Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Breaking through the Consensus:

November 12, 2007 7:30 PM
By Kirsty Williams AM in Institute of Welsh Politics Annual Lecture

The title of my lecture is Breaking through the Consensus: the case for Liberalism in Welsh politics,

Liberalism and the Liberal Democrats are often used as synonyms. But the two are different.

The former is a great traditional force in Welsh political life.

The latter is a political party, of which I'm proud to be a member, and which is the primary - but not the only - inheritor of that tradition.

I will talk about both.

I don't intend them to be interchangeable. And I hope you will separate them as you consider my case.

Primarily I'm here to talk about Liberalism.

Where we talk about the Liberal Democrats it will be in the party's role as the champions of Welsh Liberalism.

It's never been more important in the current climate that my party defends and promotes this radical, empowering tradition in Welsh thought and politics.

ID cards, erosion of civil liberties, disempowerment through corporate globalisation, and in Wales, an emerging dominant and centralising state. These are the four horsemen leading an assault on our traditional Welsh Liberal values.

The case I'll be setting out is that unless we break through the consensus, we risk losing all that is good about politics.

Losing people, pandering to populism, allowing extremism to prosper.

I will make the case in three sections:

1) The role of Liberalism and the wider radical movement in driving Wales' development;

2) The emergence of a stifling centre-left consensus throughout Welsh political life since devolution;

3) And finally, why I believe it's time to break through the consensus, to wake the dragon, and seize the space for radicalism to flourish and revive our political culture.

But before I start I'd like to say some thank yous.

Newton said that if he saw further than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

I stand here on my own two feet, but in doing so I owe a huge debt of thanks to some of the people who helped put me here.

My mum grew up one of three kids on a council estate in Swansea.

She was the first in her family to go to grammar school.

My grandmother, widowed in her 40s, insisted that education was the ladder out of poverty.

Of course, the words for ladder and the word for school are the same in Welsh.

My parents believed passionately in education.

But they didn't believe that their local school would provide it.

They wanted their children to have opportunities.

To fulfil their potential.

They felt the government had failed our community.

They went without to send me and my brother and sister to what they felt was a better school.

No flash holidays, no meals out, no nights down the pub.

My parents went without so that we miss out.

They worked hard to put us on that path, and passed on that belief in the power of education.

The power to enable each of us to fulfil our potential.

Thanks to Mr Burree, who taught me politics, and has been an inspiration in my career.

He even brought me to a lecture something like this one.

I was 15 years old, hearing Roy Jenkins. I joined the party shortly after.

Even though I know his real name, he's still Mr Burree a decade (or so) since leaving.

In all our lives we have a cast of people who were integral to how we came to be who we are and where we are.

Individuals are key.

When they inspire one person, offer them an opportunity to grow and develop they make an important contribution to our society.

I believe we are all interdependent.

I'll return to that theme shortly.

I grew up, formed my ideas in the teeth of Thatcherism.

The teeth that were biting hardest in communities like Llanelli.

Feeling the bite as jobs were hemorrhaged in the coal and steel industries which were the bedrock of the community.

My engagement came as a reaction to what I saw around me.

Families and communities consigned to the scrap heap because of the government's indifference to human suffering.

Thatcher's Government forgot the human aspect.

The objective was always more important than the human cost: in the Falklands, in the coalfields and the steel areas.

The people paid the price, while Maggie went on and on, and on.

People ask me why I didn't join the Labour Party.

But to ask the question is to forget what the Labour Party was like in Wales at the time.

It was corrupt and bankrupt of ideas.

Empty of aspiration.

In communities like mine people felt that a good word with the chair of the housing committee was more influential than any need you may or may not have.

In Llanelli and across South Wales, the old boys' club that ran our town halls, our rugby clubs, that controlled access to council housing, was Labour to the core.

In industrial Wales it's the 'rugby club blazer' that's held back some of our most deprived communities for decades.

It was all about who you knew.

The Old Boys' Club looking after themselves.

Look at how they failed with making local politics relevant to local people. Because they didn't want awkward questions.

Look at how they failed to welcome in fresh ideas, new people, and a better way of doings things.

Because they didn't want rivals for their positions or status.

