Today I am announcing that I will be a candidate in the forthcoming Liberal Democrat leadership election. I wanted to do so on Lib Dem Voice, the leading forum for discussion amongst our membership.
With 20 years on the national political stage I am passionate as ever about our liberal values. I am ready to commit my energy, enthusiasm and experience to the task of leading the Liberal Democrats through what will be a period of chronic uncertainty. With the prospect of another election looming large, we must be ready for the fight.
Brexit negotiations have begun. The government is split and weakened; Labour is equivocal about Europe. The Liberal Democrats alone have a consistent and principled, outward looking, and approach to the issue. We must fight for the British public to have a final say on the government’s deal with a chance to stay in the EU if the deal is not good enough. To achieve this, we will need to work with like-minded people in other parties.
As Shadow Chancellor I secured a hard-won hearing for the party on the economy, warning of the 2008 financial crisis which has been a source of economic weakness, great inequality and political anger ever since. In government for five years as Secretary of State for Business I created a distinctive Lib Dem vision for the economy with a long-term industrial strategy, promotion of science and innovation, banking reform, investment in young people via apprenticeships and the promotion of socially responsible capitalism. With the economy approaching the Brexit iceberg, Liberal Democrats need more than ever to warn of the dangers ahead and the need for a new course.
As a socially progressive party we must build on our good policies in support of public services. The NHS, especially mental health, and social care and schools are now under severe financial pressure. Our campaigning on these issues, and others, like the environment, must be national and at community level, building on a long tradition which created the party’s local government base. With a clear voice and a clear message on these issues, we can rebuild our vote share and representation nationally, in local government, the Scottish parliament and the Welsh and London assemblies.
There are big opportunities ahead. The Conservatives are in disarray and in retreat. The Labour Party outperformed expectations but complacently believes that ‘one more heave’ will see it into office. But an economic policy based on offering lots of free things lacks economic credibility and will be found out. Investing in infrastructure, rather than borrowing for everyday running costs is credible. There is a big space in British politics which I am determined that we should occupy.
The contest will take place with the largest membership electorate in our party’s history. We should be ambitious about increasing our number still further and in particular attracting young people to our cause. I welcome the more diverse party and parliamentary party we now have and will give priority to promoting diversity, an issue I championed as a minister and with some success in business leadership.
The party has survived five difficult years of Coalition government and the disadvantage of the current unreformed voting system. We are now growing again and the political winds are moving in our favour. I believe I can, as leader, offer the energy, dedication and drive, as well as experience, to help – with you – to make our party a credible contender for power.