Below are a couple of articles from the guardian discussing a centre left network report and manifesto, very intersting, especially the manifesto ALP supporters, this concerns you!
Statement of purpose
The process of European integration has been under way for over fifty years now, but it is still rare for politicians from EU Member states to meet informally to discuss political ideas and the future of public policy. That is especially true for young politicians, most of whom are far too busy getting to know their own national political systems to be able or willing to invest much time in getting to know their foreign counterparts and their views. When they do meet, it is usually through formal channels: in bilateral or multilateral meetings or through European political party events. These meetings tend to focus on the short term rather than the long term and more often than not involve formal debate rather than informal exchanges of view.
Policy Network is a progressive think tank founded in the 1990s with the support of a number of heads of government including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Giuliano Amato, Gerhard Schröder and Göran Persson. Its aim is to stimulate debate and encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas among politicians on the centre-left in Europe and across the world. Policy Network is now keen to ensure that as the process of European unification enters a new phase, young politicians who will help shape tomorrow's political future get to know each other at an early stage and start developing joint ideas as to how future policy challenges can be met. We want to be ready to implement our ideas when our parties are in power. Most politics is inevitably oriented towards the short-term. It is driven by the electoral cycle that dominates everyday political life. But many of the issues which need addressing require a longer-term approach.
'Progressive generation' brings together young politicians (which we have defined as under 40) from the EU's current and future Member states, including at least one of member of government or parliament per country, with an equal number of men and women taking part. Our aim is to ensure the continuity of the activities of Policy Network as a new generation of politicians make their way onto the political stage. Our intention is to form a permanent network for the exchange of ideas and the formulation of new policy initiatives, the usefulness of which it is hoped will extend beyond the borders of just one or two Member states - indeed beyond Europe. 'Progressive generation' is not a reference to who we are. Rather it is what we hope to become and what we strive to achieve: a network of European politicians who will look to each other for stimulation, ideas and advice as we pursue our political activities - including parliamentary careers and government office -, helping to set a direction for progressive politics in Europe over the next twenty-five years, with a 'rolling' focus on the medium term (five to ten years). We will use our public meetings across Europe to entice more young people to join us in discussing the theory and practice of progressive politics.
Politicians must be visionary and show leadership. But they must also ensure that their policies and the way they are presented are in tune with the mood of the nation. The Democratic campaign in the recent US presidential election demonstrates what happens when they are not. More importantly, politicians - who tend to spend much of their time in artifical environments - must anticipate changes in the national mood. We are conscious of the fact that the battle to win the hearts and minds of voters is first and foremost about outlining the values that define us. But it is also about identifying the challenges that lie ahead. Too often in the last few decades the centre-left has been reactive, responding to a rightwing agenda. It is time to seek a role-reversal and to set a progressive agenda for the decade ahead and beyond. This declaration touches on some of the issues that should in our view be part of that agenda. It should not be taken as definitive or complete. Nor will every signatory agree with every single aspect of it. Rather, it aims to sets the scene. It will form the starting point for the debates that will take place in the regular Policy Network thematic working groups, in which the members of Progressive Generation will play a key role.
Europe's progressive future
1. The need for a new political enlightenment
For a brief period following the end of the Cold War, the people of Europe - and particularly young people - could be forgiven for thinking that a new and extended era of peace and prosperity had dawned for our continent. The Berlin Wall had come down and Germany was reunited. One by one, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe came in from the communist cold and began preparations for membership of the European Union - a peaceful and rapid transition in most countries. The Maastricht Treaty was signed and EU Member states took measures to reduce budget deficits, stimulate economic growth and reduce unemployment, modernising the economy and increasing individual freedom and prosperity. Progressive governments in Europe and around the world demonstrated that a fully functioning market economy need not be the enemy of, but can be the key to, social progress. In the second half of the 1990s, millions of new jobs were created across Europe and the poorest members of society finally began to share in the spoils of growth. A new sense of global optimism led American historian Francis Fukuyama to proclaim the 'end of history' and the triumph of liberal democracy as the only viable political system. But in Europe as elsewhere, this sense of optimism soon gave way to a growing feeling of unease. Yugoslavia was torn apart by a bloody war, which Europe was unable to prevent and did too little, too late, to stop. The Maastricht Treaty became the subject of heated debate in several EU Member states and marked the beginning of the spread of euroscepticism beyond its traditional political homes, the UK and Denmark. The 'new economy' internet bubble burst just as the new century began, triggering a period of economic downturn in many EU Member states. Germany, Europe's largest economy, proved unable to cope with the huge cost of reunification and an economic recession that destroyed millions of jobs. At the same time, the arrival of large numbers of (illegal) immigrants and refugees from around the world began to cause pressures and tensions in many European societies (though not in all). The collapse of communism in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe left many - but especially the elderly - unprepared for unbridled competition in the free market. Democracy and a new middle class flourished in most of those countries, but at the same time a new class of exorbitantly rich oligarchs emerged and structural poverty reared its ugly head. Worrying anti-democratic trends began to develop in Russia, while Belarus remains an isolated authoritarian state on the border of the EU. Global warming proved to be a real threat, not just a figment of the imagination, and Africa continued its descent into pandemic and poverty. But the biggest blow to our false post-Cold War sense of security came on September 11, 2001, when Islamic fundamentalist terrorists struck the United States, killing thousands. The Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004 (one year ago today) acted as a wake-up call to anyone who thought that such an attack could or would never happen in Europe. Today, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction pose perhaps the gravest threat to civilisation.
Many of these post-Cold War developments have been tackled head-on. Peace, albeit a fragile one in some parts, has been restored in the former Yugoslavia. An International Criminal Court has been set up, though regrettably without the support of the United States. The global economy is on the path to recovery. Progressive governments have made great strides forward in strengthening the economy and bringing people out of poverty as a result. The Kyoto protocol on climate change has just taken effect. And the world appears to have woken up to the threat posed by international terrorism, and has begun taking steps to defeat it. But many issues still require urgent attention, issues on which the centre-left has so far failed to seize the initiative.
If the progressive centre-left in Europe is to develop appealing ideas and effective strategies, it must continue the process of overcoming the deep divisions that have been created by the war in Iraq. Of the signatories to this declaration, some supported the war, others didn't. But we all agree that even though there are many lessons to be learned, there is no point in fighting the battles of the past. Whatever the merits of going to war, our goal now must be for Iraq to become a stable and prosperous democracy - and for lasting peace to be achieved in the Middle East. As part of a more effective multilateralist approach every country must do whatever it can to help achieve those goals. And the centre-left in Europe must once again develop a unity of purpose and a sense of direction of the kind that characterised it in the early to mid-1990s on the bread-and-butter issues our voters are concerned about - as well as the new issues that are making their mark on society. Failure to do so means handing victory to conservative and right-wing liberal parties as well as to populists of the left and of the right. Their easy solutions to complex problems will not work, but they will have broad appeal as long as the centre-left doesn't present credible alternatives.
We are progressive politicians on the centre-left. No single or simple definition can do justice to the breadth of the meaning of the term 'progressive', but one of the things it stands for is a commitment to political change and social improvement, often by governmental action, on the basis of a pragmatic, inclusive and consensual approach. The centre-left has a proud history and a remarkable record, including the introduction of minimum health and safety standards, a substantial reduction in working hours, the introduction of the minimum wage, the emancipation of women and minorities, the provision of education and affordable health care for all as well as the creation of a social safety net including a universal old age pension. Progressive political parties, working with their allies in civil society, created and modernised the welfare state. The emergence of a new and large middle class is largely - though by no means solely - the result of policies aimed at ensuring equality of opportunity for all. But as we set out below, the coalition for social progress which binds together the working and middle classes cannot be taken for granted. Maintaining and strengthening it requires making some tough choices. And just as today's voters have given up traditional party and ballot box loyalties, we believe that progressive political parties must become more transparent and less tribal in the way they operate and organise themselves. They must also improve co-operation among one another (as is already happening in several countries) to create a movement for social change that is able to take on neo-conservative politicians and their ideas. Current progressive thinking owes much to social democratic modernisation policies of the last decade, to the green crusade of the 1980s and to the liberal economic reform agenda of the 1990s. In the years to come, we must explore how we can move beyond stale party boundaries and galvanise progressive forces in a way that puts the interests of citizens first. We need, in other words, a new political enlightenment.
2. Progressive values and the agenda for reform
Our aim is to modernise and strengthen the European social model to ensure equality of opportunity and social progress for all, with policies designed to fight poverty and social exclusion and to support hard-working families. We strive for societies characterised by a strong sense of community in which individual freedom, choice and responsibility, a genuine free market (where all costs including environmental and social externalities are factored in) and efficient, accountable and customer-driven public services play a central role. By acting together, using all public and private tools at our disposal, we can and must transform society. The elimination of poverty, unemployment and social injustice remain our key objectives. Individuals must be given the opportunity to realise their full potential - and may be expected to seize that opportunity. Removing the established structures that hold people back is not enough: we must also continue to take active steps to ensure genuine equality of choice. If we succeed, society as a whole will reap the benefits.
