Charles Kennedy: I'm in politics because it is fun. Why not try it?

Taken from a speech given by the leader of the Liberal Democrats to sixth-formers in Westminster Central Hall

Share

There are four things that are fundamental to being a Liberal Democrat. We're the champions of good-quality schools, universities, hospitals, trains and buses, supported by a fair, transparent and honest tax system. We're champions of civil liberties and human rights. We're champions of internationalism – there are so many problems in the world that can't be solved by nation states acting on their own. And we're champions of the environment – we don't want to see the earth's resources irretrievably damaged before they're handed down to the generations of the future.

Let me just mention one particular part of the public services where we've made quite an impact. Everyone, we think, should have the right to go to university if they have the ability. But the tuition fees scheme brought in by the Labour government set up a barrier that quite clearly discourages poorer students from going into higher education.

When we went into partnership with Labour in the Scottish Parliament just under three years ago, we insisted that tuition fees should be abolished in Scotland. And they were. And we're fighting to get them abolished in England and Wales as well. We think we're winning that argument.

The second key to being a Liberal Democrat is a belief in civil liberties and human rights. We've fought for decent treatment for asylum-seekers and equal treatment for people who happen to be gay. There's a bill that's started its way through Parliament in the Lords. It says that people who've established what we call civil partnerships should have the same rights as married couples. It would apply to gay couples and also to heterosexuals who live together without being married. For instance, if one partner died, the other would have the right to stay in a council house registered in the dead person's name. It's a Liberal Democrat bill instigated by a Liberal Democrat peer, and I very much hope that it becomes law.

And there's another aspect of equal rights that we're pursuing – equal rights for young people over 16 to vote. You're allowed to marry when you're 16. You can join the army. And you can pay tax. Why shouldn't you be able to vote? The worrying thing about last year's general election was how few people turned out. I think that you'd engage a lot more people in the political process if you allowed them to vote younger. And it would make politicians pay more attention to the needs and opinions of people in their late teens.

When I became leader of the party, I called for a royal commission on drugs. Some people attacked me for being irresponsible. Private Eye did a spoof which ended with the words "Charlie Cannabis is aged 17". But I stand by what I said. The drugs policies of successive governments have been a dismal failure. Drug use has not been controlled. Crime has gone up. We have to take a fresh look at the whole issue.

The third key to being a Liberal Democrat is to be an internationalist. If 11 September taught us anything, it was to show that countries have to work together to uphold the rights and values in which we believe. One of the most basic rights is the right not to be killed or maimed by a terrorist. That's why the Liberal Democrats supported the efforts of the international coalition against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. But we said that the action should be proportionate and based on clear proof of complicity in the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Last, but not least: the environment. There's a lot more we could be doing to make sure that the earth's in reasonable shape half a century from now. We need to do more about global warming. We need to rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy.

I'm in politics because I believe in these four things, but I'm also in politics because it's fun. And I hope that some of you, after what you've heard and seen today, might think of becoming active in politics, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Chemistry Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: [ Megan Smith 22/09/2014 17:00:...

Foundation and KS1 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Foundation and Key Stage 1...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments