Yesterday I had to work so I couldn’t be at Bournemouth to watch Tim’s speech.
So, through the miracles of the smartphone, the BBC and the car auxiliary connection point, I listened to Tim’s speech on the way to work this morning.
I therefore had a chance to test how the speech came over via audio only on the M4 in Berkshire. Were all these rave reviews coming from people in the hall yesterday mere hype? The result of mass hysteria which would not catch on outside the immediacy of the hall?
I approached my listen of the speech with my normal “seen it all before” cynicism. When you’ve seen umpteen leader’s speeches by Paddy, Charles, Ming and Nick, you’ve seen them all – yes?
This was quite definitely the best speech I have ever heard. And remember that I was listening over the car radio only – not watching the video. The “embrace that diagnosis” passage and the ending paragraph were astonishingly strong. And the passage on refugees was quite simply the most powerful minute of speech I have ever heard in my 56 years on this lovely planet.
In terms of the words, I think a Nick Clegg speech or a Paddy speech scores equally when compared to Tim’s speech yesterday.
But the delivery – the raw emotion, the sincerity, the passion were sublime.
Tim has this relaxed northerner “cheeky chappy” persona. But he has a superb talent for oratory. And I think it is a natural talent. He knows how to use the orator’s tools. He knows when to slow down, when to pause, when to go very fast, when to be quiet, when to be loud – and uses all those skills to huge effect.
So, well done and thank you Tim!
And here are those three passages I referred to above:
The “embrace that diagnosis” passage
From the mouths of too many politicians come words of division and separation, spite and displacement.
It’s all the fault of Brussels, or the English, or the Scots, or the immigrants, or the idle poor, or the idle rich or business people, or the young, or the old, or foreigners or anybody else.
If you think that is wrong. If you reject the politics of blame and separation. If you say Britain is best when Britain is together. If you say Britain is best when it is outward looking, modern and inclusive. Then guess what? You’re a liberal.
Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition.
The end bit
Today, with four and a half years until the next general election, the Official opposition seems to have left the playing field.
Less than five months since the worst result for our party in 45 years the circumstances have contrived to make our party more relevant, more central, more essential than we have ever been.
Britain needs an opposition that is economically credible, radical, liberal.
Britain needs an opposition that is passionate and socially just.
Britain needs an opposition that is serious about power to make a difference, to improve all our lives.
Under my leadership the Liberal Democrats will be that opposition, because if we do not do this, it is clear now that no one else will.
The alternative will be years of a disastrous one-party monopoly.
We do not have the right to rest after the trials of government.
As Jo Grimond said, ‘in times of war, in times of doubt Generals were advised to march their troops towards the sound of gunfire’
Well, troops I hear gunfire.
Fellow Liberal Democrats, there has never been more space for us, never been more need for us, never been a bigger challenge for us.
Against all the odds, we have just been given the chance to take centre stage.
We will accept that role.
It’s time for Liberal Democrats to win again.
The refugee passage
As many of you know, during the summer, I went to Calais.
I went because I wanted to see what was going on for myself and because my liberal instinct told me to be suspicious when the establishment started pointing the finger at outsiders.
I wanted to gauge the scale of the problem, to see whether we were being told the truth, I wanted to see the people and not the label.
So I met with people and heard their stories of harrowing risks, dangers fled and desperation for their children.
I have to tell you, not a single one of them mentioned coming to Britain to draw benefits.
Indeed, more than that. Not a single one of them had ever heard of Britain’s benefits system.
They wanted to come to Britain to be safe, to work, to contribute.
They see our country as a place of opportunity, a place where you can make the most of yourself, a place where you can be the best you can be – a liberal place.
Because I tell you frankly: you don’t risk everything clinging to the bottom of a truck if you’re looking for an easy life.
I met a 14 year-old boy who had broken both of his legs trying to board a lorry. He was in a wheelchair pushed by a boy who was 11. Both had lost their parents, both were alone.
And I realised that the UK government was ignoring their humanity, it was just stuck in media management mode, following not leading.
And the Government is still following the story. It’s just a rather different one.
It’s the body of a three year old boy face-down in the surf.
And what we’ve had from David Cameron is a careful calibration of what it will take to manage that story, the minimum effort for the maximum headlines.
And a policy which will not directly help a single one of the hundreds of thousands currently on the move across Europe.
It’s pitiful and embarrassing and makes me so angry.
Because I am proud to be British and I am proud of Britain’s values, so when Mr Cameron turns his back on the needy and turns his back on our neighbours.
I want the world to know, he does not speak for me, he does not speak for us, he does not speak for Britain.
You know after the Second World War, Britain offered homes to several thousand children who had survived the death camps but whose parents had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Only 700 children came.
That was all who were left alive to take up our offer.
I know this story because 300 of them were sent to my patch to recuperate and became known as the Windermere boys.
This act was not an aberration; this was instinctively consistent with British values.
And so I find myself thinking about the Jewish refugees that our grandparents saved in the 1930s.
And I think about the Ugandan Asians offered a safe haven by our parents from that murderous tyrant, Idi Amin.
And it makes me realise the pride I feel in Britain when we do show such generosity of spirit.
But not only that. I realise how much richer – culturally, socially, economically – our society is today, because of our generosity then.
What a lesson in seeing the best in people and not the worst.
What a lesson in liberalism.
As the party of outsiders, we will stand up for the outsiders. And I will start today.
Winter is coming and the risks and hardships faced by those seeking sanctuary will only increase.
If you are shocked by the pictures on our TV screens today, just think how much worse they will look when the snows come to the Balkans.
If we don’t act now, many more will die.
So I am calling on our Government to opt in now to the EU plan to take our share of the refugees to be relocated throughout the continent.
And I call on them to work with our neighbours to establish safe and sustainable reception centres, not only to process claims but to provide the shelter and security which the refugees so desperately need.
And I call on the Government to provide the necessary financial support that our local authorities will need to help settle refugees, so as not to set community against community.
This is an international solution to an international crisis.
This is the Britain Liberal Democrats want to live in.
And if that’s the Britain that makes you proud too, then join us,
We need you and you need us.