John Major – 2013 Speech at IOD Annual Dinner


Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech made at the Institute of Directors Annual Dinner on Thursday 28th November 2013.

Many years ago, your Director General, Simon Walker, was a much valued member of my Policy Unit so – when he invited me to join you this evening – I was delighted to accept.

I wish to talk of three events that will shape our future:

– The Referendum on Scottish Independence

– The likely Referendum on our Membership of the European Union

– The General Election

Let me start with Scotland.

Next September, Scotland will vote on whether to break the Union and become an independent State.  Such a vote would cut Scotland loose, and her loss would be felt across the UK. In their campaign, the SNP assert that the Pound Sterling is as much Scotland’s currency as it is England’s; that is true now but not if Scotland left the UK.

Independence means Scotland walking away from the UK and its institutions. This must include the Bank of England, and Sterling.

The whole point of independence is to enable Scotland to take her own decisions – yet she cannot do so if, upon a central economic matter, she has no control over monetary policy and no lender of last resort. That cannot be the Bank of England: the Bank is answerable to the UK Government and Parliament – not any future Scottish Government.

A currency union – which the SNP assume is negotiable – would require the UK to underwrite Scottish debts:  that cannot – will not – happen if Scotland leaves the Union. There can be no halfway house: no quasi-independence underpinned by UK institutions.

Scotland could perhaps – in time – adopt the Euro. But first she must apply to join the EU, where many States would have concerns about the accession of a separatist Member. Spain: how would Spain feel – with breakaway movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country? Spain uses uncertainty over EU membership to deter Catalonia from even holding a referendum on independence. It is hardly likely she would happily wave in Scotland. Spain will not be alone in being wary of separatist tendencies.

And, even if Scotland were to enter, she would discover that within the EU the clout of the smaller population nations is …. small. Time and again, she might regret the loss of automatic British backing. Scottish voters need to know the chilly reality of what is being offered to them.

But what of Britain? It is simply not possible to have a large chunk of the UK break away – without weakening what is left. British influence would fall in Europe, NATO, the UN and all international gatherings.

There would even be some very unpalatable consequences for our nuclear deterrent.  If an independent Scotland ejected it from the Faslane Base – as the SNP have threatened to do – it would be extremely difficult and costly for the Ministry of Defence to replicate it elsewhere.

If Trident were to be dismissed from Faslane, it is likely that the Ministry of Defence would remove from Scotland the whole of the submarine enterprise – including the Royal Navy’s attack submarines and the submarine centre of excellence. Would Faslane survive? One can only guess. But without contracts from the Royal Navy I doubt it.

It is also doubtful the SNP would be able to enter NATO – as they wish – since their opposition to nuclear weapons is inconsistent with membership. Scottish electors must know and understand what independence may cost them.

The SNP’s “ace in the hole” has always been the North Sea Oil and Gas reserves. But their estimate of reserves is twelve times greater than that of the Office of National Statistics. Who is right? I don’t know. But voters may wish to be wary of promises based on false optimism.

Be in no doubt: in politics, commerce and the Armed Forces, Scottish influence is important to Britain. Of course, anti-English sentiment from separatists irritates and enrages – as it is intended to do – but across the UK people know and value Scots as partners, work colleagues, friends and neighbours. It is hard to imagine Scots becoming – “foreigners”. But, if they do, nothing will ever be the same again.

For three hundred years, the Union between Scotland and England has served Britain well. Together, we have become safer, richer, more influential. Surely it is wiser to celebrate what we have achieved together, than to allow grievances – some imagined or exaggerated, others simply manufactured for political purposes – to tear us apart?

The SNP have chosen the ancient anniversary of Bannockburn for their Referendum. Yet a greater anniversary looms. Next year sees the Centenary of the beginning of the Great War, in which the English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish – the whole of the United Kingdom – fought together for freedom – as they would again 25 years later. Many thousands of Scots fought and died in these conflicts. Would it not be a tragedy if – as we honour their sacrifice – we do so as separate nations?

The European Union continues to divide public opinion in the UK. Even where it appeals to our head, it consistently fails to appeal to our heart. We need to sort this out. That is why the Prime Minister is absolutely right to re-negotiate where he can, before holding a referendum on Membership. Let our Sovereign electorate decide: that is the right way to secure Britain’s place in a reformed EU.

Yet, suppose we left:

(i) we would have to negotiate our exit which could cost billions;

(ii) we may have to pay for access to the Single Market: Norway, a non-member, pays 80% as much per capita as we pay as a full member;

(iii) we would lose inward investment – ask Japan or Korea, or even America;

(iv) we would still have to implement EU regulations, yet would have no part in framing them; and

(v) we would be unable to protect the City – or any part of our industry – from harmful legislation.

Of course, we would survive – but there would be a severe price to pay in economic well-being, in jobs, and in international prestige. In a world of 7 billion people, our island would be moving further apart from our closest and largest trading partners, at the very time when they, themselves, are drawing closer together. This makes no sense at all.

Nor would a UK exit make any sense for the EU, which would lose:

(i) one of its biggest economies;

(ii) the long and historic reach of British diplomacy;

(iii) the nation with the most significant military capacity.

The EU would be diminished. The UK would be isolated. I am no starry-eyed Europhile but it would be a lose/lose scenario: a truly dreadful outcome for everyone.

Before the referendum will come negotiations. I believe the British position is far stronger than many believe – not least due to the significant personal alliances the Prime Minister has formed with his European counterparts – though the manner of our negotiation will be key. We need to negotiate with the grain of evolving views across the EU. We need to hoover up the allies that already exist on many issues.  We need to be smart enough not to ask for the impossible.

The route to full federalism for the Eurozone members is banking union; fiscal union and – ultimately – political union. There is no silver bullet to achieve this swiftly, and the Eurozone will edge towards it slowly, uneasily and haphazardly. As they do, they will face many setbacks – not least since full federation across nations is profoundly undemocratic, and public opinion across the Eurozone may well thwart their best laid plans. As for the UK, we have no obligation to join this escalator – even if it begins to move.

After the financial crash – even a “watered down” banking union is proving difficult to agree across the Eurozone. Fiscal Union – once assumed to be inevitable – now looks a long way off as European electors examine its democratic shortcomings. And full political union (the Shangri-La for many) is barely even talked about – except negatively.

Even the Dutch, once core federalists, now shy away from it, and seek reforms. Their Prime Minister says “the EU must become leaner and meaner”. The Germans say “we don’t have to do everything in Brussels”. These are hardly siren calls for a dash towards political union.  Nothing is forever but, for the foreseeable future, “ever-closer union” and “full political union” – expressions that call many Britons to man the barricades – seem very, very far-off indeed.

Unusually, we know the date of the next General Election. We know also the recession is behind us. A brave policy, an unpopular policy, has proved to be right. Our economy is recovering and – although there is no room for complacency – I believe it will swing to growth faster than expected.

As it does, I hope that the electors will remember that, however well-intentioned their motives – however seductive their message – every single Labour Government we have ever had has left behind a ruined economy – the most recent one in spectacular fashion. And David Cameron and George Osborne are the pilots who have weathered that storm. No-one should forget that.

As the economy recovers, policy initiatives will begin to bear fruit: like many millions of others, I have a stake in the next generation and the one beyond that: and I welcome the Government’s long-term reforms for the future.

Opponents may criticise proposals on social policy, education and housing but few can deny that reform is necessary.

And it is not only social problems that need action. Our infrastructure is tired and inadequate. We need more air and sea port capacity.  Upgraded roads.  And, even though private capital has poured billions into our railways, more needs to be done.

And it is no use demanding better infrastructure and housing if we oppose schemes to deliver it. I know some members of the IOD oppose high speed rail. I believe they are wrong. We need more growth in the North if we are to bequeath an economy that enables future generations to thrive. And, unless we wish our children to endure a lower standard of living, we must build more homes.

I was in politics for many years. I can look back and acknowledge my mistakes and urge others not to repeat them. These days, I travel the world but always return home to a country that – taken as a whole – has few, if any, equals in the freedom, liberality and kindliness that are its essential characteristics. We must never lose those qualities: no nation can be great if it is inward-looking and small minded.

For all the frustrations we face, our country offers a way of life that most of the world looks at – and envies. I had hoped to build a country that was at ease with itself. I failed to deliver that. But it can be done … to ensure we live in a country that – whilst striving to be the strongest – has the compassion to care for the weakest.

Political messages can often be coded, imprecise and ambiguous. Not tonight. I am clear that both Scotland and England gain from being joined together in one United Kingdom; clear that the UK is better off in the EU, but not the Eurozone;  and clear that we should not change our economic leadership. If you are finally being hauled out of a deep, dark hole, it’s not wise to let go of those pulling you out.

And – in this gathering – let me add one final thought. We cannot leave everything to Government.

Here, tonight, are representatives of many leading companies. You care about our country, too. You have a stake in its success.  And you have the power – and, I would argue, a moral responsibility – to work towards the future wellbeing, not only of your workforce and shareholders, but of our nation as a whole.

In the North, South, East and West we need growth. To provide jobs. To yield taxes. To build prosperity. To offer hope and opportunity to those who do not, at present, have it.

This requires a unity of purpose. A national unity – in the national interest. And, in that, we all have a part to play.

Sir John Major – 2013 Speech on the European Union


Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech held at Chatham House on 14th February 2013. The speech was entitled “The Referendum on Europe : Opportunity or Threat?”.

A short while ago, the prime minister offered the nation a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union – or leave it, and I believe he was right to do so.

As a general principle, I don’t like referenda in a parliamentary system. But this referendum could heal many old sores and have a cleansing effect on politics. It will be healthy to let the electorate re-endorse our membership, or pull us out altogether. At present, we are drifting towards – and possibly through – the European exit. We need a renegotiation – and a referendum endorsement of it, and if that is denied, the clamour for it will only grow.

But it is a gamble – for the country and for the Conservative Party. The relationship with Europe has poisoned British politics for too long, distracted Parliament from other issues, and come close to destroying the Conservative Party. It is time to resolve the matter.

If the referendum were held now, some polls suggest electors may vote to leave. In 2017, their decision may depend upon the outcome of the negotiations, and  success in those might involve repatriation of powers, or opt-outs, or reform of existing policies, or safeguards against unwelcome developments. It will, most likely, be a combination of all these – and perhaps more besides. None of this will be easy. On many issues, there will be no natural meeting of minds.

To what the French call the Anglo-Saxon mind, the case for reform is very strong: unanswerable, even. To many Continental minds, there is a very different perception. The French already believe that  sterling has a competitive advantage over the euro. They now fear that the UK will opt out of social and employment provisions to give our economy a further competitive boost. They will not readily concede that in negotiations. We need to prepare our own proposals without delay, negotiate courteously and with understanding and the manner in which these negotiations are conducted will be vital.

If we enter them without appreciating the position of each of our European partners, we will fail.

If we enter them without engaging with each of our European partners, we will fail.

If we enter them with the aggressive attitude of ‘give us our way or we quit’, we will fail.

We British would regard any such approach from our European partners as a threat, an attempt to bully; and, just as we would take a dim view of that, so would they.

When the end game approaches, the prime minister will need to conduct the negotiations personally – and when he does he will find that more concessions will be won in relaxed, personal face-to-face discussion than in formal talks. But long before that, much preparatory work must be done, and that preparatory work is so substantial it wouldn’t be physically possible for the prime minister himself to do it.

I believe therefore that he should appoint a lead negotiator who sits in the cabinet. And if the Liberal Democrats oppose such an appointment – which is possible, since they oppose a referendum – then the prime minister should over-rule them. On a matter of this national importance, the tail must not wag the dog.

It is essential that this negotiator is seen as the prime minister’s personal emissary. He, or she, must visit and re-visit every European capital to explain our case, seek allies, set out our aims, and – crucially – emphasize the damage to the European Union as a whole if the negotiations fail and the referendum is lost.

The prime minister cannot afford to ignore the home front. He must carry public opinion with him. In Parliament, I have no doubt he will continue to receive unsolicited ‘advice’ about what powers he must repatriate. Some of his colleagues in offering this advice will think it’s helpful, and that our partners will hear the strength of feeling – and immediately capitulate. That is quite wrong. They will not. Such advice – given publicly – will undermine, not strengthen, the prime minister’s negotiating position. And it will do so, because he will be seen to be acting under political duress, rather than principle and conviction  – and his hand will be  correspondingly  weakened. And I know that because I have been there: advice, yes – that is a proper role for parliamentarians – but the truly well-meaning will give that advice in private.

Many colleagues will be instinctively loyal, but not everyone. Rebellion is addictive, and some members may be getting a taste for it. I learned 20 years ago that the parliamentary party includes irreconcilables who are prepared to bring down any government or any prime minister in support of their opposition to the European Union.

Some have softened their views with age. Others have not. The present Parliament contains members whose opposition to the European Union is fundamental.

Members with Conservative heads and UKIP hearts cannot be placated. Whatever is offered to them will be insufficient. They will demand more. They will only be satisfied by withdrawal. It is, therefore, essential for the prime minister to rally the persuadable majority of the parliamentary party.

And if the negotiations fail, and the referendum is lost, we could slip out of the EU in frustration and by default. The prime minister should be prepared for the likelihood that the irreconcilable amongst his parliamentarians, including perhaps some ministers, will campaign for a British withdrawal.

I am neither a Eurosceptic nor a Europhile. As prime minister, I vetoed the appointment of the president of the Commission because the candidate – an able man in every way – held views inimical to our national interest.

At Maastricht, I obtained opt-outs from the Single Currency and the Social Chapter. And I did so by explaining in innumerable private meetings why I could not accept those policies and that, without an opt-out, I would have no choice but to veto the whole treaty.

I judge our membership of the European Union upon one overriding criterion: is it good for Britain?

Is it good for our economic well-being? For competition, and jobs? For our general quality of life? Is it good for our security, our diplomacy and our standing in the world? All of these elements are relevant to the value of our membership. And now, after 40 years, the referendum raises new questions:

• What would it cost us to leave?

• What would we lose if we left?

• And, if we stay, how can we carve out a leadership role?

Firstly, some process. We cannot – legally – simply walk out of the European Union. We are obligated by Treaty to negotiate our exit, and also to meet liabilities that will crystallize at a later date. The costs could be substantial. No-one knows how substantial.

If we left, a swift glance suggests we’d be freed of budgetary contributions, regulations, directives, interminable meetings, unwanted lectures and multiple frustrations. Sounds pretty attractive. But closer examination returns us to the world of realpolitik.

One presumption from those who advocate leaving the European Union is that we could remain in the Single Market of 500 million consumers. That is, probably, true: but there would be a price. Norway – as a non-member – pays two-thirds as much per head for access to the Single Market as the UK pays as a full member of the European Union. We could accept similar terms if outside and that price would be likely to rise with every opt-out we achieve that our partners believe would give us a competitive advantage.

Moreover, trade policy is a European Union prerogative: as a non-member we would have no national trade policy in place, and would need to negotiate our own free trade agreements. At worst, this could take years. At best, we might be able to piggy-back on existing European Union agreements. Either way, we are likely to face tariffs.

And one example, I think, will suffice. At present, we export five out of every six cars made in the United Kingdom but – as a non-member – we may have to pay a 10 per cent external tariff on exports to the European Union, and a 5 per cent tariff on components. And that raises a question: would Nissan, I wonder, and BMW, Honda, Toyota, Ford continue to build at Swindon, Deeside, Dagenham, Bridgend or Oxford – or would they relocate and place future investment inside the European Union with no tariff on their cars? Many livelihoods in the UK depend upon that answer.

And then tariffs are not the only – or even the worst – threat to competitiveness. Most trade barriers are regulatory and – for us to continue to sell in Europe – UK exporters would have to conform to  European regulations. As a non-member, we would have no input into them, but if we wish to export we would have to meet them.

Now, would this hurt us? Certainly. In the crucial area of financial services, we can anticipate that regulations could  – and would – be designed to undermine UK competitiveness. Many would argue that in some areas this is already happening – and I would agree: but, whilst inside the European Union, we can mitigate the worst of the excesses. Outside, we could not.

The European Commission, generally, is very unpopular in the United Kingdom – sometimes, rightly so. It can be insensitive and seem bullying. But we shouldn’t ignore its virtues. In alliance with the Commission, the UK has driven policy on the Single Market for many years. And in the negotiations to come, the European Commission may often be our ally. They know that a Europe without Britain would be more vulnerable to a move towards protection – and they know how damaging that would be.

And then, of course, there is inward investment. Inward investment may also be at risk. Another question: would companies from around the world who invest over £30 billion a year in the United Kingdom be more – or less – likely to do so without unfettered access to the European market? To me, the answer is self-evident, but any doubters should ask those foreign investors – and then reflect upon the half a million jobs those same investors have created in the United Kingdom in the last decade alone.

The impact of a withdrawal goes beyond trade and investment. In a world of global markets, countries are increasingly banding together. It would be a brave decision for Britain to go it alone. I bow to no-one in my pride of our country, but we should see ourselves as others see us. We are 70 million in a world of 7 billion, with countries like China, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia all rising in economic and political importance. Do we wish to become less relevant in their eyes, or face the future as a leading voice in a block of 500 million people? To leave would be to march against history.

Many of those who wish to withdraw from Europe do so on the assumption that we could enhance our relationship with existing allies: most obviously, the United States and the Commonwealth. They are mistaken.

Economically, the United States looks increasingly to the East, where the market is growing. Politically, every American president I have known wishes to see the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe, because that is what is in America’s own interests. Outside, we would be of far less relevance: we could no longer advance the argument for free trade in Europe or – as recently – help develop sensible rules on data protection, or digital rules that accommodate American counter-terror objectives. Nor could we push for sanctions on Iran – a policy largely driven by the United Kingdom.

So, be certain of this if nothing else: America does not want the UK to cut her ties with Europe. As for the Commonwealth, two facts suffice: we sell more to North Rhine-Westphalia than to India, and more to France and Germany than the whole of the Commonwealth added together. And incidentally, overall, we export four times as much to Europe as we do to the United States.

Being inside the European Union can often be frustrating; but outside, we would be at a serious competitive disadvantage. The tens of thousands of UK companies who trade with the European Union should think long and hard about the consequences of exit. And so should their employees, numbered in millions. To leave would be a jump into a void.

Now of course, the argument with Europe isn’t all one way. The prime minister’s negotiating hand is by no means empty. A British exit would seriously diminish the European Union itself. It would have suffered its greatest reverse. And this reality – well understood by our partners – strengthens our position, but must be deployed with care and sensitivity: clumsily handled, it could be counter-productive.

If we left, Europe would lose one of her biggest economies. Her role as a global power would be diminished. So would her diplomatic reach. Her foremost free marketeer would have gone. Her main bridge with the United States would be broken. The Transatlantic Alliance would weaken. Even now, America, rightly in my view, complains that she contributes disproportionately to European defence: without the United Kingdom, the Continental European contribution – to their own defence in NATO – would be pitiful. Departure might be a leap into a void for Britain, but her loss to Europe would be palpable.

None of the risks of separation mean the status quo is acceptable. Nor does it mean that it cannot be changed. I believe it should be – and I personally believe that it can be. What it does mean is that Britain and Europe must work to accommodate one another with goodwill and tolerance. Tolerance was once a great political virtue, and one that I would love to see restored to the body politic everywhere. With goodwill and tolerance, a deal can be done.

At present, the eurozone is changing its relationship with the rest of the European Union: against that background I see no reason why we should not seek to  do so, too. It’s not anti-European to fight for the British national interest. But we should not over-estimate what can be achieved.

The prime minister can probably deliver safeguards for the City, less regulation, less bureaucracy, no more social legislation, enhancement of the Single Market and more besides. Beyond that, there are many areas ripe for reform, including a full repeal of the Working Time Directive, which a number of countries in Europe would welcome. We should also focus on tackling the democratic deficit and giving real muscle to subsidiarity. And we should do that because reforms that help Europe will also help the United Kingdom.

Other European Union policies – CAP, fisheries, structural funds – are a constant frustration to the United Kingdom. But even if the prime minister were able to gain exemptions from these policies – does anyone imagine hard-pressed farmers and fishermen would welcome the loss of subsidy from Europe and not demand its replacement from the British Treasury? Does anyone assume for a second we would not need to replace the subsidies lost to poorer regions in our own country from our own resources?

We know the answer to those questions: I daresay we could improve on European Union policies, but the net gain would be far more marginal than many people imagine. And whenever we out-competed Europe, they would react to offset our competitive advantage. And how do I know that? Because that is precisely what we did when we put tariffs on Norwegian salmon to protect our own industry in Scotland. As we did, so will they. And in our negotiations, it would be more productive in many areas for us to seek allies to reform core policies for everyone, than just to seek a British exemption from them.

We will also improve the outcome if we take a proactive role in developing future policy: it would be fatal just to sit on the side-lines sniping. Many in Europe, rightly or wrongly, feel that we have lost interest in them: we should make it clear that we have not. We can – and should – carve out a leadership role.

And some will say well – how can this be? Sterling isn’t in the eurozone, nor likely to join. Well nine other nations are not in the euro nor – although some have ambitions – are many likely to be admitted for many years. Denmark has an opt-out; Sweden and the Czech Republic don’t wish to join; others are far less enthusiastic than once they were. And their interests are often our interests. The Eastern Europeans for example were admitted to the European Union because we British – together with Germany – championed enlargement against the opposition of some others. We are a natural ally for their ambitions and for the reforms they seek. President Giscard d’Estaing has said our negotiation, and I quote, ‘opens the way for the indispensable reform of the European machinery’. He is right. There is an opportunity here and we should lead it in the negotiations to come.

We must seek further reform of the budget, where we will have allies in Holland, Denmark and Sweden and, in many areas, would be able to make common cause with Germany.

We should reengage the argument for completion of the Single Market. I’d like to see us advocate the appointment of a Single Market Commissioner to oversee this work across the whole range of services: financial, retail, medical, digital – the list is very long, and the potential gain is very large.

We could seek to interconnect the energy market. We could widen trade agreements. We could try and create a true European venture capital market. There’s no lack of areas where we can seek to lead, and change, and improve European policy.

We should continue to work with France in particular to develop policy on the Middle East and the North African rim. Stability in that region – with its trade and investment potential as well as its proximity to southern Europe – is crucial to Europe, and Britain and France are well-placed to lead policy. We have had successes with action against Libya and sanctions against Iran, but there are many more options.

I believe a proactive role in Europe would pay rich dividends in policy and perception – both at home and overseas. It would also highlight our British value to the European Union, and by highlighting our value encourage acceptance of our demands. Our case is logical and can change minds, but it will require time and patience and commitment.

What of the future?

Why are so many of the British – perhaps especially the English – so cool towards the EU?

Some blame Eurosceptic opinion, and that has been a powerful factor. As pro-Europeans have remained silent, anti-Europeans have become more vocal – and less tolerant.

But that is far from the whole story. Europe is also culpable. Year after year, Continental leaders have told us that Britain is an essential and valued member of the European project. That is flattering, but their soft words are offset when they pursue policies they know to be anathema to us. For years, Continental leaders have denied a federal ambition, while their policies have moved us closer towards it. They have introduced a single currency, job-destroying legislation and excessive regulation. There has been a wilful refusal to complete the Single Market. Some have flirted with protection. All of these policies are against British advice and British interests. If we are seen to be unreasonable by some, we do have some cause for that stand.

And emotion matters too, in this debate. Our electorate doesn’t like to see Britain dragged along at the tail of the cart: they’d much prefer to see us to be in the driving seat. I suspect that if Britain were seen to be proactive in policy, it would revolutionize British public opinion.

And that is necessary: because at present, public frustration is very deep. Perhaps deeper with Europe than I can ever recall it being at any time in the past.

We don’t know where ‘more Europe’ will end. Or how we can stop an everincreasing bureaucratic power grab into what Douglas Hurd memorably called ‘the nooks and crannies of our national life’. People fear: will we eventually be submerged in an undemocratic United States of Europe? For most of us, that is simply unacceptable.

We need an end point, and we need to know what it is. And we need to be confident that it will not be breached. These are all matters for the negotiations to come.

Let me summarize.

When we come to the referendum, the public will decide. At present, affection for the European Union is minimal. Its virtues are denied, even ridiculed. Its drawbacks are emblazoned in debate. Years of negativity have sunk deep into the British psyche. Ill-feeling between pro and anti factions is worn by some like a badge of honour. Debate over Europe tends to be conducted at the extremes of opinion, with most of the country uninvolved. A single-issue party, dedicated to withdrawal, has grown in public popularity. Public scepticism about Europe feeds on an intense patriotism, and has become a reality our political system cannot ignore.

Some see the referendum as merely a piece of party political management – but it is much more than that.

It can be cathartic.

It can end 40 years of political squabbles.

It can allow our Parliament, undistracted, to put vital issues – such as the growing underclass and the disregard into which politics has fallen – where they should be: at the very forefront of our national debate and national agenda.

The referendum can help reform the European Union, and for the better.

It can resolve both justified – and unjustified – fears about our membership.

And it can encourage the United Kingdom to take a more positive leadership role in the development of future policy.

All this is possible.

Let me close with a vignette. In 1990, in an attempt to head off a Single Currency, I advanced the concept of the ‘hard ecu’: a parallel currency that was market-driven and would co-exist with national currencies. Our proposal failed. It was – first – too late; but the more pertinent reason was explained to me by President Mitterrand. His response was simple. ‘Right policy – wrong country.’

‘Right policy  – wrong country.’ All too often, that sums up how Britain has been regarded in Europe. The referendum gives us an opportunity to change that perception. It is in Britain’s interests – and Europe’s interests – that we take this opportunity and that we do so.

Thank you very much.

John Major – 2010 Speech at Conservative Middle East Council Dinner


Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Conservative Middle East Council Dinner held at Claridge’s Ballroom on Wednesday 16th June 2010.

Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Delighted to be here this evening. As I look around this gathering, I see new Ministers who face a herculean task, and old colleagues like Dennis Walters, Founder of this Council. I also see my old friend, Ken Clarke, who I am delighted to see back in Government. And, above all, distinguished Ambassadors representing our friends and allies in the Middle East. It is good to see you all.

These days, I travel for almost six months a year. I marvel at the growth in the Middle East. I see the huge opportunities that are still to come. But, too often, I am told on my travels: “We see the French, the Germans, the Chinese – where are the British?”. I am delighted David Cameron and William Hague have re-stated our commitment to the wider region. We must never allow old friends to become distant friends.

First, a warning: all over the world Governments have their own cautious language when engaged in diplomacy. Often what is not said is as important – if not more so – than what is said.

Tonight you will need no interpretive skills: I speak solely for myself, and having the freedom to say exactly what I think, in the way that I wish, is one of the delights of not being in Government.


When Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990 – without cause or justification – the case for war was clear-cut. An innocent country was invaded and needed liberation. And when it was over we had a further responsibility: to protect the Kurds from genocide.

The second Iraq War was very different.

Before it began, I made my reservations public but supported the war – because I believed what the then Prime Minister told us about weapons of mass destruction. When I was Prime Minister, everything I said in public was factually rock solid. I assumed that principle still applied. But I was wrong. It now seems there was little justification for the bellicose case for war that was presented. I was not alone in being misled. So was the Conservative Party. So was the United Kingdom.

Today that war looks like folly. The defence of it has shrunk to the claim that Saddam Hussein was a bad man, who mistreated his nation, and the world is better off without him.

That is true. But others are bad, too – and mistreat their nations – yet we don’t invade their countries or bomb them from 30,000 feet. It may be that the Labour Government acted in good faith. Judgement on that can be left to history.

But, I observe now – there are lessons: war should be the last resort, entered into only when circumstances compel it. And secondly: we now have on-going responsibilities to help rebuild Iraq that we cannot ignore.


We have now been at war in Afghanistan for eight years – with no sign of an ending. Inevitably there is war weariness – made worse by the depressing rise in casualties. Poor political direction has dogged this mission from the outset. The Labour Government hoped “not a shot would be fired” but 298 British dead mock that naivety. For too long, troops in the field were ill-equipped: that, thankfully, is at last corrected and I hope they now will have all the support they need – in action and on their return home.

Afghanistan is not a war that can easily be “won”, but nor can it be ignored: we are bound to it by necessity.

And it is easy to see why.

The war has spread into Pakistan – a Western ally and a nuclear power where Taleban and Jihadist influence has been growing.

The Afghanistan campaign is now, arguably, not one, but several intertwined conflicts including a power struggle between Jihadists and the Pakistan Government.

As the conflict becomes more messy and intractable, it is understandable that some feel we should bring the troops home – as Canada and the Netherlands plan to do in 2011.

But not yet. Too much is at stake. We need patience and commitment for what could yet be a long military and civil campaign: the alternative is to lose the struggle, boost terror, undermine American and British prestige, and place Pakistan at risk. We did not seek this war, but we cannot – either morally or safely – walk away from it.

The best exit strategy is victory. If that is unobtainable – diplomacy. We may yet have to talk to the Taliban.


The Arab/Israeli dispute colours the view of the Middle East. It spills beyond its own borders and has scarred politics for decades. And is it not absurd that we know the two-State solution we seek, but cannot turn it into reality? Morality, as well as practicality, says we need a solution.

After several decades, a bilateral negotiated settlement is still far away: many wonder if it will ever be possible. Attempts at incremental agreements – “confidence building” in the jargon – have failed again and again. Peace negotiations resemble nothing so much as the mating of the Black Widow Spider. Once the dance is over, death and destruction inevitably follow. How often we have seen that, and how damaging it is.

The present situation is close to stalemate. Palestinians are split. Secular Fatah control the West Bank. Islamic Hamas rule in Gaza. Hamas deny the right of Israel to even exist. They will not renounce violence nor accept previous agreements made by Palestinian negotiators.

In Jerusalem, the situation on the ground is constantly worsening. Three old religions and one historic City stand at the heart of the dilemma. Both Israelis and Palestinians see different parts of Jerusalem as their legitimate capital, yet illegal settlement growth in East Jerusalem is absorbing it into West Jerusalem and making it difficult to see how a peaceful division of the City could ever be possible. Other policies are forcing Palestinians to move. Plainly, this inhibits successful negotiations.

In recent months, Israel has upset even her strongest allies. The murder of a Hamas commander in Dubai and the raid on aid ships heading for Gaza were diplomatic disasters. So, frankly, is the Gaza blockade because it is creating growing support for Hamas at the expense of Fatah – which is not remotely in Israel’s self-interest. Israeli opinion is puzzled. It resents criticism because it cannot understand why much of the world seems more tolerant of Hamas misbehaviour than Israeli action. I can explain this conundrum: it is that the world expects far more of Israel, a democratic State, than Hamas, a terrorist organisation. If Israel reaches out to her friends, she will receive support: if she does not, she will limit their tolerance of her actions.

Is there a solution? Yes, of course – the obvious one, a negotiated settlement. But, if that cannot be achieved, if negotiators from Israel and the Palestinians cannot – or will not – make the concessions necessary to compromise, what then?

Can the international community allow this dispute to run on and on forever – or will the time come when they have no choice other than to press their own ideas for a settlement?

Understandably, the protagonists would hate this: but, if both sides take positions that impede progress, what alternative exists?

Over recent years, the concept of an international peace-keeping force in Gaza and the West Bank has gained support. In Gaza, by monitoring the Egypt/Gaza border, it could inhibit the ability of Hamas to attack Israeli towns with rockets and, by enabling the blockade to be lifted, prevent the complete collapse of the economy. In the West Bank, it could focus on civil improvement, economic advance and more effective law and order.

If progress is not made soon in bilateral negotiations, this idea may become an early step towards an imposed agreement.

Will this be difficult? Of course it will. It is a gamble, a high risk toss of the coin, and one that requires great political courage, especially in Washington.

Will it work? No-one can know – but nothing else has. Will America do it? Most people accept that the strength of the Israeli lobby limits America’s freedom of action. But time – and patience – is running out. The political risk of pressuring Israel – for any American Administration – is very great, but a contrary truth is that an agreement is in Israel’s long-term interest every bit as much as the Palestinians.

Impossible, some say. Really? That’s what I was told before we started the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Distrust there was as toxic as between Israel and her adversaries, and yet Ireland is now a changed country, with neighbours once at war with one another, living together in harmony.

And what is the alternative? A perpetual ongoing dispute that leaves generations of Israelis and Palestinians facing the same conundrum, the same hatreds, the same insecurities – until another war breaks out with enhanced weapons and an incalculable outcome.


Churchill once referred to Russia as “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. He went on to say: “But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

Much the same could be said of Iran today. In the year since the flawed re election of Ahmadinejad, there has been widespread internal dissent by hundreds of thousands of individual Iranians. There have been marches, coded speeches, intellectual dissent, as liberty has raised its voice. The regime has responded with repression but, like others before them, they will find that the demand for change, for something better, for a free and open society, is impossible to smother forever. You cannot arrest freedom and keep it in jail.

Because of the regime, we view Iran through a very narrow prism. Is she developing nuclear weapons? When will she have them? Will she use them? On whom? Some ask whether America – or Israel as a proxy – should attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities?

The fear of a nuclear Iran is real. If she obtains a weapon, the risk of proliferation is high.

Why is Iran doing this? The economy is in a mess. The currency is weak. Inflation, interest rates and unemployment are high. In the MENA, she is rated 137th out of 163 in terms of ease of doing business – only just ahead of the West Bank and Gaza. A sad comedown for a nation that, as Persia, was a great Empire, when the British and Americans lived in mud huts.

Nothing is explicable without understanding that Iran is a nationalist and hard-line regime. The real source of power is the Supreme Leader, backed by the Revolutionary Guards, the Army, the Intelligence Services and the Police. The President, Ahmadinejad – so often the face of Iran – is a secondary figure. He is not the decisive decision-maker. He is the Apprentice, not the Sorcerer.

What should we do? First, remember the regime is not the nation – as the internal dissent vividly makes clear. Even so, while the clerical regime survives, we must deal with it. It is possible negotiations may improve relations; and we should continue to try. But, because of the threat she poses, we must supplement dialogue with incentives and sanctions. In any event, adding a third military conflict after Iraq and Afghanistan is very unattractive – even if we cannot rule it out. But, for the time being, the sanctions applied last week seem the right way forward. We can only hope they prove sufficient.

So often time is a tyrant. There is much I would like to have said of Lebanon – so often an innocent victim of wider issues. Of Syria – and how to engage her. Of Jordan – and our close friends in the Gulf. Of the rosy prospects of North Africa. Of Egypt and Turkey – and the importance of their role, and my support for Turkey’s application to join the EU.

These – and other – issues must wait for another day. But not, I hope, for too long. The Middle East is stirring and we need to embrace it, consult it and benefit from its wisdom.

If we do not, it will be our loss.

John Major – 1996 Speech to Businessmen in London


Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to businessmen in London on Wednesday 10th January 1996. A copy of the press release following the speech is available at

Peter, Good Morning and thank you for taking the trouble to organise this event. It has been such a quiet and dull political period over Christmas that I have been looking forward to this morning with great anticipation.

As you said a moment or so ago, Peter, we have gathered here in this room a very substantial number of the most senior businessmen representing the largest corporations and newspapers throughout the United Kingdom. Here are many of the people who make many of the crucial decisions about where investment goes and what actually happens to the future prosperity of this country. And so I want to spend most of the time speaking to you this morning about matters economic in one form or another, and then leave as much time as possible for you to ask the questions that concern you.

Let me just back-track for a few moments and look over the last years to perhaps put today and tomorrow in a slightly better context. No-one doubts how difficult the last few years have been, the recession was longer than it was expected, it was deeper than we expected, it had a more profound psychological effect upon thinking in this country than many people anticipated when it began or even as it continued and seemed at one stage to be going on almost forever.

Not just of course a problem for the United Kingdom, it was a recession that spread throughout all of the Western world and some parts of the rest of the business world as well. But it is behind us now and what I want people to concentrate on at the moment are the circumstances that face us at the moment and to wipe away the mindset that we have had for so much of the past 3 or 4 years.

There is a tendency in human nature generally that if things are difficult they are going to go on being difficult forever; if things are excellent they are going to go on being benevolent forever. Neither of those things are true. We did have, as a country, in company with the rest of Western Europe, a very difficult economic period. But we have actually been out of recession technically for over 2 years and in reality out of recession quite substantially for a very substantial period now.

What we need to do is to look at where we are, uncluttered by the memories of what happened, and look at the prospects that lie immediately ahead of us at the present time. And I say that because if we don’t do that, if we, government and business, leave ourselves with the mindset of 1992 and 1993 then we will miss the opportunities of 1997 and the years that follow it.

Let me try and break some of the distorting prism of opinion that occasionally entraps people when they think about our prospects. I suppose you might call it an alternative news summary, some of the things that get less publicity than they might unless they appear in a brown sealed envelope.

You touched upon some of them, Peter. Inflation probably, I think certainly, under more secure lock and key than we have known certainly in my political lifetime, and I don’t just mean in Parliament, I mean since I first entered politics as a 16 year old. We are certainly going to be well within our inflation targets. I suspect if the election is when I anticipate it will be that we will have met our 2.5 percent target that we set ourselves for inflation by the time we reach the next election. It is no longer, almost for the first time in the memory of most of the people round this room, a material problem to future investment because there is an acceptance that inflation is now under proper control.

If we have broken the inflationary psychology, and I pray that we have, then both in the short term and the long term I think that is one of the most remarkable and benevolent changes for British industry and commerce that we have seen literally for decades.

Secondly, interest rates, not quite at an historic low, but certainly by comparison with most of the last quarter of a century low and no serious risk in the short term that they are going to be significantly higher and we hope, all things being well, that it may be possible to reduce them.

Mortgages at their lowest level for 30 years. Unemployment now having fallen for 26 months in a row, down to 8 percent. Our nearest neighbours, perhaps the closest economy – France – with unemployment stuck at around 12.8 percent, no major European economy having either unemployment as low as us in the United Kingdom or, and perhaps this is a better measure, no other major European country with as high a proportion of its adult population in work as we have in the United Kingdom. We have now beaten Germany on both those counts for the first time that I can! ever remember. And of course tax at its lowest level we have seen for 50 years.

Now that wasn’t easy to achieve. It didn’t happen by magic. It did happen because throughout the past 3 or 4 years, often when we were invited to take decisions that would have been popular in the short term but damaging in the long term, we didn’t take those damaging long term decisions, instead we took the short term unpopularity and as a result of that we have the economic opportunities that lie immediately ahead of us at present.

They are opportunities, they are yet to be taken, but I believe they are opportunities that put us well on track for the doubling of living standards in 20 years that I set out as our objective 18 months or so ago.

Let us look at some of the other indicators that are now becoming apparent. At last, much slower, much later than I would have hoped, we are beginning to see house prices having increased for each of the last 5 months. After having had to put up taxes because of the size of the fiscal deficit, and it was frankly a choice between taxes going up or interest rates going up, and think it was right to deal with it, taxes are reversible when the time is right and we now have personal taxation back I hope on a downward trend. Sales rising. And although it isn’t directly an economic matter, it affects many people in this room, for the first time in 40 years the clearest possible indication that crime is now on a downward trend. And for those cynics who say, and there are sadly cynics in public life, that the crime statistics are rubbish, it is simply that people are not reporting crime, I would refer them to the insurance companies and the statistics that they have released for theft of motor cars for example. Because I think it is very hard to argue that anyone who has had their motor car stolen would not actually report it to the insurance company in order to make a claim. And that shows a distinct downward trend as well and you can see that elsewhere across crime.

If I may make some other points. We have, despite the criticism of privatisation, the best single method of giving people a personal stake in society I would have thought, a shareholding stake in society, despite the criticism there has been of the privatised industries, some of it justified, some of it not, the reality is that the price of utilities, crucial to the living standards of people right across this country, are more stable than we have known them at any stage before and in most of the cases, in real terms, the price is actually falling.

And if I may make a political point for a moment. That has been achieved over the past 4 years with a tiny parliamentary majority, all of which, as we have occasionally seen, not absolutely steady on parade on every single occasion, it has been achieved in a hostile economic environment and with a totally opportunistic and destructive political opposition.

We have immediately ahead of us some legislation that is crucial for the future. It is very fashionable to take the view that there is an empty legislative programme. I don’t regard a Finance Bill that cuts taxes as being empty; I don’t regard an Education Bill that extends opportunity and choice as being empty; I don’t regard a Broadcasting Bill that begins to prepare us better than we have been prepared for, for the IT revolution that is taking place as being empty; neither do I regard the rest of the parliamentary programme as being anything other than absolutely necessary.

We are now within 16 months or so of a general election. And if the principal opposition party can force it, of course they would like that election a good deal earlier. And I will tell you why. They would like the election earlier because like me they know they know that the economy is improving, they know that that is beginning to become apparent to people, they know that there is now going to be a rising level of net disposable income and people will feel noticeably better than they have done in the past and they would like to have the election early before that becomes increasingly apparent to people up and down the country.

But there is at this election a great deal at stake, not just the protection of the remarkable changes that have been made throughout the last 16 years, not just the protection of those for they have made to our competitiveness a dramatic difference over that period, but much else besides. And I would say to those people who may be tempted by an alternative, it is a very dangerous proposition to play Russian roulette with all the barrels loaded, and no-one should assume that the advances that we have made would be safe with any alternative government. So people, not just business, but people up and down this country have a great deal to lose if they decide upon a reckless gamble of that sort.

Let me touch upon some of those points and then I want to come to something which is very current at the present time. Benign circumstances, certainly; huge opportunities for the future, beyond a doubt, but they won’t necessarily be there with the wrong policies or with the wrong government. Does one really accept, do the people out there in the country really believe that Gordon Brown would have the same rigorous control over inflation that we have accepted, with great political unpopularity? Do people really believe that Robin Cook would defend our position in Europe with the same vigour that we have done over recent years? Are there people present who believe that Margaret Beckett is so concerned about competitiveness that she would ditch her personal wish to return much of the old trade union legislation that existed in the past? Is there anyone present, or indeed in the country, who seriously believes that Jack Straw would take a tougher line on crime than Michael Howard?

Well I don’t think that there are. I could go on, I have overlooked John Prescott. Now I come to think of it, this is one of the things Tony Blair and I have in common because we both overlook John Prescott, I don’t invite him to meetings either and I appreciate why Tony doesn’t.

It is worth concentrating on the fact that a government requires 18 Members in the House of Commons and something up to 30 in the House of Lords. And the mindset of most of our opponents, there may be a leader with one view but where is the heart of the party elsewhere? While the majority of the Labour Party still sings the red flag, the Leader may be humming Mandelson rather than the red flag, but the instinct of the party is where the instinct of the party has been in the past.

Over the last few months it has been interesting to try and see the way in which political programmes for the future have been set out and I will return to our plans for making the United Kingdom the enterprise centre of Europe in a few moments. But just a few days ago, in Japan, the Leader of the Labour Party set out his plans for what he called a stakeholder society. It is not entirely clear what he meant by that. As with his reversal of Clause 4, there was a hint in his speech and his spin-doctors then explained what it was that he might have meant by what it was that he almost said.

But a stakeholder society is either a soundbite too many or alternatively it is the beginnings of the return to some form of corporate society. And I will set out for you why I believe that is so. Perhaps it is meaningless, who can tell? We certainly in the past have frequently seen spin-doctors elaborating on what has been said, that is the style of the Labour Party. But if it is old-style corporatism then I think we had better flush that out before people just overlook it and we skim on. Because what that potentially is is very damaging for the United Kingdom.

Who are the stakeholders to be? Are the stakeholders to be 30-odd million adults? And if they are to be the stakeholders, why are they not to be stakeholders in the form we have built up over the last 16 years, with their own personal pensions, with their own homes, with the lowest level of taxation, with shareholdings, more shareholders now than there are trade unionists in this country? That is a genuine stake. People have a real interest, literally a share in this nation that is personally theirs and not determined by some other body on their behalf telling them that they, the body, are looking after their interests for them.

But if the stakeholders, as I suspect from what we hear, are quite different bodies then we are in a different ballgame. And I rather suspect, as so often, that Margaret Beckett was revealing the truth of what is planned when she said just the other day, and I quote: “There is growing concern that the many interest groups, in particular the general public, consumers and so on”, she wanted to soften it of course, “are excluded from some of the thinking in industry in the past and there is a general exploration of how we can create more common ground, how we can make sure that all interests are taken into account when we look at stakeholders.”

Well I will tell you who they really mean. They mean the special interest groups, they mean the trade unions, they mean the people that so often are covered by so much of the social chapter type of thinking in this country. That is what I suspect they mean when they actually talk about stakeholders.

What I believe we are seeing is the tip of a plan which is nothing better than a fancy packaging for new burdens on business of one sort or another. And although some of those burdens that have already been apparent that sound benign, they are not. A minimum wage does sound benign, particularly to those who are very poorly paid, but it is not benign because it often means that those who are poorly paid would not be paid in a job at all if you had a minimum wage legislation. A training levy, which I think would be a great mistake to introduce. The social chapter – the problem with the social chapter is twofold, it is not just what is in the social chapter at the moment, damaging enough though that is, the real danger were the United Kingdom to sign up to the social chapter in Europe and leave it free across the whole of Europe is not so much what is in it now but what would then be brought into the social chapter because that is the ambition of nearly all the rest of our European partners to bring much of their domestic social legislation, under the social chapter heading, in order to remove their competitive disadvantage against the United Kingdom in particular and other countries in general.

And I will not sign up to that, and I will not sign up to that for a moral reason and I will tell you the moral reason. When our political opponents talk of the social chapter they talk of it in very benign terms from the point of view of someone who is in work getting greater protection. Well I gloss over the fact that few of them would be in work. But I would put this question to you.

If you make it more expensive to employ people who are in work, the employer will firstly employ less and it will be correspondingly more difficult for those not in work ever to get themselves into work. It is politicians across Europe, using employers’ money to buy popularity for themselves and the losers are the people not in work who, as a result of that, might never get into work or certainly would have their chance of getting into work greatly reduced.

And I have to tell you, I don’t just think that is economically wrong, I think that is plain immoral when you actually look at what the practical effect would be. Right the way across the European Union there is too much unemployment. 20 million or so adults in the European Union are unemployed. And if you look at the trend from 1950 onwards, it doesn’t matter whether it is good days or bad days, boom or bust, you have had that underlying growth in unemployment. And why, when the rest of the world has been creating jobs? Because we have become relatively less competitive. It does not matter a tuppenny damn within the European Union if there are minor changes in competitiveness.

What does matter is if throughout the whole of the European Union we become less competitive to Japan, to the United States, to Latin America, to the Pacific Basin countries, and that over 30 years is what has been happening. And that is the matter, the principal matter, that so many people in the European Union ought to be turning their mind to rather than so many of the narrow and institutional questions that have bothered people so much over the last few years.

Now let me turn to the ambitions that I would wish to see this country achieve. Let me firstly put our position in context. The government, on behalf of the public, spends at the moment about 42 percent of the national income. I compare that 42 percent to the average of 52 percent elsewhere in the European Union – 52 percent elsewhere, 42 percent here. But that 42 percent also needs to be compared with our other competitors around the world, and it is too high, and the expenditure plans that we have will bring it down below 40 percent and then I believe there is scope to reduce it a little further, though precisely how far I wouldn’t care to judge at this moment, but certainly we will get it down below 40 percent and then lower still if we can to open up the prospects of greater competitiveness and lower tax burden on both industry and on individuals. And I believe that is eminently achievable providing we keep a proper grip on inflation and the sort of economic policies that we have followed over the past few years.

Where are the priorities? When? And I make no promise about the date, nobody say I am making distinct tax promises, but let me set out the objectives that we will reach when it is affordable.

Certainly we retain the objective of a 20 pence basic rate of tax. I can offer you no promises of changing the 40 pence, I don’t think that is a priority and I don’t wish to pretend to you that it is. But to get a 20 pence basic rate of tax does seem to me to be a very attractive priority.

I think in terms of enterprise taxes, and I will have a lot to say about enterprise over the next few months so I won’t concentrate on too much of that this morning. But in terms of enterprise, as it becomes affordable, let me repeat what I have said in the past. I believe it is in the country’s interest, economic, socially and certainly in terms of competitiveness, to over time abolish both inheritance tax and capital gains tax. I believe that the impact that the change in those taxes will have on the flow of investment will be of great benefit to many of the people who will wish for themselves and their children to have secure and growing employment prospects. I know it will be criticised as being aid to fat cats, of course that is always the politics of envy argument that can be used. But the best aid to people is to make sure that they actually have the opportunity of a decent job with decent prospects for the future, and that doesn’t magically appear without using the private sector to generate the investment that is necessary. And if people themselves earn success and rewards for that investment, I am not going to object to that. I would prefer to look not at the gains that they may get but at the opportunities that that investment by then will provide for many other people to be in proper and gainful employment. So I see those changes.

Clearly there is a great deal more to be done on deregulation. It is, I have to tell you frankly, like wrestling with a greasy pig, every time you deregulate here there is a new regulation that pops up elsewhere that is often gold plated because the people determining the regulations say well if I don’t gold plate it and something happens to go wrong, when the inevitable inquiry occurs I will be blamed. And so there is a great deal of gold plating of regulation and I think business is right to be critical of that fact over the years and we must look further to see how we can deregulate.

I just want to indicate one other point about the social chapter. I said how damaging it could become, but let me just illustrate in terms of social on-costs what it might mean. You employers, many of you round here in the United Kingdom, for every 100 pounds in wages that you pay out you would pay out an extra 18 pounds in on-costs of one sort or another. In Germany it wouldn’t be 18 pounds, it would be 32 pounds. In Spain it would be 34 pounds. In France it would be 41 pounds. And in Italy it would be 44 pounds. Is it any surprise when you begin to hear those figures and see the reality of what it means, that we are the principal centre for inward investment across the whole of Europe and that it is this country that is creating new jobs and seeing unemployment fall, and our European partners who are losing jobs and seeing unemployment remain at a stubbornly high level?

We have immediately ahead of us, and because I wish to leave questions for it I will not enlarge on it in any detail, some crucially important decisions for this country. Just because we have an economy that is benign doesn’t mean there aren’t very big decisions to be taken. There will be important decisions on European matters on a number of fronts – the Intergovernmental Conference, the single currency in due course, difficult questions on defence and the way in which NATO evolves and also its relationship with the Western European Union and conceivably the European Union itself. And most crucial of all in many respects, the way in which enlargement of the European Union is itself handled, something that I regard of critical importance. Again, while so much of the debate and discussion has been about institutional matters within the existing Europe, the opportunity for this generation of politicians to fundamentally improve our security in the future by extending the borders of the European Union, of the free market and embracing in the democratic embrace of Western Europe lots of countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the opportunity for doing that is greater than we have known in the past, and if this generation of politicians misses that opportunity the time may come in the future when people would curse us for our short-sightedness in not having ensured democracy in those countries that only escaped from a communist embrace within the period of the last few years.

They are big questions, apart from the domestic questions of continually expanding and unfolding the entrance into what was once the secret garden of education so that parents have proper choice and opportunity. These are matters of crucial importance to our future, they are matters where the choice between the parties is very great.

You asked me, Peter, at the beginning, was this election there to be won, and the answer is yes it is. I have not a shred of doubt in my mind that the opinion poll figures are wholly illusory, neither do I have a shred of doubt in my mind that we can and that we will win that general election. Of course it is going to be a fight. I recall what I think it was John Paul Jones said when faced with a particularly difficult naval battle: “Fight”, he said, “I have not yet begun to fight”. And there is up to 16 months before the general election with a growing difference between the parties. The stakeholder speech the other day may well open red water between the two parties because I believe, if it means the corporatism I think it means, it is a fundamental political error that the Labour Party have just made.

So yes we are going to fight for this election, not just because we want another period of power, we have had 16 years of power, but we are going to fight for this election because we have built up in the last 16 years a greater stock of improvement in the life standards of the average Briton than we have seen in any 16 years of government by any political party at any stage in this century.

And I don’t wish to see that thrown away, I do wish to see it built on over the next few years, and I intend to see that it is and I intend to be there to do it.

John Major – 1996 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Madam Chairman, we’ve had a good week.

It’s been the week the Tory family came together – to renew the family contract with the British nation.

And through the week, colleague after colleague has set out fresh, detailed, new policy for the future.

There’ve been some marvellous speeches.

It’s been 21 years since Michael Heseltine first got a standing ovation at this conference. And no one has sat down since.

The well-being of our country is more important than any political party.

And the well-being of the Conservative Party is more important than any member of it.

So the lesson is clear. Everyone in the Conservative Party should work – and if I know them, will work – heart and soul, irrespective of personal interests, to secure the re-election of a Conservative Government.

Over the last two or three years there’s been attempt after attempt – by our opponents – to sully the reputation of our Party.

Well, I know this party.

No doubt it’s not perfect – nor is everyone in it.

But I grew up in it.

And that campaign won’t succeed.

Because this Party as a whole is straight and honourable and true and – like you – I’m proud to be a member of it.

Unlike Labour, we aren’t ashamed of our past.

Unlike Labour, we haven’t abandoned our principles.

Unlike Labour, we haven’t had to reinvent ourselves. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved.

Because, Madam Chairman, we’ve changed Britain – for the better.



When I became Prime Minister, I set out to make Britain a low inflation economy.

I knew what a fight it would be.

But we went for it. We took the flak.

No weakening. Heads down. We did what we always do when we’re challenged: we came out fighting.

And, as a result, we’ve had the longest run of low inflation this country has seen for a generation.

I want to thank my colleagues – and you – my party – for standing with me through that battle. Between us, we’ve transformed the prospects for our country.

And we did it with raw political gut.

We set out to create jobs. And we’re succeeding.

Unemployment is lower here than in any comparable country in Europe.

In Britain it’s falling.

In Europe it’s not.

Last year, this year, and next year we’re set to have higher growth here, in our country, than any big country in Europe.

Curiously enough, the Labour leader didn’t mention these successes in his flight of fancy last week.

Pages missing perhaps?

He just said the country was falling apart.

Inflation down.

Mortgages down.

Unemployment down.

Some fall.

Of course, there was a time when this country was falling apart. It was when we had a Labour Government.

So I’ve got some friendly advice for Mr Blair. If you knock your country, you’ll never lead it.

The plain truth is I’m the first Prime Minister for generations who can say “We’re the most competitive economy in Europe”.

And I intend to be the Prime Minister who builds on that success after we’ve won the next General Election.

Madam Chairman, at that election there’s a central question. It’s this: who can be trusted with the future?

Labour try to persuade people it’s them.

“We’re different” they say. “We’ve changed our name”.

“Rely on us – you know we’ve always been wrong in the past”.

Well, that’s candid – if a touch eccentric.

Trouble is, they’re wrong in the present as well.

And it simply won’t do for Mr Blair to say, “Look, I’m not a Socialist anymore. Now, can I be Prime Minister please?”.

Sorry Tony. Job’s taken.

And anyway, it’s too big a task for your first real job.

Mr Blair’s handlers are trying to spread the tale that he’s a very fierce dog indeed. Indeed, but also that he’s quite harmless.

Another eccentric messages, “Fierce dog – no teeth!”.

By the way, have you noticed how the less a politician has to say, the more over-heated the language in which he says it?

When every aim becomes – “a crusade”.

Every hope – “a dream”.

Every priority – “a passion”.

Then it’s time to duck from cover.

And when the whole show is laced with words like “tragedy”, “catastrophe”, “triumph” and “destiny” – terms with real meaning, but which, ransacked for political advantage, degrade the message – then I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “the louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons”.



Madam Chairman, I came into politics to open doors, not shut them.

They were opened for me.

I was born in the war.

My father was 66. My mother was – how shall I put it? Surprised.

We were like millions of others. Not well off, but comfortable, until financially the roof fell in.

Nothing special about that.

But for us, it changed our life.

My mother coped – as women do.

I left school at 16, because 5 pounds a week mattered.

I learnt something from that experience. In the game of life, we Tories should even up the rules.

Give people opportunity and choice, to open up an avenue of hope in their lives.

And by “people”, I don’t mean “some people”. I mean everyone.

Opportunity for all.

It’s in the bloodstream of our party.

It was Shaftesbury who gave an education to thousands of children from poor homes.

It was Disraeli who gave many working men the freedom to vote.

It was Salisbury who brought free education within the reach of almost every family in England.

All Tories.

And it was Margaret Thatcher – another Tory, as you may know, who sold council houses and public industries, giving people a real stake in this country.

Giving people opportunity marks the great divide in British politics.

In its heart, Old Labour, New Labour, any old Labour still believe that Government knows best.

I don’t.

But then, I’m a Conservative.

I believe we should give families opportunity and choice and a wider, warmer view of life.

Our belief in choice is the driving force of our policy – its not a political ploy; for me it’s the core of what I believe in.



I start with education.

There are millions of children in our country. All unique. Everyone an original: different skills, different talents, different needs.

Should each child – with all his or her originality – be made to fit into a regimented education system?

Or should we design an education system to fit the originality of the child?

We of course we should.

So our task is to provide a rich choice of schools and colleges, giving the best to every child and demanding the best of every child.

And who should choose the right schools for those children?

The Government?

The bureaucrat in Whitehall?

The councillor in the Town Hall?

Or the parents, who love and care for those children?

Of course it’s the parents.

Wherever possible, they should choose.

We’re improving that choice every year.

And we intend to widen it further.

So, I make this promise:

If parents want more grant-maintained schools – they shall have them.

More specialist schools – we’ll provide them.

More selection – they’ll have it. Why should government say “no” if parents think it’s right for their children?

And if parents want grammar schools in every town – so do I, and they shall have them.

We grammar school boys – and girls, Gillian – believe in choice for parents.

That means parents shouldn’t face a choice between one bad school and another.

What kind of choice is that?

I’ll tell you.

It’s the kind of choice you get in Islington – unless you move out of the borough.

We’re going to change that. That’s why this autumn, as Gill Shepherd told you, we’ll turn today’s promises into tomorrow’s reality with a flagship Education Bill.

We want high standards in every school.

It’s why we set up the National Curriculum. It’s why we insist on tests.

Without tests, how can you know what a child hasn’t learned?

And how can parents be sure how well their children – of their school – are doing?

When we insisted on giving that information to parents, John Prescott called it “Political Propaganda”.

Just pause and think about that for a moment. It tells you a lot.

Information to parents about their children – and the Deputy Leader of New Labour calls it “Political Propaganda”.

Well, well. If education’s a passion for Labour, it’s a passion that dare not speak its results.



While on education, I want to say a word about sport.

Firstly, well done England on Wednesday. More please.

And well done Scotland. I hear it was no effort at all. But you’d have won anyway.

Last year, at this conference, I told you of my determination to restore sport, and particularly team sport, to the heart of school life.

It’s natural and healthy for young people at school to have their sporting heroes and heroines: sportsmen and women whom they can choose as role models.

So with the enthusiastic help of the Sports Councils, I’m going to set up a team of Sporting Ambassadors – widely drawn from the best role models in sports, our leading athletes, past and present – who’ll visit schools and talk to pupils, teaching staff, school governors and parents, to enthuse and inspire and encourage.

To work up the scheme, I have asked that legendary England cricketer – that man for all seasons – Sir Colin Cowdrey – to chair a small committee whose members will be drawn from the elite of the sporting and academic worlds. Colin is here today and I want you to thank him for agreeing to do this.

His committee will announce their conclusions by Christmas, and I intend that the scheme will be up and running in schools in the coming academic year.

Colin scored nearly 8,000 runs for England. Now he’s going to inspire nearly 8 million boys and girls who might want to play, compete and represent their country.

I want them to enjoy sport. And they’ll enjoy it more if they play to win.

Take it from me – winning is fun.



There are those who believe in the self-before-everyone, grab-what-you-can school of thought. They may find opportunity for all an odd philosophy.

But it’s ours.

And for the last 17 years we’ve followed it.

We’ve cut direct tax, given more and more people the opportunity to save, to own shares, own pensions, own homes.

More than ever before, we’ve given families more independence and more freedom to choose.

As a result, millions have become owners of homes, savings, shares and pensions.

But not enough yet.

Madam Chairman, in our next 5 years, we will seek new opportunities: an opportunity owning democracy.

Helping more people save and build security for retirement.

Helping people who need care keep more of those savings.

We’re aiming for the least possible tax to give the greatest possible choice.

As we can afford it, we’ll move to a 20p basic rate for all. That’s our priority.

We know that cutting taxes isn’t government giving anything back to people.

It’s the government taking away less of people’s own money.

That’s why low taxes are right.

We don’t want to soak the tax payer.

Labour often say they want to soak the rich.

But they’re the only party in history who also regularly manage to soak the poor.

And sometimes no taxes are right. So, to encourage wealth creation for the future, we’ll reduce and then abolish Capital Gains Tax.

Many people in our country build up savings long after they’ve enough for their own needs.

One reason they do that is to pass on the fruits of their life’s work to their children and grandchildren.

This is a powerful, human emotion.

So, over time, our next target is to remove the burden of inheritance tax.

Building wealth for the many, not for the few.



People treasure independence. Their own independence. The State is the last option, not the first.

The more independence, the less reliance. The less reliance, the more we can help those in real need.

There are many demands we must meet.

Health – as science provides more treatment.

Social services – as we improve care.

We’ve always accepted this responsibility.

But as we accept responsibility, so must people themselves.

Dependency must be about needs, not culture.

I can’t stand the welfare cheats. I’ll tell you why. They deprive those in real need.

We’re determined that taxpayers’ money goes where it’s needed.

Our task is to build a welfare system for the 21st century.

A system for a self-help society – not a help-yourself society.

And one way of building independence is to get more people back to work.

We’re now doing that on a scale that’s the envy of Europe – partly because we refuse to make political gestures that cost jobs. That’s why I say “No” to the minimum wage and “No” to the Social Chapter.

The minimum wage is the wage of the dole queue.

It’s not a wage at all.

How can you talk of a Social Chapter that makes it more difficult for people to find work.

That’s why I say they’re no-go areas for jobs and no-go areas for us.

It’s business not government that creates jobs.

But government can help the unemployed.

Last year I announced our plans to develop a Contract For Work.

This week we Tories took a big step forward with the start of our new Job Seekers Allowance.

We don’t want to pay people to stay on the dole. We do want to help them get back into work.

So first we’re going to help those who’ve been out of work the longest. They’re the people for whom the barriers to opportunity are highest.

First, we give them help to find a job and if that doesn’t succeed, they’ll be offered work on a community project.

For many it’s just the motivation they need.

But it also shows up those who don’t want to work. I think that’s right.

So over the next year we’ll be extending the scheme to towns and cities across the country.

This is part of building a welfare system we can afford. One that goes with the grain of the British nation. Fair to those in need. And fair to those who pay the bills.



Madam Chairman, every year, someone writes to The Times to say he has heard the first cuckoo of spring.

And every year at the Labour conference, some cuckoo distorts out commitment to the National Health Service.


Our NHS is unique.

In this country, when you’re ill, we take your temperature.

In other countries, they take your credit card. While I’m in Downing Street, that will never happen here.

That doesn’t mean that National Health Service shouldn’t change. It must. If it were fossilised, it would decline.

I saw that clearly the other day when Norma and I visited a doctor’s surgery – in Glossop actually.

The family doctor is the gateway to the Health Service. More people see their doctor than anyone else.

This was a fundholding practice – part of our reforms – and, in its own small way, an example of the quiet revolution of the NHS.

Waiting lists have been slashed.

People no longer has to trek to the district hospital.

More services were available. Osteopathy, acupuncture, Alexander technique, counselling, nursing, physiotherapy and occupational-therapy posts created. Community Care improved. More money spend on patients, not paperwork.

Tory policy working for the patient.

Now, this practice is one of the very best. But that excellent service could be the future everywhere.

Our task is to make it so.

And this autumn, Stephen Dorrell will introduce a Bill to do just that – giving family doctors greater freedom to develop local services in their surgeries – creating a new generation of cottage hospitals all over Britain.

And that’s only half of it. In the Autumn, Stephen will set out our ambitious plans to build the National Health Service for the 21st Century.

And Labour’s vision? Stuck in the past and stuck in the mud – as usual. They plan to end fundholding.

What ideological madness. Do you know what that would mean? I learnt in Glossop. It would mean that those new clinical posts, new nurses, new physiotherapists, the new occupational therapist – all these would go.

New Labour, no new services.

But, in the NHS we must always try to improve our services.

So, before the end of this year, we’ll unveil new plans to help mentally ill people followed by new plans to reform social care for children, disabled people and the elderly.

More practical Tory measures.

And looking a little further ahead, I still hear too many stories of politically correct absurdities that prevent children being adopted by loving couples who would give them a good home. If that is happening, we should stop it.

Madam Chairman, for over 17 years, through thick and thin, we Conservatives have found extra money for the NHS.

It’s become a habit.

So today, I give you a Health Service Guarantee.

Our Manifesto pledge that the NHS will get more, over and above inflation, year … on year … on year … on year … on year … through the next Conservative Government.



Earlier this week, Michael Howard set out our new plans to fight crime. But there’s two things I’d like to add.

Firstly, in a few weeks, we’ll published new plans to deal with younger offenders.

They’re a real problem.

We must spot school age children turning to crime and stop them in their tracks early on.

One theme of our plans will be to make them repair the hurt they’ve done. And we’ll have some new ideas.

But today, let me tell you of our plans for young tearaways who are out of control.

We only want them in institutions if it’s really necessary.

But if they don’t deserve that punishment – severe for young people – they mustn’t think they can offend and get away with it.

Over the last year, we’ve been testing an electronic way of tagging offenders so we can confine them to their homes, and know that that curfew is being kept.

It’s worked. We think it will work on younger offenders as well – so, we’ll try that too.

If we know a young trouble maker is out there, night after night, disturbing the peace and committing crimes, we’ll make sure the courts have the power to order him to stay put. At home – off the streets.

And the tag around his ankle – that can’t be removed – will raise the alert the moment he tries to go out.

If he can’t go out on Friday and Saturday nights with his mates it might cool him down a bit. If he can’t watch his football team on Saturday, let me say it plain. That’s his fault. Not mine, not yours, his. And it’s time the buck stopped where the responsibility lies. No-one will miss the hooligan on the terrace.

And he might just learn the lesson.

And that will help him – as well as us.



Earlier this week, the IRA once spat their hate at the British nation.

Many good people tell me I shouldn’t bother with Northern Ireland. “No votes in it” they say. Maybe not. But there are lives in it.

And that’s why I bother.

I don’t believe Northern Ireland will leave the United Kingdom, nor do I wish it to.

But I know that there can only be a peace in Northern Ireland if all its citizens – Catholic and Protestant alike – feel their traditions have a welcome place in the United Kingdom. And there will only be peace of mind if we remove the causes that have given rise to so much conflict.

This is a political task. Grindingly hard, I know. But that is what the multi-party talks are for.

Progress has been slow – painfully slow. But progress has been made. And there is no other show in town.

Bombs will not bring Sinn Fein into the talks.

All they mean is that Sinn Fein has slammed the door on themselves.

I applaud the way the Loyalists have maintained their ceasefire in the face of the IRA’s provocation. Their political leaders have gained in influence and standing as a result. I urge them to stand firm and not to throw away what they have achieved.

The IRA’s latest betrayal of Northern Ireland means the demand for decommissioning of illegal arms is justified even more clearly.

We must have decommissioning in parallel with the talks.

And so that there’s no hiding place for those arms, missiles and explosives, Paddy Mayhew will introduce legislation into Parliament this autumn to set out how they can be taken out of circulation.

I want those weapons off the street.

And I want to remove the false excuses peddled by the men of violence for keeping their weapons. Let us expose these men to the world for what they are.

I also want to make government in Northern Ireland more accountable and give MPs more responsibility. We have already given the Scottish and Welsh members greater ability to question Ministers.

This autumn, I shall do the same for Northern Ireland. MPs from there should be able to question the Ministers and scrutinise Government policies directly in the Grand Committee, meeting sometimes in Northern Ireland. I will consult the parties about how best to achieve that.

The IRA has always believed that Britain can be deflected by terrorism. They’ve always been wrong. And they’re wrong now.

No-one will take Sinn Fein seriously ever again until they show a serious commitment to end violence for good.

I believe in the politics of reason – backed by strong law enforcement. I know in the end it will prevail.

And I promise the people of Northern Ireland this;

For as long as there is a political breath in my body, I will fight for a secure way of life in Northern Ireland for a settlement fair to all.



Earlier this week, Ian Lang, Malcolm Rifkind and Ken Clarke set out exciting new possibilities for Britain as a global trading nation with interests around the world. Wonderful speeches, all of them.

We have links and influence on every continent.

We have given birth to a whole family of nations.

I never forget that as I contemplate our future role in Europe.

The sharpest element of the European debate is the possibility of a single European Currency.

We Conservatives are in grown-up politics. We know that where Britain’s national interest is at stake, Britain’s national voice must be heard.

Over recent days in articles, interviews and in this conference hall on Wednesday, I spelt out why we must play a full part in that debate.

Madam Chairman, Europe is changing. The only thing that is certain is that it won’t be the same in the future.

In a few years, Europe will have 26 or 27 members. They’ll be widely different. Many of them will never match the economic performance of the larger European nations.

So, how do we cope with this?

We believe Europe must become more flexible and responsive. That the only realistic future is a partnership of nations, not a United States of Europe.

But some of our partners do see the future of Europe as ever closer political as well as economic integration.

We don’t believe this is practical. Nor, to be frank, desirable.

It’s not the Europe we joined and it’s not a Europe we can accept.

This debate about the future direction of Europe is one of the most critical we have ever engaged in. We need to argue it fiercely but fairly.

Europe is at a watershed.

Britain is a great nation. Of course, we must be in Europe. But we are in Europe to help shape it – not to be shaped by it.



Madam Chairman, a buccaneering spirit, gritty resolve, give and take, a conviction that everyone is entitled to the same dignity, courtesy, and esteem because of what they are, not who they are.

These are some of the values we all share. That’s what makes us a nation. Down the centuries, they have moulded our democracy.

It’s not a concept of government copied across the world because it’s the oldest. It’s because it’s the best. We treasure it. That’s why we must hold on to it.

The Union. Parliament. Our voting system. It’s naive to think that radical change would be easy or risk-free.

And it’s revealing to look at Labour’s plans.

Their priority would be to gerrymander the British constitution.

They’ve avid for more parliaments, more assemblies, more regional assemblies.

Their policy in in chaos. On Scottish referenda, they change sides more often than a windscreen wiper.

What a message. “Vote Labour – for more politicians, more bureaucrats, more taxes, more regulations, more tampering, more meddling, more authoritarianism”.

If this is the New Gospel, give me the old religion.

In less than 1,000 days, Labour would vandalise nearly 1,000 years of British history.

Once again, they show their true colours.

Labour are the Party of the State. We are the Party of the Nation.

John Major – 1996 Speech to the Institute of Directors


Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, to the Institute of Directors on 19th January 1996.

I am delighted to be here on this occasion to have the opportunity of talking about some of the matters that lie ahead of us economically and some of the opportunities that are there for us to take.

I had the opportunity this morning to reflect on these in a rather philosophical mode. I spent the early part of this morning at Ironbridge – the cradle of the industrial revolution. And there at Ironbridge, by innovation, enterprise, investment, sweat and courage, new industries were born and the world followed Britain’s lead. It helped in its day build an unparalleled prosperity for this country.

As we meet here today we are in the middle of another more complex but equally important industrial revolution. It is one that will have a just as far reaching effect upon this country if we are successful in the way we approach it.

Last year at this very same convention centre, I set out five core principles, core themes, for our future. Today I would like to elaborate, to concentrate, upon just one of them. But let me remind you what those five themes were: to build a nation of enterprise and prosperity, a nation of opportunity and ownership, to safeguard law and order, to deliver first class public services and to defend a strong, united and sovereign United Kingdom.

All of those are important. But today I want to focus on just one of them, I want to focus upon enterprise.

Not all that many years ago Britain was universally regarded as the sick man of Europe. We had over mighty trade unions, strikes brought the country to a standstill, inflation hit all time highs and nationalised industries cost the taxpayer 50 million pounds each and every week. Today that is all behind us and I for one never wish to see those set of circumstances return to this country again.

What is true as we meet here at lunchtime, though it is unfashionable to say so, is that Britain is today building a platform for success that is outstripping more and more of our competitors across Europe.

In our adversarial political system, and I make no complaint about the nature of that, but in that adversarial political system many have a vested interest in scoffing at our success. But they can’t deny the fact of it.

We have seen the longest period of low inflation for 50 years. When inflation is there it is a mighty peril, when it has gone it is speedily forgotten. But I recall how it rendered us uncompetitive, how it destroyed our savings, how it brought this country almost to its knees in earlier years, and now we have the psychology of inflation under firmer lock and key than ever in my lifetime. I am proud of that and I have no intention of letting that lock go in the future.

We have now got the lowest basic rate of tax for over 50 years, the lowest mortgage rates for over 30 years. We have more of our people in the United Kingdom actually in jobs, and fewer unemployed, than any major European economy. And I wonder how many people in this room can remember when last that was the circumstance.

We have exports running at record levels. We have days lost for strikes falling to the lowest level since we first began to keep records of that. And Britain is the leading recipient in Europe of foreign investment. Indeed over the recent years we have received more foreign investment from outside Europe into the United Kingdom than has gone into the rest of the European Union added together.

That is what Britain has achieved. It is not a negligible achievement. Of course there is a great deal more to be done, but the position that we have reached offers very great opportunities for the future provided the policies to take advantage of those opportunities are not thrown to one side and are followed through in the years that lie immediately ahead.

I have no doubt about the key to that future. The key to that future is enterprise, enterprise at the heart of a free and prosperous society. With enterprise comes risk, but also reward. It creates competitiveness and builds prosperity and economic growth. Growth – a buzzword to some, but a reality for all our hopes. It is growth that pays for our national security,our defence forces, that pays for our social inclinations, our education system, our social provision, and so it is crucial for our future well-being.

And it is for that reason, the belief that I have that we need growth with low inflation if we are to maximise our opportunities for this generation, this country and future generations, that leads me to say that I believe that what we need to do is to promote the opportunities of enterprise for the future. And it is because of that that the government that I lead aims to turn Britain into the unrivalled enterprise centre of Europe, not just in the short term but for the long term future.

That will not be achieved without effort, it cannot be achieved by empty slogans. Britain can only do it if we believe in the values of enterprise and we then follow the policies that promote enterprise. Enterprise benefits society through the goods it makes and the services it provides, through the jobs it creates and the taxes it pays to support public services, through the contribution that businesses make to the communities around them. And it is worth considering that just for a moment. That contribution takes many forms, working to improve the local economy, to improve training, in Techs, in Chambers of Commerce and countless other local business groups, getting involved in local schools, helping voluntary groups, sponsoring sport and sponsoring the arts.

Our businesses, in my judgment, enrich our society in every sense of the word. They don’t need someone to instruct them to do this any more than they need someone to instruct them upon how to run their business.

But this enterprise culture, this opportunity, this belief in enterprise and all the wider benefits it brings, would be very easy to destroy. Vilify our businessmen for their very success, interfere on the grounds that the government knows best, make it impossible for them to earn a fair reward for their efforts, that would do it, that would destroy what is currently being built in this country for the benefit not just of businessmen but of all the people of this country.

And there is an idea, passed on from generation to generation by a curious mix of the well meaning, the envious and the confused, that it is wrong for business to make a profit. What nonsense that is. It is about time not just the politicians but that business defended the need to make a profit in the common wheel as well as in the interests of the shareholder. Profit should be applauded, not condemned. It is not a dirty word except to the peddlers of envy. It funds investment, it generates jobs, it is not only respectable, it is essential for the future that we wish to build.

If there is no profit then there is no enterprise. If there is no enterprise then there are no jobs. If there is no enterprise and no jobs then we will all be the poorer.

Government has its own role in fostering enterprise. I am not in favour of unadulterated laissez faire. Enterprise depends on government to follow sensible economic policies and create the right tax and regulatory environment, and we Conservatives are tax-cutters by conviction whenever we have the opportunity. And when I say tax-cutters by conviction, when I look at the demands for the future, the demands that demand an enterprise system for this country in the future, I don’t just refer to income tax when I refer to the Conservatives being tax-cutters by conviction. Taxes on capital are like taxes on jobs. If they are too high it is not worth building up a business and employing people. And that is why I want to cut, and in due course, and I offer you no timescale for this, but that is why I want to cut and in due course abolish both capital gains tax and inheritance tax.

Our opponents, playing their old game of the politics of envy, claim that reducing these taxes only benefits the few. But what that shows is how little they truly understand enterprise and all its effects. By denying businessmen and their families the rewards of their efforts, these taxes discourage enterprise, discourage job creation and discourage the growth of prosperity right across this country.

This country today, Britain today, now has the lowest tax burden of any major European economy. Forty-two percent of our national income is spent by the government on behalf of the taxpayer. That is going on for 10 percent less than the European average. That gap is worth 60 billion pounds a year, the equivalent of around 30p on the basic rate of income tax. So we are doing far better than Europe, even our competitors admit it. Even Germany, for so long seen as the strongest and most competitive economy anywhere in Europe.

But listen to what the Head of the German CBI had to say about the German economy just the other day: “We have too rigid labour laws, we have too high social costs and taxes. We work the shortest working week in Europe. The German government spends 50 percent of GDP as opposed to 42 percent in Britain – no wonder we have a problem.” That is the voice of modern Germany looking enviously at the situation that is applying in modern Britain.

And I believe that 42 percent that we spend, that we the government spend on behalf of the taxpayer, still isn’t good enough. I want to get government spending down to below 40 percent of our national income in the first instance. We need to raise our eyes beyond the competition with our European partners. We need to compete worldwide where half of all our trade goes outside the European Union, with Japan, with the United States and with countries like Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

It is not just enough to have warm aspirations and to set soft targets. Controlling public spending requires tough decisions, determination and foresight. And here we have built up an advantage over our competitors. We have taken many of the difficult decisions and accepted the political unpopularity that inevitably goes with them. And I believe we were right to do so.

Elsewhere that has not happened. Throughout Europe governments are waking up to the gap between the expectations of their citizens and the state’s ability to support them. And that is not some abstract problem. In France it erupted on to the streets. But we foresaw the problem and began to tackle it years ago.

Let me give you just one of a number of examples. By encouraging occupational pensions we have ensured people’s security and limited the burden on the state. And as a result we now have in this country, in Britain, more invested in pensions for the future than the rest of Europe added together.

And it is the same for the rest of our welfare system. Social security currently costs every worker 15 pounds every single day of the year. Until we began to reform it a few years ago, spending on benefits was set to grow faster than the economy as a whole, Clearly that couldn’t go on. Our reforms are now beginning to give us a social security system that is fair, that is reasonable and that the taxpayer can support, one which promotes incentives to save and be self-reliant – the values of an enterprise economy and above all makes it worthwhile to go out and get and accept a job.

But there is no point giving people incentives to get a job if firms themselves cannot afford to create jobs. Too often in Europe that is precisely what is happening. Approaching 20 million adults in Europe, as we meet here today, are unemployed. From the 1950s onwards, in good years of growth as well as bad years of no growth, the underlying level of unemployment has risen across Europe. I believe that that is a problem that Europe dare not ignore and I have repeatedly raised this point at European meetings.

When I say dare not ignore, I don’t just mean talk about, I mean determined policies that will actually encourage business to create jobs for the future. It is often said, not least by our political opponents, that we British are often isolated on some aspects of European policy, that we won’t accept the European consensus. Well I make no apology for rejecting consensus when that consensus in my judgment is wrong and not in the British interest.

Our political opponents say it is tedious, nationalistic of us, to oppose signing the social chapter. They think we should sign it. I believe we should not sign it and I believe this because of the facts of what it is, but more relevantly what it would do to the prospects of people in this country, as it has already done for the prospects of people across Europe.

And let me spell it out for you, because the campaign of mis-information about the cuddly sounding social chapter deserves to be exploded.

At present unemployment in Germany is 8.5 percent and rising. France and Italy 11.5 percent. Spain 22.5 percent. But here in Britain unemployment is 8 percent and falling. It has been falling month in, month out, month in, month out for around about two and a half years.

And why is it that Britain is doing better at creating jobs than the rest of Europe? In Britain, for every 100 pounds spent on wages, an employer has to add an extra 18 pounds for non-wage costs for every employee. But that same employer would have to add, not 18, but 32 pounds in Germany for every employee, 34 pounds in Spain, 41 pounds in France and 44 pounds in Italy. Why should entrepreneurs create jobs in those countries at that expense if it is cheaper to create jobs and more profitably in this country?

Our political opponents try to denigrate our record. They claim those new jobs are temporary and not real. Well let me nail that lie immediately. A higher proportion of the workforce are temporary employees in Germany, France and Spain. In Spain almost one-third of the workforce are temporary, and that compares with 7.5 percent only of employees in the United Kingdom. And why is there that disparity? Because temporary jobs are higher elsewhere because it is a loophole to escape the costs of restrictive employment and social regulations. These are the sort of costs that could be imposed on British business if we ever signed up to the social chapter.

Our opt-out that I negotiated at Maastricht, and to which I shall passionately hold for as long as I am in politics, that opt-out helps to protect Britain’s competitiveness at home and in Europe, and if we surrendered it that competitive edge would no longer be safe.

In many areas proposals under the social chapter will be put forward for decisions by qualified majority voting. I have no doubt that if it suited them, others would find a way to blur what can be imposed by majority voting and what cannot. If Britain were in the social chapter we would have precious little say over which bits of it applied to the United Kingdom. We could not rely on being able to block proposals that we thought were damaging. To think that we could pick and mix if we joined the social chapter is naive and wrong. There would be no opportunity to pick and mix.

Experience of negotiating in Europe has taught me that we must not just look at what is in the Social Chapter today, we must also look at what it can be used for in the future. The reality is that it will become the channel through which our European competitors could impose upon the United Kingdom their social costs, regulations and potentially their trades union laws.

Measures on working conditions could be imposed upon us and what does that mean? A ban on overtime, the Social Chapter already producing proposals regulating paternity leave and part-time employment. And then there is consultation: huge numbers of decisions businesses take clogged up by harmonised European rules about who needs to be consulted, how and when, with the inevitable cost, delay and difficulty in making those decisions in the interests of the country, the company and the workforce and that would put a very significant spanner in the works of successful businesses.

The fact is no-one knows precisely what the European Community might or might not propose under the Social Chapter or how the European Court would interpret it. It is a blank cheque, the thin end of a very dangerous and uncompetitive wedge.

It sounds very attractive to some politicians, it sounds like painless charity. It may sound nice for those people with jobs but I believe that it is dishonest because loading costs and regulation onto business makes it more expensive to employ people and that means only one thing: employers cannot hope to create new jobs and might well have to scrap existing jobs.

The Social Chapter should be seen for what it is – a European jobs tax, a tax on jobs by the front door and in time a tax on jobs by the back door and that is why I judge it to be immoral. That is why, if I had signed the Social Chapter, I would not have been able to look the unemployed in the eyes again. Europe needs more jobs; it does not mean more taxes on jobs – that is not in the interests of Europe and it is emphatically not in the interests of the United Kingdom. [Applause].

I opposed the Social Chapter at Maastricht and I opposed it on principle. I believed then that it would cost jobs and not create them and I was right. I still believe it. Our enterprise economy is not negotiable, our economic success is too valuable to be wrecked by Socialist experiments.

Let me say a word about our success at attracting inward investment. We are again here outstripping the rest our European partners but does anyone seriously believe that Japanese and American companies would still be coming here in their droves if we crippled ourselves with extra social costs as other people have done? I don’t think they would. Those companies bring not just jobs and investment; just as importantly, they bring innovations, new technology, new management techniques and the spur of competition and we must build on these skills but for that we need people who are able and motivated to learn from the success of others, people who can keep up with the pace of change, people who can dictate the pace of change for the future. I don’t doubt for a minute that the British nation are capable of that; they have the ability, the inspiration but it needs nurturing and above all, tomorrow’s businesses need a workforce with first-class education and skills, enterprise and education go together.

Education is the raw material not just for a satisfying life for the individual but for providing the skills that industry and commerce will need in the years that lie ahead and yet for too long too many of our children were getting a very raw deal from our education system. It would have been very easy to leave things as they were to avoid a row with the establishment and with establishment thinking, not to traipse into that secret garden of education that was kept so quiet and secret for so long. We could have avoided change and avoided many rows but I believe it would have been wrong to do so, so we tackled the problem and we took the rows because I believe there can be no compromise on standards in education – our future and our children’s future is too important for that.

Despite the scars – and there have been one or two – I am proud of what we have done in changing the education system. Thanks to the national curriculum, children are now taught the basics from an early age; now we are making sure we give our children the best possible start in nursery education; special literacy and numeracy centres will ensure children don’t miss out on the essentials; children are tested on a regular basis at 7, 11 and 14; exam results are published for all to see, giving parents the information they have always deserved but once did not get, essential information to exercise choice, a choice that now includes grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges so often sponsored by individual companies or individual businessmen, grammar schools, specialist schools and the whole system backed up by far more regular inspection and far more effective inspection than education in this country has ever known before.

Look at what we have done in some of those aspects of education by establishing a proper framework of vocational qualifications and by introducing modern apprenticeships. For far too long in this country education was regarded as a matter for academics and not something that should teach practical vocational skills as well and the way in which it led to an artificial class distinction between white-collar jobs and blue-collar jobs in my judgement was wholly wrong and did immense damage to this country over so much of the last century.

Look at the success also of investors in people and what the techs are now beginning to achieve. Look at the number of our young people who are now going on to further education, to higher education, to university. For many of my generation, that still remained an impossible dream. Today, one in every three of our young people go on to university; only fifteen or sixteen years ago, that was one in eight – today it is one in three.

We are seeing a revolution in education, a revolution in standards, a revolution in achievement. Of course, there is a great deal to be done and I am determined to continue to do it but it could not have been done unless we, the Conservative Party, had been in Government and it would not be carried forward in the future unless we remain in Government to carry out and carry through the education policies that we have been following. Our ambitions for enterprise and the whole quality of our life in the future depend upon carrying those policies forward.

I have spoken about how the Government is fostering enterprise but enterprise – important though profit is as I have acknowledged – is not only about that. The core of enterprise is not Government either, it is individuals, individuals with a special spark of magic, of imagination, of innovation, of a willingness to take risks, that “get up and go!” instinct that drives them to achieve what many other people believe to be impossible, often flying in the face of conventional wisdom, individuals inspired by a dream not of what is but a dream of what might be.

We do well to remember, those of us who promote innovation and enterprise and perhaps even more so those who despise it and fear it, that it wasn’t Government that invented the steam engine, the telephone, the motor car, the radio, it certainly wasn’t the Government that built British Railways – it was Government and nationalisation that ran down the service of British Railways and once again it will be private enterprise that builds it up when we have finished the privatisation of them – and indeed, Mr. Chairman, I somehow doubt it was a government that invented the wheel many years ago though I have to say I can read the memos that would have come to me at the time explaining how the invention of the wheel would undoubtedly have destroyed jobs and how we should not maximise this new and startling invention.

This spirit of enterprise isn’t confined to inventors who have changed the world, it is what has made thousands upon thousands of people every year set up in small businesses putting their security and their livelihoods on the line because they have an idea that they believe will work and they have that instinctive gut instinct that has always been in the British nation that they wish to set up something themselves, run it themselves, build it up for themselves in their interests and in the interests of their own families. That is a culture that we should encourage and it does mean putting aside another culture, it means putting aside the old culture of disparaging success and all those who aspire to it. If we wish to be a successful society, we cannot afford to be an envious society and we should turn our back on all those who preach envy whenever they have the opportunity. [Applause].

I don’t interpret enterprise narrowly. It is not just a business culture, it is a set of values that can be expressed in countless other ways as well – and it is – in charities, sports clubs, schools, hospitals and throughout the public service. I wonder how many of the successful businessmen here today actually use those precise same skills on behalf of the community generally in some other way, in hospital trusts, in school governorships, in sports bodies, in arts bodies, in whatever it may be? I suspect a very large number use that skill for enterprise that is their profession in the interests of the community in other ways as well and it is a Socialist myth that enterprise creates a selfish and greedy society; it is a myth that society can only be made fair and just by bureaucracy meddling and corporatism; it is a myth that you can make the weak stronger by making the strong weaker.

No-one disagrees in politics today that we have common obligations to help and protect people in our society who are vulnerable. The argument between the parties is not upon that principle, it is upon whose policies can create the wealth to do it. There is no point in having your heart upon your sleeve if your business enterprises are so unsuccessful there is no money in your wallet in order to meet the social obligations that all of us wish to accept.

I speak as a Conservative, Conservative by instinct not by learning. Some people occasionally say: “What great Conservative philosophers did the Prime Minister read?” and I say to them: “I didn’t read any Conservative philosophers, I learned my conservatism in the back streets of Brixton when I saw how Socialism had failed the people who lived there and I saw the only opportunity for getting out of that was to give people individual opportunity and choice for the future and make sure that opportunity and choice was available to everybody in this country wherever they came from, whatever their background, whatever their income, whatever their class, whatever their colour and whatever their creed!” That is what made me a Conservative and it is what keeps me a Conservative and it is the only thing that is going to make this country great. [Applause].

I stand for enterprise opportunity for the whole nation, one nation, undivided and whole, not one nation racked by false of devolution that will set one part of the United Kingdom against the other within immense damage to all of us in the years that lie ahead if such policies were to be carried through.

Mr. Chairman, you cannot build such a nation – the nation of enterprise, of hope and prosperity, the inclusive nation, with everybody having those choices that I passionately believe they should have – on warm words and soft policies and no substance. You cannot build it if your policies are for the short term and not for the long term, you cannot build it if you will not take the decisions unpopular in the short term that you believe to be right for the long term but you can build it if you are prepared to make the decisions you know are right, to defend those decisions and to promote them in Britain’s long-term interests.

I will tell you what I believe: I believe we are building a nation that creates prosperity by encouraging ownership, not ownership by the state extending its powers and right to meddle under the cloak of public interest, not ownership by the bureaucrat at the taxpayers’ expense but individual ownership through enterprise, shares, pensions, savings, homes and small businesses, the right to own and the power to choose. Those are the things that genuinely give people a stake in society for this generation and the next. That, I believe, is the way to build a nation that provides a ladder of opportunity and rewards success, a nation where there are incentives to work and a safety net for those who need it. That has been an intrinsic part of Conservative philosophy and Conservative gut instinct since the party had its founding days and it will never change. That is the Britain that we are building, the Britain that I care about, an enterprise Britain, a nation that is successful and of which we can be proud.

If I had a single wish, it would be that the people of this country could see the success of this country, its values, its institutions and its nation, with the same clarity that the rest of the world can see the success and the values of this country.

As we take the decisions ahead to build that enterprise Britain, some of them will be difficult. Not all decisions will be easy, not all the rewards will be swift but there is no choice. we must travel the enterprise road or we will fall behind those countries that do. The choice is very clear and I have made my choice. We will build this country as the enterprise centre of Europe and we will not be deflected. I believe in that we will be successful and I wish each and every one of you the same success in your individual endeavours. It is the amalgamation of those endeavours that will build up our nation.

It is our job as Government not to carry out your job for you but to provide the opportunity, the economic background and the incentives to encourage you and not discourage you and prevent you from playing your part in building up this country and its enterprise prospects for the future. It can be done. We are outstripping others. What would be fatal would be if we were to let go of the policies we have followed for so long and that are beginning to show the clearest fruits of success at present; if we were to throw them away in the future, generations ahead would look and say: “Why did they do it? On the eve of such success, why did they turn away from the opportunities that lay in front of them?” I do not believe that we will. I believe that enterprise centre of Europe is being built and will be built and I intend to see it through.[Applause].

John Major – 1995 Conservative Party Conference Speech



Today is Friday the Thirteenth. Remember it. This is the day I’m going to tell you how we’ll win the next election.

And if anyone is superstitious they shouldn’t be.

This is Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday and she won three elections in a row.

So the omens are good.

Many happy returns to Maggie today, and it’ll be many happy returns for us at the Election.

We’ve won four and we’re going for five.

All elections are important.

But the next is a watershed.

Because whoever wins will inherit the strongest economy for decades.

We built that economy.

It wasn’t easy.

And I don’t know about you but I’m not in the mood to hand it over to Labour to wreck.

So, Mr Chairman, we’re going to mount the fight of our lives. And when the time comes, we’re going to deliver the win of our lives.


But first a bit of housekeeping.

As you know, in June I resigned as Leader of our Party and called a leadership election.

I did so because speculation was drowning out everything we were trying to do.

How could you argue our case on the doorstep with that sort of thing going on?

Well of course, you couldn’t.

It had to end – whatever the risk.

I might have lost. If I had I would still have been at this Conference. Still offering my full support to the Party, I believe is best able to govern this country.

But I won.

And today, face to face, I’d like to thank you – for your support – when the going was rough.

Thank you, too, to my campaign team led so ably by Robert Cranborne.

And there’s someone else who has always been there when the stakes were high.

She’s here today too.

Of course – I mean Norma.


But, that was yesterday.

Today, we meet united, healed, renewed – and thirsting for the real fight : with Labour.

Last week the Labour leader predicted that we’d wave the Union Jack. Of course. This Party has never waved any other flag and we never will.

To win, Labour must persuade people this country is on its knees. Clapped out. Beaten up.

They shouldn’t find that too difficult. That’s the way it always is – under Labour.

But they know it isn’t true under the Conservatives. And the world knows it isn’t true.

The world knows the only way our country would match their deception would be if they were running it.

I don’t question Labour’s patriotism.

But is a funny patriotism to rubbish our achievements – how shall I put it? – before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner, and then get up and do it again before breakfast – on the Today programme.

I don’t doubt Labour’s good intentions : the road to hell is paved with them.

They say they want to help businesses – so they’ll clobber them with the Social Chapter.

They say they want to help the unemployed – so they’ll destroy jobs with a minimum wage.

They say they want to treat the unions fairly – so they’ll give them privileges even Michael Foot didn’t dream of in the 1970s.

I think Labour has been re-reading “1984” – the book that introduced “Doublethink”.

You remember – doublethink is the trick of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same tine – and accepting both.

It was the brain-child of another public school-educated Socialist. His name was George Orwell.

But actually it wasn’t. That was his pen name.

His real name – was Eric.

His surname?

You’ve guessed it. It was Blair.

Eric Blair.

He changed his name. I can’t say the same thing about my opposite number.

He’s changed everything else. His politics. His principles. His philosophy.

But – to the best of my belief – he hasn’t changed his name.

At least not when I got up to speak.

But he’s abandoned so much, so fast you never know.

The Liberal Democrats support all Labour’s nonsense.

But they’re neither here nor there.

Because as we saw the other day, they’re the only party in British political history that has had its entire battle plans wiped clean off the media – by a goldfish.

The Great Divide – Us Versus Them

Mr Chairman, around the world, people now believe Britain is winning.

But don’t let’s fool ourselves.

I’m looking to the future.

There’s still a lot to be done.

The new Millennium will bring longer, fuller lives.

Shifts in world power.

More and more competition.

Changes in technology, fast and furious.

And, even with growing wealth, new welfare problems.

That is the Millennium challenge. We have to respond to it.

Explain to people the opportunities within their reach. Tell them what can – and cannot be done – and what the price will be.

By telling them I mean really telling them. I don’t mean insulting them by trivialising issues for instant media consumption.

I believe the public will respond to the plain truth.

I believe they’re as sick as I am of politics by soundbite, by nudge and wink.

No wonder people are turned off politics. The way some politicians conduct the debate would disgrace a nursery.

There are only two ways to the future. Labour’s way. And there’s ours.

Scratch beneath Labour’s rhetoric and you see the reality. Prescott, Beckett, Blunkett, Dobson, Cook. They believe a socialist state can do it all.

If that were true the past 50 years would have been quite different. Cradle to grave socialism – I always thought that rather constrained way to go through life.

But the State can’t do it all – and, what’s more, the State shouldn’t do it all.

Beat Labour one more time, and we’ve beaten socialism for good.

Our way – the Conservative way – is very different.

We believe the Government should choose what Government should do – and do it better.

Beyond that we should help individuals shape their own future. Help them – but not nanny them.

Conservatism is choice.

Choice is liberty.

Blazon it on your mind.

We should offer choice whenever we can.

But there’s one thing in our Tory tradition that has inspired me, it’s our historic recognition that not everyone is thrusting and confident and fit. Many are not: and they deserve protection. With a Conservative Government they will always get it.

Individual rights will be defended.

Ownership will be encouraged.

And, above all, we will stand for – and will protect – one United Kingdom, unbroken and undivided.

The Enterprise Centre of Europe

We Tories often talk of business and the need for success.

It’s worth remembering why. It’s quite simple.

If business makes profit, it provides jobs and pays taxes.

And those people with jobs pay taxes too. Taxes pay for our teachers, our nurses and our public services.

So we must make business more successful.

We are in Europe – and rightly so. It’s the richest home market in the world.

Half of our trade goes there.

But half does not. And both halves are equally important.

That’s why Malcolm Rifkind will actively pursue the vision of Atlantic Free Trade – refreshing our vital links with the Americas.

If we’re to compete with America, Japan and the Pacific Basin, we must be the unrivalled Enterprise Centre of Europe.

Let spell out precisely what that means.

It means high spending and high taxes are no longer an option. The state spends too much of our national wealth. We must get that share below 40 per cent – and keep it there.

The state spends too much of our national wealth. We must get that share below 40 per cent – and keep it there.

If the State spends too much, it taxes too such.

In the recession, we had to put taxes up to protect the vulnerable.

Now the recession is over, as soon as prudent, we must get taxes down again.

And – be in no doubt – I don’t only mean income tax.

I mean the taxes that damage investment and stultify wealth creation. I mean inheritance tax. I mean capital gains tax.

We must cut them, and then – when affordable – we should abolish them.

We receive more investment into Britain than any other European Country.

This very day, the Queen will open Samsung’s massive new development in the North East.

Fujitsu, Daewoo, Nissan, Black and Decker, NBC, Siemens have all decided their future is here.

You don’t hear Labour talk of this.

Of course not. These companies didn’t invest in a socialist Britain.

They set up here because it’s a Conservative Britain.

And they’ll only be followed by others if we keep Britain Conservative.

Labour say they know how to run a market economy.

I asked Humphrey the cat about that.

I’ve the first time I’ve seen him move so fast.

It took all the resources of the Royal Army Medical College to get him over the shock.

Labour have stood in the way of everything we’ve done.

Where were they when we cut inflation?

When we faced down union power?

When we fed life back into the corpse of so many nationalised Industries?

Humphrey could answer the question. Humphrey knows. Like Macavity, Labour wasn’t there.

They were the advocates of the easy options and they opposed every tough decision we took.

Interest Rates up? Disgraceful, said Labour.

Interest Rates down? Not enough, said Labour.

Interest Rates the same? The Chancellor must act, says Labour.

Always, always, always the easy option.

So when they criticise us, just remind them of this.

If we’d followed their advice, we’d have been in Carey Street.

Unemployment has been coming down for two and a half years.

But it’s still far too high.

The best route to more jobs is more small businesses.

We are the Party of small business. When I was a small boy, my bread and butter was paid for by my father’s small business. He made garden ornaments 40 years ago and some fashionable people find that very funny.

I don’t.

I see the proud, stubborn, independent old man who ran that firm and taught me to love my country, fight for my own and spit in the eye of malign fate. I know the knockers and sneerers who may never have taken a risk in their comfortable lives aren’t fit to wipe the boots of the risk takers of Britain.

When my father’s business failed – because his health failed – I saw the price the small businessman may have to pay.

I know the sacrifice they make for the dreams they have.

They don’t know whether they’ll succeed.

But they work as hard as they can.

That’s why, as Ian Lang told you, we’ve set up the biggest consultation with business ever seen in this country – to find out what more we can credibly do to help then.

Frankly, Mr Chairman, I think they’re heroes.


I know one thing: we mustn’t pile burdens on business.

So let me say this to our friends and partners in Europe.

Don’t ask me to sign the Social Chapter. I won’t do it.

I don’t look for popularity abroad – I prefer to protect jobs right here.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m for Europe, not against it.

And I intend to argue for policies that will help it succeed. Pressure to stop arguing and go with the European consensus is strong. It’s difficult to set rational argument against the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth.

We must be sympathetic, but we must stand our corner.

We must ask our partners to understand our thinking and we must understand theirs.

Against the background of the traumas Europe suffered over the past 60 years – war, dictatorship, civil war, military occupation – it’s not surprising to me that they look towards European unity as a guarantor of political stability. Of their decision never to go to war with one another again.

Only twenty years ago, Greece, Spain and Portugal – new partners in Europe – were ruled by men in dark glasses and epaulettes.

Now these countries are secure in the European Union.

In a few years’ time – thanks in large part to British policy – they will be joined by Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and others, now liberated from Communist dictatorship.

They are knocking on the door to entry and we want to tie them in to the democratic family of Nations.

Because it’s in our British interest: a further guarantee that our children and grandchildren will never face the conflicts than cost the lives of so many of our fathers and grandfathers.

Unoccupied, undefeated, the war left Britain with a very different perspective from the rest of Europe.

If we want to persuade our partners that their policies for Europe are wrong – as I believe many of them to be – we must use our imagination to understand their feelings and their motives.

We entered Europe,

For prosperity.

For co-operation.

For a louder voice on that great Continent.

But we did not enter it for a new tier of Government.

We did not enter it for Socialism through the back door.

And we did not enter it for a federal Europe.

It wouldn’t work for us. Our partners must understand that it’s politically and constitutionally unacceptable.

But that’s what Labour would agree to and I believe they are profoundly wrong.

We will advance our arguments firmly and courteously in Britain and in Europe.

For Britain for Europe.

But underneath the rational argument we should not be misunderstood.

If others go federalist, Conservative Britain will not.

Welfare spending

Mr Chairman, providing quality care for those most in need is a strong part of the Tory tradition.

Shaftesbury and Disraeli were doing it when socialism was just a distant nightmare in most people’s minds.

We are proud of our free National Health Service. We have fought to make it the best in the world in the next century. We have put more resources into health. Not just once, but year after year. And we are modernising it, so that it remains the best in the world.

But, Mr Chairman, we are succeeding. People are living longer. And that success in health creates new challenges for our welfare system.

The easy way out is to load the bills onto future generations – issuing blank cheques for our children to pick up.

In other words, living on tick. I wasn’t brought up to do that. And I don’t think that it’s right for the country.

We have already done more than anywhere else in Europe to build up massive pension funds.

Butt because we live longer, we need to develop similar approaches to long term care – encourage new forms of savings, new kinds of insurance, more flexible use of pensions.

That’s the next step forward in our welfare system, and one we are examining right now.

We don’t have all the answers yet. But it is important that people know we’re addressing their long-term problems.

It’s a huge challenge but it’s one we can’t duck and one we must get right. And it’s one that will only be met by recognising the money we spend has first to be earned through an enterprise economy.

It’s a strong Tory tradition that you and I look after ourselves and our families before we turn to others to pay our bills.

That’s why we need to target our welfare spending on those who need it.

I don’t need anyone to tell me that the welfare system matters.

I know what it’s like when the money for the week runs out by Thursday.

But welfare should offer people a ladder back to the pride of self-reliance, not a trap for the poor.

That’s why we’re designing a welfare system for the twenty-first century.

Targeting benefits. Reforming pensions. And helping people from welfare back into work.

But not tolerating those on welfare who won’t work.

From next autumn, everyone who is unemployed will need to undertake a contract for work.

A contract that makes it absolutely clear that they have obligations to accept paid work when it is available.

Mr Chairman, we’ll continue to shape a welfare system that is generous to those in need. We can do no other.

But it must be one that also reflects the basic Tory instincts of rewarding prudence, thrift and family responsibility.


Education affects not just careers, but people’s whole lives. That’s why, when I became Prime Minister, I put education at the top of my agenda.

I haven’t changed. But education has.

Since then we’ve introduced regular tests. Made school inspection more rigorous. Given parents more choice and information.

Today, three times as many young people become students as in 1979.

Last year I told this Conference that we would make nursery education available to all 4 year-olds.

We’re doing just that with vouchers: to put power and choice where it belongs: not in the hands of bureaucrats. But in the hands of parents.

Choice. Choice. Choice. And all opposed by Labour.

I still want to widen choice in education.

Some years ago, we set up the Assisted Places Scheme. It helps children from low income homes to go to our best private schools.

It’s been a great success.

But Labour hate it.

That’s true to form – they always claim to want to help people – but in return they demand that people know their place.

And in Labour’s view there is no place for children of low income families in private schools. So they want to abolish the scheme outright. Labour’s message to them is: no choice for the poor.

One of the schools that offers places to pupils on this scheme is in Edinburgh. It’s one of Scotland’s most famous private schools – Fettes.

Quite a lot of famous politicians went to Fettes including – Iain Macleod.

Iain Macleod was a One Nation Tory and wouldn’t he have been proud to see pupils of poor families at his old school – sent there by a One Nation Government.

So am I. So I’m going to give more children that opportunity.

We’re going to double the Assisted Places scheme.

But I want to widen choice still further.

So if parents want specialist schools, we should let them have them.

And if they want religious schools, we should let them have them too.

This isn’t a dogma. It isn’t elitist. It’s based on the belief that children are first and foremost the responsibility of parents: and they know what is best for their children.

We also want excellence in education, so I believe we should let good schools expand.

Bad schools should be closed.

Of course, closing bad schools means a row. But it’s the right row to have and Gillian Shephard is prepared to have it.

Not every child can benefit from the Assisted Places Scheme or private education.

Real choice will come when every state school offers the highest standards – when every state school prizes discipline, when every state school puts learning before political correctness. Gillian is going to work with every good head and teacher to deliver that.

Many parents believe they’ve found a way to higher standards already. They’ve chosen for their schools to become independent, self-governing schools: what we call grant maintained.

These schools are in the state sector. Run by the Head and the Governors. They get their money from government to spend as they think fit.

Their results have been outstanding.

That’s why I want to enable all schools to become grant-maintained.

But Labour want to destroy them – wipe out their freedoms and take away their budgets.

These schools became self-governing after a ballot of parents. Parents chose independence. Labour want to wreck then without a ballot. Labour hate independence.

So, parents at the next election – choice or no choice. That’s the choice.


This year we have all remembered with gratitude the sacrifice our predecessors made for our forbears.

VE Day and VJ Day were very special.

Most of you would have attended some of the events or watched the remarkable television coverage.

I was there. I found it immensely moving.

The sense of pride was tangible.

But Mr Chairman, unlike others, I didn’t hear people on VJ Day shouting out party political propaganda.

For me, it was a day in which a free people paid tribute to those who kept them free.

Back in June you will remember the huge commemoration which took place in Hyde Park.

Let me tell you a story of that day.

At the entrance to one stand was an elderly man trying to get in.

He had no ticket – so the security guard was about to turn him away.

But luck would have it, a brigadier was passing by. Not any old brigadier, but one of the organisers of VE Day. He saw something pinned to the chest of this elderly man.

Not all of us would have known what it was. But the brigadier did.

It the highest award for gallantry in our armed forces: the Victoria Cross.

The elderly man was immediately given a seat of honour on the platform.

Later that day, I had the privilege of meeting him – and the other Victoria and George Cross holders.

I learned that they receive a small annual payment.

It was £100 a year. A figure set 40 years ago, before many years of inflation. It has never changed.

It seemed to me that, in this year of all years, it should be changed;

So to show that this country has not forgotten the bravest of the brave: it will be changed.

From August this year that payment will be uprated to its original value. It will increase from one hundred pounds a year to one thousand three hundred pounds a year.

Northern Ireland

In the last year, life has changed in Northern Ireland.

I want to make those changes permanent. To see the next generation there growing up in prosperity – and peace.

Patience, determination and fairness have carried us a long way.

No one has shown these qualities more consistently than Paddy Mayhew and Michael Ancram – Northern Ireland has been well served by them.

But we’re not there yet. There are still some who, in one breath, say they’ve given up violence for good – and in the next warn that it could return. It needn’t, and it won’t, unless they themselves pick up the gun.

But if it is to last, it must be a just peace. One that is fair to all sides.

And a peace that is constructed away from the shadow of the gun.

However long it takes, building this peace in this part of our United Kingdom will continue to stand at the top of our priorities.

Britain in the World

Mr Chairman, Britain has big interests in the world.

We are the only nation at the hub of the European Union, the Commonwealth, NATO and the United Nations. We are a nuclear power and a member of the Permanent Five of the Security Council.

Our armed forces are today serving in more than forty countries including Bosnia.

I sent troops there in 1992. Not everyone approved but I believe it was right.

They went to the Balkans for two reasons – to protect men, women and children from starvation, rape and genocide and to prevent a full scale war at the crossroads of Europe.

They have succeeded superbly – often at great risk to themselves. We can be proud of what they have achieved.

It now seems possible we may soon have an uneasy peace. I hope so.

But our role will not end there.

Help will be needed to monitor the peace and we will play our part in this.

International influence creates international obligations – and we will meet them.

The Constitution

Mr Chairman, we can only continue to be a big player abroad if we remain one United Kingdom at home.

We recognise that Scotland and Wales are Nations in their own right.

Of course, if they insist they could ultimately go their own way. We could not properly stop them.

At the moment there is a clamour for constitutional change as many see the Westminster Parliament as a long way away.

Some say we would be more popular if we bent to this clamour: if in Wales we set up Labour’s expensive talking shop, or in Scotland we said:

“OK. You want your own tax raising Parliament you can have it. Don’t blame us when it all goes wrong.”

But that is not our way.

We are the Conservative and Unionist Party.

I will not trade easy votes today for constitutional chaos tomorrow.

We are sensitive to people’s concerns in Scotland. So we are looking at more ways of giving people more say over decisions affecting their day to day lives.

But it’s my duty to warn of the effect of Labour’s plans for the constitution.

Labour are proposing changes to our Constitution for their own party political advantage.

In Scotland they are running scared of the SNP – so they have promised to impose a tax raising Parliament in their first year.

In Wales they are not so worried about Plaid Cymru so Wales would just get an Assembly.

And in England they can’t make up their minds so there they might – or might not – impose regional assemblies.

There is no demand for these in England. Labour only promise them in an attempt which fails to justify the over-representation of Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster.

It is a straightforward gerrymandering and we might as well say so.

In Scotland, the new Parliament would raise income taxes.

I hope Scotland realises what this means.

People in Scotland, uniquely, will pay higher income tax on the same income than people in England or Wales or Northern Ireland. To start with, a tartan tax of an extra 6 pounds a week for the average family.

Let me ask you a question: if you were a businessman, wanting to invest and create jobs, where would you invest: in Scotland, where you’ll have to pay higher wages to compensate for higher taxes, or somewhere else? You know the answer to that.

The Tartan Tax will do two things: it will pay for more bureaucrats and more politicians and it will begin the decline of Scottish prosperity. Neither of them are in the interests of Scotland.

All that is only the start. Conflict with the Westminster parliament would be inevitable.

And then – the siren voices of the separatists will foment mischief and demand an independent Scotland cut adrift from the UK.

These are not distant problems. These are Labour’s plans for the first year of a Labour government.

Mr Chairman, opinion polls tell us the Scottish people are not fond of the Government at the moment. But I’m fond of then and they are being deceived by Labour.

Labour’s plans are an immediate threat to Scotland and a threat to the United Kingdom.

We will continue to look for ways to improve the Government of Scotland. That is our duty.

But we will resist these damaging plans with all our strength. That too, is our duty, and the Conservative and Unionist Party will fulfil it.

Law and Order

Mr Chairman, as I go round. the country I talk to people about crime. What they want is to feel safe – at home and on the street.

In the past two and a half years, recorded crime has fallen.

Well and good. Now we must make sure that the fear of crime starts to fall, too.

People want crime reduced and criminals caught and convicted. And so do I.

So today, let me add to what Michael Howard told you yesterday.

We’re going to step up the fight against crime. To hit it harder and harder and harder.

Organised crime is big business on an international scale. And – at its centre – is drugs.

When I see the sheer evil of the drugs trade I am devoid of sympathy for the men around the world who run it.

They live lives of comfort, often of outward respectability, while they pour poison into the veins of millions.

Today, no parent, however safe and prosperous their home, can be entirely easy in their mind that their children won’t be offered drugs.

And that is true in some of our market towns as well as our big cities.

Two weeks ago, here in Blackpool, a 17 year-old died having taken drugs.

That boy’s whole future was snuffed out for profit.

Let me tell you what we shall do.

First, there can be no question of lifting our border controls. We are an island and we need them. Those controls are vital. They are not negotiable. And they are staying.

Secondly, our tradition has always been to have local police forces.

But local forces alone aren’t equipped for this sort of crime.

So for the first time ever, we’re discussing with the police the establishment of a national squad. This will have one mission: to take on organised crime in this country and break it.

The police will lead on this. They will have the support of the new National Criminal Intelligence Service, working with Customs, MI6 and GCHQ.

But all our available skills are not yet involved in this battle.

For many years the Security Service has protected us against espionage and terrorism.

But they can’t help the police because it is illegal for them to do so.

I think that’s absurd. And in an age when our children are more likely to be killed by a drug dealer than by an enemy missile, I think it’s indefensible.

So this autumn, we will change the law. It’s time to let the Security Service into the battle for the public and against organised crime.

Day by day, we are making more use of modern science against the criminal.

We are already using Closed Circuit Television in public places across the country.

This has been hugely successful. More cameras mean less crime.

So over the next three years we will add 10,000 more cameras in town centres, shopping malls and public places in every part of the country. They will improve security for the shopkeeper and safety for the shoppers.

But the most effective eyes are the policeman’s eyes.

I want to make every street safe.

Since 1979, we have recruited an extra 16,000 policemen – 500 in the last year

That’s helpful. But not enough.

I want to send an unmistakeable message to every criminal that there are going to be still more police on the streets.

So let us tell Chief Constables now so they can plan ahead.

So, Chief Constables, begin to plan. Because in the overall arithmetic of this year’s public expenditure settlement we have found the resources over the next three years to put, not 500 but an extra 5,000 police officers on the beat.

Mr Chairman, I said we intended to intensify the fight against crime – and I mean it.


Mr Chairman, after four terms, why a fifth?

Because in a shifting world only we will build a safe future for our people and heal the scars of the past.

Because we are building a more secure economy as the enterprise centre of Europe.

Because we are reforming public service to make it more accountable to the public who pay for it.

Because we stand for choice and excellence in education, and in the midst of the biggest revolution since Rab Butler.

Because we will retain the old rock solid guarantee of the health service that care will be free at the point of delivery, and where improvement is necessary it won’t be treated as a sacred cow.

Because defence and security of the realm and the safety of our streets are paramount concerns of our Party.

We Conservatives are:

– for the individual, not the state

– for choice, not direction

– for ownership, not dependence

– for liberty, not control.

These are the enduring things, the cornerstones of our beliefs. We have worked for them, cared for them, fought for them.

We are building the greatest success for this nation that we have known in our lifetime.

We will not surrender them to a light-weight alternative.

We carry the scars of battle, yes, but they’re honourable scars. We know no other Party can win the battles for Britain that lie ahead.

So when you go home – refreshed and uplifted, I hope, by our Conference – remember these things, and ask the people on the doorstep:-

– Would taxes be higher or lower under Labour?

– Would Inflation be higher or lower under Labour?

– Would there be more or less choice under Labour?

– Would our defence be more secure under Labour?

You and I only have to ask the question to know the answer.

We stand for a wise and kindly way of life that is rooted in our history.

Our hopes from our country are not tired.

Our ambitions are not dimmed.

Our message to our fellow country men is clear. Millions have still to make up their minds.

The choice is theirs. Our Nation’s Future is at stake – and we stand ready to serve.

John Major – 1994 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Mr. President, the political landscape has changed in the last few years, and it’s changed again in the last few months. The language of politics is now Conservative language. With every speech and every copied aspiration, the Labour Party finally admit how wrong they have been for so long, and how right we have been.

So forget the hype. It’s we who’ve changed the whole thrust of politics and moved it in our direction. We have won the battle of ideas, and it is an astonishing triumph.

When the Labour Party consider what has happened, they may realise what they’ve done, because what they’ve done is to study our instincts and our attitudes and then go away and market test them. And when they’ve done that they’ve discovered what we told them long ago: that they are the hopes and dreams of the typical Briton. It’s a huge compliment to this party and we should accept it gratefully.

But it’s one thing for the Labour Party to commit grand larceny on our language. It’s one thing for them to say what market research has told them that people would like to hear. But it’s quite another to deliver it. They have some hard questions to answer.

If you talk of full employment, then you should say what you mean. And then you should explain how that could possibly square with the minimum wage and the Social Chapter, which sound comforting but are deadly to jobs. And if you talk of low tax and low spending, does that mean supporting Tory tax cuts and Tory expenditure reductions? As to that we shall see before the writ of this parliament is run.

If you preach about community, then you shouldn’t grow politically fat on the politics of envy – and didn’t Blackpool reek of it last week? And if you’re going to attack over-mighty government and bureaucracy, then you shouldn’t promise Scottish and Welsh parliaments with more bureaucrats and more taxation.

And if you do, you should answer the question: Will Scottish Members of Parliament be permitted to vote on matters in England that English Members of Parliament would not be permitted to vote on in Scotland? And if Labour plan a Scottish Parliament, will they plan also to reduce the number of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons at Westminster, or will they gerrymander the Commons to boost their own political chances?

Mr. President, these are deep waters. So let Labour be the party of devolution. We are the party of Union, the party of the United Kingdom.

Mr. President, I’ve relished this debate. These are great issues, but they are our issues, this is our ground, and upon this there is a battle to be fought that this party will undoubtedly win. So I have this advice for you: don’t waste time on the past – it’s gone. Out there, up and down the country, people are concerned about the future, not the past. That is where the political debate should be, and that is where I intend to take it in the months and years ahead.

In politics, if you expect the unbelievable, then you’ll never be surprised. It is probable that at the next election, the government and the alternative government will both be talking Tory language. But there is a difference: only one will mean it. Buying Tory policies from Labour is like buying the Rolex on the street corner. It may bear the name, but you know that it isn’t real. Our task is to promote the real thing, and expose the counterfeit. We hear talk of a new Labour Party. A new Labour Party. These aren’t people without a past, lovable little extra-terrestrials beamed down for the duration.

Mr. President, since 1979, we’ve beaten the old Labour Party, the very old Labour Party, the redesigned Labour Party and the new model Labour Party. And as for this new, “biologically improved” Labour Party, it may wash blander, but I would give it a shelf life of under three years.

Mr. President, at Blackpool, Labour filched two of the principles on which we fought the last general election: opportunity and responsibility. But wasn’t it interesting that they left out two others: personal choice and private ownership. They’re vital to us.

So socialism may be a bit out in Islington just now, but Conservatism isn’t off my agenda. As they so often invent what we think, let me tell them clearly what we stand for: we believe in free markets, we believe in private ownership. It doesn’t go against the grain for us to say so. It’s not a new Conservatism that we’ve just discovered, it’s one of the oldest principles of our party and we believe in it passionately.

And because we’ve believed in it, millions of families up and down the land now have savings of their own: Granny bonds, TESSAs, PEPs, the hundreds of billions of pounds in the banks and building societies. It is our philosophy that has given people that choice and that security. That is the message that we must carry forward. Our opponents present ownership as if it was something selfish, self-centred, perhaps even greedy. Some people are all of these things, but most are not. People who have earned well, people who have saved, people who have inherited the fruits of a parent’s lifetime’s work are not the “undeserving rich”.

No, Mr. Brown, they are deserving workers. How does Clause IV put it – “by hand or by brain”. So let me hammer the point home ever more clearly: we are the party of savings, of ownership, of property, of personal independence. We offer people choice: the liberty to grow, and yes, the liberty to make their own mistakes. We admire success in life, and we will never, never, never resent it in other people.

We try to remove government from the everyday lives of people. We believe that every family should be entitled to enrich their own private corner of life, and then pass it on to their children without over-mighty taxation. That, Mr. President, is what Conservatism is about, and there is only one party in this land that truly believes it.

Mr. President, I know when people hear the word “economy”, the spirits droop. They think they’re in for a lecture on the PSBR, GDP, and all the rest of it. Well, you’re normally right, but not today. I just want to say today that the word “economy” should lift the spirits and not depress them, because the great cries of lasting growth with low inflation, which we have sought for the whole of my adult lifetime, is now within our grasp. Whisper it gently, but we are now doing well as a country.

For most people, it isn’t their everyday experience, not yet. But it will be, and I’ll tell you why. Britain is making more, selling more, exporting more. This time we have built a recovery to last, built on firm foundations, on export and investment. Month after month after month, exports from Britain have broken the record set the month before, and they did so again just last week.

These islands of ours are exporting cameras to Japan – you did hear me right, cameras to Japan; computers to Germany; cars to America; clothing to Hong Kong, and Cosmetics to France. We know what we were told. We were told unemployment would go on rising to five million. It’s been falling for the best part of two years, and Michael Portillo announced another fall earlier this week.

We were told we wouldn’t get interest rates down, but we have; that we couldn’t hit low inflation, but we have. These are the very things that bring security, make jobs safe, improve living standards and strengthen this country’s influence right across the world.

What is the prize that lies ahead? Let me tell you what it could be. In 1954, in Blackpool, “Rab” Butler was speaking to this conference. Suddenly he said something quite extraordinary. He said that living standards could double in this country in 25 years. People scoffed, but he was right. For the country as a whole they did double in 25 years.

So let us have the courage to look forward once again. If we are able to keep inflation down, as we must, and control public spending, as we must, what does that mean for our people? It means stronger growth, improving the services we care about – education, health, the police service; it means more money in people’s pockets and more free choice for those people.

Britain has changed. It may not have been noticed but it has changed. Not for 30 years has this economy grown so much faster than prices. So let us bang the drum and say so. It’s time to put the marker down, but as Ken Clarke told you yesterday, we need to stick at it, and for this reason neither Ken nor I, ever again, want to go through the boom-bust cycle that causes so much pain and so many lost hopes for so many people up and down this country.

And that is why in some ways we are a bit puritanical. That’s why we are so determined to control public spending, improve competitiveness, cut regulation, and let private enterprise build public wealth. That’s why we’ll be prudent about what we spend, cut taxes where we can, and above all build up the long-term health and strength of our industry and of our economy.

Mr. President, it’s time for this country to set our sights high again. What “Rab” Butler saw was prophetic and positive. Let me echo it today. Because of what has been achieved, with the right determination, with the right policies, we have the chance once again to double our living standards in the next 25 years, and that is something that everyone in this country can feel good about and feel good today.

Mr. President, I want to talk about education. How many people in this world are fulfilled, really fulfilled? How many do the jobs that they might do? How many have had their minds stretched and extended? “Not enough” is the answer. Not as many by hundreds of thousands as should have. That’s why education matters so much to me. I’m just burned enough to know a little about that. I left my chance late, so I did a lot of my schooling while off for a year with a shattered leg, in the company of Trollope, and Jane Austen, and Adam Smith, and a lot of dull but terribly useful books on banking. Better companions one never had, until now.

But I was lucky. Not everyone is. It’s my personal ambition that everyone should have the same chance to rise to the top on merit. Never mind where they come from, what their parents income is, what their religion is, or what their colour is. These are irrelevant, and please God they will always remain irrelevant to the people of this country. What matters to me is that they have the same chance.

Good schools can be a lifeline out of poverty, the ladder to a better life. That’s what our changes are all about: the curriculum, the testing, the league tables, the inspection, the new parental choice, the challenge to the old council school monopoly, the emphasis on better vocational education, and the creation of new universities. Mr. President, it is not reform for its’ own sake, it is reform to deliver higher standards for all our children.

Bad teaching fails children. They may get through if they come from families with a social edge, a sophisticated home and the good books that go with it, but bad schooling falls most heavily on pupils who have none of these things – children from homes without a book in the house, from blaring day-long television homes.

Mr. President, we are a national party, and these children are as much our responsibilities as are the higher climbers. If the school ladder’s all abstract theory and holds out no rungs of letters, facts and numbers, who loses? The children lose. The people who need our protection lose. The people easily defeated lose. The people who live at the bottom of the heap who deserve a chance to get off it lose, and it’s just plain wrong.

And that is why I want teaching in the weaker schools to be levered up, because if it is, someone will get off the bottom of the heap, and if it isn’t that is where they will stay, probably for the rest of their lives. I will never accept that. I’ve no time for those who are complacent and oppose improvement, and all too often they are the high priests of the politically correct.

They are the people who can afford the good things in life, who chortle away about our emphasis on basic standards and the three ‘R’s, and then move to a different catchment area, with better schools for their own children. They’re people who have in their own homes the books that they say other people’s children aren’t up to reading. They are the people I cannot take, the kind of people who have clambered up the ladder and then seem ever ready to kick it away from other people.

Education’s there to lift the eyes, broaden the horizon, distinguish between the great and the trite, the right and the wrong. It’s there to unlock the gate to a better life, and by and large teachers deliver this. They have a hell of a job, but they can make the difference for children between apathy and despair, and seeing the remote but inviting light upwards and out.

Teachers that do their work well, for heaven’s sake, teachers that do their work well, are the prime route out of the class trap. I care enough about teachers to give bad teachers a bad time, and I care about children enough to oppose sloppy, experimental teaching that ignores common sense.

Up and down the country, dedicated teachers have worked hard to put our reforms in place. They haven’t always liked every aspect of them; so we’ve listened. Sometimes they have been right and we have changed our minds. Many teachers feel there’s been too much paperwork. I agree with them, and there still is.

That’s why we’ve been working with them on slimming down the National Curriculum. We’ve now finished that job, and it’s been dramatically cut, and we’re now out to reduce much of the other paperwork that schools have to deal with. Teachers should be marking homework, they shouldn’t be doing it, and we’re determined that is how it will be. After the curriculum changes of recent years, teachers deserve stability, to be able to get on with their jobs without any more upheavals. So today I promise them this: there will be no further significant changes for the next five years.

And there’s another area in which we must give teachers our full support. I’m disturbed by some of the stories I hear – too many stories to ignore – about violent attacks on teachers and false allegations against them. The teachers’ unions are concerned about these issues and so are we. In this area, the unions deserve our support and the unions will get our support. But education involves fun as well as facts. Schools are friendlier, less forbidding places than once they used to be, and I think that’s good. But they seem to have lost something. I don’t regard sport, especially team sport, as a trivial add-on to education. It’s part of the British instinct, it’s part of our character. Sport is fun, and it deserves a proper place in the lives of all our children.

Of course it can’t supersede Maths and English, though how I longed for it to do so when I was at school! But it must take its proper place alongside them. We are therefore changing the National Curriculum to put competitive games back at the heart of school life. Sport will be played by children in every school, from five to sixteen, and more time must be devoted to team games. Many schools already offer at least two hours a week for sport and physical education. That should be the minimum, and I hope schools will offer more.

Schools should establish links with local clubs and national sports bodies to help do this. They must open up their facilities outside school hours, and harness the willing help that I know is out there. There are sports coaches, parents and other volunteers by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds who will willingly come in outside school hours to help our youngsters have a better grounding in sport, and all it means, for the rest of their lives. So while we’re about it, I don’t want councils selling off school playing fields they may need. I want those playing fields kept, and I want those playing fields used.

Mr. President, there are many views about nursery education. My view is quite clear: I am in favour of it. The picture’s improving. Over half our three and four-year-olds go to nursery school. Nine out of ten have been to a playgroup or nursery school before they’re five. I think it’s time to accelerate this trend. So I’ve asked Gillian Shephard to work up proposals to provide places for all four-year-olds whose parents wish them to take it up.

This is a long-term proposal, but we intend that this new provision will begin to come on-stream during the lifetime of this parliament. This won’t be an easy exercise. We must consult parents and practitioners to get it right, because any additional publically-funded provision must be of high quality, it must promote diversity and parental choice, and it must be carefully targeted in a way that expands and does not crowd out the private and voluntary provision that we have at present.

Since we are making a lasting change to pre-school opportunities, we will have to phase in the introduction of this extra provision, but what I am doing today is giving you a cast-iron commitment that it will happen, and I’m giving you that commitment now so that Gill Shephard can start consulting on it next week.

Mr. President, I intend now to dispose of one of the most insidious lies in British politics. In life, some of our deepest convictions are formed by experience. Book-learning is vital, but life-learning runs deeper. When I was a boy, my father was elderly and sick, and my mother was frail. Their life wasn’t comfortable; they needed treatment regularly. They got it from the National Health Service. They had no money to pay, but they weren’t asked for any. I saw then, not only how well they were treated by the National Health Service, but the security of mind it gave them to know that it would always be available. I have never forgotten it.

Now let me tell you a later story. Two weeks ago when Boris Yeltsin was at Chequers, we went for a walk. There was some comment afterwards that I was using a walking-stick. Naturally if I was using a walking-stick there must be an ulterior motive – was this my bid for the rural vote? Well, no, actually. I was using a walking-stick because I injured my leg badly in a car accident thirty years ago. For a while, that many years ago, I thought I might use it. It was saved by treatment on the National Health Service. I have never forgotten that either.

Against that background, is it likely that I would damage the National Health Service or privatise it? Believing as I do that the greatest nightmare for millions is that one day, however prosperous they are today, that one day they may be old, sick, poor and uncared for, is it likely that I would take away from them the security of mind that was of such value to my parents? Mr. President, I can tell you, not while I live and breathe would I take that away.

Let me say something else about the Health Service: It is the National Health Service, it doesn’t belong to any one political party. The Labour Party, even today, take credit for setting up the NHS. I wouldn’t take that away from them – it’s one of the few bits of their past they don’t currently seem willing to repudiate. But who has been in government for most of the fifty years since the Health Service was established? We have. It is we, the Conservative Party, who have been in government for most of those fifty years. It is we, the Conservative Party, who have cherished the National Health Service, and built it up year after year after year after year. Mr. President, it’s our Service too.

But there is one difference between us and Labour. We don’t use it as a political football for party ends. Mr. President, we just build it up. I wonder how many of you know how many huge new hospital projects have been built since 1980 – you know, that period during which it’s said we have been running the National Health Service down? How many? None? Five? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? More than that? Surely not. In fact yes. The actual figure is over seven hundred big projects, each costing more than a million pounds and some of them many tens of millions for the one project.

And I’m not talking about car parks and offices, I’m talking about patient facilities – new hospitals, operating theatres, pharmacies, maternity units and the like – all within the National Health Service, seven hundred of them since 1980, and I saw the latest bulletin here today: a new day surgery unit in the Royal Bournemouth Hospital just down the road. But there’s more. Consider it, perhaps, as it is: one multi-million pound National Health Service project every eight days the Conservative Party have been in government, throughout its fifteen years. That’s not words, it’s reality, and go out and tell it because it’s our Service too. So I have a message for Labour’s Health Spokesman, “Junket” Blunkett.

Mr. President, when I became Prime Minister, I asked for a fresh look at the criminal justice system: the way we prevent crime, the way we police our streets, and the way we punish the criminal, and I did so because I felt that concern had shifted too much towards the criminal and too far from the victim. Why is there so much crime? The cheap, thought-free answer is to blame the so-called “acquisitive 80s”, but that’s just party political posturing; the roots are deeper than that. It is a long-term trend: sadly too many people feel less respect for their neighbours and for their neighbours property than once they did. And yes, I believe we have fostered too easy, too casual a response to crime by too great a tolerance of crime over many years.

There have been too many voices excusing crime, explaining crime, and justifying crime. We think that’s wrong. That’s why we’ve increased penalties for rape, violence against children, firearms offences, drug-related crime and crimes committed on bail. And so that we can not be said by our opponents to have ignored what our opponents call our “friends in the city”, let me say we have also increased sentences for financial crime.

For a whole range of crimes, then, we have toughened sentences, and judges are now using them. For the first time in years, a rising proportion of convicted criminals are being sent to prison. I take no pleasure in that, but everyone has the chance to stay within the law, and that is the point. If we are to change the climate against crime, then the offender and the offender’s chums must know they will not be able to swagger out of court, untouched, immune and boasting about getting off scot-free.

I believe such firmness is right, and I believe it is necessary. Prison should be decent, but it should be spartan. No-one wants to alienate and harden attitudes, but prison is there to punish and not to pander. I fear that is not always the case, and where it is not, Michael [Howard] and I are agreed, it will have to change. But don’t let us fool ourselves. Punishment alone will not do the trick. We have to change attitudes, improve policing, and support the innovative methods of Chief Constables. We are now developing much more targeted approaches to crime – new approaches; we’re investing in more effective crime prevention.

We must make streets safe for the law-abiding and dangerous for the criminal, and that is why we’re putting yet more money into closed-circuit television. It’s been a huge success, not only in big cities like Newcastle, but in smaller places like King’s Lynn as well. We’re going after drug dealers and drug trafficking, putting together the most comprehensive campaign against drug use ever launched in this country, and we will be announcing the details of this next week.

And we are putting modern science at the disposal of the police. As Michael Howard told you yesterday, we’re giving them wider powers to take DNA samples from people they suspect of crime, and that will help target sex offenders against women and children, and as a result help make this country just a little bit safer for millions and millions of people. The powers in the Criminal Justice Bill are needed, and I can tell conference this: we will never be deterred by the disgraceful riots like those we saw in London last weekend. And the sooner the Labour leadership disowns those Labour MPs involved in organising and speaking at this event, the sooner we may be prepared to take seriously some of their strictures on crime.

And I can tell you how I feel about that episode: I think there’s something profoundly sick with people who organise a demonstration which turns into a riot, and then criticize and attack the police who are only there to protect the public from the results of that riot. Mr. President, we hear enough bad news about crime. Let me tell you some good news. In Manchester crime fell by 12% in the last year; by 12% too in my own county of Cambridgeshire; in North Wales by 10%. What does that tell us? Not to relax, never. It doesn’t tell us to be complacent. But it does tell us we can fight back successfully. If you can target burglary and cut it in London and Warwickshire then you can do it elsewhere. Mr. President, it will take a national effort to beat crime, it will take time, and it must involve everyone, but we are determined to succeed and we have made a beginning.

Many of the changes I’ve been talking about have come about in the last year or so, and I believe that people who have spent that time criticising my good colleague Michael Howard would have been far better off supporting him during that year.

Mr. President, a generation ago it was said that Britain had lost an empire but not yet found a role. It may or may not have been true then, but it surely isn’t true today, because economically and militarily Britain remains in the top league – a member of the permanent five of the United Nations, a leading member of NATO, of the European Union, and of a Commonwealth that covers one-third of all the people on earth, a member of the Group of Seven of the worlds’ most powerful economies and one of only five significant nuclear powers in the world, and we have too as a priceless asset, perhaps the finest professional armed forces anywhere.

That is Britain today, stripped of the masking-tape so often placed above it. So let’s recognise what we are, look with confidence at the new world, and go out and put our own distinctive British mark on it. The changes taking place around the world are truly awesome. I’m not sentimental about them – I know how fragile they are. Two months ago I was in Warsaw, where the first bombs fell in 1939, fifty years on from the heroic uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. It was good to be there. That August evening, we met in a free Poland, whose President was Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker who helped to change history. And taking his hand in friendship were the leaders of a democratic Russia and a united Germany. Poland’s past enemies were there as friends; hope had flowered and the world had changed.

A month later I flew to Berlin, where allied forces were leaving after half a century. That day, our troops marched away from Berlin with that professionalism and that patience which is the special preserve of the British soldier. For nearly fifty years, they had stood guard for peace and freedom at the gates of Berlin; now they were no longer needed; the world had changed. Three weeks ago, I was in South Africa. When Harold Macmillan spoke there of the “wind of change”, it was to an all-white audience and a South Africa that was soon to leave the Commonwealth. But I spoke to a parliament freely elected by all South Africans, and that great country is back in the Commonwealth, back where it belongs.

And what a tribute that is, to the statesmanship and the vision of Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk. Finally, Mr. President, I flew from South Africa back to Chequers. There Boris Yeltzin was my guest, and the President of Russia and the British Prime Minister shared a country house weekend, a walk in the English countryside, and a pint of beer in a British pub. Four snapshots of change, historic days, when the impossible becomes not just possible but an everyday reality. Now the cold war is over, but while the threat was there, there were appeasers and accomodaters in plenty – but not in our party. We can say it with pride: We never heard their voices in this hall.

As in the past, so in the future. Whatever uncertainties may lie ahead, this nation can trust that instinct for security that is a defining characteristic of the Conservative Party. Mr. President, the challenge now is to catch the tide of events that have flown in recent years so very strongly in our favour, to draw the nations of eastern Europe – historic, vivid nation states: Poland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and others – back into the European camera, to make democratic Russia an ally and not a threat, to help the democracies in the third world escape the excessive debt that cripples their development – and time after time it has been British initiatives that have led the way in achieving this, to use our age-old links with Africa to help prepare that troubled continent for a better future.

These are historic roles; historic roles for which Britain and the Conservative Party are marked out by history and by experience. We will use that experience. We will use it also to carve out the right position for Britain in the right sort of Europe. There are extraordinary enthusiasms – hopes, fears, apprehensions – on both sides of the European argument, but I made our general position clear with my speech at Leiden. I believe it carries with it the overwhelming majority of this country, and that is the basis on which I will negotiate in 1996.

And if I am not satisfied, I will do as I have done in the past: I will just say “No” to changes that will harm Britain. But I hope I will be able to secure an agreement that we can accept, for that is in the best interests of Britain. Across the world, the last four years have been turbulent. The years ahead may well be turbulent as well. We will be cautious, pragmatic and safe, but the world remains uncertain and unstable. If anything the end of the cold war has made regional wars more likely and not less likely. We cannot safely assume that it will be a safe world. Only this week we have seen how quickly a crisis can blow up in the Middle East, but who better to send there and act for Britain than Douglas Hurd, our own Foreign Secretary.

Mr. President, we have interests the world over. Isolationism is a luxury that Britain cannot afford, and there is a growing need for regional peace deals – we are very good at them; the defence of British interests does not always lie on British soil. So we will continue to play a leading role, as we have always done, through the United Nations.

Mr. President, the main point’s clear: while we have Conservative government, Britain will have a sure and stable defence, the best equipment, the best weapons, the best trained troops that we are able to provide. Last week showed again how distinctive that position of ours truly is. In opposition it doesn’t matter that Labour voted to scrap Trident – in Government it would. In opposition it doesn’t matter that the first place Labour would look for cuts would be another defence review – in Government it would.

So let me mark out the clear ground, so that no-one serving our country in uniform is in any doubt. Three months ago, we confirmed our frontline would have an extra three thousand troops, and placed five thousand million pounds worth of orders and tenders for modern and effective equipment for the army, the navy and the air force. That, Mr. President, made implicit what I will now make explicit: the big upheavals in our armed forces are over. They deserve the best from us and they will get it.

Let me say something about Northern Ireland, and the momentous events through which we are living. For the past 25 years, Northern Ireland has faced the daily horror of murder and brutality, kneecapping and beatings, organised racketeering and viciousness to fund terrorism for political ends. No morning has dawned that might not contain an atrocity: a father who didn’t return home, a woman or child indiscriminately bombed, a policeman or soldier killed by a hidden sniper. That evil has spread, from time to time, to mainland Britain: the Brighton Bomb, ten years ago this very day, that some of you will be remembering so vividly and so painfully. We still miss those who were lost and think of those who were injured. It was intended to murder a cabinet, but it ended up hardening the resolve of an indomitable Prime Minister.

We remember the murders of Airey Neave and of Ian Gow, the bombs in the city and at Downing Street, the agony of Warrington, and the heart-rending memories of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball who will never know the future that should have been theirs. What did those two little boys ever know of political disputes? In all this time, these long twenty-five years, the extraordinary people of Northern Ireland have carried on with their lives. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. All the people of Northern Ireland need to know that a search for a solution to their problems is right at the top of the British government’s agenda, and I solemnly give them that promise.

We have made progress. It was the Downing Street Declaration that set out the principles that will continue to guide us. It helped isolate the IRA and push them to their ceasefire. As Jim Molyneaux put it, “It was significant”, he said, “when the IRA started to murder pensioners, children, mothers and fathers and so it was bound to be significant when they stopped. The most significant part of all has been the victory of ordinary people over the terrorists”, and how right Jim Molyneaux was.

And yesterday, yesterday the loyalist paramilitaries announced that they too were stopping violence. Another victory for ordinary people, brave people, in Northern Ireland. Today, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the people of Ulster have woken up to peace. Our determination must be to make that peace permanent. To fasten down what is unfolding needs clear reasoning and cold calculation. Many people will urge me to hurry. I understand their enthusiasm. I will not tarry one day longer than I judge is necessary. But I will take it in my own time. The responsibility for Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the British Government.

I am used to being urged to hurry. I have had such advice daily since the Downing Street declaration. But if I had listened, we would not today where we are, with the guns stilled and the bombs stopped and Northern Ireland on its way to a better future. So other people can call for speed if they wish, but I must ask the hard questions and I must make the right judgements at the right time, and to the best of my ability, I will. Things are changing; the profile of street security has lessened on military advice, men and women are no longer searched when they enter hotels and large stores; but let me give this assurance: for as long as is necessary, as many policemen and troops as are necessary will stay on duty in Northern Ireland to protect all the people of Northern Ireland.

We have made a beginning, but not yet an end. Every day that violence is absent brings more hope. Progress may not be easy, there will be setbacks, there may be disappointments – people who are suspicious, who block progress. All this probably lies ahead. But there is, I am sure, a way through. If you will something, you can make it happen, and the will for peace in Northern Ireland is very strong. So Paddy Mayhew and his team, who have done so well, will press ahead with the political talks with the constitutional parties. We intend to complete a framework document with the Irish Government.

We hope to restore local accountability and local democracy to Northern Ireland; to seek an agreement, an agreement that is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, and we shall test their view in a referendum as a cast-iron safeguard of our intentions. I know the size of the task ahead. I’ve no illusions about its difficulty, or the past record of many of the people with whom we are dealing. But we cannot let history freeze us into inaction. There is a chance, a window for peace. We will enter it if we can do so with honour and with consent.

In the words of the old testament, which is common to both traditions in Northern Ireland, “There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace.” The people of Northern Ireland are sick of war. It is for them that we must build a time of peace.

Mr. President, it’s a cliche’ today that every leader must have “the vision thing”. We’re told he must map out, in dramatic form, new direction. I don’t disparage “the vision thing”, but alongside “the vision thing” I must tell you I remain rather attached to “the action thing”, to “the practical thing”, to the “how on earth do you deliver these promises thing”. By all means listen to a politician when he tells you what he plans, but ask him too “How will you do it?”. Take it from me, the devil, the very devil, can be in the detail.

I don’t disparage the mapping of direction, or sometimes, new direction. I hope I’ve sketched out some today, but I must tell you, there is sometimes merit in the old direction. Change for the sake of change should never appeal to any Conservative. In a world sometimes of bewildering change, this party must stand for continuity and stability, for home and for health. And we must build this for the long term, for our children and for our grand-children. It is the young people out there, it is they who will make the world in which we grow old. They will make the decisions. They may decide in their time to strike out along new pathways, but it is for us in our time to build for them a stronger foundation so they may have that choice.

And today my message to you is that Britain is growing stronger: we are beginning to see the fruit of all the things we’ve battled and striven for throughout these difficult last four years. You know, running the country isn’t like walking down the road. You have to hold fast to your core beliefs, whatever the short-term pressures may be; see the right things through to their finish, whatever the risks may be. To govern is to be engaged in a hundred themes, a thousand roots, and the everyday visions, sometimes conflicting, of literally millions upon millions of people. No windy rhetoric, no facile phrases, no pious cliche’, no shallow simplification, no mock-honest, mock-familiar adman speak, can conceal or should be permitted to conceal the infinite complexity of government.

Take care nobody tries to conceal that from you. Take care not to confuse travesty with truth. Never assume that because an idea is easily communicated that it must be right. Take care not to confuse oratory with practical concern. Look for the achievements of government not always in bold plans or crude conflicts, but sometimes in mended fences too, and sometimes in the accretion of small steps whose pattern takes time to become clear.

In this difficult world, our interests are daily at stake. The time is ripe for grown-up politics. The glib phrases, the soundbites, the ritual conflicts, all these may be the daily stuff of life for the upper 1,000 in politics, but to fifty million other people in this country they are utterly irrelevant and my interests must be with them.

It is said that actions speak louder than words. I hope so, for in the end, and when it comes to a choice I shall bend my energies always to work, not talk. My trade has never been in adjectives; I shall be patient. I shall be realistic. I shall ask for patience and realism in others, and I promise you this: I shall put my trust in results. Thank you.

John Major – 1994 Leiden Speech on the European Union


Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the William and Mary Lecture, given in Leiden at the University on 7th September 1994.


