Kirsty Williams Speech to Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference Wrexham 2011

October 16, 2011 10:45 AM

Kirsty Williams indoor portrait July 2011 (Kirsty Williams)Well, they wrote us off at the start of the competition.
They claimed we didn't have the skills, the organisation, the ideas or the support to compete at this level.
Our opponents threw everything at us.
They said we were facing a whitewash
But the team did us proud and we've proved that we're a force to be reckoned with .
But enough of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
What a performance this morning and throughout the tournament. Warren Gatland, Sam Warburton and the team have done us proud. This is a moment for the whole country to hold our heads up high.
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And what a year it has been for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Two referendums
A Welsh general election
Countless polls and critics who lined up to write us off
But only one result that mattered.
And for all the talk of wipe out by the media.
We ended up with what the BBC's own analysis described as 'a pretty creditable result'.
Despite the new and challenging circumstances of being in Government in Westminster with people we have spent the last 150 years opposing.
Despite everything that was thrown at us by our opponents.
We have returned to the Assembly a strong , united and talented team to take us forward over the next five years.
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This fourth National Assembly should be the opportunity for Welsh politics to come of age. To show that in tough times, we can use new powers to deliver for the people of Wales.
With Labour lacking the 'comfortable majority' they sought, and predicted, before the election, the Welsh Liberal Democrats may have the opportunity to influence the direction of our country.
I don't know when or how that opportunity may come.
Whether it be influencing the budget or improving individual pieces of legislation.
But over the next five years, the chance will come
and this party will not let the people of Wales down.

We will judge each issue on its merits, afraid neither to support the government nor to oppose it, in the best interests of our country.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be the strong, responsible voice of constructive opposition that Wales needs.
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The challenges that Wales faces cannot be underestimated.
During the election we said that Wales continues to suffer from a weak economy.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to Sir Roger Jones, former Chair of the Welsh Development Agency who says:
"We have got to get more investment in, up skill the workforce, earn more money."
Welsh Liberal Democrats agree Sir Roger.
That is why we will use our votes in the budget to tackle unemployment and boost the economy by incentivising employers that take on new trainees.

During the election we said that our schools were under-funded and that we are allowing Welsh children to slip behind.
But don't take my word for it, listen to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment results which show that in science, maths and reading, Wales' performance and international ranking is lower than it was back in 2006.
Listen to the Government's own Schools Inspector, Estyn, that says:
"Teachers and leaders need more training in how they deliver literacy and numeracy."
Welsh Liberal Democrats agree.
That is why we continue to oppose Labour's underfunding of education and insist that we need to close the funding gap with England, starting with the poorest children.

During the election we said that our NHS is costing the tax payer more than the English NHS but that you wait longer for an ambulance in Wales and longer for an operation.
But don't take my word for it.
Listen to the Country's most senior doctor, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, who says that:
mortality rates in Wales are among the worst in Western Europe;
that death rates from heart disease in Wales are substantially higher than in many western European countries
that Wales has amongst the highest rates of cancer in Western Europe

So the challenges are clear.
Our country desperately needs a government that will attack these problems with vigour
A government that will communicate a new vision with conviction, with passion and with the ambition that our players showed this morning on the rugby field.
During the referendum campaign, Carwyn Jones appealed to the people of Wales to give him the tools to do the job.
But after six months of office. Labour gives every impression of not having the first idea why they wanted power in the first place.
This is power without purpose.
Have we really waited 600 years for the legislative programme that Labour has published?
Where are the measures to help drive the economic recovery and create jobs?
Where are the proposals to improve teaching standards by establishing new streamlined structures for the training and development of teachers?
Where is the Bill to improve public transport by re-regulating bus services?
No wonder Sir Emyr Jones Parry, who chaired the All Wales Convention, said that the Government's proposals "are not a natural fit for the problems Wales confronts."
"I'm not sure whether they actually hit the button", he said.
I don't' know about 'buttons' but I think Sir Emyr hit the nail on the head.
And Labour's programme for government, containing practically no clear targets, was equally depressing.
Now I am not a fan of legislation for the sake of it. The reputation of the Welsh Government and the Assembly would not be enhanced by rushing to legislate unnecessarily.
But neither is Wales well served by failing to use the powers at its disposal to address the problems we face.
Power without purpose.
I say to the Welsh government:
There is no shortage of work.
You now have the tools that you demanded to do the job.
It's no good leaving those tools, carefully oiled and stored in the shed.
It is time to bend down,
pick them up
and get to work.
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Conference, there is so much to be done.
The examples of Labour's poor services are clear for all to see:
Wales is lagging behind in our approach to Cancer.
We spend less per patient on treating cancer than England. Even before you consider the impact of the £200 million Cancer Drugs Fund that is available in England but not in Wales.

I was approached recently by constituents who moved to Wales a couple of years previously. The lady has cancer. They had moved back to Wales to be nearer their family and didn't regret that decision. But she asked me why it was that a cancer drug available in England is not in Wales.

I had to explain to her that, of course, the drug is available in Wales. It is just that in England the drug is free to whom it is prescribed, regardless of the ability to pay. But in Labour's Wales, the drug is only available to those well off enough to "top up" their treatment by paying for their own drugs or by opting to go private.

That is Labour's NHS in Wales today.
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But it's not just in the NHS that Labour's poor services are doing poor people down.
Much has been made of the performance of our schools. And rightly so, since for the last four years Welsh children have fallen behind their English counterparts in GCSE achievement.
But consider the performance of the worst off children in Wales. Just twenty per cent - one in five - children on free school meals, get 5 good GCSEs.
That is Labour's education service in Wales today.

Wales is now the poorest part of the United Kingdom and we're getting relatively poorer. That is despite 12 years of Labour government and millions of pounds of European regeneration money.
West Wales and the Valleys is one of only seven European regions - out of 66 - to have actually got poorer since receiving European funding.
Every other region that received structural funds got wealthier in this time, even Greece and Spain.
And it took the Labour Government in Wales six months to decide that Enterprise Zones might be a good idea after all.
Too late for workers in Carwyn Jones' backyard who saw Jaguar Ford invest in Wolverhampton - citing the Enterprise Zone as one of the reasons for taking that decision.
Is this laid back approach really what Wales needs?
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Now in Birmingham, a couple of weeks ago, in what was dubbed a 'vitriolic attack', I controversially, suggested that the Liberal Democrats had a rather more whole-hearted and long standing commitment to devolution than the Conservatives.
I, outrageously, asserted that the Wales Office didn't like giving away power.
And, apparently without any foundation, I implied that a Secretary of State who represents a seat in Buckinghamshire is not directly accountable to the people of Wales.
Well thank goodness the references to the Pope's choice of religion and bears' personal woodland habits were deleted at the last minute!
But in the interests of balance, I want to talk about Peter Hain's recent pronouncements.
Peter Hain spent his entire tenure as Secretary of State for Wales attempting to water down devolution, to retain power for Labour in London.
He is now spending his tenure as Shadow Secretary of State trying to ensure that the Assembly is as unrepresentative of Welsh voters as possible.
Not content with a system that gave Labour half the seats on 42% of the vote. He wants to go back to a first past the post system that would deliver Labour a two thirds majority on the same minority vote.
That is what Peter says now.
But listen to what Peter Hain used to say about First Past the post (and I quote):
"As a democrat" (bare with me here!)

"As a democrat, I cannot wish away the fact that First Past The Post is no longer fit for purpose"

Or try this one, another quote:

"Under first past the post, the winner takes it all but doesn't have to have a majority of local voters. Most MPs are elected on a minority vote- How can that possibly be justified?"
Now these words weren't uttered by Peter in the 1970s when he was a young Liberal.
It isn't what he said when he was the Wales Minister that introduced the current voting system in 1997.
It isn't even what he said when he was Secretary of State that took the 2006 Government of Wales Act through Parliament.
This was earlier this year, when he was arguing against first past the post for Westminster.
But now it seems what cannot possibly be justified for Westminster is good enough for Wales.
This summer, we have seen the final transformation of Peter Hain from radical Liberal freedom fighter to Old Labour dinosaur.
It's like some hideous re-creation of Jurassic Park
The only difference is that rather than being detained on a remote island behind a twenty foot electric fence, Peter Hain is roaming free!
Well, I don't know about you,
But I blame the Human Rights Act!
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But whilst Peter Hain expends all his energy trying to take us backwards, our colleagues in Westminster are ensuring that the devolution project marches on.
Wales' devolution package is missing a critical element. Unlike most families and businesses, the Welsh government has the luxury of spending money handed out by others. Uniquely, Wales has no power to borrow or raise money.
This lack of accountability for how money is raised breeds an irresponsibility about how money is spent.
Liberal Democrats have consistently supported greater financial powers and it is a credit to the Coalition Government that the announcement of the Silk Commission has been made after a decade of Labour inaction.
But the process announced this week cannot be about Wales whingeing for others to deliver. It is about building a persuasive case with maximum support across Wales that demands the respect of politicians in Westminster.
I am delighted that Rob Humphreys has agreed to act as the Welsh Liberal Democrats' nomination to the Silk Commission.
At every stage, we will be pressing to bring more accountability and responsibility to the Welsh Government and to give Wales further powers to drive forward Wales' economic development, creating jobs and prosperity.
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Now, I started by talking about our election results this year.
But whilst they were creditable, that does not mean they were good enough.
Colleagues like Veronica German and Nigel Howells learned just how narrow the margins are between between success and failure.
We thank them as we thank Mike, Jenny and Eleanor who did so much for this party in the previous Assembly.
And as we look forward to the council elections, we know that the challenging circumstances we faced this year will still be there next year.
In fact, doubly so.
Because, next year, we will be defending the seats gained in 2008, which were the most successful round of local council elections Welsh Liberal Democrats have ever fought.
Just ten years ago, Wales was dominated by the old Labour Party, almost every council still controlled by Labour. The result of our success in 2008 is that now Welsh Liberal Democrats are in power in places as diverse as Swansea and Newport, in Ceredigion, in Wrexham and of course in our capital city of Cardiff.
Delivering services for half the population of Wales with huge success:
In Swansea, Labour had let its leisure centre decline to the point of closure. Chris Holley and the new Liberal Democrat led administration delivered a state of the art leisure attraction for residents and visitors. It has built a stunning new public transport hub in the city centre. And in its four hundred thousand pound literacy fund, has its own local version of the pupil premium.
In Powys, in coalition, it is Liberal Democrats that have led the council to achieve the highest environmental accreditation of any council in Wales, the Green Dragon award, recognising their work in reducing waste and limiting carbon emissions.
And on joining the administration in Newport, Ed Townsend, Mike Hamilton and the team discovered there were no plans to get the most out of last year's Ryder Cup. And at their insistence, residents are benefiting from a new city-wide festival, community grants and a multi million pound improvement package for the city and lasting benefits for local people.
Here in Wrexham, led first by Aled Roberts and now by Ron Davies, we have brought to an end years of Labour under investment in our schools. Even in opposition, Labour claimed our ambitious programme of change was unrealistic. But now, the percentage of youngsters who achieve A-C at GCSE in the core subjects has almost doubled from 28 per cent to 47 per cent.
Ceredig Davies has led the team in Ceredigion, to deliver the best recycling figures in Wales and to develop innovative solutions for schooling in rural areas.
Rodney Berman and Liberal Democrats on Cardiff Council have delivered a massive regeneration of the city centre, helping our capital city to buck the economic trend as the downturn began to hit and bringing 4000 new jobs to the city.
And, of course, it means I no longer have to travel to Bristol for my John Lewis fix.
So I am proud that we are making a difference in councils across our nation.
But this presents a further challenge. We are in government, not only in Westminster but across much of Wales at a local level too.
It means that our campaigning must adapt to new circumstances.
Because if you are an opposition politician, there is nothing easier than kicking a council.
Last year, in England, Liberal Democrats lost over 700 councillors. 40 per cent of all the seats we defended.
If we perform similarly, we will go to bed on Thursday 3rd May with 162 councillors in Wales and wake up on Friday with 65 fewer.
We cannot afford to let that happen.


Friends, I am clear that we can succeed next year.

There is no magic or sleight of hand involved in winning elections.

Despite the difficult year we've just had, generally, the people who did best were the ones who knocked on doors all year round and kept speaking to voters and keeping in touch with them.

The election results in England were not a uniform picture of doom. In Eastleigh, we made gains. In Portsmouth and elsewhere, we successfully defended seats.
We need to learn the lessons so that we are in the best possible place to defend our seats next May.
Speaking to people is the most important thing that we, all or us, should be doing now.

Reminding people, in every ward, of our year round action and listening to what they want for their community.

In the areas that I have mentioned, where we are in control, we should defend our record, taking pride in our achievements.

But we must never, lose our campaigning edge

And we must never, ever, allow ourselves to become the voice of the council to the people.

No, we should re-double our efforts to remain the voice of the community at County Hall.



In short, we need to re-discover our community politics.
For me, community politics is about two things. Of course, it is about working locally to develop solutions. It is where, as politicians, we can achieve so much.
But it is also about campaigning in our communities, face-to-face, door-to-door because that is how we build trust and confidence in the people we seek to represent.
In May, when I was standing in Brecon and Radnor for re-election on my record. I was able to highlight my success in securing a new health and social care centre for Builth Wells. But the truth is that was success that I shared.
Shared with the local councillors who pressed for the council to back the scheme.
Shared with the local residents who campaigned in their community and refused to be told by a Labour government what was good for the town.
Shared with the council officials who worked to identify the site for the facility.
And up and down Wales and across the country, people are still willing to reward that kind of campaigning and that kind of delivery.
Community politics helped us as we built our support in the 1970s.
It sustained us in the troughs in the late eighties.
And it is what can see us through as we face the new challenge of defending council seats and a record in government.
Our aim in Wales is clear.
To defend control of those councils where we lead or contribute to the administration
and to defend our council seats across the country, and win new seats, so that we have the strongest possible team as we go in to Westminster elections in a few years' time.
Conference, there is everything to play for.
We have a fine record to defend.
And a clear vision for the future.
We start planning today to ensure that next year, across Wales, the flame of liberalism burns as brightly in our communities as ever.

ENDS

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