Jane Dodds' conference speech - in full

September 20, 2021 5:00 PM
By Liberal Democrats
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

I want to take you back to May 1999, and the first-ever elections to the then Welsh Assembly.

Almost 600 years after the first Welsh Parliament was established in June 1404, the people of Wales once again had its own national democratic institution.

Wales was entering a new dawn - an opportunity to meaningfully hand power to people, to communities, away from the corridors of power.

It was an opportunity to cast off the dust and to set about creating our own destiny here in Wales.

Our job here in Wales is made all the more difficult by Conservatives in Westminster and their assault on devolution and our national parliament.

But that quiet earthquake in 1999 has passed many people in Wales by. 22 years on and that radical, reforming streak that ushered in a new era has, in too many ways, been replaced by a steady incrementalism, slow to move when the world is hurtling on.

Now, granted, even after 1999 Wales operated with two hands tied behind its back and we don't yet have all the tools we need to shape a fairer, greener, more liberal Wales. And our job here in Wales is made all the more difficult by Conservatives in Westminster and their assault on devolution and our national parliament.

It is our job, as liberals, and my job as the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, to make the case for a new relationship between people and parliament and between the nations of the United Kingdom.

We need to rediscover our radical, progressive voice and offer new and inspiring ideas - and we have work to do.

In Wales:

Child poverty is rising.

In work, poverty is rising.

Household income lags behind that of our neighbours.

We've seen slower progress in reducing emissions than the rest of the UK.

It is our job to make the case for a new relationship between people and parliament and between the nations of the United Kingdom.

1 in 14 species is heading for extinction.

We need new ideas and a new way of doing politics that will propel Wales into the future. We need liberal solutions which offer hope, optimism, and opportunity to all to shape their own destiny.

Fundamentally, we need to capture the imagination of ordinary people about what politics can achieve.

I believe it is our job to bring back that radical streak to Welsh politics; the radical tradition of liberals down the ages. The Chartists, Cymru Fydd, Dic Penderyn, The Rebecca Rioters. Non-conformist, unrelenting, unwilling to accept things as they were.

Welsh politics and democracy need to change gear - to bring forward the ideas that shape a new promise for the next generation. A promise that each and every one of us - and our planet - can thrive. A Wales that creates opportunity, supports talent and aspiration and creates a fairer, greener economy.

Wales and our party owe Kirsty Williams a huge amount.

I may be a single Welsh Liberal Democrat in the Senedd but mark my words, we're going to be heard.

But there has been one consistent reforming voice in the Senedd since 1999, and that was Kirsty Williams.

Kirsty stood down at the election in May after 22 years on the frontline of Welsh politics representing Brecon and Radnorshire. Wales and our party owe Kirsty a huge amount.

From the campaign to first establish the National Assembly for Wales, to being the first-ever female leader of a Welsh political party in 2008, establishing the Welsh Pupil Premium, driving the integration of health, care, and housing, leading legislation on safe nurse staffing levels on hospital wards, to leading the greatest education reforms in Wales since the second world war, Kirsty has inspired and enthused - and changed the life chances of - a generation.

I cannot thank Kirsty enough for what she has done for our party, for our country, and the support she has shown me and so many others. Diolch a phob dymuniad da ar gyfer y dyfodol, Kirsty.