Ed Davey’s speech in full (30/1/2020)

For the last four years, the Liberal Democrats fought to stop Brexit.

We held street stalls, town hall meetings and we marched in our millions.

Today we stand strong in the knowledge that we did everything we could.

Tens of thousands of people got involved with our campaign. People who had never campaigned before. And old hands, campaigning harder than they ever had before.

We fought with good humour and great energy. We fought because we love our country.

Our pro-Europeanism is built on our patriotism.

So I will always be proud of the campaigners, candidates, activists and members of our movement who had the courage to stand up for what we believe in.

And though ultimately we did not succeed in stopping Brexit, I am immensely proud of all that we did achieve.

We built the largest pro-European movement this country has ever seen.

Prevented a catastrophic no-deal Brexit – not once, not twice but three times.

Defended the rights of EU citizens, and forced the government to scrap the Settled Status fee.

And as I accept that tomorrow at 11pm our campaign to stop Brexit is over, I do so standing shoulder to shoulder with the millions of pro-Europeans I have campaigned with over the past four years.

Tomorrow will be a celebration for some, but for us it will be a heart-breaking day.

Whilst some may relish this Tory Brexit experiment, many will be anxious and upset.

Worried about what the future holds for them – their families, communities and businesses.

But as I share your sadness. And as I share your unease. My aim today is to offer some hope to all pro-Europeans. And to all who thirst for a fairer, greener country.

For I am determined that pro-Europeans can and must play a leading role in our country’s future.

Britain’s European story does not end tomorrow.

We may no longer be members of the European Union, but the UK will always be part of Europe.

Our futures, like our histories, inevitably intertwined.

And the Liberal Democrats will always be a pro-European, internationalist party.

We will never stop fighting for Britain to have the closest possible relationship with our European friends.

Here in Manchester, I’m reminded of the Manchester Liberals who fought the Tories in the 19th century. When Tory Corn Laws made food too expensive for working people.

That Liberal fight for free trade took years – but the Conservatives were eventually defeated.

And with that Liberal trade victory, came reduced food prices, more employment and a fairer society.

And in the 21st century, Liberal Democrats will never stop fighting for liberal, progressive ideals.

Liberal Democrats did not drop our values, our beliefs, our principles. Just because we lost the referendum in 2016. And we will not drop them now.

We believe the United Kingdom is stronger when we work closely with other nations. And when we work with other progressives across our own country.

We will work with anyone within our United Kingdom who shares our values, to reunite our country.

For I am determined that the UK’s response to the huge challenges now before us must not be defined by Boris Johnson and the others who are responsible for Brexit, but by us: progressives, together.

Through pain comes wisdom, and the immense pain we feel tomorrow should at least remind us of one important truth:

That which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.

That is true whether “us” is the United Kingdom, Europe or humankind.

And it is also true of “us” as progressives.

We cannot let small disagreements or tribal labels stand in the way of our common values: Compassion. Fairness. Equality. Internationalism.

To defend these values – and to start winning again – we must regroup.

And as our movement regroups, remember we are larger than ever.

Our party was founded back in the 1980s, by people who left the safety of a large political party to put the national interest first.

In that same tradition, I was proud to stand with courageous MPs like Chuka, Angela, Luciana, Sam, Heidi, Sarah, Philip and Antoinette in the last Parliament.
They and thousands more joined the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives and Labour.

And we’ve seen thousands more get active for the first time ever.

That’s why I’m delighted to be here in Manchester, where thousands of new members have joined our party and where Liberal Democrat councillors – led by the formidable John Leech – are the only opposition on Manchester City Council.

What John and his team have accomplished in the past four years has been remarkable, and I am confident that Liberal Democrats will win bigger than ever in Manchester this year.

This huge growth in members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats gives me hope.

For them and for so many of us, Brexit wasn’t just about Europe. Or the European Union.

It was about who we are. Who we aspire to be. What we want our country to become.

In talking to Liberal Democrat members from across the UK, one theme is clear. They want the UK to become fairer.

We must no longer be a country that is divided by leave and remain, but that means we must heal our country’s other divisions too.

For if Brexit has taught us anything, it is that there are many serious divisions to fix.

The UK is divided by inequality. Inequality of opportunity, of wealth, of power. Inequality of hope.

And the forces of English and Scottish nationalism unleashed by these divisions, cannot bring our fractured country together: by their very nature they seek to divide our family of nations even further.