Look at how they failed our proud communities that were once the engine room the world.

Look at how they are failing to run our national game!

It was this stale stifling atmosphere that was unappealing to me as a young person, full of anger and indignation at what was happening in my country. And unwelcoming to me as a woman.

No part of society is blame-free when it comes to respecting differences and ensuring a sense of empowerment for women and ethnic minorities.

None of Wales' daily newspaper editors is female.

None of Wales' university vice-chancellors.

One in five MPs.

One in seven council leaders, and council chief execs.

It's a problem across public life in Wales.

All of us are guilty - and we mustn't't lose sight of the battles that still need to be fought.

Aspiration for change and for equal opportunities is fundamental to my progressive Liberal values.

Growing up under Old Labour control, meant that I didn't - and still don't - associate Labour with actions or policies that put people first.

The "we know what's best for you" attitude remains, and endures in the Assembly. The Labour Party's patrician smugness is still there.

No wonder it was the accepted wisdom that to get on you had to get out.

Wales has not been immune to change.

There is a new generation coming to prominence in Wales.

People for whom war means Basra, Helmand Province and the Falklands - not the Somme and Dunkirk.

A generation who hear the words apple and orange, and think telecommunications, rather than fruit.

People who have had all the opportunity to study, to travel and to see a bigger world.

People who are now settling down, bringing up the next generation of Welshmen and women.

People who have become frustrated with politics - and, I believe, frustrated by the gloopy grey consensus that Welsh Politics has become.

A closed system where the same people meet in the same rooms to discuss the same ideas.

A system which doesn't embrace the radical or the alternative.

A system where political parties and commentators bandy around terms like left and right, but where the common ground, the centre-left is occupied by all.

Saying that this person is "left" or "right" in Welsh politics is like arguing about whether a jacket has two buttons or three.

It's a question of style, but it's still a jacket.

It hasn't always been that way and Wales' history is littered with episodes of great excitement, great engagement and a clamour for social change.

The historic role of Welsh Liberalism

Liberalism has been at the forefront of social change in Wales.

And let's be clear about what I mean by Liberalism.

By Liberalism, I mean a strong belief in personal freedom & civil liberties.

Not giving people a fish - but giving them a rod, and showing them where the lake is.

By Liberalism I mean a passion for social justice.

That those who cannot do for themselves, get the support of society to prosper.

By Liberalism I mean absolute intolerance of racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry.

My Liberalism is internationalist too.

I was lucky enough to spend part of my University course in the United States.

Not the bad America of popular myth, but the real America, where people still believe in the American dream.

A land of freedom and opportunity.

A land of welcome, made prosperous on the efforts of generations of immigrants.

That is my Liberalism: liberty, justice, tolerance and internationalism.

These are enduring values. Values shared - I believe - by a majority in Wales. They are as relevant now as they have ever been.

In Parliament Square last month, a new statue of Lloyd George was unveiled. The statue pays tribute to one of the great reforming Prime Ministers.

But the Liberal legacy - Liberalism's contribution to Wales - is not restricted to "the Welsh Wizard".

Support for devolution, Welsh language, Welsh education, disestablishment of the Church in Wales, standing up for small tenant farmers against the wealthy landlords.

These are legacies of the radical, reforming Liberal Governments of the turn of the century.

That's without mentioning UK issues like the Welfare State - old age pensions, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit etc. All the work of the 1905-14 government, particularly Lloyd George.

It seems to be popular journalistic shorthand these days to ask what the Liberal Democrats, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats are for?

It is not a question that engages me. I have always known.

But perhaps we need to remind the people of Wales.

To recall the great reforms of the forgotten past.

To recall what politics used to be, and what it could be again.

Somewhere along the way we lost the… brand.

The tenant farmers know what Liberals stood for.

They knew that my predecessors understood their problems.

We had a brand then, I'm not sure we have that any more.

And while I'm speaking of my own party - the same is equally true for all the mainstream parties.

As society has changed, so political parties have moved from their historic support base.

But as we pile headlong in to the same space.

As focus groups round off the edges of anything that might upset some demographic sector, we are losing people from the political process.

I'm not sure many of my constituents vote for me because of our policy on nuclear power stations, or on fair votes.

They'd know why they vote for us.

But I'm not sure it would be the same reason for any two households.

My Assembly colleagues and I have placed great store in casework and local campaigning.

These are good things.

But as AMs of all parties have strived to be busy, there is a danger that we have failed to leave ourselves time to think big thoughts.

It's easy to misconstrue that as a plea for more staff, or a whinge that we're overworked.

In fact - I'm saying the opposite.

That we as AMs need to manage our time better.

Spend less time with our diaries engaged, and spend more time engaging other people.

Just over a century ago, in 1905, the Liberals won a landslide in Wales.

They won it because people were enthused by the policies they were talking about, and engaged by the personalities - people like Lloyd George - who were putting themselves forward.

Lloyd George once said: "Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps."

These days the Cardiff Bay Consensus is content shuffling along the edge of the chasm.

It's no wonder people are not inspired by politics.

We've stopped jumping chasms for fear of falling (there's probably health and safety legislation that forbids it!)…but what if we flew?

Some of our ideas would fall, but others would fly.

And maybe that sense of adventure would make our spirits soar as well.

A century ago, as now, the Liberal platform was being the anti-establishment party.

Breaking the cosy consensus.

As a party, Welsh Liberal Democrats spent a lot of energy in recent years trying to reach agreement with others.

Reaching a compromise necessary because of the electoral system.

There will always be a need for compromise in politics.

That's a fact of life.

But it should never come at the cost of our dreams and ideals.

Our message at the last election was that we'd work with anyone to deliver our policies.

But all people heard was that we'd work with anyone - sound-bite culture means the policies were lost.

I believe our manifesto was the best manifesto at the 07 election.

The best.

I say that, not out of partisan loyalty, but because when I meet teachers or health professionals, they tell me it was.

But that isn't enough.

Of course they say it was the best.

Maybe they say that to all the parties.

I wouldn't know.

But it was a good manifesto for them - that's for sure.

In the new Cardiff Bay Bubble, the professional organisations are fantastically represented.

There are highly skilled lobbyists defending the rights of teachers, doctors, nurses and local government.

They bring forward pre-packaged policies and proposals for the parties - which all can, and often do, sign up to.

An AM could fill each and every week with invites and meetings with these groups.

The providers of services are very well represented in Cardiff Bay.

Devolution has been great for the providers.

But what about the service recipients?

Has devolution been equally good to them?

By and large, they are the people that devolution has passed by.

They are the people whose interest has not been engaged.

They are the people voting with their feet, rather than a pencil in their local community centre.

Consultation is a frequent buzz-word.

But consultation usually means talking to those very same groups.

The providers always get their say, because they have the professional voice.

But who speaks for the pupils, tenants, patients and council tax payers.

Now I know it should be us - Assembly Members.

But I worry that our manifestos are drawn up in cahoots with the providers.

We spend so much of our time in the bubble with the providers, that the voice of the ordinary person is lost.

No wonder people feel powerless.

That powerlessness is reflected in the casework we receive.

We have become glorified social workers.

Great social works win individual votes.

A really good case might win the votes of friends and family too.

However many individuals we help, casework won't make the radical changes Wales needs.

It may improve a life, but it will not develop a nation.

In the late 1990s the devolution referendum and the establishment of the Assembly created a new energy and a new optimism in Wales.

I was part of the group which drew up its rules.

An exciting time.

The ripples were felt in all spheres of Welsh life, and proved a rich backdrop for cultural expression.

But just eight years on we've lost the sense of excitement, of drama.

Eight years of governments with small or limited majorities has created a culture of incrementalism.

Keener on avoiding splits, than leaping Lloyd George's chasms.

The radical gestures of the first Partnership Government - the Sunderland Commission which recommended fair votes for local government elections and the Richard Commission which recommended full law making powers for the Assembly - were dumped by the Labour Party when the chance arose.

Since the "quiet earthquake" of 1999, the tectonic plates have re-stabilised.

Chaos theory is all very well, but in it doesn't seem to apply to government where the civil service has a remit to remove chaos and promote order.

It does that very well.

But there's a reason we have politicians - it's so the bureaucrats aren't in charge.

At the last Assembly election, even the Conservatives were broadly in line with the consensus.

At this end of the M4 at least, they now talk pro-devolution.

They now talk about social justice.

I don't really believe it, but they do say these things.

We need people who are willing to step outside the consensus.

That, traditionally, is a Liberal role.

It falls to the inheritors of the Liberal tradition to dust off the old shoes. Because the fashion wheel has turned, and those boots no longer seem outmoded.

We have to recall the hope and optimism of the turn-of-the-century Liberals, to forge a new dynamic Welsh Liberalism.

Over the next four years, I want to see my party become the radical cutting-edge of Welsh politics.

A party of principle with practical policies to improve life for the Welsh people.

All based on Liberal ideals.

We cannot be all things to all women.

We tried it and there is a limit to its appeal.

It can get you in to power, but it cannot transform the levers of power once you get there.

We have to look to the future with the benefit of our proud tradition.

Wales is essentially a liberal nation.

Our job as Liberal Democrats is to make a connection with the Welsh people and remind them that their values - non-conformist values, of solidarity, of individuality for the benefit of all - are our values.

There is a second statue to Lloyd George at the seat of British government. When I was 15 I remember standing in central Lobby and gazing at it.

Non-conformism, progressivism, radicalism - these were the watchwords of Lloyd George. These were the principles that inspired a generation.

Liberal successes have always come in challenging the status quo, saying the difficult things.

Wales has lost that. It's time for my party to recapture it.

Daring to be different - beyond the cosy consensus

Devolution was meant to go hand in hand with a new politics.

In 1999 the "architect of devolution" as the press dub him, wanted a more consensual approach.

Consensus has a place.

I'm not advocating argument for its own sake.

But politics is about ideas.

It's a battle of ideas.

Not words for their own sake.

But words for a purpose.

Words to express the notions, that we can make life better for people.

When we lose sight of that goal, we are truly lost as politicians.

I believe Government should be for the people, not the bureaucrats.

If we do not have a government of radical ideas we are left with caretaker administrations: reacting to crises, responding to problems, but not setting a new agenda.

Not stretching the boundaries of what the nation can be.

Where are Wales' radical dissenters today?

Many of the best young brains are restricted by nature of their employment - in the Assembly, or Assembly sponsored bodies!

Too many free thinkers have been co-opted in to the mainstream - or exiled from it forever.

And when people speak out - they are hounded by the media and interest groups for saying the unpalatable.

Earlier this year a Labour researcher was forced to resign after making some contentious remarks about the Welsh language on a blog.

While I disagree with what he wrote, I think it's a dark day for Wales when young men and women can't exchange ideas freely without fear for their livelihoods.

It stifles diversity and suffocates discussion.

Episodes like this suggest to me that Welsh democracy is sick.

It needs some radical medicine.

The gooey grey Welsh political consensus has developed.

The dust has settled since 1999.

We swapped a remote ruling class in Westminster for a crachach in Cardiff Bay.

A Liberal Wales has always been about new opportunities, new ideas, progress, embracing the new.

Giving voice to the talent and the spirit of the people of Wales.

We have to ask ourselves - are we engaging with the Welsh spirit?

We need to re-connect with the Liberal Tradition.

The radical, non-conformist tradition.

The tradition that links dissenters down the ages.

The Chartists, Dic Penderyn, The Rebbecca Rioters, the striking miners.

They all sought to work together to make life better for themselves, their communities.

I'm not advocating armed insurrection.

Our lives have moved on from that.

Where once armies of malcontents marched on Newport demanding universal suffrage and fair representation, now they arrive by bus and train demanding cheap drink, loud music and a bit of escape from daily life.

There is a veneer of contentment which hides a growing gulf between those who make decisions, and those who live the consequences.

A society that silences its radical voices is a society that hears nothing

Our Liberal tradition, is a Welsh tradition of coming together.

Communities helping each other to help themselves.

From the role of the Chapel in the community to the Miner's Institutes to the story of Tenovus to local Women's Aid groups.

But as the world gets smaller and developments such as Facebook gets bigger, community no longer just means where we live and our near neighbours.

Even families can be a global concept.

We have multiple identities and belong to many communities.