· 1. Freedom, choice and responsibility for all
Progressive politics has allowed the right to monopolise the concept of freedom - despite them only ever having paid lip service to it. It is time for the centre-left to assert its role as guardian and promoter of the politics of freedom, choice and responsibility. We must strive for a society in which citizens live free from the fear of (violent) crime and terrorism. We want to live in a world in which all dictatorships are replaced by pluralistic, democratic states in which everyone has the right to vote and in which every member of society can play a full part in the political process.
We need to acknowledge the importance of ensuring that individuals and other societal actors (such as private companies, but also government at all levels) are made to take responsibility for their actions. Just as society imposes punishment when freedoms are breached, so we should not hesitate to apply appropriate and proportionate sanctions when breaches of responsibility take place.
A free society is one in which individuals are able to take control of their own lives and achieve their full potential. That is not the same as creating full equality. Redistribution of income from rich to poor has an important role to play in achieving greater fairness and providing equality of opportunity. But it is not the only or even the most effective way to promote a more just society in the longer term. Our aim should be to equip every member of society with the tools they need to build a better future for themselves - starting at birth. Equality of opportunity is not enough. We need to create genuine equality of choice, by providing everyone with the information and the means they need not just to have access to, but also to be able to exercise the same wide range of choices in life as everyone else. Choice should not be the preserve of a small elite; it must be a tangible reality for all.
Freedom also means freedom from unnecessary state interference. The state has a central role in looking after our wellbeing - guaranteeing our physical security and acting as a safety net where markets (or one's family, or society) fail - see below. But just like the market, the state is not an end in itself - it is a means to end. The more we can empower individuals to look after themselves and the less we ask of the state, the better. State intervention should only be used (and welcomed) where it enhances the ability of all members of society to live their lives in freedom - in the broadest sense of the term. Our conception of freedom is not be limited to physical liberty and material security: it also implies citizens being able to play a full part in society and the lives of communities, including access to heritage and cultural life.
· 2. A fully functioning free market and a viable welfare state
The left should be the leading advocate of a fully functioning free market economy: one in which companies generate a normal profit and in which cartels and monopolies do not exist; one in which the pricing mechanism takes account of social and environmental externalities, one in which consumers are adequately protected. One of the paradoxes of the market economy is that for it to be genuinely free in the original economic sense, a substantial degree of regulation and oversight is required.
In the modern globalised economy, large corporations play an increasingly powerful role. Their activities are sometimes difficult to scrutinise and the absence of adequate controls has led to several well-publicised crises. At the same time, company boards award themselves big pay rises while asking employees to tighten their belts. This creates tensions - with shareholders, who feel they don't have a big enough say in the running of the company; with workers, who feel they are paying for the lavish lifestyles of their employers; and in society, where the growing wealth gap between the super-rich and the average person generates anger and resentment. Shareholders need to be given a bigger say in the way companies are run. Workers need to be to be given a bigger stake in our economy, as well a fairer share in its spoils, by making them shareholders - and by ensuring that labour is not taxed at a higher rate than capital. And society must develop an ethos of individual social responsibility (ISR) to mirror the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Those who gain the most from society must give the most back. This principle is already well-established in the United States, where personal charitable giving is much higher than in Europe.
Arguably the biggest threat facing our welfare state today is an ageing population in many countries. Fewer children are born and people live longer than they used to, assisted by medical advances which produce increasingly expensive new treatments and remedies. As the baby boom generation retires, there will be fewer people left to pay the bills. A solution should be found along the following lines:
Young people have to start anticipating for their own retirement and longer lives by saving more for later - through savings and (higher) pension contributions and by accepting to work for longer. This may require the introduction of an element of compulsion where one doesn't already exist.
The current generations of workers will have to work longer, pay a higher pension contribution, or accept a lower income in retirement.
The state and the market must work together to create a combination of public and private pension provision that not only will prove sustainable, but one that also provides solid guarantees for the security of the financial system - giving workers the confidence to invest in their own future.
An intelligent immigration policy - such as a green card system which targets the skills for which there is a shortage - should be pursued. Immigration is not the only answer to the problem of an ageing workforce. It would provide short-term relief for a long-term problem and would generate difficulties of its own: pressure on public services, space scarcity, the future retirement costs of immigrants themselves. Immigration as the only answer to today's economic problems is the equivalent of building up state debt to pay for current government expenditure: it amounts to passing the buck to future generations.
Better and more affordable childcare facilities will enable parents, in particular women, to take up paid work or work longer hours, and could help reverse declining child birth rates.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Demographic variations and different social security systems mean that each country has to develop the solution that will work best for itself. But in a Europe of open markets and free labour mobility, we have a responsibility to each other for making sure that a lasting solution is found.
3. High quality, customer-driven public services
Public services such as education, health care, social housing, transport and policing need to be modernised to take account of the expectations and wishes of their users. All citizens should have equal access to the same full range of basic public services, and where feasible they must be able to choose between different providers on the basis of transparent and reliable price and quality indicators. We should recognise, however, that factors such as geography (sparsely populated regions), education (the ability of citizen-consumers to differentiate meaningfully between competing services) and cost (the fact that increasing choice artificially may lead to a higher average cost of the service provided) place natural limits on the degree of choice we can hope or expect to offer.
Citizens should have a direct say in how the public services they make use of are provided - and what the nature of those services should be. There is no inherent reason why public services should be provided only by the state. The state's role is to regulate and guarantee access, to set and enforce standards and to police fair pricing. The private sector should play a role in the provision of public services, but only where this leads to higher quality, lower prices and increased choice.
The focus of public services will have to shift to respond to societal and demographic changes such as a higher proportion of women in work and an ageing population. The provision of high quality universal child care and care for the elderly should be among the new key priorities for progressive politics.
As the cost of public services such as health care grows, and as citizens become wealthier and the middle class grows further, the cost of non-essential public services can increasingly be met by users paying for them directly out of their own income, rather than through the state - to the extent that this does not undermine universal access to basic services. Allowing individuals to pay for some services directly instead of through the tax system can increase choice, improve the responsiveness of public services to their users' demands, and can ultimately allow for taxes to be lowered, without negatively affecting the quality and quantity of public services or the principle of solidarity that underpins them. When they are the result of a more efficient public sector, greater equality of opportunity and increased consumer spending power, lower taxes are the logical consequence of progressive politics and policies.
· 4. From diversity to community
"Wir riefen Arbeitskräfte, und es kamen Menschen"
(We called for workers, and human beings came) - Max Frisch
Over the course of the last four decades, enormous progress has been made in emancipating society. Women and minority groups (ethnic minorities, gay people) in particular have benefited from legislation that enshrines the right to equal treatment. A steady process of individualisation and secularisation has increased individual freedom and choice. But the disintegration of the traditional fabric of society, while liberating for most, has also led to new forms of social exclusion for a minority: people without job or income, family or friends. Most people welcome the disappearance of a collective morality imposed from above. But we accept that there will always be a need for a moral compass - one that takes freedom, emancipation, tolerance and respect for both society and its individual members as its starting point. We should work to re-establish a commitment to solidarity and a sense of duty towards society among all its members, in particular among young people. As a practical measure, we consider that all young people should be required to undertake a form of community service as part of their education process.
We must strive for greater social and cultural integration and better mutual understanding. That means the rejection of all forms of racial discrimination - and a determined fight to root it out where it occurs. It also calls for the acceptance by newcomers of the fundamental values of our society, as laid down in constitutions and human rights charters, such as democracy, the rule of law, full equality between men and women and respect for the rights of gay people.
Solidarity requires a shared sense of belonging and common destiny. When that shared sense is missing, the very foundations of our welfare state come under threat. If the middle class feel that they no longer benefit from a welfare state based on solidarity, they will no longer be willing to support it. In order to preserve solidarity and maintain the welfare state, newcomers should gradually build up their stake - through the concept of 'earned citizenship'. This concept been applied successfully by progressive governments through policies such as 'welfare to work' and the introduction of more stringent rules on benefit entitlement. Their aim is to create a more activist welfare state, where the focus is on generating jobs and filling vacancies rather than encouraging reliance on state benefits. At the same time, such policies make it easier to win and sustain public support for a range of relatively generous benefits for those who really need them.
· 5. Working together in the global village
The war in Iraq has caused deep divisions with the European centre-left and beyond. We must learn the lessons of the last two years and apply them to the way the international community deals with international crises and threats - and above all making sure they don't arise in the first place.
The UN and international law must be reformed. The United Nations was founded in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Its charter and working methods reflect the realities of that time. But the rules created over 50 years ago are no longer able to deal with the challenges and threats we face in the 21st century. Current arrangements are no longer credible or effective in an international environment where the main threat is no longer confined to one or several nations but includes a disparate collection of terrorist rogue groups for whom borders play no role. Furthermore, we cannot tolerate a situation where international law dictates that we must stand by and watch a humanitarian crisis unfold because it belongs to the 'internal matters' of a country. When human life is at stake, international law must apply the laws of humanity.
