Jane Dodds delivered a keynote speech to Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference this weekend, her first as Leader.
Thank you all for being here this weekend as we look to the future and the role we want our party to play in creating a hopeful and successful Wales.
It’s been great to see so many old friends, but also to welcome so many new members to our family – croeso.
Conference, it is an honour and a privilege to be delivering my first speech as leader of our party. I feel very humbled and am grateful for your support.
There’s no denying that we’ve had a difficult few years and have a fight ahead of us.
I’ve spent a lot of time since the election visiting local parties, speaking to members, and attending events right across the country
what strikes me is that whilst the wounds of the last few years are still visible, we’re fighting
Let me be clear –
we may be reduced in numbers in Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but the Welsh Liberal Democrats haven’t gone anywhere,
we are not going anywhere.
We are a team, working together with a shared mission of putting Welsh Liberal Democrats back at the heart of Welsh politics.
we have much to do.
Starting with who we are and what we stand for.
Earlier today we voted to move forward with a project to engage members, the public, frontline staff and experts in setting out a hopeful, optimistic, and aspirational vision for Wales.
A Wales that gives people the opportunity to get up on their feet, and to get on in life.
A Wales that gives us each the freedom, the opportunity, and the security to shape our own destiny,
to take risks, and to achieve our potential.
A Wales that has a strong, resilient, and inclusive economy which harnesses individual potential, creates opportunity, and offers each of us a decent standard of living
A Wales where we celebrate the value of our communities, our diversity, our heritage, our culture and our Welsh Language.
And a Wales that is compassionate and caring– the open and tolerant Wales we know.
To do that we need Welsh Liberal Democrats back at the heart of Welsh politics.
Because Wales needs us.
Challenges facing Wales
Just look at what we’ve achieved with just one Welsh Liberal Democrat in government.
- A fair and effective student finance system – the first in Europe to provide equivalent support for part-time and post-graduate learners.
- Wales’ first ever rural schools strategy
- Investing more than £350m in helping our children get ahead.
- Building 20,000 new affordable homes.
- Improving mental health services in our schools.
- £40m for a small grants scheme for farmers.
This is real politics.
Meaningful change – creating opportunities for our children and young people.
Kirsty has shown what the Liberal Democrats mean when we talk about everyone having the opportunity to get ahead, and have a fair chance of having a seat at the table.
Thank you, Kirsty.
The challenges facing us in realising our vision of a fair Wales, where people have the opportunity to succeed in life are huge.
Don’t underestimate that – or how much harder it will be to realise that vision in the years ahead.
So I want to spend some time talking about those challenges and our priorities –
Young people, people who have mental health difficulties, users of alcohol and drugs, girls and women who are open to exploitation and sexual abuse. And over the last 4 years in the UK, at least 230 homeless people have died on our streets.
And as the nasty party in Westminster doggedly pursue deeper cuts in public finances, we see vulnerable people scraping by to survive, without access to public services – with no hope for their future.
Conference, we need to give them that hope. Starting with urgent hostel places with no strings attached.
Give them the hope of owning their own home by building 20,000 new affordable homes across Wales;
Introducing the Rent to Own scheme to make it easier to get on the housing ladder,
or introducing the Housing First model so people feel safer when they fall on hard times.
These are Welsh Lib Dem ideas in action, changing people’s lives.
Work and jobs
Access to well-paid work is crucial to ensuring that we all have the freedom to grasp opportunity, to shape our own destiny, and achieve our potential.
The challenges of technology and a vulnerable economy, makes it even harder to ensure that we can all enjoy work that gives us the opportunity to live fair and free lives.
But we can either embrace the future, or bury our heads in the sand.
We can either be bold, be brave, look at new ideas and harness technology to create an innovative and sustainable economy – or we can shirk our responsibility to future generations.
There are projects quite literally on our doorstep ready to go – if only the Conservative Government had the same aspiration as us.
The Swansea Tidal Lagoon should have been given the go-ahead long ago.
Let’s imagine this.
A network of tidal lagoons in Cardiff,
and Colwyn Bay
powering our nation, creating well-paid jobs, harnessing our environment and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
For us, conference, it’s a no brainer.
Jobs, a tourist attraction, green energy provision and a badge that says “we are innovative, positive and open for business”.
We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again –
the Tories cannot be trusted to protect our environment,
to create opportunity for our communities,
and they have abandoned their right to call themselves the party of business.
It is us, the Welsh Liberal Democrats that have the aspiration and drive to create a sustainable economy that creates opportunity for all.
Opportunity that affords everyone the best start in life, to achieve their potential, and to shape their own destiny.
An economy which gives us all hope for the future.
I want to tell you a story.
I was campaigning on a large housing estate in Montgomeryshire, and came across a lady drinking coffee on her doorstep.
She had an 8 year old, and twins aged 9 months. She was on a zero hours contract working in a care home.
Her husband worked night shifts which is how they managed the child care.
He had just lost his job. She told me she was worried about the future and worried about what would come next.
Worried about her children’s futures.
We’re failing those hard-working families who are struggling to get by.
And we’re failing children in Wales when they tell us that what worries them the most is that their mums and dads struggle to put food on the table.
The everyday struggle to meet basic living costs is not something I’m willing to accept.
We need to look at all solutions to help us understand what works and what helps to take people out of poverty –
policies which act as a buffer against a shifting labour market and a changing economy.
Should we seek to devolve more powers over some elements of welfare provision as has happened in Scotland?
How do we create an economy that provides opportunity for all, and ensures our public services are properly funded?
An economy that makes sure our doctors, health workers have the resources they need to provide dignified care for us all.
We need a vision of a properly resourced Health Service, which means it doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter whether you live in a rural or urban area, you will get exceptional treatment and support.
Enabling people to live healthily and live independently for as long as possible, not held back by poor health.
We may have to have difficult conversations to get to a point where we agree on a way that delivers that service, but let us be bold and progressive in equalising health for everyone.
And – again – thank you Kirsty for the more nurses bill
Implemented in full only 8 days ago, there will now be a clear expectation of the number of nurses on our hospital wards.
And thanks to Welsh Liberal Democrats we are tackling mental health stigma, increasing service provision, and putting services in schools, giving young people the opportunity to talk with professionals about what is worrying them.
We have a lot to be proud of, conference.
I also want us to talk about loneliness.
Loneliness is what we’re increasingly recognising as the 6th ‘giant evil’ of our time.
Half a million people in Wales report that they often or always feel lonely.
And not just elderly people. New parents, the recently bereaved, and single adults are amongst those who describe the debilitating feelings of isolation.
Lack of public transport – especially in rural areas, the cuts to voluntary agencies, and the fragmentation of families has left people feeling alone.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will stand resolute against further cuts to public services, and will call for a clear strategy to address the epidemic of loneliness.
Bringing services and professionals together, viewing isolation and loneliness as a burden on our health, and on our individual freedom and liberty.
Let me move from talking about individual isolation, to a wider isolation facing us all
Soon, we’ll be an island nation that’s burnt bridges with our closest neighbours.
Brexit is consuming this government, leaving it unable or unwilling to tackle the momentous challenges we face.
A government left to ride roughshod over Britain by the worst opposition in history.
People keep telling me that we talk too much about Brexit. But we have to be clear in our opposition to this government’s disastrous handling of the biggest decision our country has faced in a generation.
And, that whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU.
And it’s a big but –
it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.
In circumstances which would seriously damage our economy.
In circumstances where health and care services would struggle to find workers.
In circumstances where our farmers would not be able to export their products.
In circumstances where we would roll back on devolution.
Circumstances in which 75000 EU Nationals living in Wales feel unwelcomed and marginalised
So we have to continue the fight for a democratic say on the final deal.
Democracy didn’t end on the 23rd of June –
people have the right to decide that the Brexit we’re hurtling towards is the wrong decision for our country.
We need to get out on the doorsteps and make that case, conference.
Talk to people about Brexit, and don’t be afraid to have difficult discussions.
We know we are the remain party, and the only party in Wales campaigning for the people to have the final say on the deal.
But our message is only just beginning to cut through.
Just three out of four voters do not know the Liberal Democrat position on Brexit.
I am pleased to announce that the first Welsh Liberal Democrat Exit From Brexit/Brwydro Brexit rally, will be in Wrecsam on Saturday July 7th.
Please join us as we show Wales that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are leading the campaign to keep us in the customs union,
keep us in the single market,
stopping a hard border in Ireland,
making sure our EU citizens feel welcomed and positive about living in Wales.
Let us show the people of Wales that we are the internationalist, forward thinking party we need.
Looking to the future, not to a hazy nostalgic nationalism that promises the world and delivers nothing.
Welsh Liberalism in 2018
The party ready for the future.
Embracing the Wales of the future.
The party of the progressive and pragmatic that offers an exciting and inspiring vision.
The Party of Ideas, taking forward meaningful policies that speak to people’s everyday concerns.
The Party of the Green Agenda, committed to protecting our environment, cleaning up the air we breathe, and harnessing the power of our environment.
The true party of equality, fairness and freedom and with a vision of a Wales that offers everyone a place to call home, free from discrimination and intolerance in all its forms.
We have much to do.
We’ve had a tough few years and I need to ask you to keep fighting, conference.
We need to make sure we have the ideas in place that address the needs of communities and people living in Wales.
And we have to translate these ideas into winning votes.
Not power for the sake of power, but power so we can change people’s lives for the better.
Putting us back at the heart of Welsh politics –
where we belong.
There is no better team of people than you who will restore Liberalism to Wales.
That’s my challenge to you.
Not to just win back old ground, but take on new ground too. Being a party that speaks to every community in every corner of Wales.
Electing more Assembly Members, Members of Parliament, and more councillors than before.
Winning hearts and minds.
I want to lead a party of social justice
a party that is radical and reforming
that is diverse and creative.
I want to lead a party that does something with the opportunities available to us – not just sit on the sidelines and shout in.
We’ve done it before, we’re doing it now, and we can do it again.
Let’s go forward with the confidence, the aspiration, and the hope Wales needs.
Let’s get out there and listen and learn,
sell our story and our aspirations and let’s put fairness, freedom and liberty back at the heart of Welsh politics.