The means by which people organise themselves, they way they belong, is changing.

When we talk about community action we must ensure that it's relevant and that communities are empowered in the maximum way possible.

Welsh Liberalism has the spirit in its DNA, but it's a candle we must ignite again.

I believe - and Wales believes - in people helping each other to help themselves.

Because we all have a stake in each other.

That is a belief that real progressives share, and one indeed that US Presidential Candidate Barack Obama talks much about.

We are all links in the chain - and any one of those links is broken, the whole chain is damaged.

We only really prosper when we turn together.

As one individual, family, school or community succeeds and prospers so do we all.

Those inalienable stakes we have in each other must become a tool to drive forward our individual, community and national potential.

Not for me the synthetic solidarity of the One Wales government.

It wants services from the centre to bind us together, to bind Wales together. That straight-jacket society will not deliver a more prosperous or socially just Wales.

A more confident and mature nation wouldn't be quibbling about cross-border health.

Stopping people travelling to their local hospital, because it doesn't suit some ideology or creed.

You can't build a nation by force.

Or any community.

People come together and stay together when they see that there is advantage for them to do so.

Not because they are told to do so.

You can't empower people by targeting taxpayers' resources towards giving away freebies. Especially when much of the population should, and is happy to, contribute towards costs and take responsibility.

You can't empower people by dictating from the centre how services should be run and rule out local accountability and decision-making.

You can't empower people by thinking whatever the issue, the state knows best.

I want to push forward with a new age of passing power down so that communities can help each other to help themselves.

Seeking power, to give it away.

But it's important that communities themselves are in charge of how they organise themselves.

Yes, Government must offer a framework, equitable funding and so on - but nothing can break the consensus more and make decision-making more relevant than if it is people and communities themselves that make those decisions.

At the PACT meeting in Brecon, the police talk to people, and ask them what their priority should be for the next three months.

That's a great example of people - the ones who suffer the burglaries, assaults, petty vandalism, anti-social behaviour - setting the agenda.

Not someone sat behind a desk, remote from their concerns.

Let's allow schools, teachers, pupils and parents to prove that their stake in each other can improve school transport, admissions policies and extend curriculum choice.

Why don't renewable energy schemes ensure that the local population are stakeholders in the developments?

Let's foster a sense of public ownership in local services.

Community groups - however they organise themselves - could manage, administer and develop our libraries, leisure centres, youth centres and village halls.

Any boom in new social housing developments is an opportunity to involve tenants more - ensuring that new build goes hand in hand with training, education and business opportunities.

The fear of crime is undoubtedly growing. And that's because people feel cut-off, without influence on how they're protected or within the justice system.

Let's move forward with communities having more of a say in what sentences some non-violent offenders have to serve in the community.

It is communities themselves that know what is wrong. What needs to be made right, what graffiti needs to be cleared up, what wall needs putting up again, what local environmental project needs to be finished.

But why not go further - let's look at directly elected police authorities or have a debate about directly elected chief constables.

When Radical Liberals have seized power in the past they have detonated the consensus.

Everyone bangs on about Lloyd George.

Rightly so.

But his example is not exclusive.

The reforms led by Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary were another example of Welsh radicalisms.

As Home Secretary from 1965-67 he relaxed laws relating to divorce, Abolished theatre censorship.

Gave government support to David Steel's Private Member's Bill for the legalisation of abortion and Leo Abse's bill for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

These were fundamental shifts in society.

Go back to 1889, when Stuart Rendel, Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire, introduced the Welsh Intermediate Education Act.

For the first time, public money was spent on specifically Welsh intermediate education.

And it provided education supported by the rates earlier than in England.

The Welsh radical tradition is bigger than the Liberal Party.

It encompasses people in all parties.

But I fear the radical flame has died in the Labour Party.

What radicalism there was in establishing a devolved government, has disappeared with the lack of confidence to make it proper Home Rule.

Waking up the Dragon - Time for a new politics

By breaking through the consensus I don't just mean exposing the One Wales government for its centralising, business as usual faults.

I want to prick the Cardiff Bay bubble of lobbyists, media and bureaucrats.

There is a free movement from political parties and civil society.

From the media to political parties, to NGOs, to government and back.

