In her first address to a Liberal Democrat conference since being elected MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Jane Dodds has said that the time has come for Liberal Democrats to make the case for a federal United Kingdom.
Cynhadledd, diolch yn fawr.
Before I get going today, I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who came to Brecon and Radnorshire to help during my campaign. Whether you came during the recall petition or the by-election or even both – thank you. Without all of you, and the wider party and beyond, I would not be standing here today as the MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.
I want to particularly thank the local party, whose volunteers provided accommodation for campaigners for 2202 nights. Thankfully, our Welsh tradition of ironing bed sheets did not last long in to the campaign.
This victory was a team effort, and one which signalled to both Wales and the UK, that the Liberal Democrats can win.
Winning council seats.
Winning our largest ever group of MEPs.
Winning Parliamentary seats across the country.
Conference, there has never been a better time to be a Liberal Democrat.
I also want to express my thanks to Plaid Cymru and the Green party, who took the difficult decision to stand aside in Brecon & Radnorshire – in order to help further the fight against Brexit.
They put the national interest first, and because of this cooperation, this alliance of parties, we were able to win.
We are believers in pragmatic, collaborative politics. I want to see us work with people in other parties - and none - to achieve the aims we have in common.
Sometimes this may mean we have to be prepared to make sacrifices, but when it comes to issues like Brexit, the risk is too high to not work together.
Now, although I am the newest elected Member of Parliament, I am not the newest Liberal Democrat MP.
One week after I was elected, we were joined by Sarah Wollaston. The day I took my seat in Parliament Phillip Lee came to sit alongside me, and shortly after that both Luciana Berger and Angela Smith joined too.
And they’re not the only ones joining. Since my election thousands people have joined our party too, taking us to our highest ever membership. And day by day, we keep growing.
To everyone who’s joined the party in recent months, croeso! And to those who are still on the fence about joining, what is stopping you?
If you’re fed up of the endless back and forth, the empty rhetoric and the hollow promises of the other parties… then why not come make your home in the Liberal Democrats, as so many others are doing?
As Jo Swinson said, “if you’re fed up of shouting at the TV, then get up and do something about it”.
Conference I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat because we are the only party offering a bold and optimistic vision for the future of our country.
In Wales Kirsty Williams is putting this vision into action.
As Education Minister she is cutting class sizes, protecting our rural schools and, overhauling our curriculum to make it fit for the 21st century, including making sure relationship education is LGBT inclusive.
This is what the Liberal Democrats are championing, a society which gives everyone the opportunities to make the most of their talents and potential, and which ensures everyone is included and supported throughout their life.
We are also the only party fighting to keep all of our nations part of the United Kingdom, and the whole UK part of Europe.
Rwy’n sefyll yma, Gynhadledd, fel Cymraes balch, a rhywun sy’n credu’n gryf mewn datganoli pŵer i’r bobl.
I stand before you today as a proud Welsh woman and a staunch believer in devolution. I want to see devolution not just to the nations and regions, but to local government as well - to bring power as close to the people as possible.
I am also proud to be British AND European. All of these identities are what makes me who I am and are rooted in my belief that there are things we do better together - in the same way as there are things we do better as part of the European Union or as part of the United Nations.
And isn’t there another irony that the Conservative and Unionist Party is acting in a way that can only undermine the union they claim to value so dearly.
They seemingly fail to recognise that two of our four nations actually voted to Remain, they’ve all but dismissed the Good Friday Agreement, which has helped keep Northern Ireland at peace for 20 years. And they continue to ignore the Scottish and Welsh Governments, actively undermining the authority of the devolved administrations.
People are unhappy. Across the Scotland and Wales calls for independence are growing, because people are fed up of the same old broken politics. One which doesn’t represent them or seem to value their identity.
Indeed, some parties are even trying to use division over Brexit to further their rhetoric of “us” and “them” – using people’s pride in their country as a political tool.
This is unacceptable.
Having pride in one’s country is not a bad thing - but across the UK we are seeing increasing division and polarisation.
You can be proud of your country without seeking to build walls or divide our communities. The quicker we end this subversive tone to our politics the better for everyone.
I’m proud that we are the only party who defend Wales’ part in both our unions. But that fight must always be more than a defence of the status quo.
We’ve already had the blow to our membership of the European Union. And while Wales and Scotland do still have confidence in the United Kingdom, this support is not unconditional – and unless all parts of the UK recognise the need for reform, there’s no guarantee it will last.
Yes, some of that is about the actions of the Westminster Government – ensuring that the economic levers are pulled to benefit every part of the United Kingdom, and that our country’s prosperity is fairly shared between all of us.
But if we want to build that fairer, greener, more progressive society then we need to commit to fundamental reform of the structures of the United Kingdom.
The F word – federalism. I want us to be the champions of a federal UK, a truly equal family of nations – ensuring that every part of this union has a voice, backed up by real, meaningful devolution.
We’ve been talking about this for years. The idea of Home Rule was first floated back in 1886, but never has it been the focus of our attention.
Now is the time for us to be the party that picks up that standard.
And when we elect a Liberal Democrat government, and Jo Swinson moves into Downing Street, we will be the party that fixes our broken politics once and for all.
Conference, this is the positive vision the Liberal Democrats are fighting for.
Now, a lot of people have asked me since I was elected, “what’s it really like in Parliament?”
“How does it work?”
And of course, “do you ever get lost?”
I was elected at the start of August – where I thought I’d have plenty of time to find my feet over the summer break… then the last few weeks happened.
So, now that I am a veteran MP of six weeks, what are my impressions?
I’ve got 3 Bs.
First – it’s busy.
I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself racing up and down my constituency, trying to balance endless meetings and community events. Brecon and Radnorshire is the biggest constituency in England & Wales – bigger by land mass than Luxembourg - so you can imagine just how tricky that is.
I made my maiden speech on my second day in Westminster. I can’t tell you how many times I had to redraft it – things were moving so fast it quickly became outdated!
In truth though, what I took away from all this was just how many people are doing so much to improve the lives of others – it restores your faith that the community spirit is alive and well even in these difficult times.
As for the House of Commons – well, that’s my second ‘b’, baffling. There are so many arcane rules, so many historic conventions – even if our Prime Minister has been doing his very best to tear some of them up.
In my first week, I managed to almost go in the wrong voting lobby - I realised when I saw Boris Johnson queuing behind me!
And I’ll just say that those green benches are a lot more slippery than they look...
But at the same time, everyone – from across the House – has been kind and welcoming.
My third ‘B’ is, inevitably, Brexit. Brexit dominates everything. The last couple of weeks have been a real rollercoaster – and it has been critical to ensure we took No Deal firmly off the table.
I am proud that my first votes in Parliament have been to stop a no deal Brexit, to reassert Parliamentary sovereignty and to oppose a General Election.
Despite this, MPs like me are portrayed as ‘Enemies of the People’. Calling people you don’t agree with ‘traitors’ and ‘collaborators’ has suddenly became acceptable. Never before have I seen political discourse become so insidious and malign.
This constant drip of extremism is having an effect. Politics is becoming more polarised and that is why we need to be bold and hold the centre ground.
We need to offer hope where others offer people to blame. We need to lead the charge for the fairer, greener, more progressive country that we want to live in.
We need to reject nationalism and division, in all forms. Isolating ourselves from the world and those we disagree with is not the way forward, and I am proud that we as Liberal Democrats are making that case.
Here we are friends – we’re at the stage in our party which I thought would take a lot longer to come about. Thanks to you - your persistence, grit, determination and sheer willpower, our party is on the up again.
We’ve been through some testing times, but now our hard work and courage of convictions are paying off.
As we look forward to the next chapter in the life of our democracy, we must not be complacent.
We must not be silenced.
We must not give up fighting for what we believe in.
Mae angen ar y Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, nawr yn fwy nag erioed.
Liberal Democrats, we are needed now more than ever. Let’s get out there and let’s change the future of our country.
Diolch yn fawr iawn.