The European Union itself must also do more to make the world a safer place. On 1 May 2004 ten new member states joined the EU, and that in itself constitutes an important contribution to the security and stability of our continent. Soon, when they meet the criteria for membership, others - including Turkey - will follow. In the long run, it is difficult to envisage a stable European Union without Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Caucasus states and the states of Central Asia making big strides towards democracy and prosperity. The Eastern dimension of the European Union should therefore be given the highest possible priority.
The newly enlarged European Union must develop a credible and effective foreign and defence policy. Member states must be prepared to give up their power of veto in order to become more effective together, and to invest more in creating a more credible defence capability, including an appropriate role for the EU's neutral Member States. The new EU constitution represents an important step towards achieving those aims and although it is far from perfect, it deserves to be ratified.
None of these changes will have any impact if more is not done to remove the sources of conflict in the world. Third world poverty will continue to be a source of tension and conflict and provide terrorists with fertile ground for spreading their message and recruiting new foot soldiers and sympathisers. The sale of weapons to regimes that oppress their own people and threaten their neighbours - or are likely one day to do so, should be stopped. In the Middle East, a lasting peace must be found which allows two independent states, Israel and Palestine, to live side by side without fear. And as long as war and dictatorship are with us, the world community has a duty to ensure that all those who flee conflict and persecution across the globe are given refuge (and a humane welcome) in a country or region where they are known to be safe.
Developing countries should go beyond current efforts to provide debt relief to the poorest countries and they should finally make real progress toward attaining the Millenium Development Goals. What is the point of adopting laudable aims when so little is done to make them a reality? The failure of previous generations to fulfil their commitments means that we have an even greater responsibility to do more. Barriers to trade that prevent developing countries from making economic progress (such as the trade-distorting aspects of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy) should be removed, and efforts to fight diseases such as Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis should not be dictated by the commercial needs of the pharmaceutical industry but by humanitarian considerations.
The Tsunami disaster has reminded us of the fragile condition of the earth's environment. We cannot prevent natural disasters such as the one that caused widespread destruction and loss of human life in South East Asia on 26 December 2004, but we can and must do more to protect our natural environment, most notably by fighting global warming and desertification. That is not just a matter of common sense, it is also our duty to future generations.
In achieving these international goals, Europe must continue to work with its strongest ally and partner, the United States, in a relationship marked by mutual understanding and respect - something which many in Europe feel has been lacking since the Bush administration came to power. This is partly out of recognition that the United States, as the world's only remaining superpower, continues to be the leading actor on the global stage. But it is also out of recognition that there is much more that unites us than divides us. The EU and the US both strive for a world in which freedom and democracy prevail and in which human rights are respected. We both support the free market as the best way to organise economic life. The fact that we do not always see eye to eye on the way to achieve these goals, and that we have important disagreements on issues such as the death penalty and the treatment of terror suspects, does not mean that our centuries-long partnership should now come to an end. On the contrary, it requires that we redouble our efforts to find common solutions to the problems we're facing, including contentious issues such as global warming and the prosecution of international war criminals.
· 6. Transforming democracy
When voters turn to populist politicians of the extreme left and right, it's largely because populists offer easy solutions to complex problems. These are solutions that often will not work, and that more likely than not will only make things worse. But voters find them attractive because they appear to tackle the very real concerns they have, or the fears they experience - and that established parties have ignored. When populists are able to win support, it's because traditional political parties fail to pick up signals of unease and unrest in society. Ridiculing, marginalising or even criminalising populists only serves to make them more popular and to alienate their voters, while emulating populists can only lead to short-term gain and long-term pain. Instead, we must formulate convincing and effective alternatives that go to the root of the problem.
Government at all levels must do more to develop policies that deal with voters' everyday concerns. And it must do so by involving citizens more closely in the process of policy development, by inventive, innovative means. Representative democracy should remain the core of our democratic system; government by referendum leads to government by no-one. But in today's individualised societies, citizens who are also consumers want a bigger say not just when it comes to the overall direction of public policy, but also when it comes to the detail of implementation. There are many examples around the world of how such involvement can be organised in a way that respects the role of representative democracy and yet reconnects citizens with the political system. Interactive decision-making in 'neighbourhood councils' and wider use of e-democracy are examples of such involvement.
The renewal of politics should also be applied at the European level. For too many years, decisions on the future of Europe were taken by civil servants, diplomats and politicians meeting behind closed doors. It should not come as a surprise that many citizens have become sceptical about a decision-making process that seems to have passed them by. But it would be a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The proposed European constitution sets clearer parameters for the relationship between the EU and its member states. The European Convention which helped draw it up was an important step towards greater popular involvement in deciding Europe's future. The initial rejection of President José Manuel Barroso's new European Commission by the European Parliament signals the gradual coming of age of EU representative democracy. As a next step, we need to take a fresh look at the policies we are pursuing in Europe. Many could be simplified and decentralised to reduce waste and improve outcomes, moving from the traditional, one-size-fits-all federalist approach to a selective, case-by-case approach to European co-operation, so that a decision to change the Treaty, introduce a new directive or opt for a non-legislative measure is taken not by relying on established EU orthodoxy but by making a level-headed and informed assessment of what would produce the best results, both for the EU as a whole and for its individual member states.
We need to reform our political parties, for the following reasons:
Many political parties still operate outdated mechanisms of internal 'democracy' that explicitly or effectively place power in the hands of a small elite. Ordinary party members expect and deserve a bigger say, especially when it comes to choosing the party leadership. In turn, greater membership involvement in leadership selection gives more legitimacy to a political system in which leaders play an increasingly important role.
Party membership is going down in most countries. Many citizens no longer see membership of a political party as the obvious and natural way to become involved in politics, and political parties as a result have become more isolated and inward-looking. Local political parties in particular should evolve to become civic organisations capable of organising social change at the community level, and local activists should be equipped with the advocacy and social entrepreneurship skills needed to make this happen.
One of the main tasks of political parties will continue to be the selection of candidates for public office. In exercising this role, greater emphasis should be placed on the need for politicians whose personal integrity is beyond question, and who will conduct themselves in an ethical manner when in office. Providing political parties with more substantial public funding in countries where this doesn't already happen should also allow for a reduction in the reliance of some parties on private funding - or at least allow existing ceilings to be kept in place.
Political parties must become more representative of society as a whole. While significant advances have been made in many countries over the last few years in improving the representation of women, ethnic minorities and young people in politics, much more should be done to ensure that the composition of political bodies better reflects the diverse composition of society, including through the use of mechanisms such as (informal) quota.
Political parties need to respond to the trend of ever larger numbers of floating voters, whose loyalties no longer belong to a single political party. They choose parties on the basis of specific policies or the quality of its leadership. Yet political parties continue to operate in very segmented ways. On the centre-left, Greens, Social democrats, old-style Socialists, Liberals and even some Christian-Democrats vie for same vote, even though many of their leaders, activists and voters often share the same broad outlook on politics and life. Rigid party political distinctions then no longer make sense. The centre-left should seek to break down the walls that divide progressive politicians from one another, and make a single broad appeal to progressive voters.
Finally, the media - both public and private - must be able to play a full part in the democratic process. In order for this to happen, transparent and competitive ownership rules are essential. As media moguls continue to increase the size of their empires across Europe and elsewhere, the threat to the pluralism of the media landscape increases. Progressive politics must be a staunch defender of a strong and independent public broadcasting function, while at the same time safeguarding and encouraging a competitive, pluralist and responsible private sector.
It is often said these days that the politics of idealism is dead, especially among centre-left modernisers. We disagree. There's nothing more idealistic than leaving behind the ideas of the past, and solutions that no longer work, in favour of radical, innovative ways of addressing problems old and new - and thereby broadening the coalition for social progress that is key to sustaining our efforts. In the end, meaningful change can only be achieved by always being prepared to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Emancipated citizens don't think in terms of state vs. private, collective vs. individual, or even left vs. right. Neither should politicians. If we can find ways of working towards a stronger and more flexible economy, towards increased emancipation and individual empowerment, towards a sustainable and more diverse environment, and towards a peaceful, stable and more equitable world through policies that appeal not just to our traditional supporters but to the vast majority of the population as well, then the next generation will be the progressive generation.
Warren House, Surrey, March 11 2005
Matt Browne (UK)
Hubertus Heil (Germany)
Michiel van Hulten (the Netherlands)
Enrico Letta (Italy)
Eluned Morgan (UK)
Juan Moscoso (Spain)
Algirdas Paleckis (Lithuania)
Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark)
Young European politicians at a retreat outside London seek inspiration from the neo-cons to revive the centre-left vision, writes Nicholas Watt
Friday March 11, 2005
In the grand surroundings of Warren House, a 19th century pile on the outskirts of London where Edward VII used to wind down, the great and the good of Europe's centre left are gathering today for a brainstorming session.
Under the watchful eyes of Peter Mandelson and two former prime ministers, a host of young politicians from across Europe will put their names to a declaration that is designed to revive the third way.
Labelling themselves "the progressive generation", these under-40s hope their document will show the centre left can reclaim the political stage with classic third way ideas on promoting a market economy while driving up standards in public services.