Experience and contacts are more valuable than original thought.

Who you know is still more important than what you know.

Too many people in the Bay Bubble fall into the trap of not wanting to rock the boat, don't want to risk standing out from the consensus.

Across the board in the Cardiff Bay bubble there is unwillingness to debate difficult ideas, new ways to doing things.

The bureaucrats are winning and it is business as usual.

Decisions are always taken in the Bay Bubble: the Senedd, Cathays Park, the bars and restaurants in the Bay.

Wales is a small country, but not so small that everyone and everything is properly represented in that bubble.

Only this year did we have our first ethnic minority AM, and I congratulate Plaid and Mohammed Asghar for that.

AMs have patted themselves on the back about gender balance - but the problem has not been solved.

There have still been no female Presiding Officer, no female party leader - even in the Assembly, where we have parity of numbers.

Local authorities are overwhelmingly male.

MPs are overwhelmingly male.

It even took eight attempts before this lecture was delivered by a woman!

We cannot have a new politics, until we have new, fairer society, where we are all judged on our merits as people, and just that.

Having a Y chromosome is a matter of record - it's not an achievement in itself.

Our failure to include all sectors of society in our work is a responsibility we should all carry heavily. I am being shadowed by Tarig as part of Operation Black Vote. He tells me that people in his community feel they are on the outside.

We have devolution - it's a work in progress, but we must not allow it to separate the political sphere from the people.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry is a fine man.

A diplomat of the highest order.

But I wonder if it wouldn't have been better for the One Wales Commission if TV's Iolo Williams were put in charge, or Tanni Grey-Thompson?

The chattering classes need no persuading.

They are already convinced.

Devolution has been good to them - to us.

All the political parties are aligned.

What we need is a popular campaign.

There are some who will never be convinced.

But I believe most people are persuadable if the Assembly would make their lives better.

Three hundred years ago, working people rose up and died because they wanted democracy so badly.

Now we have it, their ancestors take pride in their apathy.

But the political classes in Wales have to shoulder some of the blame here. The same argument applies across Western Democracies.

Where are the radical solutions?

Where are the big ideas?

Half a century ago, in response to poor health care.

The radical solution was the NHS.

Our response now: free aspirins for the wealthy!?

Child poverty:

The radical liberal solution a century ago was the welfare state.

Our current government proposes: free school breakfasts!?

What about the environment?

Once upon a time we built sewerage systems to provide clean water for our cities and towns.

Now we offer free light bulbs?!

I have spoken before about "Happy Meal politics".

The obsession with giving people a little reward with their vote, and its corrosive effect on politics.

Now that the Assembly has come through the years of plenty, and is starting the years of financial famine, it is clear that the era of Happy Meal Politics is over.

We have to look for alternative solutions.

Chucking money at problems came about partly as a result of the Assembly's feeble powers in its first years.

But it is also shows a poverty of ideas and courage.

We have to enthuse people with radical options.

Radical alternatives to the status quo which may have made the majority of people richer, but has failed to make any of us happier, and left whole communities below the poverty line.

The status quo where a typical man in Merthyr Tydfil can expect to live to 72.9. But a man here in Ceredigion would live to 77.8 years.

An extra five years of life - and healthier life - simply as an accident of geography!

That's an outrage! And it's happening today!

The current consensus has failed to address the growing inequality in our nation.

Rather than competing for an ever decreasing core of people who are already politicised, I believe it's time for those of us in the radical tradition to take a risk.

The tradition has come through tough times.

The flame has flickered, but never gone out.

Now we need to turn up the gas.

Start asking the questions that have become - if not taboo - then unasked by convention - by the stultifying consensus.

Why do we have 22 local authorities, when every politician agrees that's too many?

Why do all parties want to increase green taxes, when they currently hit the poorest in society the hardest?

If the war on drugs is being comprehensively lost, why are we scared to try another approach?

Is compulsory Welsh 2nd language teaching between 11 and 16 really the best way to a bilingual Wales, when all studies show that intensive teaching at a young age is the best method of learning a language?

These are difficult questions.

They need some thought.

They need a political party that is willing to address them.

I hope that party will be the Liberal Democrats, because I think our answers will be the most effective.

