I enjoyed Nick Clegg’s speech to conference, which set out a clear path to Liberal Democrats remaining a party of government.
I thought his passionate defence of internationalism and liberal interventionism, drawing on his (Spanish) wife’s family history in pre-democratic Spain, was easily the strongest part. Here’s what he said:
Liberal Democrats, it falls to us to stand up for the national interest: we will be the party of In. I am an internationalist – pure and simple; first by birth, then by marriage, but above all by conviction. We may be an island nation, but there’s no such thing as an economic island in an age of globalisation.
And Britain is always at its strongest and proudest when we are open to the world – generous-spirited and warm-hearted, working with our neighbours and a leader on the world stage. That’s the message I will take to New York next week, when I represent the UK at the United Nations General Assembly.
There are some in the world who seek to present us as pulling up the drawbridge, following Parliament’s decision not to consider a military intervention in Syria – but they will hear from me that they are wrong.
My views on Syria are well known: I believe the use of chemical weapons – a war crime under international, humanitarian law – should be stopped wherever possible.
But I understand why some people are wary of another entanglement in the Middle East – Iraq casts a long shadow – and we now have the opportunity to work with the UN, the Russians, the Americans, the French and others to put these heinous weapons beyond the reach of Assad’s regime.
What matters now is that we are clear that this nation is not heading into retreat. It would be a double tragedy if the legacy of Iraq was a Britain turned away from the world.
Others look to our values and traditions for inspiration. Democracy, peaceful protest, equality before the law. That, in itself, confers a leadership role on us. Not as some military superpower. Not out of some nostalgic impulse after the loss of empire.
But because we believe in the virtues of law, peaceful dissent, political stability and human rights as enduring liberal values.
These are values that my own family – affected by the wars and conflicts of the past like so many other families – never took for granted.
And Miriam and I try to teach our sons that they shouldn’t take these values for granted either. After Spain moved to democracy in the 1970s, Miriam’s father was the first democratically elected Mayor in a small agricultural town in the middle of the countryside.
He single handedly brought better schools, more jobs and better housing to his community. He was hugely proud of being the first Mayor to serve his community through the ballot box. He sadly died some years ago, and there’s a small statue of him today outside the church in Miriam’s village.
Our small boys see that statue every holiday and Miriam tells them of the wonderful things he did. And they always ask about why he was elected and no one before him. We teach them that democracy and freedom are a fragile and recent thing in many parts of the world.
We teach them – just as my parents taught me – that rights and values should never be taken for granted, and if you believe in them, you should stand up for them.
And that is the United Kingdom that I want my children – all children – to grow up in: a United Kingdom that defends and promotes its values – our liberal values – at home and abroad.