The atmosphere at Warren House, where tomorrow's leaders are likely to spurn the chance of dancing the night away in a ballroom modelled on the hall of mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, will be slightly muted. This year's annual Policy Network retreat is a far cry from the days when third way warriors held sway in almost all the world's big industrialised countries - Bill Clinton in the US, Tony Blair in Britain, Gerhard Schröder in Germany, Lionel Jospin in France and Giuliano Amato in Italy.
Only Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder are still in power and both are diminished figures compared with the late 1990s, when it appeared they would be stamping their vision across Europe and the industrialised world. Mr Mandelson today makes clear how far the third way elite has fallen when he speaks of "past mistakes" - by centre left governments across Europe - who fell from power after "ignoring voters' genuine anxieties over immigration, unemployment" and a host of other touchstone issues. Two former prime ministers who made such mistakes - Giuliano Amato in Italy and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in Denmark - will be on hand this weekend to provide tips on where they went wrong.
Michiel van Hulten, a former Dutch MEP who, as co-chairman of the Young Progressive Network, is the driving force behind today's declaration, admits he has his work cut out now that a mere five of the EU's old 15 members have centre left governments. In the late 1990s, the figure stood at 13 out of 15.
"We want to take a leaf out of the book of the neo-cons in the United States," Mr Van Hulten says. "They have been incredibly successful over the past 10 to 15 years in building up a public policy agenda, which George Bush is now implementing. This has been missing from the centre left, where the thinking has been short term and disjointed."
Drawing up policy ideas that can secure agreement across Europe, even among like-minded politicians, is an almost impossible task, as today's declaration makes clear. A proposal that all EU countries abandon their veto on foreign policy is understood to have been the subject of intense debate at the summit, with British representatives determined not to give up one of the prime minister's famous "red lines" from the EU constitution negotiations.
But the proposal stayed in. The declaration says: "The newly enlarged EU must develop a credible and effective foreign and defence policy. Member states must be prepared to give up their power of veto in order to become more effective together, and to invest more in creating a more credible defence capability, including an appropriate role for the EU's neutral member states."
Such language will barely raise an eyebrow in Mr Van Hulten's Netherlands, a relatively small EU country whose standing in the world would increase if large countries, such as Britain, abandoned their veto on foreign policy. But this passage may go some way toward explaining why one of the young British politicians in the "progressive generation" is likely to find himself engaged in an intense discussion in a far flung corner of the grounds of Warren House when the signing ceremony takes place. Tipped for the cabinet after the election, the Cabinet Office minister David Miliband will not want to be directly associated with a commitment that would be exploited by the Eurosceptic tabloids.
Other elements in the declaration will be warmly welcomed by Mr Miliband, one of the brains behind Mr Blair who wrote Labour's manifesto for the 1997 landslide election victory. In language that would do the prime minister proud, the declaration says on public services: "There is no inherent reason why public services should be provided only by the state. The state's role is to regulate and guarantee access, to set and enforce standards and to police fair pricing. The private sector should play a role in the provision of public services, but only where this leads to higher quality, lower prices and increased choice."
Where Britain feels uneasy about the proposal on foreign policy, German and French politicians at the retreat might fear the reception they will receive back home if they sign up to a document written in such Thatcherite language. Mr Van Hulten is relaxed. "This declaration is designed to provoke debate. I wouldn't say think the unthinkable, because that is what Tony Blair said. But we have to look at the horizon beyond the next election."Mr Miliband may beg to disagree, as he rushes back to Labour's campaign headquarters after the retreat this weekend to see whether the Tories have pulled off another pre-election stunt.
It's three party British politics. That's been the real lesson of this year. Take those local elections. Big Liberal Democrat gains.
Taking on and trouncing Labour in places like Cardiff and Cambridge, Liverpool and Newcastle;
Making big gains from them in Leeds and Manchester as well.
While in most of these places the Conservatives just simply disappeared.
You know it is telling indeed that the voters did not think it worthwhile electing a single Conservative councillor in a place like Oxford.
And if you take Scotland and Wales into account and they're scarcely a national UK political party any longer.
And Liberal Democrats continued making gains from the Conservatives in places like Portsmouth, St Albans and Watford.
In his first speech as the new Liberal Democrat Leader in Newcastle - after thirty years of one party Labour rule - this is what Peter Arnold had to say: - "For Newcastle Liberal Democrats, one of the most important success criteria will be the extent to which we are able to give the city back to the people…We will be doing things differently, by making sure the Council is less politically partisan and more inclusive. We will be offering Opposition Groups the opportunity to adopt a more positive role in the council's affairs."
Now there's the difference for you - in a nutshell.
As that onetime Liberal, Winston Churchill, put it: "In victory - magnanimity." That's the breath of fresh air that we bring to British politics - and to local communities with it. That's why we're on the move. And that's why we pushed Labour into third place for the first time ever in a national election. Add to those the European elections results.
We stuck firmly to our reforming pro-European principles.
And the outcome?
Two more Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament.
Fiona Hall in the North East. And Saj Karim in the North West. Saj - our first ever elected Liberal Democrat parliamentarian from an ethnic minority community. And about time too. But not unique for long. In Leicester South - just as in Brent East last year - we leapfrogged the Conservatives - we came from third place to take on Labour and win. Congratulations, Parmjit Gill. And never forget we came within an ace of doing the same in Birmingham Hodge Hill as well. Well done, Nicola Davies. So fantastic results. Each and every one. And when you leave Bournemouth make sure that your next stop is Hartlepool.
That's where I'm heading next.
Immediately after this speech.
Lembit Opik is flying me there.
I kid you not.
Greater love hath no man for our party than he is prepared to place his life in Lembit's safe keeping in the skies above us.
So I expect to see you all there in Hartlepool.
Well, I really do hope to see you all there in Hartlepool!
We are the challengers.
The Conservatives have already conceded they aren't in the Hartlepool race.
And it's a simple statement of fact that the Conservatives are now out of the race in most of urban Britain.
And that the only effective challenge to Labour is coming from the Liberal Democrats.
People know we've done it before - and we can do it again in Hartlepool.
If we go out there and make our case - make no mistake.
We CAN do it.
I want to talk to you today about the future.
The future of two things. The future of our party. And also the future of our country. We want the two increasingly to go hand in hand.
We know we can make the political weather - tuition fees, the council tax.
And we know we're capable of much more yet.
But our success also poses certain questions - and rightly so.
Are these people up to it?
Are those Liberal Democrats ready for the task in hand?
Can we be sure we know what they stand for?
Well we stand for three things above all else.
Freedom. Fairness. Trust. Those are our watchwords.
---This is what we must stand for ---
Those are the core principles against which our policies must be measured.
And they are the principles which match the increasingly liberal instincts of 21st century Britain. A Britain now of many faiths, many colours, many languages; A variety of family structures; Far greater life expectancy.
And working patterns our grandparents would scarcely recognise. Social mobility and fast communications; High aspirations and far less deference; Openness and tolerance about sexual orientation. A Britain where the individual counts for so much
But still a Britain where a sense of community matters.
In so many ways that's a liberal Britain.
It's our task now to turn these instinctively liberal attitudes into positive votes for the party of British liberal democracy.
--- Is this also a fair descriprion of the Australia in which we live? ---
And it is also a Britain in which the way we are governed is being transformed.
We have a Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales, both elected by fairer votes - involving proportional representation.
And -on November 4th people in the North East will have a referendum for a regional assembly. We're out campaigning hard for that - and I'll be back on that campaign trail again shortly.
Devolution is at its best when it gets things done. And it's getting things done that show people what we value and what we stand for.
It's been a big responsibility for us, in Wales, where we helped bring much needed stability to the Assembly at a crucial moment - and better policies as a result.
Reduced class sizes; more environmental initiatives; free school milk;
Free admission to art galleries and museums, recognising that the legacy and the vitality of Celtic culture demands the decision-makers to understand not just the price of things but also the value of things.
As a result - people know more about what we stand for. And they're voting accordingly.
Impressive gains this year in Cardiff, Bridgend and Swansea - and so many other places across the country.
And in Wales we carry on pushing for an extension to the law making powers of the Assembly - that has to be the next logical and necessary step forward.
And in Scotland where the partnership there has been delivering on many of our top priorities;
Free personal care for the elderly - delivered.
Abolishing tuition fees - delivered.
Fair votes for local government elections - being delivered.
But it doesn't stop there.
Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland have set the new agenda for devolution.
A Scottish agenda that deals with long-term challenges - like poor health; the environment; the need to improve education, the foundation for an enterprising country.
New legislation announced by Jim Wallace just this month to provide free eye and dental checks for all.
And a new Environment Bill announced by Ross Finnie so that a green thread runs through the heart of Scottish government, one where every policy will be audited for its environmental impact.
Liberal Democrats getting things done.
And demonstrating how our approach - every time - is rooted in freedom, fairness and trust.
I've done a lot of travelling across Britain this year. And with it a lot of listening. I listened to the students on campus in Plymouth, worried about their steadily deepening debts and how on earth they would ever escape them.
I listened to the young mother in a Leicester shop, troubled that teachers are not getting the time to teach her children properly.
I listened to the Asian grandmother in Huddersfield, who told me about being genuinely afraid, for the first time in over thirty years in her local community, because of the growth of mindless racism among an unrepresentative few.
And then the high street traders in Birmingham, utterly sick and tired of senseless vandalism against their properties.
And their local customers, equally scared about street violence and the threat of crime as it affects them personally.
The pensioners in Exeter - bitter about their dwindling resources, confused about losing their pension books, unhappy about the level of pensions themselves and angry about seemingly never-ending council tax rises. And to the doctor in Norwich, expressing his sheer frustration at the remote, command and control from London which characterises so much of this government's mismanagement of our National Health Service. And then the school pupils in Cardiff, thinking aloud about pollution and climate change - uncertain about the environment they would inherit.
This is our Britain today; these are typical of people's concerns.
Well, if you seek to lead, first you must listen.
People have a huge desire to be listened to; for politicians to take the time to understand their problems.
And address those problems with solutions.
It is we Liberal Democrats that are now providing the answers.
For students - when the pupil aspires to become the student, we would encourage and enable them - by stopping tuition fees and axing top-up fees - one of the most socially retrograde acts of this government, when what Britain needs is a university system affordable to all.
For parents - we will equip children for life - because children well cared for and well taught in their early years have a far better chance of success.
So we will reduce class sizes for the youngest children and give teachers time to teach and children time to learn by abolishing unnecessary tests and red tape.
And we would ensure that every child, in every classroom, in every school is taught by a qualified teacher in the relevant subject.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for.
For those in fear of racism - first, a real lead from politicians - celebrating the fact that our country is better, it's richer and more diverse, precisely because it is a multicultural society. And that we have been prepared to stand out and if necessary alone in having no truck with short-term, knee-jerk responses to complex social issues. That we won't pander to the lowest common denominator over asylum and immigration. But we'll reform the systems - to make them fairer and faster. And that we respect people's genuine religious and cultural identities at community level.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for.
On Crime - 10,000 more police on the streets and cutting the time spent on paperwork, so they can spend more time tackling drug dealers, muggers and yobs.
Use prison as an opportunity to educate in the basics - numeracy, literacy - so that when they get out people will be far better able to find work and far less likely to reoffend. And for the victims of crime open up the courts so that they can confront the offenders - and speed up the system of compensation as well.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for.
For pensioners - we will continue - to make and win the case for axing the unjust, unfair, increasingly unworkable council tax. And its replacement by a fair, local income tax - based on people's ability to pay.
We'll stop the scandal of elderly people having to pay for their personal care - and probably losing the family home in the process. We would deliver free long-term care for the elderly. And all pensioners over 75 - the war generation - should be entitled to a pension which lifts them above mean-testing - £100 extra a month. No-one should be demeaned in their old age anymore. And this specific pledge to women, who have long been discriminated against because of the way the pension system works.
For the first time you will be treated equally.
For the first time you will have a pension in your own right.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for.
On health - We would put patients first and free doctors and nurses from Whitehall meddling. Liberal Democrats would hack away the red tape, abolish the absurd targets and free our frustrated doctors and nurses.
Let the local community and the local doctors and local nurses make the decisions. They are far better placed to get them right. And more emphasis than ever before should be placed on prevention of ill health and promotion of healthy lifestyles. We truly need a health and not just a sickness service.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for.
On the environment - our determination to make the environment count at every level of Government means thinking green in every area.
Yes, it's big picture stuff - from the food chain to climate change, energy to trade, aviation to sustainable international development.
Britain can't do this alone. The Prime Minister is right to use our presidency of the EU and the G8 next year to press for consensus.
But if we can lead by example, if we can achieve our Kyoto targets ahead of time, we can encourage other countries to sign up.
If we can deliver 20% of our electricity needs through renewable energy by 2020, that would be leading by example.
Take air travel - which is fast become the world's biggest polluter.
We should be shifting taxes on aviation away from the passenger and onto the plane itself which does the polluting.
Now that would be leading by example too, encouraging better fuel efficiency and therefore less pollution.
But quality of life actually begins at home - it's in your street, around your community.
And our approach to the environment must begin there too.
The green thread that should run through all aspects of government, should run through all aspects of our lives also.
So more park and ride schemes for our towns and cities - cutting pollution in our streets. More local recycling initiatives - showing how all of us can make that difference within our own homes.
Cutting waste - reusing - improving.
That's what the Liberal Democrats stand for. Freedom. Fairness. Trust. Because that's what these - and many more - policies are rooted in. Policies designed to create more freedom.
Based on social fairness.
Not bogus, false choices - designed to distract.
But real, quality local choice - designed to deliver.
And it's all underpinned by economic fairness as well.
This is crucial to our credibility and critical to our success.
From the outset, I have insisted that we have the most watertight set of tax and expenditure proposals possible. We want to tax more fairly and spend more wisely. Isn't it a disgrace that after 7 years of a supposedly Labour government the poorest 20% contribute more of their income in tax than do the richest 20%? We don't want the politics of economic envy. But we do want the politics of social equity.
What does that mean? It means asking the top 1% of income earners to pay a top marginal rate of tax of 50p for every pound earned above £100,000.
That pays for our immediate commitments to:
Scrap tuition and top-up fees for students;
Introduce free personal care for elderly and disabled people;
And keep down the level of local taxes. But spending on our priorities does not mean higher taxes across the board. It means looking hard as well at how much Government spends and getting value for money for taxpayers.
And we've already found further large savings - at least £5bn a year - by cutting back on big, centralised government and redirecting money to priority spending:
Dropping plans for identity cards;
Scrapping some government departments and relocating others away from high-cost central London;
Doing less, better and more efficiently - and concentrating more on what really matters.
It is this approach which gives us the credibility to pledge.
Axing the £1bn Child Trust Fund, the so called baby bonds scheme, and spending the money now when children need it most, not the state stashing it away until 2022;
10,000 more police on the streets - cutting crime and the fear of crime;
Making sure that by 2011 Britain finally fulfils its UN obligations by boosting the overseas aid budget to 0.7% of GNP;
£25 more on pensions every week for those aged 75 and over with a million pensioners taken off means testing.
The figures add up; the balance sheet is balanced.
Freedom. Fairness. Trust. It is trust that has to underpin everything else. And it's winning public trust that is going to be the biggest challenge of all. Over the course of this parliament one issue more than any other has helped define just what the Liberal Democrats stand for in the minds of millions of our fellow citizens. You know what I'm talking about. And the people know exactly what we've been talking about. From the outset we have provided rational, principled and consistent opposition to the war in Iraq. We've done it without exaggeration. We've done it without name-calling. We've done it - quite simply - because we believed it was the right thing to do. Now I believe the vast majority of people have made their minds up - one way or the other. Donald Rumsfeld promised shock and awe. What we got was shock and then steadily increasing horror. The Prime Minister promised action on the Middle East Road Map. What we got was little progress and more violence. There's a sullen, and increasingly angry mood on the issue. And understandably so. Not least when Kofi Annan declares the war illegal. When the Iraq Survey Group is expected to conclude that the WMD were not there. When the Foreign Office warned of the likely disastrous consequences. And when it appears the Government told the Bush administration, a full year before the war started, that it would not budge in its support for their policy of regime change - and yet the Prime Minister told our Parliament and our people that it was all about weapons of mass destruction. There is a fundamental question that the Prime Minister has consistently failed to answer. I asked him this in the House of Commons in the run up to war, and again as recently as the 20th of July this year during the debate on the Butler Report. "Did he advise President Bush privately - long before the United Nations route was formally abandoned - that if the President decided to prosecute an invasion of Iraq, the British would be in active military support, come what may? "If he did advise the President to that effect, when did such an exchange take place?" When Parliament next convenes, the Prime Minister must take the first opportunity to come to the Despatch Box and make a full statement. It's time we got an answer. And if the Prime Minister still refuses, the people can make a judgement. There is the ultimate verdict of the general election itself. Lord Hutton did not provide the answer. Nor did Lord Butler. The decision to decline to participate in Lord Butler's enquiry was a tough one at the time. But it was the correct decision as events have proved. And at the end of the day that is what trust in political leadership has to be all about. What trust today in what our leaders told us at the time about Iraq? And what kind of corrosive effect does that have on politics generally? Yet the tragic experience of Iraq should have the opposite effect. And I believe it can. It should galvanise people to participate, to make their views known through the ballot box. It should strengthen all of our resolves to rededicate ourselves to the rebuilding of effective international institutions, to the repairing of shattered alliances among long-standing friends. But within our own country - one lesson must be learned. This country is still crying out for an effective political system that responds to them and listens to the people. More openness. More accountability. Politicians taking responsibility for their decisions. Never again must this country be led into war on the basis of questionable intelligence. Never again must this country be sold an incomplete and false prospectus as a basis for unilateral military action without the sanction of the United Nations.