And I say that without knowing the specifics, because I'm confident that Liberal answers will promote Openness - enhancing Welsh democracy and encouraging much wider participation.

I'm confident our answers will include action on green issues - because climate change threatens the future of all our children.

And I'm confident our answers will develop an internationalist outlook, rather than the navel-gazing nationalism and anti-nationalism dominating Wales' political discourse at present.

And most of all, I'm certain that our answers will put fairness back on the agenda.

Take council tax for example. Labour and Tories, united in support of a fundamentally unjust policy. Now Plaid Cymru have taken the government shilling, and won't even vote for the more radical changes they so recently advocated.

We need to speak up for those wrongly maligned by society.

No… not Heather Mills.

I mean the immigrants, asylum seekers, single-parents, children in 'hoodies'… Speak for people are oppressed, ignored and lacking in self-confidence.

Liberal tolerance means a diverse Wales.

Sadly my own party is as culpable as the others, in that it doesn't reflect that ideal.

Too male, too white, too obsessed with the little things, and missing the major injustices in Welsh life.

In parts, too keen to join the establishment - not keen enough to rip it up and start again.

This isn't a speech saying there can be no compromise.

That we must stay pure, and untainted by the dirty business of governing.

On the contrary. I'm not opposed to the notion of synthesis.

My argument is that thesis without antithesis leads to stasis.

The status quo.

How then do we tackle the intractable problems that have stumped one generation and threaten to overwhelm the current one?

Of unaffordable housing?

Of families where three generations have never worked a day in their lives? Of powerlessness and alienation?

How does the next generation of leaders escape this cycle?

We will do so, by remembering the triumphs of Welsh history.

Of collective endeavour, passionate belief and liberal principles.

By remembering that society cannot flourish if individuals are trapped.

Trapped by ignorance, conformity, poverty or the fear of these things.

I want Wales to be a nature of thinkers.

Empowered by education, emboldened by ideas, and filled with a confidence that allows them to jump - to see if they can fly.

Education must be the ladder that allows us to climb up, as it was for me and my family - the generations before, the latest generation, and generations to come.

A nation of thinkers, who ally that thought to action.

The next generation of leaders in Wales will inevitably create their own consensus, but let's not race to get there yet.

The strongest policies are forged in the clash of ideas, tempered in the mill of debate.

In the next generation we should use that debate to sharpen our edge, not dull the blade.

We must sharpen it to a point - it's the only way to break through the consensus.

What would you like to do next?

  • Subscribe for updates

    Read updates from this website in your desktop or online news reader

    • On a news reader website

      •  
      •  
      •  

      In a desktop news reader or a website not listed above

      •  
    • Example monthly digest email
      •  
      •  
      •  
    • If you submit your contact details, Kirsty Williams AM , the Liberal Democrats, and their elected representatives may use the information you provide to contact you about issues you may find of interest. Some of the contacts may be automated. You can opt out of these contacts at any time by contacting us.


    • Generate different image

    Join our email list

    • If you submit your contact details, Kirsty Williams AM , the Liberal Democrats, and their elected representatives may use the information you provide to contact you about issues you may find of interest. Some of the contacts may be automated. You can opt out of these contacts at any time by contacting us.


    • Generate different image

    Follow the party's activity on...

    • YouTube:
  • Share this page

    Share this page on another website

    Link to this page

    On websites and printed material:
    kirstywilliams.org.uk/en/article/2007/101400/breaking-through-the-consensus
    In text messages, Twitter, or reading over the phone:
    kw.lib.dm/a04md

    Email this page to a friend


    • Generate different image
  • Help out or donate

    Help out in your local area

      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
      •  
    • If you submit your contact details, Kirsty Williams AM , the Liberal Democrats, and their elected representatives may use the information you provide to contact you about issues you may find of interest. Some of the contacts may be automated. You can opt out of these contacts at any time by contacting us.


    • Generate different image
  • Tell us what you think

    Send us your views

    • If you agree, Kirsty Williams AM , the Liberal Democrats, and their elected representatives may use the information you provide to contact you about issues you may find of interest. Some of the contacts may be automated. You can opt out of these contacts at any time by contacting us.


    • Generate different image