Mark Oaten: 'We must re-establish our reputation as party of ideas'

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The Independent Online

They say a week is a long time in politics - and after the past week I know what they mean. Charles Kennedy's departure was a great disappointment to many people in the party, and the esteem in which he is held has been reflected by the outpouring of support from the party membership.

Personally, I felt Charles's resignation very keenly - he was a good friend and a close political ally, and his courage and good judgement were exemplified by his stance on Iraq. He led us to our greatest electoral success in 80 years and was not afraid to take tough decisions. The dignity, humility and integrity of his resignation statement exemplified the way in which he led the party. We must look to build on his legacy. The membership is right to want its say - that's democracy. It would do a disservice to their hard work and enthusiasm if we did not give them an opportunity to formally have their say. If we are to be a party worthy of our name we must now have an open and honest debate about the future.

As we move into the 21st century, the issues which define Liberalism are coming to the political fore: protecting civil liberties while addressing the threat of terror; using our commitment to internationalism to deliver on the environment; carefully directing scarce resources to promote social justice without creating an overbearing state.

To address these challenges, the Liberal Democrats need to re-establish our reputation as the party of ideas: from being architects of the welfare state to promoters of the Bank of England's independence, the cornerstone of the UK's economic stability.

Unlike the old Liberal Party, however - which could on occasion be dismissed as a think-tank for other parties - the Lib Dems must now be a party ambitious to bring them into fruition. Our ideas can draw directly on our experience of exercising real power in councils, regions and the nations of the UK. Original and innovative, yes, but also workable, proven and fundamentally liberal. This is an opportunity for us to have a positive debate, not just about the future of our party but also the future direction of our country: ambitious, self-confident, young, vigorous, generous, outward-looking.

I am looking forward to contributing to that debate. I have been genuinely overwhelmed by the countless calls and e-mails I have received over the past few days, urging me to stand and to ensure a proper debate. I am honoured to take up that challenge and I will make a positive and energetic contribution, drawing on our core liberal values. We owe the party and the country a serious political debate, one in which we can demonstrate that 21st-century liberalism is the future for Britain.

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