Never again must Britain find itself on such a basis so distanced from principal partners within Europe. Never again should our troops find themselves without proper and adequate equipment in a war zone. Never again should such supreme Prime Ministerial power be allowed to progress without sufficient checks and balances. And without the proper operation of collective Cabinet government itself. And never again should a so-called "official opposition" be entitled to that name when it so pathetically fails to fulfil its most basic parliamentary function and duty - the provision of constructive and effective questioning of the executive of the day. Never again. But we should not just look back in anger. There is every sign that we need to look forward with increasing anxiety. And that is why the Prime Minister should also take that opportunity to give a cast iron guarantee that the United Kingdom will not support unilateral military action against Iran. You know some commentators will tell you that our recent victories are just the fall out from Iraq. That the Lib Dems are just the protest vote. Well, let's face it. There has been a lot for people to protest about. But we are being seen more and more as a party which does win elections, which does exercise responsible representation, which has become increasingly comfortable with the duties and the disciplines of power. Some also say that you can't go chasing left-wing voters and right-wing voters at one and the same time - while remaining consistent and true to your principles. It is a deeply flawed analysis - based on a fundamental misreading of today's Britain. Why? Because for the vast majority of people who live their lives in an increasingly inter-dependent world, facing increasingly complex issues, for them the old-fashioned nostrums of right and left no longer apply. They're looking for solution-based politics. Politics which address their everyday needs. There is a shift in the way people view politics, one that transcends any single issue. Iraq has been part of this, but by no means is it the whole story. I come across it, day in and day out. People see that the Labour and Conservative agendas are converging. Where as ours is about having the freedom to make the most of our lives. It's about what is fair - taxation based on ability to pay and delivery for all not the few. And that you have to be able to trust your political leaders and your political parties to deliver. There's a deep-rooted sense in our country that somehow all is not quite right. That somehow all is not as we're being told it is. An underlying sense of doubt. Made worse by the fact that people just don't trust this Government. This Government flags up the big, long-term difficult issues - pension provision, funding local services, global warming - but then puts off serious discussion and decisions until safely beyond another general election.
-- where have we seen this before? --
But people don't identify with the Conservatives - because that party just doesn't connect with them. They hark back to a Britain that is no more. They're out of touch with the Britain of today.
-- so true, for Labor that is-- No wonder they fall back on hard-core instincts - and increasingly belongs to all our yesterdays. In huge swathes of the country it's the Conservatives who are now firmly established - as the third party. In so much of the country a vote for the Conservatives is now a wasted vote. The third party - on their third leader in as many years - and a third leader who's just had his third reshuffle in less than a year. Well, they say variety is the spice of life. For the Conservatives it looks to me much more like the kiss of death. They belong to the past. We're working for the future. We are moving from a party of protest to a party of power. 3 party politics is here - and here to stay. You know, at times this past year I've felt rather nostalgic. 21 years as a Member of Parliament. You learn quite a lot after more than two decades doing any job. Direct personal experience does teach along the way. That's why, whenever I'm asked to speculate - an occupational hazard - I always suggest to people not to waste time on the crystal ball, but instead learn from the history book. It's really quite simple. For the country to believe in a political party - first that party has to believe in itself. We're at our best, we perform best, we persuade best - when we spend our time talking positively about what it is that we have to offer. And we're far more likely to achieve that from a position of principled party independence - not one distracted by noises off. So when people ask me "Where does your party stand?" my starting point is not the crystal ball. Instead, it's crystal clear. No nods, no winks, no deals, no stitch ups. If, on polling day at next general election, more people vote Liberal Democrat - then the next day and in the next parliament what you will get are more Liberal Democrats working for more liberal democracy. Not something else. But working all out for better public policies from Parliament. Prepared to work with others on issues of principle - like Europe. But not prepared to surrender our essential political independence along the way. That's our Liberal Democrat pledge to the people. So there is a fundamental choice before us all at the next General Election. The British people have probably not more than 225 days left to choose between two essentially conservative parties - and the real alternative which is the Liberal Democrats. 225 days. Then a stark choice. A serious choice. And we, increasingly, are the winning choice. Because all that we say and all that we do is based on those fundamentals. Freedom. Fairness. Trust. That's us. That's what we want from our politics. That's what we stand for. That's what we want our country to stand for. At home - and abroad. That's Liberal Democracy.
--- Take heed from these wise words from a cousin from the UK, we have a future and it could so easily look like this, we just have to work for it ---
--- Here you go Labor! This is what you should have been saying ---
Freedom. Fairness. Trust. It is trust that has to underpin everything else. And it's winning public trust that is going to be the biggest challenge of all. Over the course of this parliament one issue more than any other has helped define just what the Liberal Democrats stand for in the minds of millions of our fellow citizens. You know what I'm talking about. And the people know exactly what we've been talking about. From the outset we have provided rational, principled and consistent opposition to the war in Iraq.
We've done it without exaggeration. We've done it without name-calling. We've done it - quite simply - because we believed it was the right thing to do.
Now I believe the vast majority of people have made their minds up - one way or the other.
Donald Rumsfeld promised shock and awe.
What we got was shock and then steadily increasing horror.
The Prime Minister promised action on the Middle East Road Map.
What we got was little progress and more violence.
There's a sullen, and increasingly angry mood on the issue. And understandably so.
Not least when Kofi Annan declares the war illegal.
When the Iraq Survey Group is expected to conclude that the WMD were not there.
When the Foreign Office warned of the likely disastrous consequences.
And when it appears the Government told the Bush administration, a full year before the war started, that it would not budge in its support for their policy of regime change - and yet the Prime Minister told our Parliament and our people that it was all about weapons of mass destruction.
There is a fundamental question that the Prime Minister has consistently failed to answer.
I asked him this in the House of Commons in the run up to war, and again as recently as the 20th of July this year during the debate on the Butler Report.
"Did he advise President Bush privately - long before the United Nations route was formally abandoned - that if the President decided to prosecute an invasion of Iraq, the British would be in active military support, come what may?
"If he did advise the President to that effect, when did such an exchange take place?"
When Parliament next convenes, the Prime Minister must take the first opportunity to come to the Despatch Box and make a full statement.
It's time we got an answer.
And if the Prime Minister still refuses, the people can make a judgement.
There is the ultimate verdict of the general election itself. Lord Hutton did not provide the answer. Nor did Lord Butler. The decision to decline to participate in Lord Butler's enquiry was a tough one at the time.
But it was the correct decision as events have proved. And at the end of the day that is what trust in political leadership has to be all about. What trust today in what our leaders told us at the time about Iraq? And what kind of corrosive effect does that have on politics generally? Yet the tragic experience of Iraq should have the opposite effect. And I believe it can. It should galvanise people to participate, to make their views known through the ballot box. It should strengthen all of our resolves to rededicate ourselves to the rebuilding of effective international institutions, to the repairing of shattered alliances among long-standing friends.
But within our own country - one lesson must be learned. This country is still crying out for an effective political system that responds to them and listens to the people. More openness. More accountability. Politicians taking responsibility for their decisions.
Never again must this country be led into war on the basis of questionable intelligence. Never again must this country be sold an incomplete and false prospectus as a basis for unilateral military action without the sanction of the United Nations.
Never again must Britain find itself on such a basis so distanced from principal partners within Europe.
Never again should our troops find themselves without proper and adequate equipment in a war zone. Never again should such supreme Prime Ministerial power be allowed to progress without sufficient checks and balances. And without the proper operation of collective Cabinet government itself.
And never again should a so-called "official opposition" be entitled to that name when it so pathetically fails to fulfil its most basic parliamentary function and duty - the provision of constructive and effective questioning of the executive of the day.
But we should not just look back in anger.
There is every sign that we need to look forward with increasing anxiety.
And that is why the Prime Minister should also take that opportunity to give a cast iron guarantee that the United Kingdom will not support unilateral military action against Iran.
You know some commentators will tell you that our recent victories are just the fall out from Iraq.
That the Lib Dems are just the protest vote.
Well, let's face it. There has been a lot for people to protest about.
But we are being seen more and more as a party which does win elections, which does exercise responsible representation, which has become increasingly comfortable with the duties and the disciplines of power.
Some also say that you can't go chasing left-wing voters and right-wing voters at one and the same time - while remaining consistent and true to your principles.
It is a deeply flawed analysis - based on a fundamental misreading of today's Britain.
Why? Because for the vast majority of people who live their lives in an increasingly inter-dependent world, facing increasingly complex issues, for them the old-fashioned nostrums of right and left no longer apply.
They're looking for solution-based politics. Politics which address their everyday needs.
There is a shift in the way people view politics, one that transcends any single issue.
Iraq has been part of this, but by no means is it the whole story.
I come across it, day in and day out.
People see that the Labour and Conservative agendas are converging.
Where as ours is about having the freedom to make the most of our lives.
It's about what is fair - taxation based on ability to pay and delivery for all not the few.
And that you have to be able to trust your political leaders and your political parties to deliver.
There's a deep-rooted sense in our country that somehow all is not quite right.
That somehow all is not as we're being told it is.
An underlying sense of doubt.
Made worse by the fact that people just don't trust this Government.
This Government flags up the big, long-term difficult issues - pension provision, funding local services, global warming - but then puts off serious discussion and decisions until safely beyond another general election.
-- where have we seen this before? --
But people don't identify with the Conservatives - because that party just doesn't connect with them.
They hark back to a Britain that is no more.
They're out of touch with the Britain of today.
