Jane Dodds’ speech to Welsh Liberal Democrat spring conference – A Generous Society
Prynhawn da cynhadledd! Good afternoon conference!
It’s great to be back at conference to catch up with our Liberal Democrat family – we have lots to talk about!
Crisis after crisis.
Prime Minister after Prime Minister.
More evidence if we needed any that the nasty party is back.
But whilst the Tory government has spent the last months lurching from crisis to crisis, we are moving forward.
In last May’s elections, we elected 69 councillors and stood more candidates than in any local election since 2008.
Thank you to everyone who pounded the streets, stuffed envelopes, and shared our Welsh Liberal Democrat message.
Because never underestimate the importance of local councillors and local government.
In Powys, we stormed from third to first place – and we made history!
The result in Powys means that for the first time ever Powys Council is led by a political party. This is the first council led by Liberal Democrats in Wales since 2012.
Conference, we’re moving on up!
And right across Wales, you can guarantee that if you have a Welsh Liberal Democrat on your side you have someone who’s committed to getting things done for their community.
Because we understand the value of community as Liberal Democrats, don’t we?
And I want to talk about one community that has had a real impact on all our lives.
I want to talk about Tredegar.
Tredegar was home to the Tredegar Medical Aid Society.
Formed in 1890, it inspired what we now know as the National Health Service.
The Society brought people together to give everyone in their area a stake in a healthier, safer, more generous community.
The Society provided healthcare, free at the point of use, to some 3,000 coal and iron workers.
By the 1920s, some 20,000 people had access to five doctors, one surgeon, two pharmacists, a physiotherapist, a dentist and a district nurse.
It was the generosity of colleagues, friends, and neighbours that made their endeavour a success.
For me, the story of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society is an inspiring lesson in a community demanding power and control over their destiny.
A lesson in kindness.
A lesson in the potential of communities.
A lesson in generosity.
A lesson we desperately need in our politics today.
And that is what I want to talk to you about – my mission to create a generous society.
I remember growing up we always had people join us for dinner on Christmas Day.
Every Christmas my parents would welcome into our home neighbours who were alone and struggling a little with life.
My dad would be dispatched early on Christmas morning to go and pick up people from the local community who didn’t have anywhere else to go.
He’d return with a car full of people with our dog sitting in the front passenger seat.
Thinking back, I can vividly remember a Christmas when I was about five.
We were all sitting around the table.
We had a big turkey. A Christmas pudding with six pence in.
There were the five of us sat around the table.
We had a gentleman who struggled with substance misuse and a lady called Margaret who struggled with her mental health.
Margaret struggled to speak, build relationships and interact. My mum looked after Margaret for a good 20 years before she died.
My mum’s generosity towards Margaret – and many others – quietly going about her business with no expectation of thanks or accoldade, instilled that sense of generosity in me.
And a belief in the importance of nurturing communities
Where we care for and look out for each other.
Where every child has the best start in life.
Where each and every one of us has what they need to get ahead.
Whether it’s ideas like a Universal Basic Income
Revolutionising education in Wales
A fairer deal for our nurses.
We desperately need bold and generous ideas to rescue our country.
To rescue our country from the mindless destruction of the Conservatives.
To rescue our country from the managerialism of the Labour party.
To rescue our country from the empty, populist solutions of nationalism.
Because what we have now is an unkind, ungenerous, and uninspiring politics.
In all honesty, our politics is barely functioning.
Public services in crisis.
Political leaders out of touch.
The Conservatives are driving our country into the ground.
Demonising the most vulnerable, smashing our public services, and trashing our economy.
Where we see the right to protest as an essential part of our democracy –
they see it as a threat.
Where we see a generous welfare state as an essential part of creating a fairer future for all of us –
they see it as a burden.
Where we see our responsibility to provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and war, seeking a better life here in Britain
they leave people stranded.
Politics is about choices conference and the Conservatives are making all the wrong ones.
But this could all change.
Because there is no place for this Conservative government.
There is no place for the cruelty of this Conservative government.
And at the next election we will play our part in kicking the Tories out of Wales.
But people won’t just choose the Welsh Liberal Democrats because the others have made such a mess – they’ll choose the Welsh Liberal Democrats because they know that we are on their side.
They know that we believe in something different.
A different kind of society.
A more generous society.
I’m proud conference that it is us conference making the case for that society.
Asking those with the broadest shoulders to support a fair deal, to create a genuine safety net where everyone can rise, but beneath which nobody falls.
Calling out the greed of big oil and gas companies while people go cold and hungry.
Extending a hand to those fleeing war and persecution and those seeking to build a better life for themselves here in Wales in Britain.
Making the case for stronger ties with Europe, re-joining the single market and customs union to resuscitate our economy and protect our freedoms.
I am so proud, conference, that it is the Liberal Democrats setting out a generous vision for our country.
A vision of a society where each and every one of us has the opportunity to get on in life; to be healthy, be well educated, have a place to call home, a good-paying job, and a safety net for when the going gets tough.
A far cry from the cold, cruel reality of Conservative Britain.
People don’t ask for much.
They want people in power – wherever they are – to set the basis for each and every one of us to get ahead.
That’s why I get so frustrated when it feels like we’re content in Wales with simply shuffling along bit by bit.
Shuffling along when:
We have the longest NHS waiting lists ever.
Children and young people are languishing on mental health waiting lists, and NHS dentistry is in crisis.
Or where 6 years on from Grenfell, people are still trapped in unsafe buildings.
Because we have so much to do conference when we see:
Spiralling child poverty.
A health service in crisis.
And things will only get worse.
The pressure of rising energy costs, the pressure of putting food on the table, the pressure of trying to keep a roof over your head means that more children go hungry, more people go cold, and more people face homelessness -
and shuffling along with the status quo just DOESN’T WORK.
That’s why I believe a generous society should be our mission.
That is what the Welsh Liberal Democrats have spent the last 23 years fighting for in the Senedd
– and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to two friends and colleagues who are no longer with us.
Mick Bates, former Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire and Aled Roberts, former Assembly Member for North Wales.
To Mick who campaigned – and won – to reintroduce free milk for schoolchildren and extra help for rural schools.
To Aled, who made the Pupil Premium a reality in Wales and campaigned – and won – home energy improvements for residents in his community of Wrexham.
It’s generous politicians like Mick and Aled, who demanded better from those in power.
And there may only be one of me in the Senedd, for now, but Welsh Liberal Democrats are using our influence the length and breadth of Wales by holding Labour to account on their slow, sluggish response to the cladding scandal.
Holding Labour to account on their refusal to hold a Welsh COVID inquiry.
Holding Labour to account on the mess that is NHS dentistry.
Demanding Better, conference.
We need to follow in the footsteps of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society and ask what’s next?
Because whilst the people of Tredegar were bold enough to dare to imagine what they could achieve, much of politics today is about shuffling along, a tweak here and a tweak there.
Rather than think big and aspire to more, our politics looks inwards.
It’s devoid of kindness, of generosity; removed from our everyday lives.
But it doesn’t have to be that way conference – we can do more than simply shuffle along.
We can make a leap to a generous, bold politics.
We can deliver a fair deal for everyone in every corner of Wales.
Kind. Compassionate. Ambitious, politics.
That is my mission,
That is our party’s mission
And it must be the mission for Wales.
Diolch yn fawr.