Only progressive parties like the Liberal Democrats will fight to disperse power and wealth across our country, and to create opportunity for every child, in every community.

From our mission to overhaul Britain’s democracy, to our radical vision of a fairer, greener economy, Liberal Democrats offer real change that can truly unite our country.

So let me say this to those who voted to leave the EU.

If you voted for Brexit because your communities have been let down for decades.

Because Governments have ignored you.

Because too much wealth has stayed in the hands of the always wealthy.

And too much power has stayed in the hands of the already powerful.

Because you and your children have been denied the opportunities afforded those who were born into privilege

You are right. We agree.

We share your frustration – and your impatience for change.

But we have no faith in the Conservatives’ willingness to address your frustrations. Or to deliver that change.

And if your votes are instead used by this Government to feather their own nest.

To discriminate; To impoverish; To divide our communities with racism and hatred –

The Liberal Democrats will fight this Government every step of the way.

So today I have a special message for Boris Johnson.

From Johnson’s articles on straight bananas to make his name in journalism, to his last-minute decision to get on the Brexit bus to take himself to Downing Street. Our Prime Minister tops the long list of Conservatives who are responsible for tomorrow.

But if progressives don’t fight, I fear there may be even worse to come.

For when it comes to tough choices on taxation and spending, this Conservative Prime Minister looks set to protect the wealthy than the vulnerable.

Boris Johnson’s idea of reforming democracy is to attack the courts and make it more difficult for people to vote.

Boris Johnson’s idea of uniting the country has been to tell half of the country to give up their beliefs.

Boris Johnson’s idea of a new role for Britain in the world, is to ring Donald Trump for his orders.

We cannot leave Britain’s future in the hands of a Prime Minister who only cares about himself, and has never once put the national interest ahead of his own career.

We must stand together as progressives against these forces that have done so much harm, to prevent them doing even more.

So as our country forges its future outside the European Union, we must campaign for a future that reflects the best of our United Kingdom.

Where those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden.

Where workers are protected. And consumers and human rights are respected.

But this fight for a progressive Britain starts with our campaign to prevent a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.

And to secure a trading relationship that is based on fair rules and liberal values.

And to lead the fight against the forces that do not respect borders, from terrorism to the climate emergency.

So Liberal Democrats will work to maintain the UK’s position in crime-fighting networks such as Europol, Eurojust, and the European Arrest Warrant. To keep Britain safe.

Liberal Democrats will work to protect our place in the Emissions Trading Scheme and Horizon Europe. So that we can tackle the climate emergency together with our closest neighbours.

From saving the opportunity to study across Europe through Erasmus. To protecting free healthcare across Europe with the European Health Insurance Cards.

To accessing ground-breaking medicines through Euratom, and the European Medicines Regulatory Network.

Liberal Democrats will be on a damage limitation exercise to stop a hard Brexit hurting British people.

And likewise, we will continue to be the champions for EU citizens living in this country. We will work tirelessly so the country they have made their home does not turn its back on them.

In the hospital I and my family use – in Kingston Hospital – I’ve seen the amazing contributions doctors and nurses from the EU make to our NHS.

I’ve heard their anguish over Brexit.

My disabled son’s amazing progress against the odds has been partly down to the skills, dedication and commitment of Hungarian healthcare professionals.

So I want to lift the cloud of uncertainty for them and the millions of other EU citizens who’ve been forced to live under that cloud. For me it’s personal.

As the Conservatives draw up plans to impose a new immigration system on our the country, it is for us to stand up and say unequivocally that this system must not separate children from their families; it must not lock people up indefinitely; and it must not slam the door in the faces of those fleeing unimaginable horror.

For these battles ahead, I take strength from our liberal victories of the past.

Let’s remember what progressive reformers have won in recent decades.

Strengthening human rights. Enlarging individual freedom. Reducing inequality.

From Beveridge to Keynes, Liberals have won so many important advances over the years, and I am proud of the Liberal Democrats’ role in building a fairer, more liberal society.

It was liberals who changed the law in Britain to give women control of their own bodies.

It was Liberal Democrats who led the opposition to the Iraq War.

Liberal Democrats who devised and championed the law for same-sex marriage.

Liberal Democrats who trebled renewable power, making the UK the world-leader in offshore wind.

It was a Liberal Democrat MP who moved the clause to abolish the discriminatory section 28.

