I’d like to take a few moments of your time to clear the air. It is obvious to me that significant numbers of people who voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last election have felt let down by how the Liberal Democrats have behaved in government. The reality is that we have let down not only those who voted for us but most particularly those who worked hardest to put Liberal Democrats in parliament. The time has come for me to put on record my thoughts about this and then make some suggestions as to the way forward.
Firstly, there is no doubt that people have been disappointed that we formed a coalition with the Conservative Party. I make no apology for doing so. The country needed a stable government, we believe that coalition government can be a good thing and I’ve fought every election because I want a share in power in order to implement liberal policies and make the country a better place for all. However, the manner in which we entered into this coalition was not good for the country. People needed to be able to see that we were fighting within the coalition for the values we hold dear. Instead of that, people saw us as those who were enabling the Tory party to have its way, cutting much needed taxation, promoting policies to benefit the few rather than the manyÂ such as the removal of essential benefits and further emphasising the North-South divide in the UK. We should have been much more cautious. We should have opposed such plans both publicly as well as privately.
Secondly, it is obvious to everyone that we made a big mistake on tuition fees. We should not have gone back on our pledge to vote against tuitions fees. It was not merely foolish politically to be photographed making those pledges, it was fundamentally wrong to break them. I now take full responsibility for advising others in the party to do so and I will take the consequences of those decisions. I make no apology for wanting the best eduction system in the world and wanting the fullest access to be available to it regardless of the income of students. My generation benefitted from easy access to Higher Education and I believe it is necessary not merely for the well-being of students but also for the well-being of the country. We need to educate in order to grow.
I apologise for ever suggesting that the country could not afford this. There was always money available in the form of increased taxation. We were uniquely placed for making the case to the country that investment in our educational establishments and in our young people was an investment that Britain could not afford to avoid making.
Thirdly, I have heard that voices who say that we were not ready for government. Unfortunately, they were right. However, engaging in politics at the highest level teaches you hard lessons and the fact is that we are now a party of government and Britain needs a strong liberal force in parliament. Whether as a loyal opposition or whether we are in government, we need to bring creative liberal answers to the problems which beset us. However, it is clear that we will be unable to do this whilst the country does not trust us.
I take full responsibility for these mistakes. The people of the UK need our values. Many trust our values and many more will come to believe in what we stand for. However, this can only happen if trust can be rebuilt in the public sphere.
For these reasons, the time has come for change. I am sorry for the mistakes that I made. I know that a liberal Britain can only come about if I now step aside and allow other more trusted colleagues to put the case to the people. For this reason, I shall resign the party leadership and concentrate my efforts on retaining my Sheffield seat. I want a party I can feel proud of. I want a country I can feel proud of. And I commit myself to building a better future where the all the people of the UK are free to prosper.