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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Interventions are meant to be short.

Mr. Griffiths: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the additional spending has resulted in 10,000 more treatments a year in Wales. That is significant. On restructuring the health service, he might know that I do not think that the plan is right at the moment. However,

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his description of it traduces what is meant to happen in Wales. There is a commitment that no more money should be spent on bureaucracy. I remain confident that we will make progress and that better health care will be provided year on year.

3.31 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I welcome the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) to the Chamber and congratulate him on beating the Liberal Democrat candidate, Veronica Watkins. I only regret that I do not know enough about him to take advantage of the fact that he cannot intervene prior to making his maiden speech. I simply pay tribute to his predecessor, Ray Powell. Some said that he was an unguided missile or a loose cannon, and he was described as a wild man by the media and uncontrollable by the Whips. I have every hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue in that tradition and perhaps one day join the Liberal Democrats.

Kevin Brennan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lembit Öpik: I cannot resist it.

Kevin Brennan: As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) cannot intervene, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain to me why a leaflet on which his picture appeared on the day of the by-election called my hon. Friend "London's Labour lackey"? Is not that typical Liberal Democrat politics—sneer locally, creep nationally?

Lembit Öpik: It hurts me to the core to have offended the hon. Gentleman and, believe it or not, I have something to say about that kind of politics, and not just to Labour Members, but to Members of my party too. I hope that hon. Members will be greatly interested in my comments.

It has been a good year for the Liberal Democrats in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) took over from his predecessor and we made good progress elsewhere. Indeed, I managed to win a hotly contested election to lead my party on Welsh matters and prevented splits in the parliamentary party by immediately appointing my hon. Friend as my deputy, having considered the alternatives.

I said that the comment by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) was poignant. My speech is directed not just at Welsh politicians or the Welsh public, but at the Welsh press. I ask all three groups to think seriously about the concepts that I am about to advance. Politicians are doing something wrong. If we get things right, perhaps we will help to resuscitate the lost confidence in the trade that we have chosen as our career.

My speech is also directed at other parties, including my party in Wales. I want people to think seriously about the potential for turning politics into a competition, not a war. I question the way in which we run down the character of our trade and then feign surprise when people do not turn out to vote or disappointment when the media imply that we are all on the make and that we do not act in the interests of the people who elected us.

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At a press conference in the Cardiff Assembly last Monday, I was accused of patronising the Welsh press. Most of the journalists were interested in the story relating to Mike German and the possibility of a reshuffle. They asked the same question again and again. After we answered it, I suggested that the issue lacked resonance with the Welsh public and that people really wanted to talk about things that made a difference to them. It got quite heated. It seems I had disturbed a hornet's nest by questioning the ability of the press to report news that matters. The journalists thought that I was suggesting that they should not report on the matter that interested them.

Afterwards, I went to the media floor in the Assembly to make amends with one of the people who felt most patronised. She told me that she also regarded me as naive—[Hon. Members: "Name names."] I will not because Jo told me not to. She claimed that I was angry with her, to which I shouted, "No, I'm not", and proved her point. It struck me later that the exchange was the opposite of what I had in mind for a new agenda in Welsh politics. It is with humility—I take some of the responsibility on myself—that I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members seriously consider launching a campaign in Wales, ahead of anywhere else in the United Kingdom, to change the way in which we do politics.

As I think about the accusations of naivety and being patronising, I realise that they were said in response to a problem that we have created. For whatever reason, the agenda has become so set in convention that aggression, opposition, spin and negative briefing about each other have become so acceptable that efforts to try a new way of doing things are dismissed as naive and even idealistic. Is the new focus on politics in Wales so unfeasible that we are not going to make a difference? Is Welsh politics so doomed to remain as it is that my speech today might again be regarded as naive?

Mr. Wiggin: Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman's party will no longer be in a coalition with the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly?

Lembit Öpik: The context of that question is so odd that I am unable to understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that a positive new style of politics would prevent parties from working together. Surely he realises that if politics is a competition and not a war, one works in league with other people and other parties when that best serves the public interest. Obviously one maintains a healthy critical capability when appropriate.

Wales has another golden opportunity to lead the way in conducting politics differently. At the heart of the new agenda, about which we talked so optimistically when the referendum was held on the Welsh Assembly, must be the concept of focusing on outcomes rather than process. The public do not care much about the political process. Why should they? Those who are most interested in the political process get involved in it. The rest pay tax in the expectation that we manage the political process to achieve the outcomes that we were elected to achieve. That is the point of paying the tax that enables politicians to be employed. We often forget that and settle into the comfortable arguments that take place in the House, perhaps drawing the media into that club at the same time. We forget that the true client of our activities is getting switched off by what we say and disillusioned by the fact that politicians seem more interested in attacking each other than working together in the interests of Wales.

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I have given the matter a great deal of thought and have decided that the failing of the system is really a failing of politicians to lead the thinking of the nation of Wales. We fail to provide a motivating, inspirational, powerful and visionary agenda that the media naturally gravitate towards. We should be talking about an agenda that is likely to succeed—a vision that is secondary to the people driving it, who are focused on the results that it can achieve.

That is the big point for me. With the focus in the press on individuals, scurrilous stories and questions of corruption, we have begun to reap the consequences of our attitudes and behaviour towards each other. Very rarely do the great achievements of the human race rest on the memory of an individual. The great achievement of the Apollo moon landing was travelling to the moon, landing a man on it and returning him safely to earth. The individual concerned happened to be Neil Armstrong, but the triumph was collective.

Mr. Bryant: Is it not ironic that, despite his fine sentiments about it being more important for us to talk about outcomes than processes, so far, apart from mention of the moon, which was a little dangerous coming from him, he has talked solely about processes and not said anything about the conditions facing the people in Wales?

Lembit Öpik: I recognise that I was taking a risk in trying to talk about the character of politics in Wales and that it is unconventional of me to try to reintroduce an element of soul and a different modus operandi in Welsh politics. The hon. Gentleman can listen to the rest of my speech to determine whether I should refer explicitly to health, education and so forth. This seemed too good an opportunity to lose to share my thinking on what I consider to be an important matter. I shall certainly respect further interventions from the hon. Gentleman and others on the point.

Kevin Brennan: I respect the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman is putting his case, but is he telling the House that, from now on, locally delivered Liberal Democrat "Focus" leaflets will contain the high-minded moral politics that he is advocating? Will he make that pledge now?

Lembit Öpik: I can most certainly give the hon. Gentleman the pledge that all the "Focus" leaflets that I personally write will be exactly along those lines, but let me make a serious point. I said at the beginning of my speech that I am not condemning other parties for their lack of vision or for succumbing to the temptation to demean Welsh politics, but that I am speaking to, among others, members of my party. Indeed, as the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who has not been dragged to his place because he is some prime offender in the party, to engage in that process. I emphasise, for exactly the reason to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that I am speaking to my party and inviting Welsh Liberal Democrats to consider the points that I am making. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend has already read my speech; his presence indicates assent—[Laughter.]

I return to examples of great triumphs that are not associated with the names of the individuals concerned. Lloyd George, who of course created pensions, was not

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remembered by most members of the public who receive pensions as having done so. We have heard about Nye Bevan and the national health service, although I would point out that the great Liberal, William Beveridge, gave him the idea in the first place. Examples of individuals being associated with personal triumphs or personal armies of visionaries are rare.

On account of his obsession with leeks, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) might be remembered for an army of leekers who go around the country swapping metric measures for imperial ones, just as Robert Peel is remembered for creating the police—peelers. Indeed, constables are called bobbies in honour of his first name.


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