And a Liberal Democrat MP who introduced the Bill to enshrine UK aid spending in law.

Every time, there were those who stood against us. Those who dismissed our fight. Those who laughed at our efforts.

And at times it felt like progress was out of reach. That swimming against the tide was futile.

But even in the face of relentless opposition, even after devastating setbacks, we kept going.

We stood up for what we believe in, and we won change.

So as I look ahead this year, I remember how Liberals won in the past – against the odds. Against the establishment. Against the Tories.

And that gives me hope.

Hope that we can save jobs and save businesses.

Hope that we can keep trading relationships free from barriers that harm jobs and business.

Hope that we can protect what we have won in Europe – some of the highest food, working and living standards anywhere in the world.

In our sadness tomorrow, we cannot lose sight of what is at stake over the next year. Or what’s at stake in the years and decades to come.

Tomorrow is not the end of our story with Europe. Far from it.

I do not ignore the gravity of what it means for the country we all love.

But that makes me all the more determined to fight for the liberal values we all cherish.

The Liberal Democrats have been, and will always be, the home for people who are liberal, pro-European and internationalist.

We know you can only create economic opportunity, achieve social justice and protect our environment by being open, inclusive, outward-looking and optimistic.

That is who we are. That is what we will be. And that is the future we will build.



The Liberal Democrats let the EU Remainers down, right from the 2016 Referendum.

On Nick Clegg’s recommendation the architect of our disastrous  2015 election campaign was appointed as chief of strategy for the remain campaign. The result was entirely predictable.

The party then spent four years in the wilderness. A steady, but uninspiring, leadership  from Vince and hard work from our local government activists saw the party slowly improve its position.

In the 2019 Euro Elections the Remainers put their faith in the Lib Dems, only to be let down again at the General Election. This time a combination of a terrible campaign, inexperienced and badly advised leadership, fear of Corbyn and First Past the Post ensured that faith in the Lib Dems was once again misplaced. Not all our fault, but with a good campaign and steady leadership we should have made 50 seats, and the picture today would have been different.

The next challenge is more critical than Brexit. It is not our future in Europe at stake it is the future of the planet. The youth have shown that they are concerned about Climate Change, but what about the political parties. In the UK the Green Party with their Green New Deal are ahead, the Lib Dems are not far behind and Labour is pushing us. The Tories are way behind, leave it to them and our Grandchildren are in for a very rough deal. On Housing and Transport they have little to say, and on Industrial Strategy nothing.

We must not let the public down again.

Ignore the calls that there are no votes in Green Policies. Australia is on fire; the BBC are about to launch a series of programmes on Climate Change and our current wet weather will wreck our food supply. The Public will start to wake up, we need to provide a home.

We need in this country a Green New Deal Campaign, cross party. We should be talking with the Green Party to produce one, we are not far apart. If Long Bailey does not win the Labour Election we might be able to bring Labour in. If she wins we could provide a home for the refugees. We are years off a General Election so at this stage we do not have to worry about guidelines for standing in individual seats.

One of our policies is to avoid trade deals with countries that have policies counter to the Paris Agreement. To do a trade deal with Trump’s USA would be an environmental crime, and we need to be saying so now.

For a start take Stop Brexit off our web site and replace with Stop Climate Change. 

We need to be part of a mass political movement that will tackle climate change.


He is still at it.

We are not going to close A&E at Telford. Contradicted by his Health Secretary

There will be no checks for goods crossing between Ireland and the UK. He cannot have read his withdrawal agreement.

£1.8 M New money for the NHS. No it is the removal of the freeze on the money it has

I will not drink until Brexit is done. Then pictured drinking Beer and Whiskey.

And so it goes on. Unfit to be PM!



GARDEN BRIDGE         £43 Million wasted

WATER CANNON        Purchased but illegal to use

BORIS BUS      Expensive, no other operator would touch them, Manufacturer went bust 

THAMES ESTUARY AIRPORT                      Idea that did not Fly

BREXIT ADVERTS         Preparing for Oct 31st, did not happen, £100M wasted

UNDERGROUND TICKET OFFICES. Pledge not to close any, he closed the lot

IRAN           He made things worse for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held in Iran

BROKE LAW                By shutting Parliament down

LOSER                          Lost ten votes in the House of Commons


£350M a week for NHS if we leave the EU. Not a word of truth

Negotiating a trade deal with the EU will be easy. Not a word of truth

Would lie down in front of bulldozers to stop Heathrow expansion. Made sure he was away when vote taken in House of Commons 

Stop rough sleeping in London. Rose by 130% during his term as Mayor

1000 extra police during his time as Mayor. No increase in police numbers

Negotiate a no strike deal for the London Tube. Would not meet union officers during his term

Would bring LT fares down. 2/3rd increase during his term as Mayor

I will not allow the congestion charge to rise above £8. It rose to £11.50 during his term of office.

Will not close fire stations or remove appliances Ten fire stations closed and 27 engines removed

Not to have a border between the mainland and Northern Island, then created one

To leave the EU by October 31st. Failed

To run as a One Nation Tory. Many One Nation Tory MPS have walked.

To bring the Tory Party back together when elected leader. 21 MPs fired, 3 joined the Lib Dems and 25 are leaving.


GET BREXIT DONE NOW         Negotiations will drag on for years and years

NHS NOT FOR SALE TO USA   Trump is in charge, UK the minnow partner

MILLIONS TO BE SPENT          With a poor deal Brexit the money will not be there

ON SERVICES                           (This is a repeat of Labour’s Magic Money tree)

His use of intemperate Language to describe his opponents has fuelled the hatred around today.

I suggest this man is not fit to be PM of this great country


Jo’s speech after her election contained the enthusiasm and optimism she has shown during her time in Parliament. Below is an extract from that speech. We can expect in the weeks ahead how that optimism can be turned into action, not just to Stop Brexit but to address all the other issues that have been left to fester under the Tories.

Our first priority must be, of course, stopping Brexit. And as your new leader, it’s right at the top of my agenda.

When I say Bollocks to Brexit I mean it. This isn’t a normal political issue. This is about the fundamental direction of our country for generations to come. Brexit in any form is a disaster for our country and we’ll do everything in our power to stop it.

We’re at a pivotal moment.Our country needs a strong, liberal movement more than ever, and that is what we are going to build. This is only the country of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson if we let it be. We all know that Britain deserves better than both of them.

This is only the country of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson if we let it be. We all know that Britain deserves better than both of them.

Their narrow-minded nationalism can be beaten. And the people who are going to beat it are the thousands of you reading this and the thousands more who are going to join us along the way.

Only the Liberal Democrats have the values, the ideas and the sheer bloody determination to stand up to those who are doing so much to damage our country. This is our time.

The road ahead will be hard, but anything that is ever worth doing is hard. I know that together we can take this party further than we have ever been and make Britain the open, positive, liberal country that we all believe in.


Recovering from an operation I have been unable to attend any hustings, but have followed the action on the internet.

We need a leader with:

A good in depth grasp of the issues

Ability to inspire

Ability to encourage the media to take an interest

Develop the party to ensure we hold on to the majority of those who have recently surged to us

Ability to stand up to Boris and Jeremy.

A team player

The hustings have not challenged either of them. Andrew Rawnsley summed it up in the Observer this Sunday:“Ed and Jo are good at telling Lib Dems what Lib Dems like to hear. That is necessary to win this contest, but it isn’t sufficient to be a truly effective leader” 

Our Constituency Chair went to the West Midlands Hustings, one of his comments:””Whilst Jo gave a good general impressions of what need to be done, but no clue as to how.”
Neither stands as a great leader, but they both have strong points
Jo is a good media performer (So was Tim)Ed is a sound pair of hands (So was Vince)
Having seen Tim fail I am worried about a good media performer who lacks gravitas.I am also worried about a sound pair of hands who lacks the ability to inspire.
We need a leader who can stand up to Boris and Jeremy, that means holding your corner, fighting back and having a very sound grasp of your case.
The only time I have seen them challenged was on the Victoria Derbyshire Programme. Victoria had a go, mainly at Ed. He stood up to her and would not let her shout him down. We have not seen that in the Hustings, they have been to nice. (Makes a change from the nasty Tory Party)

Attracted as I am by a good media performer, and tempted to ensure the party shows equality, as I consider all the issues I have come to the view that Ed has the best chance of making a promising Leader.


It is a sobering thought that just under 2,000 years ago there were people gathered on this spot no doubt complaining about a treaty from Rome.

…with tiresome regulations about daily baths and straight roads; muttering under their breath that these legionnaires should go back to Gaul or Carthage.

And you would have heard lots of people saying Interum sumo inferium. For those amongst you who don’t converse in classical languages, that means: take back control!

It then took them over 300 years to get their ’Rexit, when the Romans went home.

That’s the kind of timescale Theresa May seems to be working on.

It then took about 700 years for York to recover from this early Brexit.

Eventually it did, mainly thanks to French newcomers. They and their descendants left much that is beautiful in this city, like the Minster.

But there are also reminders of past ugliness. Only a few hundred yards away from here one of Britain’s early displays of organised antisemitism when Yorkshire’s Jews were rounded up, locked up in Clifford’s Tower and burned to death.

That the country should still be battling the scourge of anti-Semitism today is a terrible reflection on our society.

And after this weekend’s horrors in New Zealand, Islamophobia is another scourge, indulged by populists and conspiracy theorists – with terrible consequences.

But back to my home city. York is where my life, and my upbringing and my political career began.

I have fond memories as a returning native, and I am heartened that York now enjoys a luxury which I hope will soon be more widely shared: a Lib Dem-led council.

And it is a place which is proud of its traditions and identity as a great British city, but open and welcoming to outsiders.

York University, a symbol of that openness, welcomed as its first ever student, in 1963, a young woman from Kenya who a few years later became my wife.

And, by the way, the city voted to Remain.

Brexit is dominating the life of Parliament and the country and not in a good way.

It is dividing families, communities, and even the United Kingdom and sucking the energy out of government.

Last week’s farcical debates have diminished even further the standing of Parliament.

Many of the really big issues which will dominate the future – how we live sustainably; how we adapt to and control a new generation of technologies; how we plan for our ageing population – all of these are being put on one side: postponed, ignored, neglected.

I am not surprised that growing numbers of people are simply reacting with a mixture of boredom and anger: boredom because the same arguments are being advanced with robotic regularity; anger because what we were told would be very simple and straightforward is, in reality, hideously complicated.

I am proud of the role our party has played, unapologetically leading the case for Remaining for an Exit from Brexit through securing and then winning a People’s Vote. Against all the odds, our cause is very much alive.

We have been quite clear that the 2016 referendum, now more than 2½ years ago, was not a good basis for leaving. It was undertaken solely to satisfy an internal quarrel inside the Conservative Party. A narrow majority of voters, and only 37% of the electorate, voted to Leave.

Facts change, and they have changed. We also now understand much better the scale of the cheating and lying, which went on to secure the result.

Without a confirmatory referendum there will be no such thing as the ‘settled will of the people’: merely a feud without end.

I remain astounded that some people claim a new referendum would be undemocratic. What is democracy if it is not the right for a country to change its mind?

I, myself, serve as an illustration of this principle. In 2015, I was defeated in the General Election and lost my seat. Two years later, in another election, they told me on the doorsteps, and the in the privacy of the voting booth, that they had had a change of heart and I got back with a near 10,000 majority.

Twickenham changed its mind. Britain is now changing its mind too.

And anyone who imagines that getting Theresa May’s proposed Brexit through Parliament at the – third, fourth, fifth – time of asking will bring closure and stability is suffering from serious self-delusion.

The Withdrawal Agreement – the divorce – is the easy bit.

If Brexit is a political Everest, we have only just got to the Base Camp.

The brief, vague, woolly, Political Declaration doesn’t even tell us where the summit is, let alone how to get there. It promises years and years of frustration and friction.

We keep being told, not least by the Chancellor, that once Brexit is agreed and delivered, the fog of uncertainty will lift and there will be a surge of renewed confidence in the UK.

Business investment will pour in. We will all live happily every after.

But this is a triumph of political fantasy over economic reality. Any well-run business can see that chronic uncertainty would follow any endorsement of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The cliff edge would merely have been postponed for 20 months. Not a great offer. 

But it isn’t just about business, and economics, important though they are.

As an MP for a university area, containing one of the leading scientific research centres in the country, I see a generation’s worth of work going up in smoke.

Pan-European teams; the free movement of students and staff and crucial research funding… are all being seriously damaged.

And we are turning our backs on the most successful peace project in European history; a project which brought democracy to Southern European military dictatorships and then to the former communist countries of the East.

That is why Europe is worth fighting for.

That is why we will continue to fight to Remain.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks of parliamentary twists and turns, we must argue that none of the many, mutually exclusive versions of Brexit now on offer – soft or hard – are as good as the deal we currently have.

