This year’s elections were a real success for the Liberal Democrats. We beat Labour into third place for only the second time in our history. Not all the results are in yet – but it’s almost certain we’ll have won more councillors and control of more councils. And that’s even though we’re fighting the same set of seats as we did in 2004, at the height of public anger about the Iraq war.
We’ve confounded expectations, many of which predicted doom for us in yesterday’s poll. What’s clear is that we’re gaining momentum once again, taking seats off Labour, the Conservatives and minority parties. And we’re the only truly national party, strong against Labour in their Northern heartlands, where the Tories remain an irrelevance – and the only real competition for the Conservatives in rural and suburban parts of the South.
I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made against Labour in England. We’re now running my home city of Sheffield, and have gained overall control of Hull and Burnley. In key seats against the Conservatives we also made excellent progress – taking control of St Albans and gaining seats in Eastleigh, Colchester, Cheltenham, Purbeck and Winchester. The Tories once again failed to elect a single councillor in many of our great cities such as Newcastle, Oxford, Manchester and Liverpool.
In Wales too our progress has been impressive, as Labour’s vote quite simply disappeared. We’ve made gains across the country and strengthened our position as the largest party in Cardiff.
People are turning away from Labour because it’s clear they’ve lost their principles. By doubling the 10p tax rate Gordon Brown made clear that he will attempt any stunt he thinks will help him, even at the expense of Britain’s poorest people. He is now just scrabbling around to try to hold onto power.
As more and more scrutiny is placed on the Conservatives, their sham politics will start to come apart. Over the last few weeks, they have pretended to care about low earners. But their only concrete tax proposal, on inheritance tax, is one which would help only the 6% wealthiest people in Britain. As the voters see more of the Conservatives, they will realise that they too have no principles, but will simply say anything to get elected.
Today’s results make it clear that politics is changing. People’s allegiances are fluid after more than a decade of Labour dominance. The demand for real change is growing, day by day, and will define the next general election whenever it comes. But while the other parties are content to scrabble over the middle ground, promising much but changing nothing, the Liberal Democrats will be the party that offers the real, fundamental, and lasting change that Britain needs.