Sun, 08 Mar 2009
The full text of Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Kirsty Williams' speech to the party’s spring conference is below
Click here to see the video of Kirsty Williams' speech
Friends it's great to be here in Harrogate and to speak to you this morning in my new role as Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and on International Women's Day too!
You know the last time I was here was 10 years ago at the conference that followed the first elections to the National Assembly for Wales.
A time of hope and optimism, a feeling that anything was possible and that this new institution would engage people in the politics of their country.
I was extremely proud of my parliamentarian's conference pass -
Even though women had made a big breakthrough into the Welsh Assembly politics was very much still a male preserve.
Fortunately things have changed in the last ten years - the Welsh Lib Dems now have not only a female leader
But a female President, Deputy President and Chief Executive!
The men are beginning to call for all male short lists for future posts.
Those intervening ten years have seen great successes for the Welsh Lib Dems, and I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor - Michael German.
Under his leadership we have seen a doubling of MPs - breaking through in Cardiff Central and recapturing Ceredigion.
Doubling the number of councillors.
Back then we didn't run a single council - now we lead Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham and have stakes in the administration of ten more across the country-
Including Newport - Wales' newest city.
From Llangenith to Llandudno and Aberaeron to Adamsdown - Welsh Liberal Democrats are running services for over one million people.
In fact, in last year's council elections, when the party did better than expected, it was Wales which was responsible for the vast majority of those net gains.
There is a golden thread of welsh liberal radicalism that runs through the political history of our party and our country.
A strong belief in personal freedom and civil liberties,
- in empowering people,
A passion for social justice, supporting those who need it.
An intolerance of bigotry in any form.
These are enduring values which are the backbone of Liberalism - built on the great figures of our past:
Gladstone's Harden Manifesto, implementing important land reforms;
Lloyd George's people's budget - 100 years ago this year - and later the yellow book that he commissioned and which has formed the cornerstone of modern economic policy.
And politicians such as, Tom Ellis, Emlyn Hooson, Geraint Howells, Richard Livsey, and Alex Carlile amongst many others leading the way throughout the last hundred years and more in the fight for a devolved government for Wales.
It was those examples and those values and principles that drew me into the party
When I was 15 my politics teacher took me to a lecture by another great Welshman
That famous son of Abersychan - Roy Jenkins!
The words he spoke that night opened up to me a vision of how politics could be.
It was such a contrast to Thatcherism - which was then at its height.
I grew up in Llanelli - I saw at first hand the devastating effect of Tory policy as jobs were haemorrhaged in the coal and steel industries.
Families and communities consigned to the scrap heap because of the government's indifference to the human suffering their policies caused.
Thatcher's Government got it wrong. They forgot the human aspect, they denied the rich community and cultural values which underpinned Welsh society and still do.
Those values are I would argue our values and just like we were urged to do by Governor Dean yesterday we must get out there and make that connection with those communities.
We need to talk in the language of real people, not in the language of lobbyists and hard-bitten activists. Let's start from where people are, and let's get out and hear what they've go to say.
Because some communities in Wales have not recovered from the last recession let alone the one we are currently in.
The Welsh Economy is being hit harder than any other part of the United Kingdom. We have lost over 3000 jobs in the last 6 months
300 in the last week alone. For the first time in my life I am dealing with repossession casework on a regular basis.
The Welsh government's response has been a series of economic summits, which Rhodri Morgan admitted last week has done nothing to ease access for business to credit,
Talks that have not altered the public procurement process to make it easier for Welsh firms to bid for public sector contracts
And whilst they have adopted a Welsh Lib Dem idea on helping companies keep workers on their books and invest in training
They have tied it up in an 8 phase bureaucratic application process.
It's not just the private sector that is not getting the support it needs
Only this week a constituent came to the office.
She is a young Mum in her twenties with a five month old baby boy. In January she was diagnosed with a malignant tumour - 6 weeks later - yes - 6 weeks - she still has not heard from the hospital about what they will do.
Our waiting times for hospital treatment continue to be longer than England's despite commitments to the contrary.
The response from the Welsh Government is yet another round of reorganisation that highlights perfectly their authoritarian tendencies.
Dictating from the centre rather that letting those that know best get on and do the job.
The spectre of Child poverty continues to stalk Wales, robbing our younger generation of their hopes and aspirations.
Labours commitment to the Welsh people was to create a fairer society, but one in four of our children lives in poverty one in ten in severe poverty.
Education and training is the key and I am so proud that we have spent this weekend clearly outlining that this is our party's priority.
Meanwhile back home funding to Further Education sector has been decimated and school buildings crumble.
Here in Harrogate we have committed ourselves to our opposition to tuition fees.
Of course in Wales because of our work in the National Assembly Welsh students have not faced the burden of Top Up fees. But for how much longer?
As a party we believe that access to Higher Education should be an aspiration and not based on the ability to pay.
You know I thought Plaid Cymru believed it too. After all only last week their National Council was reaffirming their manifesto commitment to oppose fees too.
But at the same time their Leader and DFM Ieuan Wyn Jones has succumbed to the lure of Ministerial limousines and is proposing to sell Welsh students out.
What a contrast to how things were when the Welsh Liberal Democrats were in coalition, we didn't abandon our values and principles we fought for them around the cabinet table not leave them at the front door!
We don't need a Welsh Government which respond with gimmicks and grandstanding
If we are to find a way out of the current abysmal economic situation then we need investment .
We need money being spent where it will do the most good.
Not on attention grabbing headlines but on the infrastructure to provide solid foundations upon which to rebuild the economy.
Kick starting the construction industry with projects that bring long term benefits and provide jobs and training opportunities.
Building decent and affordable homes, investing in green energy and sustainable projects.
Friends it is my conviction that our party's message and our politics is needed more now than perhaps it ever has been.
We must give a new urgency to our campaigning, I sense a new energy in this party and an appetite for change amongst our fellow citizens.
Now is a time for action, it's a time for being confident and courageous about our principles, policies and values.
It is time for reaching out to people beyond the bubbles of Westminster, Holyrood, and Cardiff Bay.
It is a time to turn our back on the political establishment.
NO - actually - it's time to confront that establishment head on.
In Wales we are raising our sights; we are being more ambitious for ourselves, our party and most of all for our children and grandchildren.
So friends, Ros I give you my pledge here this morning - I and my team in Wales will campaign with passion, conviction and principle;
We will take our party's message to all corners of our country.
We will fight for that first Euro M.P.
We will send you more Welsh Lib Dem MPs
We will play our part in that historic tradition of radical change.
And I promise - we WILL deliver!
Some of our latest Act members
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