Nick Clegg: My leadership will be bold and give millions a voice

THIS morning at Sheffield's Showroom cinema, I will be announcing my plans to stand for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

It is a crucial time for the Liberal Democrats. After nearly two years of introspection, the party needs to raise its head and start talking to the British people, instead of to ourselves.

That's why I chose to make my statement among friends and colleagues from my local party in Sheffield. Too often, Westminster politicians forget about life outside the parliamentary bubble.

But I draw my inspiration as an MP – and now leadership candidate – from my role as a local representative here in Yorkshire.

It's when I talk to the people I represent, that I am convinced it is liberalism that offers the answers to the problems they face.

That is something Ming Campbell, who resigned as our leader last week, understood. Ming is a man of integrity, honour and decency. Over the years he has also shown himself to be a man of impeccable judgment and extraordinary political courage.

He led the opposition to the Iraq war. He stood firm against this Government's criminal disregard for our hard-won freedoms and rights. In doing so he has done our country a great service.

But it is now time to look to the future. If the Liberal Democrats are to change the tired old pattern of British politics, we will have to be bold.

We will have to move outside our comfort zone, and take more risks than ever before. If we get it wrong, we could see our hard-won gains quickly reversed, with all the damage that would do to our party and to

our country.

Under my leadership, I want the Liberal Democrats to become a gathering point for everyone who wants a different type of politics in Britain. A politics that begins by giving power to individuals, their families and their communities. A politics which places its faith in people, not systems – in communities not bureaucracies.

I believe that is the British way. We are a nation with a strong sense of fair play and social justice, and a natural instinct to protect the environment for future generations.

We are suspicious of arbitrary power, impatient with bureaucracy and wary of unnecessary government interference. We have always put

our faith in the genius of human innovation and in the ability of ordinary men and women to change our world.

Three-party politics is vital to the health of democracy in this country.

A generation ago, many people just voted the way their parents and grandparents had voted. British politics was rigid and debate was narrow. The Left offered social justice, while the Right offered economic competence, and everyone lined up on one side of the debate or another.

But today our society is more diverse and our politics more fluid. Political allegiances are less fixed. People are less class conscious and deferential.

The old Labour-Tory divide has simply disappeared from many parts of the country, with the Lib Dems challenging Labour in the North,

and the Conservatives in many parts of the South and South West. Here

in Yorkshire, the Liberal Democrats are involved in running Hull, Leeds and York.

It's a change that's happening across the country. In 1951, two per cent of people voted for a candidate who wasn't Labour or Conservative. In 2005, it was 32 per cent.

The new generation of voters just doesn't believe there are only two options, only two ideas worth having. That means the Liberal Democrats now have the opportunity, once and for all, to end the oppressive grip of two-party politics and give a voice to the millions of people who feel they don't have a voice in British politics

at all.

The Liberal Democrats have a record which shows we can continue to grow rapidly in the years ahead.

We took Sheffield Hallam in 1997 against the odds. In May, my colleague Coun Paul Scriven and his team will, I hope, lead us to victory in the Sheffield City Council elections and it is our intention to follow that with electing more Liberal Democrat MPs in places like Sheffield Central and beyond.

It is with great pleasure that I can announce that my friend and colleague Phil Willis, stalwart MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough for over a decade, will be supporting my candidacy. And Leeds North West's excellent MP Greg Mulholland has also pledged his support this week.

Further afield, Mark Hunter from Cheadle and Paul Rowen from Rochdale have been incredibly pro-active in helping over the last week.

I want to end by saying how touched I am at the messages I have received from the local people from across Sheffield who I work with every day.

I value the handwritten notes from neighbours here as much as the endorsement of my colleagues in Westminster. Liberal Democrats are a party of one member, one vote. It will come down to the members to decide.

I am honoured and delighted at the way in which so many people have rallied around my wife Miriam and me.

It has been a big decision for us to make, but with the continued support of the people of this city and region, I am confident

of success.

Nick Clegg is the Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam.