Thursday, January 01, 2009

Kirsty's New Year message

We have received the following message from Kirsty Williams, the new leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats:

The Christmas break has been a chance to recover from what have been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me. Since the leadership election, it’s been non-stop. I scarcely had time to draw breath after the election on the Monday, before my first ‘First Minister’s Questions’ time as leader the next day. A key debate on the UK Government’s Legislative Programme followed on the Wednesday, and then the announcement of the new Assembly team on Thursday.

The next week was equally hectic, with a series of visits across Wales. I was very keen during the election to stress that we need to re-connect with people across the country, and I meant it. It was great to meet with party members, and people who aren’t yet members, in Swansea, Colwyn Bay, Wrexham and Chepstow.

I use the phrase “people who aren’t yet members” for a reason. While coverage of the US Presidential elections has quite rightly focused on Barack Obama and his incredible gift for public speaking, there is another aspect to his campaign that really intrigues me. The Obama campaign motivated a whole raft of people to become engaged in politics for the first time. Why can’t we do the same?

This could have some far reaching consequences. In Assembly elections, for example, turnout has usually been below 50%. If we could enthuse a whole section of those people who are currently totally switched off by politics we could really shake up this country.

You see, I believe politics is for everyone. Wherever you live, whatever you do, whoever you are - politics is for you. Not the politics you see on TV of two men in suits criticising and trying to outsmart each other. But the real politics, the politics that matter, where radical ideas have a positive effect on the lives of real people. The politics of change.

I’m not content for us to carry on as the party with the best ideas. It is not enough. We have to make those ideas count. That means we have to grow as a party, both in our outlook and the way we think, but also in actual numbers We have to bring on board all those like-minded people who want to change things for the better.

I know that our Campaigns and Candidates Committee are already on the case - offering incentives to the local party that attracts the greatest growth. During the election campaign I promised to work with local parties to achieve their recruitment targets – and with the help of our chief executive Joanne Foster and her team I will be talking to and meeting as many of you as possible in the New Year to put that plan into action.

But I want to urge you take action on an individual level too. It may be stating the obvious, but if every one of us signed up just one more member, this party would double in size. That’s my challenge to you – to persuade one person you know to join this party.

There must be someone in your street, your family, your local pub, at the school gate, at the gym, wherever, who shares your beliefs, my beliefs, OUR beliefs in a better future for Wales.

Over the last decade we’ve become great at putting leaflets through doors, but we mustn’t forget how important it is to talk to people too. Sharing our vision and ideas is crucial – and the best way to do that is by and sharing the passion and enthusiasm which I know exists within the Party.

Joining the Welsh Liberal Democrats needn’t be expensive, and it can be a lot of fun too. I’ve promised to ‘get out more’, but I hope that all our activists will see the benefit of doing the same. We can’t be shy about what we have to offer in this party. I’m tired of being the party with the best ideas, but insufficient numbers to implement them.

As well as recruiting new members, we must reach out to those people who might be sympathisers and supporters too. I know some local parties have successful coffee mornings, or Pizza and Politics evenings, where people invite friends and neighbours around to talk politics. It’s a fun way to get together with people who share our ambition to change our country but may not have made the leap to realise that we can do more than talk about it if we all pull together.

Let’s get out more, take our message out there, shout it from the rooftops. We need to offer hope in what are pretty hopeless times for many people.

On a UK level, the Liberal Democrats were the only party that warned the downturn was coming. Vince Cable has been setting the pace on the economy – he’s been gliding around like Anton Du Beke, while Darling and Osbourne look more like Ant and Dec.

We were the only party to see it coming, and we are the only party with a credible plan to lift us out of it. Nick Clegg’s proposals offer a double benefit - economic recovery, and strong support for tackling climate change too.

That’s what politics should be about in 2009 - the battle of ideas, not endless muckraking about expenses and obscure constitutional rows. Norma Desmond says in Sunset Boulevard, “I am big. It's the pictures that got small.” Well, in modern Wales, we’ve had the big bang of devolution – it’s just that politics got small. We need to get back to the big ideas; the ideas that can transform the nation. And we need to convince people we can deliver on them. I will do my share, but I need your support and help to move our party on.

I believe those ideas exist in this Party already, they just haven’t been shared widely enough yet. I’m sure many of you already have your own thoughts. Too many people within our communities are not represented in our politics, too many potentially good policies are not discussed. Wales is not doing so well that we can afford to ignore good ideas.

Now, not all of these are going to be practical, and I can’t guarantee that we will be able to use them all. Some may just not be practical in the current economic climate. But I want to hear them anyway, and I guarantee that every one will be given full consideration.

There are two ways in which you can put your views forward.

I’ve set up a new e-mail address /

Or, if e-mail isn’t your thing, then good old fashioned pen and paper is every bit as valuable - you can write me a ‘proper’ letter and stick it in the post to the address above. .

In 2009 I want to blaze a trail for the Welsh Liberal Democrats across Welsh Politics. You achieved a significant first in 2008 by electing me as the first female party leader - but I want this to be just the first of many barriers that we break through together.

In 2008 I want you to ask what you can do to get the torch of Liberalism burning brighter in your community. I can’t change this country on my own. but together I believe we can.

Blwyddyn Newydd Da/ Happy New Year.

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