s time he understood how his tax rises with inflation are hurting people hard.
So, Rishi Sunak:
Drop your unfair taxes. Scrap the NI hike. Unfreeze income tax allowances.
Do it. In your budget. Next week.
Conference, next week our country needs an Emergency Budget. Because families and businesses are facing an emergency.
The war in Ukraine has turned a cost of living crisis into a cost of living emergency.
That’s why I’ve called for an emergency measure – on top of everything else we’ve proposed for the less well-off.
I’ve called for a cut in VAT, right now.
A fair tax cut – worth six hundred pounds a household.
To help families. To help businesses. To help our economy.
Liberal Democrats. Cutting taxes. Fairly.
Conservatives. Raising taxes. Unfairly.
Fair taxes are part of our fair deal.
A fair deal the Conservatives just don’t understand.
How could they, when theirs is a government that’s rejected fairness?
When the only deal the Conservatives promote is “One rule for us, another rule for you.”
Conference, it’s time for a party that believes in a fair deal for people.
The deal I spoke about in September –
That says the government can’t solve all our problems –
But if you play your part, you can count on the government to play its part too.
A fair deal that puts meaningful power in your hands, so you can make a real difference –
For your children. For your community. For your business. For your environment.
And where the powerful are held properly to account –
Whether for the sewage they pump into our rivers,
Or the sleaze they pump into our politics.
Nowhere is that fair deal more important than in education.
When you’re a parent, and you pour that amount of love and devotion into your kids…
When you give everything, so they can fulfil their dreams…
You deserve to know that the Government will do its bit for them too.
That it will do everything it can, to keep them safe.
That it will invest properly in their education and their future.
When you take your son or daughter to school for their first day…
When you grip their little hand tightly in yours, before you let go…
You deserve to know they are walking into a building that’s well-maintained.
That their teacher has time and resources for every child in the class.
And that when they leave school years later, they will leave with the grades they need, the opportunities they want, and the hope they deserve.
That should be our promise to all parents and their children.
But we cannot underestimate the damage done to that promise over the last two years.
The harm that’s been done to children’s education, despite the heroic efforts of parents and teachers.
And the damage to people’s trust in education, when the worst Education Secretary in history, Gavin Williamson, is rewarded for his failures.
A fair deal would be different. With a Children’s Catch Up Fund of at least fifteen billion pounds.
A fair deal on education to involve parents more. More than ever before.
By putting real power in every parents’ hands –
With Catch-Up Vouchers to spend how they see fit.
So all parents, at last, can have a say on what’s best for their child.
Conference, I was delighted you endorsed that policy yesterday –
Showing clearly. Liberal Democrats, on the side of parents. Renewing the promise for all children. With an education fair deal.
But we can’t stop there.
As all parents know, the impact of Covid goes far beyond the learning children have lost.
We worry about Covid’s effects on our children’s emotional development too. Their mental health and wellbeing.
I’ve heard from many parents who’ve watched their child’s mental health get worse over the last two years.
Hurt by the lack of social activities, and so much time kept apart from friends, because they followed the rules.
Watching my own daughter was often hard.
Birthdays on Zoom. Brownies on Zoom. Ballet on Zoom.
Though I must confess, that last one was sometimes hilarious.
But I ached, knowing how much she was missing out on.
And when she did start going back, it was hard to see her fear about bringing the virus back to her brother.
Not something a seven-year-old should have to worry about. But a fear so many children grappled with.
All of that, on top of the other stresses and strains of school life –
Bullying, which is still far too prevalent –
The terrifying rise of self-harm and eating disorders –
And the newer pressures of social media, with all the dangers that brings.
Parents do all they can to protect their children. To take care of their mental health –
But it’s harder now than ever.
And when their child is struggling, many parents don’t know how to get them extra help.
For every five children needing mental health treatment, three are unable to access it.
And for those who do get treatment, some have to travel hundreds of miles to get it.
Just imagine your child broke her arm in York, and being told you have to drive all the way to Exeter to get it put in a cast. Or wait six months to get it seen to.
We wouldn’t tolerate it for children’s physical health, and we mustn’t tolerate it for their mental health either.
That is a profound failure – not just by the Conservative Government in Westminster, but also the Nationalists in Scotland and Labour in Wales.
They are neglecting our children on an industrial scale.
As part of our fair deal, we need to change that.
So today, I’m calling on the Government to expand access to mental health treatment for children and young people –
With new maximum waiting times, to build on the first ever targets for mental health introduced by Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb –
By recruiting and training more psychiatrists to deliver them.
And, crucially, putting a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school.
So every child and every parent has someone they can turn to for help.
And while I’m on the subject of mental health, let me return to a group of people who are very close to my heart, and who need much better support for their mental health too.
You see, people looking after their loved ones have, on average, much higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression than the population as a whole.
Yet another of the challenges faced by the UK’s army of eleven million family carers that is far too often hidden from view.
Yet another reason we are right to stand up for carers and campaign for the support they deserve.
Yet another reason why they need a fair deal.
But far from giving carers a fair deal, this Government is penalising them even further.
Next month they will scrap free Lateral Flow Tests.
The tests that millions of carers take regularly, to make sure they don’t pass Covid to their vulnerable loved ones.
A new Conservative tax on caring, when carers are already struggling to make ends meet.
It’s unfair and unjust, and the Government must change course.
Conference, there’s so much more to the fair deal we are fighting for – a lot of which we’ve debated this weekend.
Ending the scandal of thousands of patients every week stuck for hours in the back of an ambulance, waiting to get into A and E.
Holding Ministers to account on behalf of people let down by the Government’s failure to deliver those promised new hospitals.
Protecting our parks, our beaches and our rivers by banning companies dumping raw sewage.
Taking real action on climate and biodiversity.
Helping small businesses recover from the pandemic.
Making communities safe by tackling rising crime.
And welcoming refugees with care and compassion.
A fair deal must do all this and more, if we are to restore trust and decency to our politics.
Conference, our vision of a fair deal is certainly an ambitious one.
But I make no apologies for being ambitious.
Our great country and the great British people deserve nothing less.
And I know our fair deal is possible.
I know we can deliver it.
By campaigning harder than ever.
By listening to people and showing people, we’re on their side.
By taking no one for granted.
If we do this, we can get Liberal Democrats elected to councils in Scotland and Wales, in London and right across England.
We can get Liberal Democrats elected to Parliament, to join Helen and Sarah and the rest of our team.
And we can defeat this awful government –
Bring down the Blue Wall –
And build a fairer country.
So let’s get out there, and fight for our communities.
Fight for a fair deal.