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
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin