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Cardigan speaks to NUT - “We’re your party, we’re on your side”
At this year’s National Union of Teachers Conference in Blackpool, a surprise speaker on the headlines of the schedule was seeing Alex Cardigan, the Liberal Democrat leader, appearing. He had pledged to make a bold pitch to teachers and pupils alike, at a conference considered a bastion of Labour Party support, with a President who once stood for Labour. Press had been briefed that Cardigan wanted to outline his plans to "close the attainment gap and create opportunities for all".

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Taking to the stage, the Liberal Democrat leader smiled warmly, despite a marginally less warm atmosphere from the hall. 

“Earlier this month, I spoke to a headmaster of a school in my constituency. Alex, he said to me. I know you’ve worked hard for us, and all, and I appreciate it, but I’m just at the end of my tether. I was a bit surprised by this. In the time I’ve known him, he has been nothing but cheerful, and nothing but resilient, despite how difficult the last years have been, much like many of you in this hall. He continued on - I just don’t know if I can keep doing this. I feel helpless - with the funding we have, and the catchment area we’re in, it’s impossible to have disadvantaged pupils come close to the level of success of the wealthier kids. What an indictment on our current system, eh? And yet I suspect, too familiar a story for teachers up and down the country.”

“I understand the frustration that teachers across Britain feel, when it comes to trying to create a level playing field for their pupils, and trying to ensure that all students can thrive. The political class of Thatcher have gutted our education system from the inside, and left much of it in tatters. An entire generation has missed out on opportunities as a result of the past decade of Conservative rule. I have had to fight tooth and nail against local school closures over the last few years, despite the fact that populations have done nothing but rise where I live.There is real pain that has been caused, and opportunities, hopes, dreams, missed. This can’t possibly be right, fair, or just, can it?”

“So, I tottered along to Parliament and brought up educational inequality, and brought up what that headmaster in my constituency said to me. And the Education Secretary, with a sympathetic, if slightly defeated tone, merely expressed an empty platitude about existing government policy on “attempting to ensure state education has more money”. I don’t think it’s good enough for the policy of the Government and the Minister to be to attempt - the buck stops with them, and years of cuts won’t be forgotten overnight. And it is not acceptable for the Government’s policy to merely gesture in the direction of the Treasury, with a shrug - “not me, guv” is not a good way to run a chip shop, let alone running the country’s education system.”

“It isn’t good enough to just criticise, though. That is really why I’m here today. The easiest thing in the world to do in politics is to oppose. It’s why I have done my best to announce a varied policy platform over these past months, and to tour the country, listening to people from all sorts of backgrounds, and on all sorts of issues. It’s harder to build than it is to destroy, but it’s worth making the effort. To be truthful, though, I think Labour have had a real ideas deficit this term. Being in Opposition for so long has meant there is an air of complacency about the need to propose solutions, and make the case for solid policy ideas. They have announced just one policy on schools this term - to build more of them. That is so inoffensive that even the Tories have come around to the ideas as of late. The Liberal Democrats are the alternative here - and we have a plan to close the attainment gap, and create opportunities for all.

“I want to be a bit more thorough than the other parties. My party has always stood up for those who want an economy and society rooted in fairness, and the creation of real opportunities for all, especially our most disadvantaged. And I want our politics to be a bit kinder, and more evidence-based, so I want these ideas to be ones that all main parties could commit to after the next election. There is a very good chance the Liberal Democrats will have an influence on the next Government - at least, if we gain a good number of MPs. And for me, a top priority, a red line in working with the other parties next term would be a real commitment to close the attainment gap.That’s why I want to make the centrepiece of the next Liberal Democrat manifesto a commitment to a Pupil Premium of over £1,000, for every disadvantaged pupil a school takes in.”

“The days of playing the game with the catchment area postcode lottery have to end. We cannot continue to have this level of difference in achievement between students just based on their backgrounds. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it isn’t befitting of a just society. The Bible says that it is our duty to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. A group who need us to speak up for them are children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not getting the support they need from our current system. It is a national scandal that there is such a stark divide in fortunes. I want to introduce the Pupil Premium as the first step to cutting that gap, and I want part of the funding for it to come from introducing VAT on fees for public schools, unless they agree to open up their facilities to the wider community.”

“Reducing class sizes is another essential policy that the Liberal Democrats want to put front and centre. At public schools, children are put into small classes, with more personalised teaching, giving huge advantages. Why should pupils at state schools lose out on the opportunity to have a great education with that style of teaching too? I am a realist. To reduce the average number even below 30 is going to take a lot of work, and a lot of investment in teacher training. But we’re going to commit to it, and keep our promises, as people know we do. Within one term, I want to see the average class size below 30. By the year 2000, I want to see it below 25. We need to be radical and avoid mission creep in our ambitions here. When we are talking about something as essential, as vital, as the education and skills our next generation will get, we cannot pitch things as just a cost, we should see this as an investment. The Liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to get class sizes down, and our ambitious targeting, backed up by a background commitment to invest in teacher training and continue building more schools, is a way to make this happen. However, we are realists, as I say, and we know that we’re going to have to pay for it. It is an investment worth making, though - we’re going to commit to raise Income Tax by 1p, to raise over £2.5 billion, just to invest in our schools, with cutting class sizes being a huge part of that.

“One final idea I want to pitch to you all today is very simple. Well, actually, it’s not really my idea I want to put out there - it’s your ideas I want to hear. Transparency is essential, and Westminster departments like Education feel very detached from the reality of what running a school looks like. League tables and targets are detached from children’s welfare, and the real value of education. This detachment is systematic within our education system. Bureaucrats make life more difficult for teachers and pupils alike, and the insane instability of Government policy often makes life even worse. So I want to hear from you. I want to launch a National Teachers’ Survey at the end of every year, with forms handed in anonymously, just with the name of the school, giving real feedback and publicly-published ratings of how teachers feel the department is doing, and how it could improve. Politics shouldn’t be about lecturing, though I hope the ideas I’ve put forward today are ones that we can all get behind. Politics should be about listening - and I want to do all I can to listen to you all later on today, where I’ll be answering any and all questions, unvetted. The Liberal Democrats will always listen and learn where we can, and I hope propose solutions and a real alternative where we can, too. We’re your party, we’re on your side, and I hope that I can win your support - you've got my support either way. Thank you.”

Cardigan left the stage to a far warmer response than when he had started speaking, eager to speak to as many people as possible, and give soundbites to the assembled press. 
Alex Cardigan MP
Deputy Prime Minister (1992-present)
Leader of the Liberal Democrats (1990-present) | MP for Montgomery (1983-present)
Former BBC Broadcaster | Liberal Party | XP: 20 | Issue Champion | Safe Pair of Hands
This is another example of the Liberal Democratic leader making policy pronouncements ahead of the election, something which he has been doing with increasing frequency on a variety of issues.

Some note his boldness in choosing to address what is traditionally a Labour audience and his ideas certainly raise interest amongst attendees, even if they aren't so inclined as to abandon their traditional Labour roots on the basis of one speech. However, Cardigan certainly does enough to establish himself once more as a policy orientated figure.

2XP to Cardigan
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