The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the 1992 Young Conservatives Conference – 8 February 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to the Young Conservatives Conference in Eastbourne on Saturday 8th February 1992.


Mr Chairman, it’s good to be back at your Conference. It has been an important year. I’ve seen the UN in New York, the EC in Maastricht, and now the YCs in Eastbourne.

And by the way, there’s something else I can tell you about

1992 … it’s the year the Conservative Party will win the next General Election.

We will win that Election. And win it clear and well.

A National Party

Mr Chairman, let me tell you why we’ll win – and what we’ll do. About what we stand for – and what we don’t stand for – and what we won’t stand for.

Why should people give us their trust? Because our ideals meet the hopes of people in every walk of life. And in every age group. Because we don’t see good fortune for some as injustice for others. We don’t scorn the successful. We don’t preach envy. And we don’t trade on division.

For us each person counts. We never forget those with their foot on the first rung of the ladder of opportunity. Or those who have been knocked off it by misfortune. The Government I lead will always protect their interests.

And that means taking decisions that are right in the long- term, not easy and popular in the short-term.

Holding firm on the economy

Mr Chairman, the world economy is showing greater strain now than it has for a decade. That doesn’t make it easy for Britain, as we work our way out of recession. A quick fix is the wrong way. It calls for steadiness. Keeping inflation down. Keeping strikes out of fashion. And keeping faith in policies that are the only sure foundation for our recovery.

You may have heard what our opponents suggest. A poisoned chalice. They want to raise taxes on incomes and savings. Raise National Insurance. They want us to put new levies on business. And bring in a minimum wage.

We know where that would lead. We’ve been there before. Higher interest rates, higher mortgage rates, higher taxes, more unemployment, a longer recession, and the re-invention of the Brain Drain.

Not one of their policies would help our recovery. They would mean perpetual recession and terminal decline.

If we had had the high taxes and the strikers’ charter that Labour demand, I can tell you this. We wouldn’t have had Nissan investing nearly £900 million at Sunderland.

We wouldn’t have had Honda investing £300 million at Swindon.

Wouldn’t have had Toyota investing £700 million at Derby.

And wouldn’t have had, in the five years to 1990, twenty billion dollars of United States investment in Britain.

The conditions which attracted this investment are what Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman, Gerald Kaufman, condemns as a sweatshop economy. Sweatshop economy?

Last year Japanese firms invested £3,600 million in Britain – more than half all the Japanese investment throughout the European Community. Under Labour all that would have been at risk. “Alien investment”, their union friends call it. They would rather have unemployment in Britain than investment from overseas.

Mr Chairman, Britain simply can’t afford Socialism. What an absurdity it would be, as the world ditches it, for us to let it to creep back in this country. Labour’s attitudes are old hat. And its prescriptions are yesterday’s prescriptions. We live in a harsh and competitive world today – the most competitive decade we’ve ever known. And unless we’re able to compete we’ll face a harsh future.

A Nation at Ease with Itself

Mr Chairman, when our Party honoured me by making me its leader I was asked what my aims for Britain were. I had no doubt the first of these was to create a nation at ease with itself.

That sounds a simple idea. But for me it is fundamental.

We live at ease with others when each of us has the same choices. The same opportunities. Peace of mind. Simple human dignity. We’re all entitled to that.

But what is our path to these things?

For our young people, the chance of a good education. Up to date skills. Qualifications that mark their achievements.

For workers, freedom from trade union pressure. To feel a part of their enterprise. To be able to earn more and keep more for their families.

For the sick, to know that there is – and always will be – a free National Health Service which develops and grows.

For older people, to know that inflation will not destroy their security. That the State will not confiscate their savings. And that the streets must and will be kept clear of crime.

For all to know that their contribution – whatever it may be – is respected and valued. And crucial in binding every local community together.

These are the things that bring security and self-respect. And self-respect breeds respect for others. An old lesson of history, long understood in Britain, before Socialism began to eat it away.

Any Government can aspire to these aims. But it’s only the Conservative philosophy that is able to secure them.

So what is it that is special about the Conservative way?

The Principles of Modern Conservatism

Let me tell you. The principles of modern Conservatism are the principles of choice. Of opportunity for all. Of ownership. Of responsibility. Those four themes run through every part of our programme for the 1990s. And everyone’s policies should be judged against them. For they are the foundations of a free society.

The Power to Choose

Of these four great ideas, I put choice first.

There are those who say that choice is selfish. Or that some people are too foolish or too stupid to choose. That the safest choices are made by the State. By other people who know better than you.

Those who say that are the people who defended the closed shop. Resisted the Right-to-Buy. Pushed up tax levels in Britain until it wasn’t just the pips that squeaked. It was the whole fruit-stall.

You know who they are. The people of Britain know who they are. The shifty men – who once proclaimed their Socialism in public, but who now phase out the hymns they once sang with such gusto.

Of course it all depends on which Labour shadow you’ve been listening to. They talk about “lime for a change”. What do they mean? They mean it’s time for Neil Kinnock to change John Smith’s policies. Or vice versa. Cometh the dinner, cometh the fudge. A blinding conversion on the road to Luigi’s.

Mr Chairman, the harder they fought us, the more our policies of choice put power in people’s hands.

We’re putting it back where it belongs:

With the individual. Not the trade union.

With the customer. Not the controller.

With the citizen. Not the State.

We’ve widened choice by breaking down nationalised monopolies and opening up markets. Giving tenants and parents more say in their lives and those of their children. Above all by keeping taxes down.

It’s no good looking at the mail order catalogue, the holiday brochure, or even the take-away menu, if a tax demand from a Socialist Chancellor has left you no money to pay for it. Your modest hopes are swallowed – in his huge ambition.

So be on your guard. 35 per cent basic rate income tax? They denied it before; and they did it before. They deny it again. But, given the chance, they’d do it again.

Extending Choice

Mr Chairman, once again our Party is bubbling with new ideas. Widening choice in all sorts of ways. We are giving council tenants even more rights. We’ll bring private sector skills more into public service. And we’ll be acting to end – once and for all – the monopoly power of arrogant Labour councils over the management of housing estates.

And there will be more choice in the way we travel. We’re going to end the public monopoly of London’s bus services. We’re going to ensure better service on the railways. Break up the huge, inefficient monopoly that is British Rail. When you’re young you want to travel and see the world. Well, we’re going to challenge the cartels and the cosy deals that keep too many international airline prices far too high.

Mr Chairman, last year at this Conference, I told you that education was top of my agenda. Since then we have pressed on with a tide of reform. One by one the citadels of the trendy left are tumbling down.

We are insisting on new standards in the curriculum. We’ve given parents more power. But, as we’ve made clear in our Citizen’s Charter, choice is meaningless if, like millions of parents in Britain today, you never see the school’s results, and you’re never sent a school report.

So we are now bringing in – for the first time ever – systematic inspection of all schools. The results will go to every parent. And – again for the first time – league tables will be printed showing how different schools compare.

Free choice must be informed choice. That way you can help us to secure our foremost aim – higher standards. For every child. In every classroom. In every school.

More Accountability

In the next Parliament we intend to put on record the performance of every local authority in the country. There must be no more municipal cover-ups. No hiding place for uncaring and incompetent councils.

Labour don’t like league tables. And you can all guess why. Who doesn’t collect rents? Southwark and Lambeth. Who costs the public most? Lambeth, Haringey, lslington and Bristol? Who keeps the most homes empty? Hackney, Liverpool, Newham and Salford? Where are maths results the worst in England? Bradford, Newham, and Sandwell? No wonder Labour don’t like league tables. There would be Labour councils at the bottom of every list.

You didn’t hear any of that at Labour’s local government conference yesterday. Of course they attack our Citizen’s Charter. They’re terrified at what the public will be told.

I believe that where the public have no choice, the inefficient must be held to account. That’s why we also want more independent inspection in key public services. Like the police. Or social work.

Too often eccentric theories and slack management have escaped proper scrutiny, undermined public confidence, overshadowed the dedicated service of tens of thousands of social workers.

I want to see rigorous and independent inspection of social work. Some of the most vulnerable people in Britain depend on it. And in the next Parliament we will see to it that it is provided.

Choice where we can bring it. Accountability where we can’t. People’s rights. That’s what the Citizen’s Charter is all about.

Ownership and Wealth Creation

Mr Chairman, alongside choice there is a second great foundation to the Tory approach – ownership. And with it goes wealth creation, which is the only way to provide for those who need help. Wealth creation and welfare hand in hand – those are the central pillars of the Tory temple. So it’s in everyone’s interests to have low taxation on business. Regulation which promotes competition and open markets, and doesn’t stifle enterprise. That’s what’s wanted. Low inflation, freedom in the workplace, and reforms in education and training to bring out each person’s skills.

We also need low income tax. Incentives to save. The chance to inherit. Wider ownership. These things broaden and deepen our freedoms.

Those are not Labour’s priorities. Labour believe that taxes should be higher and promotion penalised. That shareholders are second-class citizens. That Whitehall knows how to run industry. And that trade unions should call the shots.

Millions of people in Britain think differently. They know that the homes, shares and pensions they own were won despite bitter opposition from Labour. They fear the impact of Labour taxes on the housing market. Labour regulation on the stock market. And sheer Labour hostility to personal pensions which over three and a half million people in their 20s and 30s now have.

Mr Chairman, ownership is at the very core of Conservatism. It gives people pride. Spurs on their efforts. Offers them security. Satisfies their hopes and dreams.

There is nothing wrong with the wish to have something of your own. Or to pass it on your own. There is no other party which believes in making ownership easier across the generations. But we do. We want more people to gain more, own more, leave more. Yes, and inherit more. I make no apology for that. For if families get richer, so do we all.


In recent weeks a lot has been said about Labour’s policies on income tax and National Insurance. By everyone – except Labour. But in all the comment on their damaging and vindictive proposals, there is one which has yet to be given the attention it deserves. Their carefully calculated plan to hit out at personal savings.

Any one with more than £3,000 a year from their savings – a worker taking early retirement, a businessman selling a corner shop, a child inheriting a home, would be clobbered by a new Labour surcharge on savings. How can you trust a Party that calls for investment and attacks the investor?

Mr Chairman, after the success of the home-owning democracy, we must move on. We are a Party that believes – as no other believes – in savings, in shares, in pensions for all. I am proud that as Chancellor I introduced the tax-exempt savings schemes, the TESSAs that are proving so popular. People are showing in their millions that they want, and believe in, Tory savings policies. Saving regularly, with the tax incentive to do so. Partnership with the investor – not the confrontation that Labour would bring.


People have also shown in their millions that they want Tory opportunity in pensions and share ownership, too. I simply don’t understand why Labour are so hostile to savings. They now say they would scrap help to those with personal pensions. Force them back into the State system. So let me assure you of this, the next Conservative Government will go on encouraging personal pensions and reduce long-term reliance on the State.

Labour talk of increasing pensions for all. But they say nothing about the obstacles they’d put in the way of people saving up for old age. Nothing about the folly of pushing up taxes to pay out £1,000 million across the board to those in the top half of the income bracket. And nothing about policies which would increase inflation and hit the pensioner hardest. This Government has protected the pensioner, lifted the fear of inflation, and concentrated help where it is needed most. We will stand by our pledges in the 90s.


Another question for Labour – wholly unanswered – is how far they would tamper with or take away the rights of owners of shares. Where they wouldn’t renationalise, they would interfere. Force down dividends. Cut the values of shares. There are 8 million new shareholders who have entrusted their savings to investment in privatised industry through shares. Not one of them – not one of that 8 million could feel safe if Labour crept back.

For us the question is different. How can we extend share ownership further? My ideal is to see every worker in every firm with a real personal interest in its success. And how can we make it easier to own shares? I want it to be as natural to deal in shares as it is to invest in a building society or bank. It will take time. But that’s the way this country must go.


Mr Chairman, our Conservative ideas are the right ideas for the ’90s. The tide is running ever more strongly against the fading grip of the Left. Labour is awash. Adrift. And sinking. Everywhere, all over Europe, the sandcastles of Socialism are slipping away.

Mr Chairman, there is one responsibility that this Conservative Government, the next Conservative Government, every Conservative Government will always fulfil.

To defend our nation. No ifs. No buts. No small print. No Kaufman quibbles. Defend our nation. Week by week. Year by year. Quiet. Careful. Cautious. But always on our guard.

Of course, we want peace. Of course, we want to see more resources available to health, education, and the protection of the weak. In recent years we have shown that, with our policies, we can modernise our defences, and still provide the quality services the nation needs. But for us, defence spending is an insurance premium that, as long as any risk remains, we will continue to pay.

You don’t need me to tell you the risks that remain. Even in recent years you have seen twice how suddenly an aggressor can strike. In the Falklands. And in the Gulf. In those wars the young men and women of our armed forces – many of them at school or college with you – fought superbly.

I hope that no-one, ever again, will have to lead this nation in time of war. There is hope of a new spirit in the world. Nine days ago I signed an historic declaration with President Yeltsin. And last Friday we brought the Security Council together at Head of Government level, for the first time in 47 years of UN history. These were both British initiatives. But they offer hope for the world. And whatever it is in our power to do, to strengthen this positive spirit, that, I promise you, we will do.

But let me also be blunt. There are still dangers ahead. The future is uncertain. The collapse of Communism has brought great opportunities. We will do all we can to help democracy take root in the new Russian Republics. But there is still dangerous instability. And, in the wider world, Saddam Hussein is not the only dictator longing to lay his hand on a nuclear trigger.

In such a world, as Boris Yeltsin has acknowledged, it is essential to maintain a minimum level of nuclear deterrent. Labour don’t want a nuclear deterrent. They just see it as something to bargain away. But will never take risks with Britain’s defence.

We will keep a deterrent – a minimum deterrent. Britain must have the capacity to keep a deterrent at sea. Labour don’t want to build it. But I can assure this Conference. We will. The next Conservative Government will complete, and deploy, the fourth Trident submarine.


Mr Chairman, in the last two years we have seen 400 million people cast off Communism as the ideals of the free market spread across the world.

Socialism has failed wherever it has been tried. Now the whole of Europe is throwing it out, neck and crop. Well, let me tell you this. Here in Britain it’s not coming back.

I know the ambitions you have for our future. The high hopes. I share them.

The right policies will help us achieve them. The wrong policies would destroy them.

That is what is at stake at the election.

For your generation. For every generation. Soon it will be time to choose. And I look to you to be in the vanguard when we win the coming election.