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Ed Davey's Conference Speech

September 19, 2021 9:30 PM

Ellen, this afternoon Ed Davey gave his first in-person Conference speech as leader. You can watch it here.

For politicians and parties these are big, important moments.

The broadcast media turns its full attention to us for a few hours, and we get a chance to speak to people on our own terms.

I thought it would be interesting and useful to explain some of the decisions and thinking behind what Ed has said today.

Throughout the pandemic it was hard for us to cut through in the media.

So we decided to focus our national work on two issues: small business and support for carers.

Our research with voters showed these worked harder to attract people to our party than anything else - and we need to repeat messages a lot for people to hear them.

But things are changing. Politics is starting to return to normal.

Covid is no longer dominating people's concerns in the same way, the 'incumbency bounce' that all Governments had last year is fading away, and the poll boost we had after Chesham and Amersham has stayed with us.

Since February our press coverage in national and local media has shot up: we're now averaging about 12,000 news mentions a month, and our threat to the Conservatives in the 'Blue Wall' is firmly on journalists' and editors' minds.

This means we can move our national message on, setting out more clearly what the Lib Dems stand for, and how we'd change the country. We can do this now because we have many more chances to be heard.

The single thing that resonates most with people in Blue Wall seats is 'being taken for granted' by the Tories.

We hear this again and again on doorsteps. And our approach of genuine community politics strikes a chord: knocking on doors, listening to people's concerns and taking action at a local level.

It's how we have had extraordinary swings over the past weeks in byelections, taking seats that have been Tory for 40 years.

We know this is how people feel in the Blue Wall - in the seats we have to win for this Conservative government to be kicked out.

But just as importantly, it speaks to many other places too: the people being taken for granted by their Labour councils in the North; SNP voters who are sick of waiting for ambulances to arrive; those infuriated at Labour's unworkable vaccine passports in Wales and many others.

All places where we can build our crucial local government strength in office and opposition.

That's why the central argument of Ed's speech today is about getting a fair deal.

People have worked hard, made sacrifices and shown astonishing generosity and care for others throughout the pandemic.

And they feel strongly that the Government is taking them for granted.

We know this is fertile ground.

And it is particularly so in education, where parents have juggled jobs and home schooling to keep their children happy and learning throughout a chaotic year of lockdowns - while the Westminster Government has consistently let them down and messed them around.

That's why Ed's speech takes on education in England today. It shows what a fair deal starts to look like in education - one that recognises what parents deserve after the past year. Ed's speech looks to the future.

But it is firmly rooted in our history too: belief in education runs deeper in our party than any other.

As does belief in local decisions and government giving power to people to live their best lives, on their own terms.

The central offer of Ed's speech - a Covid catch up fund with head teachers making decisions free from Tory ministerial meddling, and £5bn given direct to parents to spend on their children's education - is one no other party would make.

This proposal reminds us why Liberal Democrats are needed, to bring our values to bear on the challenges we face as a country.

And it reminds us of a huge political gap too: Labour's ties to the unions means it cannot speak up for parents; the Conservatives remain obsessed with going back to the 1950s; and the SNP's record is one of repeated failure masked by nationalist rhetoric.

Parents have no-one on their side apart from Liberal Democrats.

Of course, a single speech by one politician won't change politics. But Ed's speech today is important.

It has started to sketch out a stronger, clearer vision for our country, and for our party.

Over the coming weeks and months, you'll hear more from Ed and our leaders across the country about what a fair deal looks like for Britain.
Ed Davey ()