"We must take risks," says Ming

by Stephen Tall on June 26, 2007

In a wide-ranging speech to Lib Dem staff today – reported on the BBC website here – Ming Campbell has pledged the party must be “prepared to take risks”. He also promised to make his age (66) a campaigning issue: “Politics would benefit from more people with experience.”

Here’s the filleted version…

On that offer from Gordon Brown:

As you know, Gordon Brown has offered ministerial posts to Liberal Democrats. I don’t blame him really. If I were Prime Minister I’d go further: I’d offer every ministerial post to Liberal Democrats. It’s understandable that the incoming Prime Minister wants to take advantage of the great talents on the Liberal Democrat benches.

But we are half way through a Parliament in which we have opposed the centralising and authoritarian tendencies of this Labour government. And I am not prepared to cash that in for the sake of ministerial jobs.

On the incoming Prime Minister:

The Liberal Democrats will put Gordon Brown in the dock and scrutinise his policies and pronouncements with relentless, forensic rigour. This Chancellor has presided over growing inequality. He was at the Cabinet table when civil liberties were being eroded. And when the army was being despatched to fight in Iraq his name was on the cheque.

We will be there to remind everyone that his fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime. The lead actor may have changed but the plot is just the same.

On the Labour/Tory alliance in Parliament:

David Cameron says he wants to provide an alternative to what Gordon Brown will offer. But the Tories cannot provide that alternative. The Conservatives and Labour are in shameful collusion.

On council tax, nuclear power, City Academies, Iraq and student finance they have formed a shabby consensus. It is ironic that of the few areas where the Tories actually have policies, they share so much in common with the government.

It is our duty to expose that consensus and, yes, to oppose it too. We’ll do it by rattling the cage of British politics and challenging the cosy consensus of the centre right.

On the BAE bribes scandal:

… the question today for Mr Brown is whether he will cooperate fully with the United States Justice Department inquiry into the allegations about the Al Yamamah arms deal. Isn’t a sad reflection on Britain that it is left to the US to investigate the conduct of a British company and its relationship with a Saudi prince?

What sort of signal does it send to the rest of the world when Jack Straw can congratulate the Conservative Party for failing to raise the issue of BAE in parliament?

On the eve of his appointment as Prime Minister of this country will Gordon Brown give us an undertaking that he will raise, not compromise, ethical standards in business and in diplomacy?

On being 66:

Will my age be an issue? Absolutely. Because I will make it an issue.

Politics would benefit from more people with experience. If more experienced politicians had taken the decisions, we might not be mired in the conflict that we see in Iraq today.

On risk-taking:

… when we’ve taken risks in the past we have often been proved right. Steel on apartheid, Jenkins on realignment, Ashdown on Bosnia, Kennedy on Iraq. We took the courageous course and won through.

In every example these statements of principle were played out in a hostile House of Commons. So we need conviction and courage in equal measure. Our party must be the champion of individual rights and not vested interests.

On his vision for Britain:

Many of you here know my huge affection for Jo Grimond and I can’t do better than quote his view:

“More power to the individual, more power to the local community, less centralised government – a country of free men and women controlling far more of their lives, exploiting choice and competition but backed up by services – also as far as possible locally controlled.”

And finally:

We can be defiantly optimistic about the future. We should be fanatical about freedom and relentless about reform. Europe should be seen as an opportunity not a burden. Globalisation, migration, changing social attitudes and, above all, climate change require a new and different kind of politics.

A new, transparent, committed kind of politics that we alone can provide.