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 Local Government Conference – 7 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to The Conservative Local Government Conference on Saturday 7th March 1992.


Britain is fortunate in the dedication of her Councillors and her council officers. This Party is particularly fortunate. Let me start by thanking you for all you do.

When I spoke to this Conference last year I referred to my own period in local government. I learnt then that being a Councillor is not easy, it means commitment. It can mean days – weeks – of spare time surrendered, late nights – perhaps after a long day. Meals snatched, sleep lost, problems coming at all hours. Every one of them urgent to those who face them. Councillors must sort them out, without fuss, often without thanks, usually without personal assistance. There are no deputising services for Councillors – no-one to stand in for you. It’s your name in the Council book.

So it isn’t easy I know. But I hope you will go on working for your communities. Because a properly conducted local council, the kind which so many of you here influence or control, can have a greater impact on the quality of life for most people than central government itself. And the converse is also true – a poorly conducted Council means more than inconvenience for its tenants, schools, and residents. As we have seen in far too many inner city areas, it can bring them to the very edge of despair.

Every voter should remember that at the local elections in May. There’s only one way to be sure of value for money, quality service, and priorities that match public needs. To vote Conservative. And that’s what we must persuade them to do.

Across the world Socialism is dying. We must help it on its way in this country too.

Together, we must take municipal socialism, designer socialism, closet socialism, the whole paraphernalia of this modern Labour Party, and send it packing. And, while we’re about it – since they agree so much – let’s send the Liberal Party along with them.

As we’ve moved towards an Election, we’ve faced a barrage of strident Labour campaigns. I’m relaxed about that. But the public expect and deserve reasoned debate. And we must make sure that they get it. So we’ll concentrate on policy, compete on policy, and we will win on policy.

A Conservative victory is crucial for Britain. Crucial because we want to take our country forward – not slip back into old habits, long discarded. Crucial because Britain is ready to come out of recession – and only a Conservative Government can bring it out. In present world conditions, there is no quick fix. I wish there were – but the plain fact is that there isn’t. Across the globe some of the strongest economies have slowed. Britain cannot evade the effects.

Succeeding in the 1990s will take hard work. Keeping inflation down. Keeping taxes low. Offering incentives to those with the will to succeed. Doing all the things we’ve done in a decade in which the face of Britain has been changed immeasurably for the better.

It is high time some of Britain’s home-grown critics stopped talking her down. Just think what we’ve achieved in changing the everyday lifestyle of the average Briton.

Whereas in 1979 one in eight of young people went into higher education, it’s now one in four. And soon it will be one in three.

Whereas less than half of all pensioners had a telephone, it’s now five in every six.

Where just over half our families owned their own home, it’s now nearly seven out of ten.

Where just one home in a hundred had a video recorder, it’s now more than two out of three.

Where only one in twenty had shares, it’s now one in three.

And where we did some 3000 heart by-pass operations, it’s well over 14,000 today. Where only 3 heart transplants, it’s over 300 today. Where not one single person had a personal pension, now over four and a half million do.

I don’t believe people will tolerate attempts to write off a country that’s made such progress as if it was some kind of banana republic. Banana republic? Bananas.

The truth is we’ve taken giant strides forward. But we can go much further. New expansion and new prosperity lie within our grasp.

What the country needs now, above all, is confidence. Self-confidence. Confidence in our future. And if confidence in business is to grow, there’s nothing will make it grow faster than a Conservative victory at the next General Election.

All the other ingredients for recovery are in place. So we must make sure that we’re back in place. To build prosperity in the ‘90s. And with a clear majority.

Any other outcome would shatter Britain’s prospects. If you were inventing a policy to destroy confidence, where would you start?

You’d start with higher taxes. Higher inflation. Higher interest rates. New levies and new surcharges. A green light for the trade unions. A minimum wage policy tailor-made to destroy jobs. The wilful upending of every existing policy – simply because it’s there.

In other words you’d start with Socialism. Such policies would be a disaster for every family. A disaster for every business, a disaster for every community. Labour’s tax and spending plans are the road back to the day before yesterday. They would put a ball and chain around our ankles. Shackle our country, as we are fighting to compete in a challenging world.

They simply haven’t the wit to see that if you grab people’s money, if you hit people’s hopes, if you block people’s choice, then you don’t just blight the prospects of the families themselves. You risk the whole future of our country.

Take education, a crucial local government service. What could be more important than getting the best schooling for all our children?

What our Party stands for is commonsense in the classroom.

Proven teaching methods. The learning of basic skills. Proper reward for the best teachers. That’s what our new Review Body will bring.

We want local management for schools, a trend led by my own county council in Cambridgeshire, and backed by Conservative councils across the country.

We want what our Citizen’s Charter guarantees. More power for parents. A report for every parent on how their child is doing. Regular inspection of their school and a sight of the inspector’s report.

And we want better choice for parents. We’ve given them the right to send their children to the school they like. Now we need to tell them how that school performs. Then every parent can compare them – and can choose the best, the most appropriate for their child. Such a decision is far too important to be left to the chances of school gate gossip.

I want children to have the kind of education that best equips them for life. Helps them understand what it’s all about, gives them the chance to enjoy it, helps them make the most of it. That’s why we want variety in education. Because our children deserve it.

That’s why we want good comprehensive schools teaching on the right principles.

Why we’ve given every school more control over their future.

Why we’re bringing quality and hope into the inner cities with the new Technology Colleges.

Why we’re helping bright children from every background through the assisted places scheme.