-- so true, for Labor that is--
No wonder they fall back on hard-core instincts - and increasingly belongs to all our yesterdays.
In huge swathes of the country it's the Conservatives who are now firmly established - as the third party.
In so much of the country a vote for the Conservatives is now a wasted vote.
The third party - on their third leader in as many years - and a third leader who's just had his third reshuffle in less than a year.
Well, they say variety is the spice of life. For the Conservatives it looks to me much more like the kiss of death.
They belong to the past. We're working for the future.
We are moving from a party of protest to a party of power.
3 party politics is here - and here to stay.
You know, at times this past year I've felt rather nostalgic. 21 years as a Member of Parliament. You learn quite a lot after more than two decades doing any job. Direct personal experience does teach along the way.
That's why, whenever I'm asked to speculate - an occupational hazard - I always suggest to people not to waste time on the crystal ball, but instead learn from the history book.
It's really quite simple.
For the country to believe in a political party - first that party has to believe in itself.
We're at our best, we perform best, we persuade best - when we spend our time talking positively about what it is that we have to offer.
And we're far more likely to achieve that from a position of principled party independence - not one distracted by noises off. So when people ask me "Where does your party stand?" my starting point is not the crystal ball. Instead, it's crystal clear. No nods, no winks, no deals, no stitch ups.
If, on polling day at next general election, more people vote Liberal Democrat - then the next day and in the next parliament what you will get are more Liberal Democrats working for more liberal democracy.
Not something else.
But working all out for better public policies from Parliament.
Prepared to work with others on issues of principle - like Europe.
But not prepared to surrender our essential political independence along the way.
That's our Liberal Democrat pledge to the people.
So there is a fundamental choice before us all at the next General Election. The British people have probably not more than 225 days left to choose between two essentially conservative parties - and the real alternative which is the Liberal Democrats.
Then a stark choice. A serious choice. And we, increasingly, are the winning choice. Because all that we say and all that we do is based on those fundamentals. Freedom. Fairness. Trust.
That's what we want from our politics.
That's what we stand for.
That's what we want our country to stand for.
At home - and abroad.
That's Liberal Democracy.
--- Take heed from these wise words from a cousin from the UK, we have a future and it could so easily look like this, we just have to work for it ---
On 9th of October 2004 The Australian people returned a Prime Minister responsible for:
- invading Iraq
- locking up asylum seekers in the Desert
- running a scare campaigne based on a lie of interest rates
- cutting and running from Afghanistan (only 1 Australian troop left)
- decimating the chances of many Australians on gaining entry into Universities
- promoting a policy of cross media ownership
Thank you, Mr President. I would like to commence my contribution by thanking those members of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) whose support and confidence have resulted in my election to the Senate. Since late 1980 I served the ALP in a full time capacity as Assistant General Secretary of its New South Wales Branch. Many claim that machine politics in the New South Wales Branch of the ALP is as tough as anywhere in the world. I think after my experience over the past 10 years that I am in a very good position to pass judgment on that assessment. I say only this: it was tough at times, but it would have been very tough, if not impossible, to survive during the difficult periods without the support and resolve of my colleagues on the Left of the New South Wales ALP. I must also say that in large measure I enjoyed my period as an officer of the Labor Party. It was a privilege to be directly involved in Federal Labor's successful campaigns of 1983, 1984 and 1987 and State Labor's winning campaigns of 1981 and 1984.
It is often forgotten that the electorate of New South Wales is one of the largest electorates in the democratic world. In terms of providing constituency representation, I suspect that only senators from the more populous States of the United States of America have larger electorates. The Senate has provided an alternative form of constituency representation for people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to approach a parliamentarian of their own political persuasion. I hope to join my other Labor Senate colleagues in New South Wales in providing ALP supporters in Liberal Party and National Party lower House seats with active and sympathetic representation.
I also wish to place on record my thanks to my family for the sacrifices that they have made over the years and no doubt will make in the future. My wife, Sandra Nori, who is the member for McKell in the New South Wales Parliament, and particularly my two children, Bonnie and Lachlan, have often borne the brunt of my political
involvement. I can only hope that in the years to come my children will believe that I was worthy of the sacrifices that they have made.
I come to the Senate as a result of the resignation of Arthur Gietzelt. I take this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to Arthur's public service over the years. Arthur was a councillor on the Sutherland Shire Council, situated in the south of Sydney, from 1956 until 1971 and served as its president for nine years. Those years of Arthur's leadership in Sutherland shire were crucial to making the area what it is today. Indeed, Arthur himself has often said that he believes his period in local government was the most productive and satisfying of his political career.
During his presidency, Arthur developed an area with little or no local infrastructure into a well serviced region. He stopped high-rise development around Cronulla beach and Caringbah. He made the council efficient and accountable. He never shied away from using his position as shire president to highl
ight wider causes such as the anti-apartheid and peace movements. He was first in Australia to ban South African competitors from a national sporting event, a surf-lifesaving carnival at Cronulla, and he led Vietnam moratorium marches in Sutherland shire.
Arthur's principled position on many issues earned him his enemies. During the early morning of Sunday 7 March 1971, the senator-elect and his wife, Dawn, were blasted from their sleep by an explosion which demolished the front walls of their house and left gaping holes in the roof above their heads. The force of the explosion blew out windows of surrounding homes and it was heard up to 10 kilometres away. Someone had planted 17 sticks of gelignite on the steps of the Gietzelt family home. The attack represented one of the thankfully rare acts of political terrorism in our country. It was the first bomb attack perpetrated on anyone in Australia in peacetime. In recent political history it would rank with the attack on Arthur Calwell in 1966 and the bashi
ngs of Peter Baldwin and Jim Cairns in their homes. With the support of his family, Arthur showed a special kind of courage to recover from the trauma of March 1971 to continue to fight publicly for his political beliefs.
The highlight of Arthur's parliamentary career was his service as Minister for Veterans' Affairs, where his achievements were considerable. He oversaw a complete rewriting of veterans' legislation which had been amended nearly 100 times in its 70-year history, culminating in the passing of the Veterans' Entitlements Act in 1986. He ensured that repatriation hospitals were overhauled after years of neglect by previous governments. In 1983, morale in the repatriation hospitals was at rock bottom. Pay was low and the equipment was ancient. Under Arthur's guidance, the hospitals were modernised and revamped, so that an operation in a repatriation hospital no longer became a life-endangering experience.
It is also appropriate to mention the support that Arthur has received from his wife,
Dawn, and three children during the trials and tribulations of a long and often turbulent time in public life. I wish both Arthur and Dawn Gietzelt a long and happy retirement.
I wish to touch briefly on the issue of provision of services to people with disabilities, which has been an area of personal concern and involvement of mine over many years and one that I intend to pursue in the Senate. Prior to my full-time political career, I worked in the field of special education, teaching children with severe disabilities. Certainly giant strides have been made in the provision of services to people with disabilities over the past decade. An example close to my heart was the assumption of responsibility by State governments in Australia for the education of all children, regardless of the nature or degree of their disability.
The Disability Services Act has also represented a major breakthrough in providing opportunities for people with disabilities in the areas of employment, accommodation and training.
As the chairman of a citizen advocacy group established in the inner west of Sydney, as yet unfunded by the Department of Community Services and Health, I can assure the Senate that, though much has been achieved in the disability area, there is still a great deal more to be done. I hope to involve myself in the task of bringing these issues to the attention of the Senate.
I would like to make some comments now about my own State, New South Wales. On 19 March 1988 we saw the election in New South Wales of a coalition government, the first in New South Wales for 12 years and the first Liberal mainland victory in 14 attempts. Conservative political commentators hailed that victory as the beginning of a conservative resurgence in this country, a resurgence that would begin in New South Wales, carry through to Western Australia and Victoria, and culminate in a Federal coalition victory. It was to be a victory for the New Right, the dry Thatcher-inspired conservatism that dominates the Liberal Party and is now
moving to total control. Indeed, the Greiner Government has been touted as the great model for new liberalism in Australia.
John Hyde, the Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Public Policy, said that Mr Greiner's win put dry politics in the Liberal Party on trial for the first time. I would suggest that not only has it been put on trial, it has also been found guilty: found guilty of ripping the heart out of the education system in New South Wales; found guilty of placing decent and affordable housing beyond the reach of ordinary people; found guilty of cutting health services and slashing hospital budgets; found guilty of defrauding the people of New South Wales by promising prior to the New South Wales election that no State government charges would rise by more than the consumer price index and after the election massively increasing a whole range of taxes and charges; and found guilty of abandoning Labor's commitment to environmental protection in New South Wales.
I remind the Senate that John Howard is a New South Wales Liberal. Ian Sinclair is a New South Wales National. They are the national leaders of the parties that form government in New South Wales. They, together and alone, are signatories to the Federal coalition's blueprint for government, the Future Directions document. The actions of the Greiner Government provide a very interesting comparison with Future Directions. The reality of Future Directions is for all to see in New South Wales today. There are no future directions in New South Wales. In New South Wales we are going backwards.
