We need a Liberal crusader; Podium

From a speech by the Southwark MP and Liberal Democrat leadership candidate to a meeting of his party's councillors in Leeds

IN MY life as a barrister before entering Parliament, from time to time I found myself in court across the floor from a couple of other young barristers. They were called Anthony Charles Lynton Blair and Cherie Booth. If elected as Liberal Democrat leader in a couple of weeks' time I feel that I shall, therefore, be quite ready to deal with Tony Blair across the Cabinet table in the Joint Cabinet Committee (JCC).

Though it's dangerous to count chickens before someone else has counted the ballot papers, it's clear how that first meeting of the JCC, under new Liberal Democrat management, should go. I want to use the JCC to take a scouring-pad to the constitutional commitments in Labour's manifesto that have become tarnished by neglect, lack of clarity or back-pedalling.

That means fair votes, freedom of information and Lords reform but it also means the Asylum Bill - a piece of legislation so illiberal that even right-wing Tories such as David Maclean oppose it. I will negotiate on those subjects as long and as hard as is necessary, for the remainder of this Parliament.

But beyond the constitutional agenda, and unlike my principal leadership rival, I will not even consider extending formal co-operation in this Parliament, whatever Tony Blair asks. I want speculation about closer links with Labour to end on the day I'm elected. Then we can get on with projecting Liberal Democrat messages, much more clearly.

The country must also be told that Liberal Democrats have changed and are changing as a party. The press has not yet fully picked up on these changes. It used to be said that Liberals were a party of the Celtic fringe. There was, after the war, some truth in that. But today the Liberal Democrats' most spectacular successes are in some of the urban centres that have for years been virtual Labour one-party statelets - such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Leicester. These kinds of area are also the places that are attracting the most new members.

Our new members in our burgeoning new urban (and suburban) local parties are also changing the look of the Liberal Democrats - and about time too. In the recent past we've been too middle-class and middle-aged as a party.

For me, this is a personal cause. It couldn't be closer to my heart.

In the early Eighties, I was offered a chance to become Liberal parliamentary candidate in Beaconsfield, but south London, containing some of the most deprived communities in Europe, needed a committed campaigner more. I've never made a secret of my strong Christian faith and that was part of the motivation. But what also motivated me was the desperate need for change.

Since being elected I've dealt with more than 15,000 separate constituency problems - some of them long-running and complex. One example: it is 10 years next month since the Marchioness was sunk but the battle goes on for justice for victims' families. Others of those 15,000 cases have been lower in profile, but just as important; reuniting a refugee family, obtaining benefits for a child with an amputated limb or getting a family rehoused from Dickensian conditions is at least as satisfying as any election victory.

If elected, I shall be the first of our party's leaders in living memory to represent an urban constituency. And certainly more urban than Tony Blair's Sedgefield or William Hague's Richmond seat. Hello! will not be knocking at my door to take photos of my lovely home; while I'm very proud of my house and little back garden, it stands right next to a big council estate and council housing office. Hopefully, having a party leader who deals every week at his constituency surgery with the consequences of benefit cuts and asylum "crack-downs" will mean that the Liberal Democrats change more rapidly into a party that will truly represent all of Britain.

My ambition for the Liberal Democrats is for us to change from the UK's third party (and fourth in Scotland and Wales) into a party moving rapidly towards government - as a progressive, independent force for social justice, everywhere in Britain.

Labour is increasingly becoming an Establishment party of the centre or centre left. Conservatives, like inflation and Cliff Richard, will always be with us. There is now a clear space again in British politics for the kind of crusade for social justice that was articulated by William Beveridge and RH Tawney, and, earlier, by Lloyd George in his "People's Budget" The Liberal Democrats can lead that crusade. We shall best succeed if a committed, crusading campaigner is now chosen to lead us.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own