To those outside the Westminster bubble, the parliamentary games on Brexit are baffling: a weird combination of snakes and ladders, chess and all-in wrestling.

So I want to pay tribute to our anti-Brexit parliamentary team, led by Tom Brake, Sarah Ludford and Dick Newby, who together have helped us ensure that we are in the right place on the panoply of Brexit legislation.

I am grateful, too, to all of you. You keep campaigning; You never give up; You continue to believe we can win this historic argument.

I am looking forward to joining you and leading you once again in a show of Liberal Democrat strength on the march next weekend.

Together we will make a statement, on the streets, that the fight continues, and can be won.

I got into some hot water with some of you last year, suggesting that ours might be a ‘movement for moderates’.

Naturally, we are – economically – in the centre; supporters of private enterprise, unafraid of active government.

But in the new world of identity politics, we are on one side, not in the mushy middle. We are Remain.

The choice between good and bad, right and wrong, isn’t to split the difference.

As King Solomon once observed: you don’t settle a dispute on the parentage of a baby by splitting it down the middle.

In a world of Trumps, Le Pens, and Putins…

….the new champions of nationalism and Xenophobia… we are firmly on the other side.

We are Remain. We are internationalist, liberal, outward looking.

If there is one issue which exposes the motives of British politicians today, it is the current bitter arguments over the ‘Irish backstop’.

For the hard Brexiteers, the pure identity of the United Kingdom as a ‘sovereign’ entity – which can do what it likes and close its mind to the world – is more important than peace, trade, and prosperity.

For them, our shared history with Ireland is irrelevant; of second order to their own obsessions with nationalism.

And to make things worse, this government is so lacking in talent that it employs a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who makes even Chris Grayling look like a serious figure.

Karen Bradley says she doesn’t understand sectarian voting patterns, and then compounds this public declaration of ignorance with a blatantly and naively one-sided view of the killings in the Troubles. Ireland, like Czechoslovakia in pre-war days, is seen as a faraway country of which they know nothing and care less.

She has revealed an ugly truth: that peace in Ireland matters less than peace in the Conservative Party.

But just as we are committed to fighting the consequences of Brexit, we are committed to tackling the underlying causes. That isn’t straightforward.

We shouldn’t be seduced by the lazy clichés and the simple idea that Brexit was caused by deprivation. In fact, some of Britain’s poorest cities voted to Remain. And many of the most prosperous towns and villages, in the South voted Leave.

But there was a clear pattern of towns in the North, the Midlands, Wales, and coastal England which felt neglected and voted Leave to give the Government, and the wider establishment, a good kicking.

Government must invest heavily in the infrastructure and public services in former industrial or mining or seaside towns.

I have set out in a pamphlet, which will be available as you leave, my ideas about how government should approach this.

It may not be the most exciting bedtime reading, but it should provide some material for the train home!

The big challenges which my booklet addresses have been obscured not just by Brexit, but by the upheaval in Britain’s two main parties.

The Conservative Party was, until recently, a broad church; but now it is narrowing to a party of English nationalism. The UKippers are quietly taking over that hollowed out, geriatric, structure and those that don’t fit in are being pushed aside.

This is a mirror image of what has already happened to the Labour Party. Ever since the Labour civil war 40 years ago, which led to the social democratic split, there has been an unresolved conflict between revolutionary and democratic socialism.

And now there is a nasty twist; the anti-Semites who feed off the conspiracy theories of the ‘far left’ are back. Reminding us that there is more that unites the far left and far right than divides them.

But the problems of the Labour Party are not just a problem for them, but for all of us.

There are millions of Conservative voters who are disgusted with the incompetence, the self-indulgence and the inhumanity of this Tory Government but so long as Labour appears to be a nightmare, they will cling to the Tory nurse, for fear of something worse.

The question I have been asked from the day I took on this job is “why don’t the Liberal Democrats fill the political space created by these extremes?” I believe we should, we can and we will.

But anybody who thinks it’s straight forward to rush in and fill this so called ‘centre ground’ will soon encounter the barrier of which we are all too painfully aware. The first past the post voting system.

Every parliamentary constituency and council seat in England and Wales is fought on this basis, crushing the life out of insurgent parties trying to operate as if they were in Holland or Sweden, where there is proportional voting.

Dozens of new parties have been registered in the last couple of years, many claiming to be the Holy Grail of the ‘Centre Ground’.

They need to ask themselves a simple question: why isn’t the Women’s Equality Party running the country? With a potential voter base of over half the population; many sensible policies; lots of committees; a clear, attractive, brand; and some nice people… but they haven’t got anyone elected.

They can’t get over the hurdle of ‘first past the post’. So, when people tell me that a new force can win in France, why not here, the prosaic answer is: this isn’t France.

We don’t have a Presidential system; and we don’t have a transferable vote.

These are the problems and we are all too familiar with them. But there’s no reason for giving up.

The massive challenge we face now is to create an alternative to the politics of fear and division; which has attractive, liberal and social democratic values; but is also grounded in the political reality and experience of winning in the current system and running things well at local and national level.

This year’s local elections must be the place where we finally shake off the set-back of two damaging general elections, and regain confidence, building on the advances of the last year. We can and will.

The environment in which we do so has now changed. We are seeing early signs of some realignment. The breakaway group of independent MPs is a sign of that.

I have been very clear that we must welcome a realignment of British politics and the opportunities it presents. I have also been clear that we should offer the hand of friendship to those who want to work with us rather than against us. Most of their statements of policy could have been cut and pasted from ours. But these are early days.

The new group has a following wind from people who are curious about something new, and who admire their decision to break with their parties. But there is nothing yet beyond Westminster.

No local infrastructure. No local base.

They are very exposed to a wipe out in an early election. We aren’t. As Tim Farron once observed, we would survive as cockroaches would survive a nuclear war. Speaking as Chief Cockroach, I would prefer a more flattering metaphor, but his point is well made.

But I think we can do more than survive. We can do much more and much better by working with them and others who share our values, to take on the decaying and dysfunctional Labour and Conservative party machines, which have dominated British politics for far too long.

The fringe this weekend where Jo Swinson welcomed Anna Soubry to conference was a very positive step.

One of the reasons that there appears to be some public appetite for something new is frustration with the relentlessly negative and adversarial nature of British politics. There was some tut-tutting in the party when I forged an agreement with the Green Party covering national and local elections in my part of London.

One irate member told me that he was appalled that I was collaborating with people whose stance on NATO and nuclear weapons was different from ours. But the public liked the collaboration and rewarded both our parties.

And anyway, I’d suggested that nuclear weapons weren’t a great help in devising environmentally sensible traffic management in Twickenham.

And in a year when we remember with gratitude and affection the legacy of Paddy Ashdown it is worth recalling his last major political initiative which was to establish More United; bringing together politicians of different parties, much as he sought to do with the semi-formal alliance he – and we – had with Tony Blair’s Labour Party in 1997.

In the event, the nature of Corbyn’s Labour Party kills off meaningful frontbench collaboration. But Paddy’s instincts were right: the organisation has gone on to unite backbenchers on opposite sides of the traditional divide.

And let me be clear: I identify with this approach to politics and I believe it is part of our duty to Paddy’s legacy to promote it.

Our mission to move from survival to success, from protest back to power, takes place in a world where liberal values are under siege and in retreat.

Nothing quite defines liberalism like its opposite, illustrated by Theresa May’s policies on immigration.

Slamming the door on refugees, including children. Threats of deportation for decades-long legal residents who don’t have the right papers. No appeal against arbitrary refusal of visas. Separation of partners from their loved ones. Using landlords, teachers and health professionals to create a hostile environment of suspicion of those who sound and look different. Depriving the destitute of the right to work.

What a sad state of affairs that our main safeguard against Home Office tyranny is its own chronic inefficiency.

Immigration is a touchstone issue which has defined liberals from long before Theresa May stepped into the Home Office.

I recall the panic half a century ago when a British government slammed the door on British subjects from Kenya, including my late wife’s family and friends.

Only a small group, led by the then Liberal Party opposed the government.

And you may remember that one of Paddy’s great campaigns was the then – unpopular – defence of the rights of Hong Kong Chinese, who faced loss of their citizenship.

As we forge a new politics, we must never lose our edge on this issue. We do not argue that immigration should be unlimited or unmanaged but we will never give in to populism.

Ours will always be a distinctive voice, speaking up for the benefits of migration to our society and our economy; and our party will always open its arms to refugees when others turn their backs.

It may be uncomfortable for many people of my generation but there is an enormous gap in attitudes and interests opening up between the old and the young.