I take, for example, education. Education and training, perhaps more than any other factor, holds the key to Australia's social, cultural and economic well-being. It follows that governments, State and Federal, have the responsibility of improving the quality of our education systems and providing educational opportunities for young Australians. In New South Wales the education system has taken a drubbing since the conservatives took office in March last year and, as would be expected, those attacks have centred on public education, the bete noire of all conservatives. In New South Wales in its first year of office the Greiner Government axed 2,500 teaching positions and 800 ancillary staff from the public system. The consequences of such savage cuts have been increased class sizes and a large increase in the number of composite classes. Almost every public school in the State has lost staff. Fifteen schools will be closed and sold for their real estate value. Swimming classes have suffered major cutbacks. Thirty per cent of public schools have abandoned language classes. The list goes on and on. All these changes add up to one result: a plummeting decline in educational offerings and standards in New South Wales, a decline that increases the pressure on parents to seek alternatives for their children in private education.
What do the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia say about education standards in Future Directions? They
Raising educational standards and extending parental influence and choice in the type of education their children receive is our first priority.
The conservatives' real priorities are clear from their brief stint of government in New South Wales where they have been standards wreckers, not standards raisers. Their notion of giving choice to parents boils down to destroying the public schools system so as to increase the attractiveness of the private system. The whole coalition policy is class-driven. In New South Wales the Greiner Government is deliberately seeking to perpetuate class distinctions by establishing specialist high schools which, at an early age, lock children into streams based on parental aspirations. Often educational achievement relates not to intelligence but to parental aspirations and a child's self-esteem. That is why, for generation after generation, regardless of fees and costs, the children of tertiary educated professional groups tend to follow their parents into universities. It is sometimes only the lack of parental example that prevents the children of working people entering universities in the same proportion.
A child of 11 or 12 does not know whether he or she wants to become a carpenter or a nuclear physicist. Education should be about delaying life's choices as late as possible. Every child is entitled to an academic core until 15 or 16 years of age which includes exposure to a wide range of experiences and fields of study. Later, they can choose. The New South Wales Government policy is a return to the pre-World War II education system of one school for the ambitious and another for those who are deemed to be ungifted. Unfortunately, Nick Greiner and John Howard are enslaved by the same anti-public system crusade. While Mr Greiner reduces opportunities, Mr Howard would cut funding for the public schools and hand over more to private schools. The same Party, the same plan, the same result.
Future Directions also provides us with a good insight into the Liberal
Party's thinking on the housing issue. It says:
Most people want to become home-owners but Labor is directing resources to public rented housing and the lifelong dependence on government that brings. . . Our priority will be to assist people to buy their own home rather than to make them dependent on the government.
Public housing tenants and the homeless really are in the New Right's gun sights. In New South Wales existing public housing tenants are facing an unprecedented squeeze at the hands of the Greiner Government. In April, the rents of many low income tenants were raised by up to 100 per cent. It appears that the Liberals' plan to reduce the huge waiting lists for public housing is to force everybody, except the destitute, into the private rental market.
What is more, there is a total lack of planning in the New South Wales Government's approach to public housing. Property deals with developers take precedence over well-serviced public housing development. Hundreds of public housing properties in booming areas have been sold in New South Wales with only part of the profits being put into compensatory acquisitions. Where new property is acquired it is almost inevitably badly serviced in terms of transport and amenities. Mr Greiner's massive sell-offs and abandonment of public housing projects have resulted in a significant decrease of public housing stock and increased waiting lists. And then, in a dramatic display of contempt for the needs of tenants in New South Wales, the Government decided to cease funding of all of New South Wales 24 independent tenancy advisory services. As for the homeless, there is nothing in the policies of the Liberals, not even hope.
The record in health in New South Wales is just as bad. The Future Directions document outlines the conservative agenda for health care in Australia. It is quite straightforward-the destruction of Medicare, coupled with an underfunded public health system and a subsidised private system. We have seen in New South Wales the imposition of
a 1.5 per cent cut to the entire health budget, cynically disguised as productivity savings, which has meant $35m less spent on basic health services this year. In total, over 1,000 hospital beds have closed, causing a dramatic increase in waiting lists. These cuts reflect the conservatives' strategy of running down and undermining confidence in our public hospitals, all to satisfy the New Right ideology of a user-pays, private health care system.
The fundamental theme of Future Directions is support for the family. We are told that the Liberal and National parties put families first. They say that the family is the cornerstone of society. The legacy of the first year of the Greiner Government in New South Wales has shown new liberalism to be unashamedly anti-family. One of the most effective ways to assist families, particularly young families, as a State Government, is to hold State charges and taxes down.
During the New South Wales election campaign Nick Greiner gave repeated assurances that State charges would not outstrip the consumer price index (CPI). But Mr Greiner's assurances are obviously worth very little, because this is his record: electricity bills up 9.1 per cent for the average home; water rates up 12 per cent and an $80 levy for water pollution; public transport fares up an average 12.5 per cent, with some rising by as much as 100 percent; gas charges up 10.1 per cent; petrol tax up 3c a litre; car registrations up $26 for the average car, with another $110 increase for Transcover taking effect in July; the cost of a private bed in a public hospital up by 15 per cent; the first-ever TAFE charge of $263 for higher education courses, and a $100 charge for other enrolments.
The deceit in this is breathtaking. These charges will increase the national CPI by at least 0.4 per cent and the New South Wales CPI by 1.25 per cent. New South Wales currently has the highest inflation rate of any Australian State as a result of State Government charge hikes. And that is not the end of it. Further
increases are planned-particularly for public transport fares. All this from a man who before the election said he was pro-family. Now John Howard and Ian Sinclair are making the same noises. Given the Liberals' record in New South Wales, it is not hard to see what would be lurking on the other side of the disaster of a coalition Federal election victory.
Last month the Treasurer (Mr Keating) released details of tax cuts that would come into effect on 1 July this year. Those cuts represent the largest single act of tax relief in our nation's history. They will provide unprecedented assistance to average wage earners who for years have paid more than their fair share of tax, while many of our corporate high-flyers have evaded their tax responsibilities. The tax cuts will provide assistance to average Australian families-those people who quietly and unpretentiously go about building a better life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately for families living under new liberalism, in New South Wales the benefits of the tax cuts will be significantly reduced. The average New South Wales family will be up to $16 a week, or $850 a year, worse off as a result of higher taxes and charges levied by the manager of New South Wales Incorporated, Premier Greiner.
Immediately upon gaining office the Greiner Government, directed by the National Party heavies Wal Murray and Ian Causley, turned its attention to the environment and set about winding back the many achievements and high environmental protection standards set by Labor in New South Wales. The Greiner Government's record on the environment is absolutely reprehensible. It is typified by the willy-nilly continuation of logging on the North Coast, where attempts to have logging halted by nominating areas for protection under the Wilderness Act have been refused by the Government. Mr Greiner's attempt to downgrade the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which stipulates that environmental impact statements had to precede logging and were enforceable by law, was only narrowly defeated in the Legislative Council.
The New South Wales Government has placed a moratorium on the creation of new national parks. In the existing south-east National Estate areas Mr Greiner has taken the confrontationist approach of ordering logging to commence, whilst a Federal Government forest inventory of possible alternative sites in the area was under way. Premier Greiner has also introduced a new coastal development code, which has been described as `superficial and without teeth' by Milo Dunphy, the Director of the Total Environment Centre. Under this code, a number of un- popular coastal developments have been approved by the Government, despite opposition from local councils and the Department of Environment and Planning.
The lessons of the Greiner management model are clear: ordinary people in New South Wales are being penalised; families whose children attend public school are copping it; public housing tenants and those in the private rental market
are copping it; the people who use public transport are copping it; the sick and the disadvantaged are copping it. I say that New South Wales is the reality of new liberalism. The philosophy of the New South Wales Government of user pays and fee for service has only hurt the battlers. That is Mr Greiner's agenda. It is important to remember that it is the Federal coalition's agenda too.
However, let us not forget that, compared to his Federal counterparts, Mr Greiner is seen as a bit of a wet or, to put it in his own terms, `warm and dry'. Of course, the Federal Liberals are bone dry. The purge over the last couple of days of Victorian Liberal wets is further evidence of the Federal Liberals' lurch to the right. For those who think that the Greiner Government in New South Wales is bad, a New Right Howard-Sinclair Federal government would be a catastrophe for people dependent on government benefits and services.
In the 1980s it has been fashionable to say that the difference between the major parties
has become blurred. After 12 months of Greinerism in New South Wales, it is not so fashionable. The Federal Labor Government does stand for a very clear difference. Labor, federally, believes in adequate public infrastructure. It believes in a wages and taxes policy that looks after the poor and disadvantaged. It believes in equality, and not the perpetuation of advantages and easy fortunes for tax rorters and the shufflers of corporate papers. And it stands as an essential bulwark against the ravages of Mr Greiner and new Liberalism in New South Wales.
In conclusion I should like to thank the officers and staff of the Senate for all their assistance over the past few weeks, as well as those senators who have helped me. It is a great honour to represent the Australian Labor Party in the Senate. I am committed to doing my best for my Party and fighting for social justice for the people I represent.
Scary wasn't it?