Britain and the Netherlands

John Milton, the great British poet, described Leiden as “That famous University and renowned Commonwealth, a sanctuary of liberty”. I am privileged to deliver the second William and Mary Lecture in such distinguished surroundings.

This lecture series was inaugurated by Ruud Lubbers in Milton’s University, Cambridge. It celebrates the close bonds between our two nations over hundreds of years. Bonds so old that even in the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, her Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, declared Britain and the Netherlands to be “the most ancient allies and familiar neighbours”. Bonds epitomised in our fierce attachment to the liberty stressed by Milton. Liberty underlies much that I shall say this evening.

The long history of the Anglo/Dutch relationship is, of course, not wholly one of unbroken harmony and friendship. I admired Ruud Lubbers’s lightness of touch in passing over four Anglo/Dutch wars as “the occasional naval battle” in last year’s lecture. And at various times in our history, Britain and the Netherlands have been fierce rivals in their pursuit of prosperity on the world’s sea lanes.

In the post-War period, we have been staunch allies in NATO – many of whose leading figures have come from our countries. We’ve been totally committed in our support for the Atlantic Alliance. As we meet, our two Air Forces are making the largest European contribution to NATO air power in the skies over Bosnia, just as our armies have undertaken some of the most hazardous operations for UNPROFOR on the ground. Our joint amphibious force operated in Iraq in 1991 and now helps to defend NATO’s Northern region.

The Dutch and British are not just allies; not just the inheritors of outward-looking, sea-faring, free trading, global traditions; not just bound by the history which united our Crowns in 1688; not just close neighbours; but friends, in the most genuine sense of the word. Friends from conviction and shared values. Friends by habit and instinct. Friends wherever they meet around the world.

The challenges facing Europe

It is from that perspective – of a candid friend – that I would like to give a British view of the challenges facing us in Europe.

My theme is the long-term future of Europe – all of Europe – and the extent to which we are now outgrowing the concept of the original founders of the European Union.

To some, who believe the original concept is not yet met, that may seem provocative. It is intended to be realistic. Since the 1950s and especially over the past five years, our Continent has changed in ways no-one could foresee. We live in a different Europe and a different world. The vision of the 1950s is not right for the mid-90s.

I shall first describe Britain’s outlook on Europe.

Then I shall look at the ways in which the European Union should be developed in the future.

Finally, I shall set out how we can extend security and prosperity to our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe.


The caricature of Britain

Let me tackle, straight away, a popular caricature.

The caricature is that there are, in broad terms, only two approaches to the European Union – that of the Eleven on the one hand, and of Britain on the other. Britain, for these purposes, is said to be a backmarker; a country interested only in a glorified free trade area.

The caricature is ludicrous. Many of the key developments of the past few years have been advanced by Britain’s advocacy – the Single Market; budgetary discipline; proposals for CAP reform; CFSP; deregulation and trade liberalisation. No backmarking there.

Nor is it right to characterise Britain’s opposition to some policies as anti-European. I have argued continually that the European Union must improve its competitiveness. With over 18 million unemployed that is surely essential.

That is why I believe we must keep social costs down. If we don’t we will lose competitiveness, lose jobs, lose prosperity.

This, to me, is a pro-European argument. But when I first made the case, my arguments were regarded as close to heresy, and as distinctly anti-communautaire.

The fact is that there are not two approaches to Europe among the Governments of the Union, but one and twelve. One because we are all firmly committed to a strong and effective European Union. But twelve because no two Governments have identical approaches. Issue by issue, the twelve members line up in different ways. Sometimes, the United Kingdom finds itself with the majority, sometimes not.

Sometimes, we are on our own. But that does not happen only to the United Kingdom. Yet how often have we seen the headline “Britain isolated”; and Britain’s fidelity to the European Union questioned as a result? We don’t see this question asked when, as often happens, other Member States stand on their own, in what they see as important national interests.

Yes, Britain – like the Netherlands, like Germany, like France, Italy, Denmark, in fact like all twelve Member States -has her own perspective on Europe. Our perspective is not wrong simply because it is different.

The British Outlook

So what is the British perspective?

First, it is quite simply that Britain is irrevocably part of Europe. We are hard-headed about it but perfectly clear. The British people know that their future rests with being part of the European Union.

But, second, it must be the right sort of Europe. One which does not impose undue conformity, but encourages flexibility. Only in that way will we achieve the Europe we want – a Europe which is free and secure, prosperous and coherent, democratic, potent and generous.

Third, we believe that the political dimension is crucial to making the most of the development of the Union.

Fourth, we want the European Union, – which is, after all, a unique community of democracies – to pull its full weight internationally and be a power for good in the world.

And fifth, we want the Union’s development to be realistic, attainable, and – crucially – supported by its peoples.

Like everyone else, we want to move forward in Europe. We cannot consider Europe complete while so many European democracies remain outside the Union. But if we are to build well, we must build carefully. We do not just want a futuristic grand design which never leaves the drawing board. Even worse would be to put up a building which fell down because we hadn’t got it right. The most constructive attitude to Europe is to plan a future that  works. That is what Britain wants.

Britain’s Contribution

It is to this Europe that Britain seeks to make a very large and positive contribution.

The assets Britain brings to Europe are pet haps too easily taken for granted.

We have the world’s sixth largest economy. London is one of the world’s leading financial centres. Our trading links and global connections bring substantial benefits to Europe. We are the second largest net contributor to the European Union’s budget.

With France, Britain is one of only two nations in the Union which still have a global reach to their foreign policies. Alone in Europe, the United Kingdom is a member simultaneously of the UN Security Council, the Economic Summit, and of the Commonwealth which now comprises one third of the world’s nations. We have a deep involvement in all of the Continents of the world.

Our contribution to the defence of Europe, to its security institutions, to its ability to exert an influence when conflict threatens European interests – as in the Gulf – is second to none among the Member States. Far from staying separate, over 40 years ago we merged our security policy into that of the North Atlantic Alliance. We were prepared to commit ourselves to its integrated military structure. We have made a more significant contribution to NATO – and hence to the security of all Europe – than any other European nation.

I make these points, not from national pride, but because our willingness to contribute, whether to the European Union or to NATO, is vivid evidence of the British commitment to the freedom and future of continental Europe.

Given this commitment, it is high time that the caricature of Britain in Europe was buried. We have a commitment which surely gives Britain the right – just as others have the right – to advance her reasoned views without constant questioning of our European credentials.


Achievements and Problems

We should not let the European Union’s recent difficulties obscure its remarkable success over four decades.

The European Community was born to end divisions in Western Europe. It has succeeded. With NATO, it has given us peace and prosperity in our part of the Continent, and made war literally unthinkable. The determination of the Founding Fathers has succeeded far beyond the estimations of most people in their time. Their vision was proved right for its age. But it is outdated. It will not do now. We must all adjust our vision to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The deep hurt of the recession and bitter divisions over Maastricht – within so many Member States have left the European Union bruised and battered. We British had a parliamentary fight unequalled in perhaps a hundred years to pass the legislation. Other Governments had to invest great effort into persuading their Parliaments of its worth. Where Member States held referenda, their results were far from a ringing endorsement of the Treaty. This year’s European Elections were another warning. All over Europe, the picture was much the same: a poor turn out, with many votes cast more on domestic than on European issues. I believe that the Netherlands were no exception.

The European Union seems temporarily to have lost the self-confidence of the 1980s. Popular enthusiasm for the Union has waned. We need to listen to these warnings if we are to make the right moves in the future.

The Lessons for the Future

The European Union has come a very long way in a very short time. There is impatience to take it further, but impatience is a poor framework for building soundly. Even though the original ambitious schemes mooted were not incorporated in the Maastricht Treaty, the final outcome nevertheless strained the limits of acceptability to Europe’s electors.

The lesson is self-evident. Harmonisation and integration will not work if they have to be forced on people. Of course it is for governments and politicians to give a lead. But our vision will only work if we carry support of our electors, if our people can see the benefits, understand them and want them. That is the fact of the matter. We need a vision grounded in reality.

Another clear message is that Europe’s peoples in general retain their faith and confidence in the Nation State. In the European Union, Nation States have both pooled elements of sovereignty and retained their independence and individuality. We have reached a careful and effective balance, and the evidence is that our peoples are wary of over-centralisation and of overambitious blueprints for new European architecture. They do not feel that a huge, remote, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-national amalgam would be responsive to them or could properly reflect their national identities.

Edouard Balladur said last week: “France has always wanted a Europe of nation states, which respects each country’s own personality”. So has Britain. I believe that the Nation State will remain the basic political unit in Europe.

A third lesson is the need for greater transparency. Both the language and the institutions of the European Union can be extraordinarily difficult to penetrate from outside. They need to be made accessible to the citizens of Europe. At present they are not.

Tasks for the Future

I see two pre-eminent tasks for the period ahead:

– within the existing Union, to rebuild the cohesion and confidence which has diminished in the past few years;

– in external policy, to extend security and prosperity to the countries to our East. I shall come back to this in a few minutes.

The European Union now needs to regain public support by making a success of what is already on its agenda.

Let me touch on some of the key points in this process.


First, cohesion within a community of twelve to sixteen requires flexibility, as I argued consistently throughout the recent European elections.

So I am glad a debate on this matter is now developing, and I have read with great interest recent contributions by Edouard Balladur and by Wolfgang Schauble and Karl Lamers. I welcome their emphasis on a more flexible Europe. Diversity is not a weakness to be suppressed: it is a strength to be harnessed. If we try to force all European countries into the same mould we shall end up cracking that mould. Greater flexibility is the only way in which we shall be able to build a Union rising to 16 and ultimately to 20 or more Member States.

The way the Union develops must be acceptable to all Member States. It seems to me perfectly healthy for all Member States to agree that some should, integrate more closely or more quickly in certain areas. There’s nothing novel in this. It is the principle we agreed on economic and monetary union at Maastricht. It may also happen on defence.

But the corollary is that no Member State should be excluded from an area of policy in which it wants and is qualified to participate. To choose not to participate is one thing To be prevented from doing so is quite another – and likely to lead to the sort of damaging divisions which, above all, we must avoid.

So I see a real danger, in talk of a “hard core”, inner and outer circles, a two-tier Europe. I recoil from ideas for a union in which some would be more equal than others. There is not, and should never be, an exclusive hard core either of countries or of policies. The European Union involves a wide range of common policies and areas of close co-operation. No Member States should lay claim to a privileged status on the basis on their participation in some of them. For nearly forty years now, the Member States of the European Union, first six, then nine, ten, twelve, soon to be sixteen, have worked to reduce divisions in Europe. We must not see them reintroduced.

That is why an essential component of the future European construction must be flexibility. We need a debate about it.

By flexibility, of course, I do not advocate chaotic non-conformity. Our union depends on the rule of law. Where countries have accepted obligations, they must honour them. If they fail to honour them they must – if necessary – be made to do so. Nothing is more destructive of commitment to common European aims than the popular belief that, while some countries diligently obey the rules, others are cheating and being allowed to get away with it.

There are areas where conformity is right and necessary – in the rules which govern international trade and the Single Market and the environment, for example. But conformity can never be right as an automatic principle. Flexibility is essential to get the best out of Europe – and to respect the wishes of our peoples.

The European Monetary Union is a case in point. The arrangements in the Maastricht Treaty for progress towards EMU do not simply allow, but require a differentiated approach. This is essential. Whatever one’s view of EMU Stage 3 – and I have thought it right to reserve the United Kingdom’s position, and still do – the introduction of a common currency without proper prior economic convergence would be calamitous. But Maastricht recognised that. In general, the Maastricht Treaty’s flexible arrangements allow countries freedom and choice on how they decide to participate in the pursuit of our shared aims.

The Inter-Governmental Conference

The Inter-Governmental Conference in 1996 is likely to bring many issues into sharp focus. How, for example, can we fashion a fairer voting system? Can we develop simpler and more transparent legislative procedures? Should the Council exercise more control over the Commission? Is the number of Commissioners becoming unwieldy as the Union enlarges? Should the Commission have new powers in some areas – for example to pursue budget fraud into the Member States themselves?

In developing Britain’s approach to the IGC, I will be guided by four considerations:

The first is my sense of what Britain’s Parliament wants and what people actually need.

Secondly, I shall want to see greater flexibility in the European Union, and greater tolerance of diversity.

But that makes it all the more important, third, that Europe maintains a strong sense of shared purpose and common enterprise. The IGC must be the anvil on which we forge a stronger Union.

And fourth, that any proposals for change are workable and effective. The European Union has never lacked for ideas for its development. But it needs ideas which work.

The European Parliament and National Parliaments

This is particularly evident in the approach we must take to developing the European Union’s democratic credentials.

Within a more open, flexible and diverse Europe, what should be the respective roles of the European Parliament and the national parliaments?

Parliaments take time to mature. Compared with the British Parliament and the States General in the Netherlands, the European Parliament is a fledgling institution. It has gained considerable powers in a short period. It plays a significant role in the legislative process: some 50 per cent of its legislative amendments are adopted, which is a far higher average than any national parliament. Yet clearly there is a long way to go before it wins respect and popular affection.

The European Parliament sees itself as the future democratic focus for the Union. But this is a flawed ambition, because the European Union is an association of States, deriving its basic democratic legitimacy through national Parliaments. That should remain the case. People will continue to see national Parliaments as their democratic focus. It is national parliamentary democracy that confers legitimacy on the European Council.

The European Parliament is not the answer to the democratic deficit, as the pitiably low turn-out in this year’s European Elections so vividly illustrated. The upshot, sadly, has been an unrepresentative and rather incoherent range of parties in the new European Parliament, in which fringe, protest and opposition groups are over-represented. We must wait to see if, over time, our electorates begin to take European Elections more seriously. But, for now, it would be premature to consider a further increase in the Parliament’s powers.

The task for 1996 is for the European Parliament to grow into its existing powers – for it to ensure that legislation is sensible and proportionate; to avoid damage to competitiveness and jobs; and to contribute to matters such as budgetary control, market opening, and the scrutiny of spending.

It should also do all it can to oppose fraud. Defrauding the Community budget has become a multi-billion ECU industry. It is scandalous and it does need comprehensive action. No Member State is immune from this. Indeed, it is an area in which national interests and the best interests of the European Union often conflict. The Parliament should continue to give its full backing to the Court of Auditors in waging war on fraud. In that way it can earn the strong support of European electors by lightening the load on their pockets. It could give them more confidence that their taxpayers’ money is properly spent. It’s this sort of action which will improve the status of the Parliament.

In parallel, I believe that much more should be done to build links between national Parliaments and the European Parliament. Westminster, as I suspect is the case with most national Parliaments, is partly at fault here. We all need to develop a more cooperative effort with the European Parliament and we must examine how this can be done. In my own country, I see a case for Joint Committees (both by inviting MEPs to contribute to national scrutiny committees, and vice versa) and we will examine this in the months ahead.

Second and third pillars

The IGC will also consider the so-called pillars – the separate arrangements for foreign and security policy, and for home affairs and justice. They enable Europe to operate through co-operation and not compulsion in areas that are hugely sensitive to the national interest. Britain wants to see more energy put into them.

The first joint actions in foreign policy strike us as no more than a modest beginning. They have included the elections in South Africa and Russia, humanitarian aid in Bosnia and assistance to the Middle East peace process. We should be more ambitious. There are obvious advantages in developing common policies towards Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

Of course, for each of us, there will be areas of foreign policy where national action is more appropriate. Hong Kong is an obvious example for the United Kingdom. But when we can act together we have a diplomatic impact much greater than the sum of our parts.

What of defence? We have NATO, we have the Western European Union. Both offer guarantees for our safety, both call for commitments, both have been a focus of British efforts over the past 40 years. We have now decided to retain and reshape NATO – that is one of the fundamental decisions of the last two years. The January NATO Summit agreed to develop new structures which will allow groups of countries to conduct operations together within the NATO framework, but without the participation of all. We have also decided, at Maastricht, to work towards a common European defence policy, based on the WEU.

There is serious and detailed work to be done before we have turned these general propositions into reality. Britain will be at the core of this enterprise. Britain’s armed forces have the experience, skill and professionalism to meet the new challenges which we now face. The defence of Europe is not for us a luxury, but a necessity.

The third pillar, Home Affairs and Justice, deals with threats to our societies of a different kind. There are growing risks to all of our countries from organised crime, and in particular from drug trafficking and money laundering. Cooperation in the fight against crime must become as instinctive as it is in foreign and defence policy. And our Governments must organise their work better than the criminals who oppose them. We are determined to see a success made of Europol, and the further development of the third pillar. The United Kingdom will pursue this energetically.


A month ago, on a warm night in Warsaw, I sat by the Monument to the 1944 Uprising and heard a remarkable speech by the President of Germany. To anyone familiar with Warsaw’s history, it was striking that he should be there at all. He was speaking to a nation whose overriding foreign policy objective is to integrate with Western Europe’s institutions and above all with the European Union and with NATO. For all that has happened in Polish history, the Polish people want to bind themselves to Germany and to the rest of us. And for all that has happened in German history, Germany wants Poland to be a free and equal partner in our Union.

On the following day I sat in Vilnius with the Prime Ministers of the three Baltic States. Their goal was the same. They, like the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and other peoples on the edge of our present Union, are part of the European family.

After the war, and through the 1950s and beyond, we had to preserve the security of Western Europe against the threat from Communism. Now we must move on. Communism has gone. For the next generation we face a different task. It is to make sure that the barriers now down in Europe’s East do not rise again in any form.

We have taken our first small steps along that road but we have to go a great deal further. Our predecessors went to war after Poland and Czechoslovakia were invaded. But at the end of a six year war that engulfed the world, those same nations lost their freedom for half a century. By bringing the Central European States into our family of democracies, we can finally make good the damage they suffered. This must and can be done in a way which benefits the whole of Europe. Indeed, it will enhance the Union: a free, stable, prosperous and democratic Central Europe will be a huge benefit to the whole Continent.

The process will require many changes from the countries to our East. They will need to embody our standards of democracy, law and human rights. They must adopt the economics of the free market.

However, the change cannot be only on one side. If we expect them to make changes to join us, then we must make changes to help them do it. We must be prepared, for example, to offer periods of transition in some areas. We must also face the fact that our European Union cannot function in the same way and with the same policies with sixteen or twenty or more members as it did with six or ten or twelve.

Two examples suffice to make this point. The Common Agricultural Policy, as at present operated, would be unsustainable and unaffordable with twenty. members. Wholesale reform will be essential. Secondly, the admission of less economically advanced countries will mean a major reform and redirection of structural funds.

No-one can doubt that these changes will be controversial and, for some, very painful. Across Europe, we have only just begun to think about them. Member States are not yet reconciled to the policies that are necessary to bring them about. It must not be our objective to admit new members to a status inferior to other partners. They must enjoy the same options, in a flexible Union, as are open to us.

Enlargement: Economic Cooperation and Free Trade

We have a responsibility to help the economic development of our neighbours to the East – and it is in our own interests to do so. We must be open-minded and open-handed.

They must be given access to our markets and not kept at bay by trade defence mechanisms. We do not want to build a Continent where economic divisions would return as the ghosts of the political barriers which crumbled in 1989.

Enlargement: Security Relationships

Our outward reach of course must extend to security relationships. Here, too, we must be flexible. For some countries, membership of NATO will be the  the right answer, the only question is when rather than whether. For twenty-one countries now including Russia “Partnership for Peace” is making a reality of practical cooperation. The six central European countries and the Baltic states are now also associate partners in the Western European Union. The end of communism has been the biggest peacetime change in our continent for over a hundred years. It is an opportunity we have longed for, hoped for. We now have the chance to entrench democracy right across Europe. I do not believe history will forgive us if we squander it.

Mr. President, soon we hope to be welcoming four new members to the European Union. They will not be the last. We have the prospect of a Union of increasing diversity, a Union in which difference in size, shape, economic and industrial profile, philosophy, history and culture will make varied geometry a fact whatever decisions we may choose to make about our institutions.

This diversity, these differences, will undoubtedly make for more vigorous debate, more late nights, harder work to keep our common aims on track. We may sometimes need to take comfort in the observation of a Dutch philosopher, Spinoza, that all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.

We will have to balance priorities, the priorities of the smaller nations with those of the larger ones, the needs of the southern countries with those of the north, of allowing for the various weights of agriculture and industry in the national economies of our European Union. In the future, Britain will work hard to ensure the Union takes good account of these differences. We want to ensure that common policies are adopted wherever they offer common benefits; we want to ensure our Union is not a directorate of the larger countries at the expense of the smaller countries. Above all, Mr. President, we don’t want Europe to go off the road. When we see a proposal that could have this effect, then we will say so in a frank and a realistic way and when we have positive proposals to put forward, we will do so vigorously and argue our case with conviction and clarity. That is the positive attitude that we have, an attitude to help Europe towards a future, a future that works, a future that we believe can be built if we have the courage, the application and the farsightedness to take the decisions now that will shape our future not just for the months and the years immediately ahead but far beyond that to make the most of the opportunity that I passionately believe lies at hand for all of us in Europe. [Applause].

John Major – 1993 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Madam President, as I walked through the Winter Gardens during Conference Week, I passed the bookstalls and what do I see, I see memoirs, memoirs to the left of me, memoirs to the right of me, memoirs in front of me, volley, volley and thunder. Madam President, let me say right away I’m not about to write my memoirs, not for a long time.

There’s a job to be done, a job of service to this nation and I believe in service. There’s a job to be done, a job I was elected to do and I propose to go on doing it. Madam President, there’s one aspect of the memoirs that I may write in future that you needn’t wait for – I can tell you now, straight away, precisely what I think of my Cabinet.

Do you think any of them look worried? Apprehensive? Touch concerned? They needn’t be, they’re a first-class team, they’re steady under fire, they’re united and they’re serving Britain superbly.

And isn’t it good to see Michael back?

Did you see those exercises? I dare say they’re going to enliven quite a few Cabinet meetings in the future.

Madam President, I’ve been coming to this conference on an off for about 30 years. It’s a very great event in the political calendar, but it’s something else as well. It’s a family gathering and like all families, from time to time, we have our squabbles. So today, before I turn to other matters, I want to say something to you, specifically as leader of the Conservative party. Our party has served our country in Government more often and better than any other democratic political party in the world. We’ve done so because we’re the broadest based political party this country has ever seen. Our support comes from all classes, all income groups and all parts of the United Kingdom. Madam President, I know our party. It can bear many things – unpopularity, deep controversy, setbacks – we’ve seen it all before, but there’s one thing that demoralises our workers and that breaks apart our support in the country and that is disunity.

We’ve always known where it leads, and so, in this private gathering we have today, we might as well state it plainly. Disunity leads to opposition. Not just opposition in Westminster, but in the European Parliament and in town halls and county halls up and down this country. Of course we won’t agree on every single aspect of policy. No one expects that. We’re a democratic party with a whole range of lively ideas. But I think you’ll agree with me upon this – people look to us for commonsense and for competence and we have a responsibility to you and to the people who put us in Parliament to show those qualities day after day. And that means we have to have our agreements in public and our disagreements in private.

And if agreement is impossible, and sometimes on great issues it is difficult, if not impossible, then I believe I have the right, as leader of this party, to hear of that disagreement in private and not on television, in interviews, outside the House of Commons.

Madam President, the last year has shown how hard every part of our party can fight for what it believes in. Let the next year show that we can channel all that energy together in a common effort against our opponents and for the policies we care about.

This week, an unusual week, this week we had two conferences for the price of one. First, there’s the one we’ve been at.

And then there’s the one we read about.

You know, I’m not absolutely sure that everyone’s caught up completely with the current mood of our party, so I’m going to ask you three questions and I want to hear the answers loud and clear so that no one can doubt where you stand. They’ve very simple questions and very straightforward.

Aren’t you fed up with people running our country down?

Aren’t you fed up with people writing our party off?

When people ask, “Will the Conservatives win next time?”, what do you say?

I didn’t quite catch that.

Yes. Yes. And yes again. And you don’t need shorthand to get that down.

You see, Madam President, this is a family gathering, just as I said. But now I want to reach out a little further to speak not just to you, but to those outside this hall who may be listening. I want to share some thoughts with you and see if they strike a chord with your own experience. I think that many people, particularly those of you who are older, see things around you in the streets and on your television screens which are profoundly disturbing. We live in a world that sometimes seems to be changing too fast for comfort. Old certainties crumbling. Traditional values falling away. People are bewildered. Week after week, month after month, they see a tax on the very pillars of our society – the Church, the law, even the Monarchy, as if 41 years of dedicated service was not enough. And people ask, “Where’s it going? Why has it happened?”. And above all, “How can we stop it?”.