That is true of Brexit where an overwhelming majority of young people voted Remain, and most of the two million who have turned 18 since would do so now.

It is also true of the environment. There is now a climate emergency. But you wouldn’t think so from the complacent attitude of the government, which has quietly dumped the relentless focus on carbon reduction, which we maintained when Ed Davey was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change;

Whether it is the short-sighted cancellation of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon Project or the cynical sell-off of the Green Investment Bank, Conservative Ministers are frankly put to shame by the children who have walked out of school to put the future of the planet first.

I believe there are four other issues which matter above all.

The first is housing. Housing inflation has created paper millionaires of large numbers of older home owners who have repaid their mortgages. Young families by contrast are forced into insecure, unsatisfactory and often exploitative rented accommodation.

We are, therefore, committed to massive affordable house building of social and private homes, as an absolute priority. And that, in turn, means breaking the existing model of developer-led housing which depends on rising land prices and grotesque profits and bonuses.

The second issue is the wave of violent crime. The victims are overwhelmingly young and male (and often black).

What is clear is that cuts to police have undermined crime prevention; diminishing their ability to gather intelligence and to catch perpetrators.

I started my involvement in politics 50 years ago representing a tough ward in Glasgow. Gang violence was endemic; the weapons of choice were open razors and broken bottles; and the catalyst was drink rather than drugs.

Glasgow was once a far more violent place than inner London. Today the city is leading the way in treating knife crime as a public health as much as a law and order issue. This is an example we must follow across the whole country.

Thirdly, there is mental ill health. I am shocked on visits to schools and colleges by the prevalence of mental illness among young people.

A few weeks ago, I was at a lovely infant and primary school in a comfortable, middle class part of my constituency. But the Head told me that over 10% of his pupils were coping with mental health problems. At the neighbouring secondary school, it was over 20%.

Lib Dems will always challenge the underfunding of mental health services – building on the work we did together in Coalition, led by Norman Lamb.

Finally, education, where Layla Moran is taking the lead to argue for a world-class academic and vocational education system.

By contrast, this Government is taking education backwards with the scale of school and college cuts:

Head teachers asking for financial contributions from parents; schools closed down on Fridays to save money; the curriculum narrowed because of a lack of staff; neglect of Special Needs; and a general deterioration of morale.

There is no shortage of issues to campaign on. We have good ideas and clear messages. The challenge now is to translate our values and those messages into electoral success.

The next big test at the ballot box is the local elections in May. These aren’t opinion polls but real elections.

And they matter enormously, not just because we want, and expect, to do well, but because local government reflects our belief in localism and community politics.

If ever you feel pessimistic, the councils which we run, or lead coalitions: Bedford, Watford, Portsmouth, South Cambridge, South Somerset, Eastbourne, Eastleigh, Three Rivers – and indeed right here in York.

With 9,000 seats up for grabs these elections are a big challenge but a great opportunity.

An opportunity to get more Liberal Democrats elected, and to recruit more Liberal Democrat members and supporters across the country. I hope that all of you will channel your energy into these campaigns whether as a candidate or activist. If you don’t have elections in your part of the UK, you can still get involved somewhere that does.

Success and persistence banishes the negativity we encounter in the media.

I became a parliamentary candidate for the seat I now hold at a time when we didn’t register in the polls at all; but we then won the seat at the second attempt.

And what always lifts my spirits is to meet up with those who fought in previous campaigns and are still fighting today; like those who were here in York with me over four decades ago and are now running the city as Lib Dems.

Friends, we have every reason to be optimistic that our party can grow and make real progress.

And if, as I sense, the two old, tired and increasingly discredited major parties are to fracture,

we shall move forward not in small steps, but in leaps and bounds.

There is everything to fight for.

Fox must come clean on failure to secure trade deals. Lib Dem Press Release 2-3rd March

Fox must come clean on failure to secure trade deals

Responding to comments from Liam Fox that revealing the current status of trade negotiations is commercially sensitive, Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

People are likely to be incredibly angry and exasperated that Liam Fox refuses to provide more information about key trade deals.

Fox says that revealing the status of trade negotiations with key global allies is commercially sensitive, but in reality his inability to secure trade deals is professionally sensitive; when the truth comes out it could cost him his job.

The only way to guarantee trade relationships is by taking no deal off the table and offering people the final say on Brexit, with a people’s vote and an option to remain in the EU.