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Kirsty Williams New Year's Message

December 31, 2009 12:43 PM

As we begin 2010 it s tempting only to look forward. The year ahead promisesto be an exciting one, with a general election and a possible referendum onfurther National Assembly powers, 2010 really could see the politicallandscape change.

I know that across the party, elected members, staff and activists havealready imagined the early months of 2010 a hundred times over. Diaries arealready filled, plans made and campaigns well underway. It is an excitingand busy time.

But we should resist ignoring the passing of 2009, however keen we might beto start this new year. There s so much we must learn from the last twelvemonths, lessons that should inform all of our thinking in the weeks andmonths ahead.

In 2009 conventional politics revealed itself to be unfit for purpose. We vehad shameful expenses scandals, devastating recession in Wales, and morerecently, the failure of World leaders to agree a deal on climate change inCopenhagen. Meanwhile, brave troops have risked and lost lives defendingvalues that have seemed in short supply in Westminster.

Last year, I reflected on the Obama campaign, as it swept across the UnitedStates, ultimately to historic victory. I asked if there was any good reasonwe couldn t engage a wider movement in the politics of change, here inWales. We have begun that project and never has the need been greater. Ifnothing else, 2009 should stoke our desire for change and reform - we cannotsit back and let the old politics stumble from scandal to failure and backagain.

And we are not simply standing by. In Wales and in Westminster, LiberalDemocrats are putting forward radical policies that can change Wales for thebetter. A year ago, I suggested that 2009 would see a battle of ideas. I waswrong, in so far as it takes at least two parties to tango and on all themajor issues, Liberal Democrats have provided the only substantive contribution.

On reform of parliament, we have called for a return of power to the people,for wholesale electoral reform and in Wales we are unique in having signedan all-elected member code of conduct. None of this ensures the trust ofvoters, but it certainly shows the electorate which party is serious aboutcleaning up politics.

On climate change, Liberal Democrats continue to represent the interests ofpeople, above the vested interests of those who profit from environmentalruin. It was a Welsh Liberal Democrat motion, which secured all-partysupport and sent Wales Environment Minister to Copenhagen calling for 40%emissions cuts by 2020. Copenhagen may have failed, but those targets forWales remain and I m proud we set the bar at the right height.

But the story of 2009, for too many in Wales, has been a story of recession. Many businesses have struggled, thousands have lost jobs and thousands morelook set to. We ve done a thorough job of holding the Welsh Government toaccount, notably exposing first class flights and second class performancewithin International Business Wales. The Welsh Government was forced toadmit strategic failure and in the long run, that reality check will helpget Wales back on track.

More recently, we ve presented fully costed plans to reverse the devastating5% cuts Labour and Plaid thrust unto Welsh colleges and universities. I waspleased to hear Vince Cable pass damning judgement on those Welsh educationcuts, at a meeting of Cardiff Business leaders, last month. We re making theright calls on the issues that matter - and we must keep telling peoplethat.

But as we campaign over the coming months, let us take stock of the shape weas a party are in. I wrote a year ago of the need to improve our ways ofworking, to grow our movement both in numbers and in terms of our ownaspirations. I believe we have made great steps towards these objectives butthere is still so much that we can do.

Whilst we are all Liberal Democrats, our experiences of involvement in theparty can be quite radically different. As Leader, I want to ensure that theWelsh Liberal Democrats fully capitalise on the talents and abilities ofeach and every one of our members. If there is a good idea, or good practicegoing on within the party - we need to find ways to share and develop thoseideas and practices across our movement.

There s not much point being the party whose members have great ideas, northe party who is really effective at campaigning in one place, but not thenext. I ve already taken steps to avoid these organisational pitfalls, sothat we re training, sharing and meeting more effectively than ever before.

Our 2009 conferences gave a glimpse of the rewards more effectivecollaboration can bring: A Fresh look and feel, smooth organisation andfocused, relevant policy debate. Outside observers have noticed theseimprovements contributing to increased confidence in our party, our ideasand our ways of working. We must continue to improve in 2010.

Hard work, professionalism and a sense of pride in our work helps buildtrust with voters, who more than ever demand full value for their vote. Wemust continue to be the party that works hardest *in* and *for* thecommunities we serve. If we marry our collective effort with the positivevision for Wales we present, we can enjoy the next few months and giveourselves the best chance of success in the General Election.

So it s with a positive message that I wish to leave you. I am hugelyencouraged by the appetite for success I see across our party. At the Townhall meetings I ve held, when campaigning and when meeting with members andactivists I am assured of the health of Welsh Liberal Democracy. We havegrown as a movement and I am confident that we will continue to do so.

With a new website to be launched in the New Year, the online action networkACT already in place and Facebook groups for all sorts of places, events andcampaigns, you can keep up to date and take action more easily than everbefore. And across Wales more and more people are joining and gettinginvolved, through local parties and through Liberal Youth Wales.

But it s our radical policies that should give us most confidence as webegin 2010. The policies and proposals we offer fully reflect ourobjectives: to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in whichwe seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality andcommunity, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance orconformity.

Our fair tax proposals confirm our position as the truly progressive party,our commitment to higher and further education funding is more relevant,more vital than ever and our ability to lead the debate on public spendingwith honesty and integrity matches the electorate s desire for substanceabove spin.

Welsh Liberal Democrats can therefore campaign with pride and purpose in2010, safe in the knowledge we offer a radical, relevant and fair choice forWelsh voters. There s every reason to work together to ensure an enjoyable,rewarding 2010.