Let me tell you what I believe. For two generations, too many people have been belittling the things that made this country. We’ve allowed things to happen that we should never have tolerated. We have listened too often and too long to people whose ideas are light years away from common sense.

In housing, in the ’50s and ’60s, we pulled down the terraces, destroyed whole communities and replaced them with tower blocks and we built walkways that have become rat runs for muggers. That was the fashionable opinion, fashionable but wrong. In our schools we did away with traditional subjects – grammar, spelling, tables – and also with the old ways of teaching them. Fashionable, but wrong. Some said the family was out of date, far better rely on the council and social workers than family and friends. I passionately believe that was wrong.

Others told us that every criminal needed treatment, not punishment. Criminal behaviour was society’s fault, not the individual’s. Fashionable, but wrong, wrong, wrong.

Madam President, on all these things, received opinion with the wisdom of hindsight, received opinion was wrong. And now, we must have the courage to stand up and say so and I believe that millions and millions of people are longing to hear it.

Do you know, the truth is, much as things have changed on the surface, underneath we’re still the same people. The old values – neighbourliness, decency, courtesy – they’re still alive, they’re still the best of Britain. They haven’t changed, and yet somehow people feel embarrassed by them. Madam President, we shouldn’t be. It is time to return to those old core values, time to get back to basics, to self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting a responsibility for yourself and your family and not shuffling off on other people and the state.

Madam President, I believe that what this country needs is not less Conservatism, it’s more Conservatism of the traditional kind that made us join this party.

This week, this week we’ve made a start. Now we must see it through. It’s time for this party to return to its roots. Madam President, our economic roots are clear. We’re the party of Adam Smiths, not John Smith.

And Adam Smith was the apostle of free markets and that is why we regard the present world trade talks as so important. At meeting after meeting, we have battled to keep those trade talks alive against difficulty after difficulty, because nothing will do more for growth, nothing will do more for jobs, nothing will do more for confidence in our future than agreement in those trade talks. But if other governments don’t play their part, if they hold back, if they won’t face up to their domestic difficulties, then those talks could collapse and the dangers of that happening are devastating. They could unlock protectionism, poverty and unemployment on a scale that we have not seen since the 1930s. A great deal is at stake. And because a great deal is at stake, I don’t believe we ought to be mealy-mouthed about the dangers. Today, on this issue, is not a time for holding back. So let me say to some of our European colleagues, “You’re playing with fire”. Or, to put it more bluntly, “Get your tractors off our lawn”.

People accuse us – accuse us – people accuse us of being the business party. Well, you bet we are. We’re for small business and we’re for large business. We’re for more business, not less business. When business booms, Britain booms, so we’re for private enterprise and we’re proud of it.

Over the last three years, the whole country has sweated and slogged and suffered to turn this economy around. Now, steadily, it’s happening. Recovery is under way. That’s the message from British business. The economy’s growing. You may not see it yet, but it clearly is growing and it will show. And as the economy grows, the family budget will follow, so people have every reason to begin to start feeling better again. Inflation’s down. Interest rates are down. Exports are up. Productivity’s up. Retail sales are up. Manufacturing output is up. And the number of people in work is up. Madam President, it’s the opportunity cocktail we’ve been wanting for years and it gives this country a head start on prosperity for the rest of this decade.

So, let’s try and build up that confidence, instead of forever seeing it knocked down. Why don’t we try something different? Why don’t we tell people about Britain’s successes? And let me tell you about them, in the strictest confidence…

… so they’re sure to leak out.

Who says we can’t make things in this country? Manufacturing industry is one of our great national assets.

Three weeks ago – sometimes it seems longer – three weeks ago I was in Japan, the industrial wonder of the world, and there with me were British manufacturers, selling solutions to problems that Japan hadn’t solved. Successful British firms, international leaders in their own fields, firms at the leading edge of technology, selling successfully to the world technology leader. Two days later, I was in Malaysia, and we came back with £1 billion worth of orders for British companies. They didn’t buy British to do our companies a favour. They did it because we made what they wanted and we made it better in this country than anyone else in the world.

Fourteen years ago, Britain was going nowhere. Now it’s going everywhere and selling everywhere. We’re making goods, making profits, making waves, right across the world. But despite that, despite the growth we’ve had there and the growth to come there, I must warn you, it’s still going to be tough and everyone in business here today, or everyone who listens to what I say today, knows how hard they have to compete. At present, Europe, our biggest market, is stuck deep in recession. It’s held back by social costs it can’t afford. It’s losing markets to Japan and to America and to the Pacific Basin. And that, Madam President, that, amongst other reasons, is why I refuse to accept the Social Chapter. It’s not a chapter of rights, it’s a charter for unemployment and we don’t want it here.

What we do want is more of our best brains going into manufacturing industry. Let’s see them give politics, the City, journalism a miss and go into manufacturing industry where their skills can be so badly needed.

And let’s see our great manufacturing centres humming with activity as we move towards the millennium. Let’s turn British inventions into British industries, British factories and British jobs. Let them make pounds for us, not dollars, marks, and yen for other people. Ministers are told, whenever they go abroad, part of your job these days is to open the door for British business. We’re backing exports with cheaper credit, more Government muscle and a new breed of diplomat – people who know as much about exports as they do about etiquette.

At home, at home we’re taking the ridiculous burden of red tape off business and off citizen alike. And I can tell you, in the next session of Parliament, there will be a big deregulation bill to show how seriously we take that.

Here’s a good old British maxim you can all remember: if the price is right and the goods are good enough, then sell abroad and buy at home. That’s the way to make sure that British industry continues to boom.

But there are other things we need to do for industry. Industry isn’t asking us for handouts and special help. It’s asking us, as the Government to play our part in creating the right economic environment for industry to let loose its own energies and compete on a level basis with the rest of the world. So here, Madam President, is another ambitious target for our country: not months but years and years and years of sustained growth without the curse of inflation. That is at the heart of our economic policy for the 90s. It’s a prize for which British Governments have struggled for 30 odd years and yet now, it’s within reach and we are not going to throw it away.

Just remember, only three years ago, inflation was over 10%. Now it’s under 2% and it must be kept low. Inflation is in check but it’s never in checkmate. Back in the 70s, soaring prices destroyed savings. We all remember that. We all want to make sure it never happens again. But to do that, to make sure it never happens again and destroys businesses and livelihoods and savings, sometimes we may have to hold back our ambitions for tax and spending.

Madam President, let me get one thing entirely clear. Our views on tax are different from those of the other parties. What the Conservative Party is aiming for is a Government that lives within its income and without your income. Other parties tax because they want to. We tax only because we have to. So come rain or shine, taxes will always be lower under us than any other kind of government.

But success has another vital ingredient, getting public finances back under control. At the moment, largely because of the recession with the great collapse in come than that created, we have a huge gap between what Britain spends and the tax we take in. We have to narrow that gap. It is true – Government has spent more over the last two years. We had to help the weak and protect the vulnerable through the recession. And that, Madam President, is an important part of Conservatism as well.

But now Britain’s recovering so we have to cut the deficit. We all agree on that but it’s no good agreeing on the principle unless you take the action and it’s no use people urging us to take the action unless they are prepared to back us when we have taken it for it may often be difficult.

There are tough choices ahead and we must make them and we will make them because it is in the interest of our country to make them and we have that responsibility.

Of course, people’s opinions will differ. Some say tax more, some say tax less, some say spend more, some spend less but stay out of my backyard. All that’s perfectly okay for the opposition but it won’t do for the Government party. We can’t have a lobby against every difficult decision. Decisions are what government is for and we have to take them.

So, once the debate is over, once Ken Clarke has announced out budget proposals, we Conservatives must work together and take that message to every single part of the country. But there is one thing I can tell you that you can take with it: high income tax is no part of this party’s programme.

It never has been and, as far as I’m concerned, it never will be.

Madam President, high on every Conservative list is raising standards in our schools. That’s why John Patten’s first concern is with what parents think and what our children need. There are tens of thousands of excellent teachers up and down the country and I’m proud to pay tribute to all they do on behalf of our children. But there is bad teaching as well and many parents and many pupils know that only too well. Our children must be taught what they need to know. That’s why we need a national curriculum. It’s why we need national testing. Not just for the sake of it but to find out what our children have learnt and what they have failed to learn. And when we know what they’ve failed to learn, we can put it right. But without those testing, we fail those children because we never learn what they haven’t understood at an early stage in their school career.

The principle of tests is not negotiable. We don’t need reams and reams of complex papers that take hours for teachers to handle. What we do need is those simple pencil and paper tests that this party has always asked for and that is what John Patten is going to deliver for us. Because unless we teach a child to read, to write and to add up, then we hobble that child for the rest of his life. Take John Prescott. For the audience at Brighton last week, his speech was a religious experience, mainly because it passes all understanding.

But push him to one side. I saw a letter recently from over 500 university teachers of English. And they say in their letter that it’s disastrous and harmful to teach standard English, great literature and Shakespeare in our schools. Apparently, teaching Shakespeare threatens to reduce a living language to a dead one. They say – and believe it or not, this is a quite – they say, “It would do serious damage to the moral and social development of our children and to the cultural life of society as a whole and all who are concerned with such matters should oppose in the strongest possible terms.” What claptrap!

Well, I’ll answer them in words, perhaps, they might approve of. Me and my party ain’t going take what them on the Left says is okay, right.

Madam President, over the past few months, in meetings with party workers – many of them I think will be here today – I’ve made it clear in private that the attack on crime would be the centrepiece of next year’s legislation. On Wednesday, after one of the best conference debates I have ever heard, Michael Howard delivered the first instalment. Lord Archer, if I may call him that…., made it clear how much we’ll have the support of the whole country in that programme. But don’t let’s pretend that we’ve been idle over the last 14 years; we haven’t. We’ve increased sentences, built more prisons, spent more, recruited more police, and those police have served us magnificently. And no other party would have done as much.

But we know now, it was not enough. In many parts of the country, crime figures have risen remorselessly. Crimes once confined to the cities have spread out into the rural areas, bringing alarm where alarm was never before. And that is the reason for our new approach. We have tried being understanding. We have tried persuasion. Madam President, it hasn’t worked.

I know criminals are a problem in a cell but they’re much more of a problem on the street. And policy must be dictated by the needs of justice, not by the number of prison places we happen to have available on any given day. If someone belongs in prison, when that is where they should be and that’s why we’re building more prisons. Better the guilty behind bars than the innocent penned in at home.

Let me tell you how I see things. We need tougher rules on bail and no bail for the worst offenders. An end to the right to silence, as Michael Howard announced earlier this week. And more information for the police from DNA testing. We’re going to use science to help catch the criminal and not let silence protect the criminal.

Here too it’s back to basics. For some, punishment seems to be a dirty word. Well, you’ll find it in my dictionary and I strongly suspect that it’s in yours.

Some time ago, I said we should condemn a little more and understand a little less. And I meant that for this reason; if we let young people at an early age think crime is a normal part of growing up, if we let them off with a caution, a caution and a caution, it is small wonder if they feel there is no peer pressure turning them to law and order, and they turn to bigger crime later.

And if we extend those parameters of leniency so far, we betray our children, for we do not give them the values that we expect them to live up to when they become an adult part of our society.

There’s one other issue in the range of measures that Michael announced in his remarkable speech the other day that didn’t find room for it, for there was, even for the Home Secretary, a limited amount of time at this conference. But it’s an issue upon which I feel very strongly and I can tell you today that we plan a big crackdown on the loathsome trade in pornography that offends so many people in this country.

There will be new powers of arrest and search, new powers to seize videos and other material, and – something I personally particularly support – a new offence to make the possession of child pornography a crime that can lead to imprisonment.

Yes, Madam President, it’s tough. And so it should be. There’s no place in a civilised society for that sort of exploitation of our children.

But don’t let us delude ourselves. Fighting crime is not just a matter for the police or for the Government. We can legislate, we can provide the resources. We can do all that and the police can perform miracles on the resources they have. But Governments can’t make people good. That is for parents, for churches, for schools, for every single citizen.

Like many people in this hall today, as a boy I knew people who had nothing, who expected nothing. They didn’t commit crime because they did have something. They had values, dignity, pride, respect for their neighbours, and, above all, respect of the old.

And in the long-term battle against crime, that respect needs building every bit as much as Michael Howard’s new prisons. Madam President, let me make it clear beyond a doubt. I simply do not accept that crime can be excused and under this Government, I give you my word, it never will be.

Madam President, from the serious to the less serious: our opponents. Our opponents can’t string two policies together but they can cook up a scare. And of course there’s a ready market for scares. Every day I’m told what I think that I don’t think, what I’ve done that I haven’t done, what I’m planning that I’m not planning. Hearing the news day after day is a voyage of discovery for me.

Voyage of discovery for me, but very unsettling for many others, many of them elderly, more of them, not very rich, and most of them very worried. So let me offer some reassurance, not rumour, fact. Next time Labour and the Liberals say we’re going to charge for visits to the doctor, you can tell them confidently, “No, we won’t”.

Next time they say we’re going to charge for stays in hospitals, tell them, “No, we’re not”.

And when they say we’re going to introduce prescription charges for pensioners, you can get right out on the doorsteps and tell them, “No, we’re not”.

They say we’re going to force older people to go to the bank, not the post office, to collect their pensions. Well, really. I have 500 square miles of Huntingdonshire in my constituency and heaven knows how many rural post offices. I know their value to local village life. I know their value to the community. I know how much pensioners rely on them and that’s why I promise you they’ll be able to go on picking up their pensions at the post office.

So go out and knock all that nonsense on the head. And yes, I know the concerns – nobody could possibly have missed them – the concerns that people have about their fuel bills. They believe they’re going to face massive rises. They aren’t. And the most vulnerable fear they’re going to be left without compensation. They aren’t. Kenneth Clarke made that clear yesterday and I’m happy to repeat it today.

This nation owes a huge debt to its pensioners. it’s something this Conservative Party will never forget. So, it’s our duty to keep our country a place in which they feel both safe and secure.

So when you hear people saying this, that or the other, don’t always swallow it wholesale. Remember, in the immortal words of Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so”.

Madam President, scares take me naturally to the Labour Party. I’m not going to be savage about Labour, I think the people of this country would welcome an end to the bad-mouthing between politicians.

So, as a man damned every Sunday for his moderation, I think I shall stick to my own civil instincts. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a bit of fun. Did you hear John Smith’s speech last week? He’s a good man, is John, but Lord doesn’t he go on about it?

He rather reminds me of a Scottish Buddha, the very essence of immobility with a faint smile of perfect self-contentment upon his face. And the Buddha has watched his Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, Labour’s gift to melancholia, he’s watched him run from not sure about taxes, to no more taxes, to lots and lots more taxes in just six weeks, and there’s a long time before the next election. And the Buddha said nothing. The Buddha has left his Northern Ireland spokesman say, “Stop tests, cover up school results and scrap A Levels”, and what did he say? The Buddha said nothing. One hears that the only sign the Buddha ever gives is a slight shake of the head… if anyone proposes a new idea.

Madam President, we saw something rather remarkable in Brighton last week. They called it a “famous victory”. Famous victory? I would call it John Smith’s political Munich. Here it is, composite – I beg his pardon, composite 55 and 56. Let me read you the victory roll – the trade unions will now only make 70% of policy and choose on third of the leader.

Which one third is unclear. Perhaps they don’t think it matters. After all, they’ve long had the bit above the neck.

What we have out of last week is a minor reduction in union influence in the Labour Party and the promises of a huge increase in union power in Britain, if there was a Labour Government. One small step for the Buddha, one giant step leap for the brudders.

Whatever the trade unions ask for, they got. And they asked for was unconditional surrender. Remember what Mr Smith said, “The country needs strong unions today, as never before”. Madam President, after all we fought for over the last 14 years, I think this conference would beg to differ with that judgment.

Madam President, there’s another strange party in British politics. It gives a different answer to the same question in Cornwall or London, in Ryedale or Eastbourne, on Monday or Tuesday. They’re against VAT on fuel in the morning, and for a carbon tax in the afternoon. But they are consistent about two things, the first of them is tax. They are the other high tax party – income tax, local income tax, carbon tax, regional tax, Scottish tax, Welsh tax, and given half a chance, Euro tax as well. If they thought it would raise money, they’re produce revenue from syntax and tin tacks.

And the second thing they’re consistent about is federalism. Centralism in Europe. The Liberal Party is a federal party. Don’t take my word for it, this is their conference agenda – “The autumn”, it says, “the autumn conference of the federal party” – that is the Liberals in their own words. And look what they called for in this conference for a federal Europe – turn to page 99, though I would not recommend to you pages 1 to 98….

This is what they called for on page 99. They called for sensible application of the social protocol and they had an amendment – “delete sensible” was the amendment.

I agree. Sensible stands out like a sore thumb in every Liberal conference. But their leaders are fanatics for federalism. They have been out of government for so long, they have forgotten how to take decisions. The only decision they can take is that they want someone else to take the decisions for us in this country.

Next June, we will have European elections in Britain. Let me say to all our candidates who are present, and everyone here who will work in that campaign, that will be a national campaign. We are going to fight those elections on a clear and distinct British Conservative manifesto for the future of Europe.

Madam President, I have risked and sacrificed more than most for what I passionately believe in, a strong Britain playing a leading role in a strong and growing Europe, a wider Europe, a free trade Europe, a less intrusive Europe, our vision of an independent confident Britain, giving leadership with our partners in the European Community. And in our elections, in this country, next year, we will be the only mainstream party that is not prepared to move towards a centralised Europe and take that message to every doorstep in the country.

And tell them this too, tell them that any vote against us, for whatever party – Labour, Liberal, makes no difference – any vote against us for whatever party would be seen in every capital in the Community as a signal that the British people want a centralised Europe. We know they don’t. You know they don’t. They know they don’t. We must make sure the people of Britain vote to show the rest of Europe that we don’t.

The Liberal leader says, rather nervously I thought, that the guns are turning on him. Too right they are, and not before time. Let the Liberals loose and the prospect of a federal Europe could be a reality again. In this country, they are federalism’s fifth column. Away with them next June in the elections.

Madam President, before I leave the Liberal leader, I want to say a word about his posturing on Bosnia. I find it distasteful. No, no words suffice for the sheer dreadfulness of Bosnia.

The violence that has torn apart what used to be Yugoslavia has deep and bloody roots. They go back to the Middle Ages and beyond. People there have suffered great wrongs and unimaginable cruelties. We have given, as we always will, help, food, medicine, technical aid. We have sent British troops with humanitarian aid; the first country to do so. And those troops have saved literally hundreds of thousands of lives, men, women, children who would be dead from cold and starvation, are still alive, thanks to the activities, the skill and the bravery of those troops we sent to Bosnia.

Madam President, right at the start of this war, I said that I was not prepared to put British troops into combat to hold the various sides apart. It’s my responsibility, my responsibility as the Queen’s first minister, to advise when soldiers should be sent to fight and to risk being killed. It’s all very well to call from the sidelines for a huge military commitment to Bosnia but I listen with respect to the views of the senior professional soldiers and airmen. They know the depth of the problem. They know what we would be asking their men to do. They know that while the threat of air strikes is a good deterrent, you cannot finally settle a guerilla war by bombing. They know that. We saw it in Iraq after the biggest Armada of bombing for week after week after week. it was not until we sent in ground troops that Saddam Hussein finally lost. And those senior servicemen warn me against trying to separate three sides, three sides that hate each other, in a cruel civil war, in some of the wildest hill and forest country in Europe.

There is another form of intervention, which we may have to contemplate. Intervention, not to impose a settlement on parties at war, but to implement a negotiated peace. Right now, alas, the peace prospects are thin and speculative. Too speculative to risk the life of a private in the Cheshires or the Prince of Wales’ Own. The negotiators will go on trying. I earnestly hope they will succeed, but I shall not ask a British private to risk leaving his mother without a son his wife without a husband unless there is a real settlement.

Unless there is a real will by the people of Bosnia to stop fighting, not some ploy to suck outsiders in and then start the war again. I have never been in doubt about Bosnia. Though one cannot always speak one’s mind plainly, I have understood that to intervene is to risk an intolerable number of British dead. A war is easily started. The boys are always going to be back for Christmas, but wars, particularly wars in the Balkans, have other ideas.

So, let me make clear. I leave the talk of a quick away-day outing for the commandoes with everything sorted out in a couple of weeks to the commentators, and to the royal corps of columnists. Yugoslavia is tragic. I consider all the options but I must think first of the lives of British soldiers.

And I will not put them at risk for the sake of talking big and striking attitudes. I will not rush into war.

Emotion says yes, logic says no. I say no.

Madam President, an unstable Yugoslavia is one thing. An unstable Russia would be quite another. So, let me say a few words about the events of the past week. We should be under no illusions about the real motives of the rebels in the Russian Parliament. They were out for blood, the blood of democrats and reformers and, had they won, the consequences for Russian and for the rest of the world would not have borne thinking about. Yesterday morning, Boris Yeltsin told me that the courts would now deal with his opponents. Madam President, that is not how they wanted to deal with him.

The Russian people have twice voted for President Yeltsin and for reform. Now he plans further election, free elections, not rigged Communist elections. He invited me, yesterday, to send British observers to ensure those elections were fair. I agreed and promised that we would certainly do so. Those elections in December will be the surest test that democratic reform remains on track. We backed Boris Yeltsin against the 1991 coup. We were the first to do so. We backed him last weekend and I promise you this, we shall go on backing reform in Russia in the months ahead.

When we speak of the threat of violence, there is one other place that is never far from our minds. Each day, every day this week, whilst we’ve been gathered here in Blackpool, thousands of young men and women risk their lives in the Army and in the security services in Northern Ireland. They stand in the defence of democracy and of the rule of law. Under a Conservative Government, they will continue to have all the support that they need.

Northern Ireland is part of our democracy. We are not going to bargain away the people’s democratic rights, or any part of them, in order to appease those who seek to rule by bullet or by bomb.

Do to do, to do so, would betray the people, and, in particular, those of every party, many of them brave, who take a part in constitutional politics in Northern Ireland. So, no Government that I lead will negotiate with those who perpetrate or those who support the use of violence.

There is only one message for them to send. We have finished with violence for good. Madam President, we are and we will remain the Conservative and Unionist Party.

At the heart of our philosophy is an abiding belief in the right of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own future. Unlike the Labour Party, we are not in the business of securing the break-up of the United Kingdom.

For us, the union and all it means is immensely important. In all parts of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, the union has the decisive support of those who live there. So, I give this assurance to the brave and resilient people of Northern Ireland, for our part, we will always back your democratic wishes.

Madam President, before I sit down, I want to congratulate all of you in the hall, all of you who are the backbone and the strength of our party, for your cool, your warmth and yes, your resilience during a remarkable and, how shall I put it, most diverting week in Blackpool.

Throughout the 1980s, the political energy of this country came from the Conservatives. That energy must go on through the 90s and not only go on, but grow and develop, driven not just by those in Government but by you who work on our behalf for our philosophy, for our party, in each and every part of the United Kingdom. And if you feel, as I do, refreshed and recharged by our work in Blackpool this week, then go home and help us restore the fortunes of our party, through hard work and a passionate belief that what we Conservatives stand for is more true, more deep, more enduring, more in touch with the basic instincts of the nation we love, than all the words of all the other political parties rolled together. We stand for self-reliance, for decency and for respect for others, for wages that stay in the pay packet and don’t drain away in tax. We stand for money that keeps its value, for a country united around those old, commonsense British values that should never have been pushed aside.

The message from this conference is clear and simple, we must go back to basics. We want our children to be taught the best, our public services to give the best, our British industry to be the best and the Conservative Party will lead the country back to those basic rights across the board. Sound money, free trade, traditional teaching, respect for the family and respect for the law. And above all, we will lead a new campaign to defeat the cancer that is crime.

Carry out that message. Reach out, not only to those who already think as we do but to all those with no special party allegiance who care for what we care for and who love this country as we do, for the same reasons we do. Do that. The fight goes on, the waverers will return and yes, a fifth victory will be ours.

And one final word. Thank you, thank for for something that has been quite fantastic, your loyalty to this party and your loyalty to me.