Thank you to Vince; Tom Brake; Lord Newby and Mark for giving up their evening to come and join us tonight and thanks to all of you for coming out as well on a Thursday evening in January to support each other and the Liberal Democrats.
Tonight is about reflecting on and celebrating both our history and our future. Reflection is important. It helps give us a sense of who we are and what we’ve accomplished. And we’ve accomplished a great many things as a party in the last 35 years that we should be very proud of. We have a wonderful, principled foundation which we can proudly build on, and that’s what I’m going to concentrate on now, what the next 35 years could look like for us.
Now knowing that it’s highly likely when you’re talking to a group of Lib Dems that you’re also talking to a group of Doctor Who fans, I’m going to talk about the two alternate realities that I believe exist for our next 35 years, and how we have to make a choice about which one we create.
The first reality is a passive one, one that happens to us. In this universe we sit back and wait and hope. We hope that Corbyn and Labour disintegrate, and create space for us to move into. We hope that the majority of people in the country suddenly wake up and realise that Liberal Democracy is what has been missing from their lives. We hope that the people in this country and abroad who desperately need help get it, because the current system is so broken it leaves many people behind.
This isn’t a bad future, in fact it’s a pretty good one, at first glance it’s an easier one, but it relies almost entirely on things that are out of our control, and if I’m honest, I think there’s a better chance of us winning the lottery.
I think there’s a real danger in us clinging onto this idea that our future success will be handed to us based on what we’ve previously accomplished, and someone else’s failure, rather than us going out and fighting for it.
Those of you that have heard me speak since May know that I’m fond of using Apple as an allegory of the party’s fortunes. The party’s situation now reminds me of Apple back in 1994 when Steve Jobs returned, and before Apple had taken over the world.
When Jobs’ return was announced everyone there panicked; shocked that the company was about to go bankrupt; and caught up in an internal narrative that had become ‘When will Microsoft fail?’ And when Steve Jobs arrived one of the first things he did was to be clear that “Microsoft was not going to fail, but that didn’t matter. The question wasn’t when is Microsoft is going to fail, it was how are we going to win?”
This is my second reality. A reality where we finally start answering that question of what will it take to win councils; the Assembly; Mayors and ultimately a Parliamentary majority. Because whilst 7th May was terrible in terms of the friends and colleagues we saw lose their seats, there have been many more heartbreaking days since then.
Days like when the Tories attempt to slash tax credits for poor families; days when thousands of refugees are refused sanctuary in the UK; the day David Cameron is incapable of saying that Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 47 prisoners is abhorrent; and Monday this week when grants for students became a thing of the past.
These days have been heartbreaking for us, and soul destroying for the lives they affect and change forever. And the Conservatives have only been in government for 8 months.
Whilst we may feel it’s great that Labour are tearing themselves apart, their loss doesn’t guarantee our victory, all it guarantees is that the public doesn’t have a voice, and they are the ones who need it most.
We need to come together, to have clear goals and a plan, and most importantly we need to lead, because it’s only when we get elected that we can make a lasting difference to people.
It has never been more difficult to be a Liberal Democrat, but it has also never been more important. I’m extremely proud of our past and very excited by our future. Our team in City & East now have a few of parallels with the Gang of Four. We are relatively small team of people that is brimming with energy and determination. Some people might look at us and wonder what on earth we are doing at times, but here in City & East we refuse to passively wait for our future to be handed to us, because it’s too important to leave to chance.
It was that energy and determination that meant we were the only party to increase our vote in the by-election for Tower Hamlets mayor; that saw us go from no-where to second place in the Boleyn ward by-election just before Christmas; and which means we have action days planned for all of our target wards in City & East, including the first Liberal Democrat action day in Barking & Dagenham for probably a decade.
Only the bold and courageous will make history, and more importantly, change people’s lives for the better. So again a huge thank you to all of you for coming to support us and the campaign here and for joining us to celebrate both our history and our very bright future.