Why we also defend the rights of independent schools. And why we’ll back any council that puts standards first in everything they do.

Our agenda on education is straightforward. The best for every child, the best from every child.

Who on earth could oppose these ideas? I’ll tell you who. Those educational ostriches who bury their heads in the sand. Who can’t see around them the desert that a generation of Left-wing ideas has created in far too many of our schools.

I find it hard to understand such bunkered attitudes. And so, in the campaigns ahead, will every parent, every grandparent, every would-be parent in Britain. Every person who wants the best for their children and grandchildren will reject Labour’s plans to turn back the clock.

For theirs are not the actions of a party that cares; they are the actions of a party that scares.

That is not our way. We want all our children to enjoy opportunity and choice throughout their lives. That means levelling up. And saying no to levelling down.

The levelling down brigade have just one last outside chance to renew their experiments on our children. The return of a Labour Government. We must – and we will – deny them that chance. For our children. And for their children, too.

There are many reasons for the Conservatives winning the next General Election. But few are better than Labour’s attitudes to the education of the men and women of tomorrow.

Yesterday Ken Baker announced details of our plans for a National Lottery. It’s expected to raise £1 billion net a year. That money will be used for improvements throughout Britain – on projects that could never take priority over the first calls on taxation – the National Health Service, education, pensions and defence.

It will help us to preserve our heritage, safeguard our great buildings, and create a legacy for future generations. We will be able to help young artists, actors, and musicians; improve our galleries and museums; provide matching funds for new charitable causes; help Britain’s Olympic bid for the year 2000 succeed. The prospects are limitless.

Who doesn’t wake to a thrill of pride when we beat the world at sport? How much better we could do if we gave the right training to the champions of the future, who in their turn will inspire a whole generation of the young. I want to see the fund being used to find more Gooches, more McColgans, more Linekers, more Carlings, more facilities for our young athletes right across the board.

We won’t produce a Wimbledon champion without a real commitment to tennis. And we won’t produce the Currys or the Torvills and Deans if we don’t have ice rinks.

We marvel at the skill of young Russian and Rumanian gymnasts. But our youngsters have the same talent, the same ambitions. Give them the same opportunities and support – and watch them go for gold.

I want to do better still for all our young people, champions and beginners alike. I’ve long believed in a National Lottery. Well, now we’re going to have it. And with it a better Britain, for the charities, the artists, and the sportsmen of tomorrow.

I sense a powerful revival of local pride in our country. Greater interest in our heritage. Concern for our long-term future. I believe those attitudes will mean a growth in interest in local government at all levels – from parish to county.

It will be a time for councils that innovate and adapt. For those that listen and don’t dictate. That help their communities and don’t insist on doing everything themselves. It will be a time for councils that keep charges on their citizens low. A time for Conservatives. In other words – you.

There will, of course, be changes. Conservative Councils are already taking the lead in new ways of managing local government. Cutting back on red tape. Bringing in private sector skills. Rigorously conducting performance review.

That is the right way forward. The way that will enable local government to enter the next century with the same self-confidence that it had at the start of this one.

As I said there will be changes. But we are proceeding cautiously with discussions on structural change. We want the new Local Government Commission to listen to your views, and the views of the people you represent in a way that’s never been done before.

This week, in Wales, David Hunt suggested important changes. These reflected lengthy discussion among councils and public alike.

Whatever changes the Commission may recommend for England must reflect your views. We are not seeking to impose any single blueprint. But I’ll make one thing clear. I don’t believe that some of the bodies created in the 70s have captured public loyalty in any way. Local pride draws from deeper wells. Older traditions. That’s where public affinities lie.

I cannot predict the outcome of this review. It is necessary for all of you to take part in the debate. But two promises I can give you.

There will be no return to the wasteful GLC and super-metropolitan bodies of which Labour became so fond.

And we will not bring in costly regional assemblies in England, as Labour and Liberals propose.

There is no case for such assemblies. There is only one reason why these are on the Labour and Liberal agenda – to mask the fact that their self-seeking devolution strategies for Scotland and Wales are falling apart. They know that people don’t want these unnecessary assemblies, but they want people to have them because that suits their own political interests in Scotland. In England, people don’t want such an unnecessary new tier of local bureaucracy. And there will be no place for them under a Conservative Government.

This is a watershed for local government. A time for a new start. The Town Hall should be a forum for the whole community, not a fortress for one political ideology.

Huge damage has been done to local government by political posturing. High spending councils destroyed the credibility of domestic rates. High spending councils undermined the principle of the community charge. Too often the result of their actions has been tension between town hail and centre. I regret that. I want to put it all behind us. I want to rebuild the historic partnership between us. It has always been the strength of this Party. Together. That is the right way for us to work.

The new Council tax – now passed by Parliament – will provide a lasting basis for stability in council finance. It preserves the principle, the just principle, that the widow living on her own should pay less than three adults next door. Of course, our opponents say they would repeal it. They promise a return to the rates. Back to yesterday again. Well, by all means let Labour go to the doorsteps and campaign for the rates. That’s another sure way they’ll lose.

Your elections in May are vital. Labour councils have always been careless with the public’s money. What was it Tony Crosland said ‘The party’s over’.

But that’s not Labour’s message today. No. ‘The party’s on’. That’s Bryan Gould’s message. Open season on the pockets of the public.

The party would be on again alright – in Labour Town Halls up and down the country. But the public wouldn’t be getting the invitations – they’d be getting the bills.

Can you imagine what would happen if the loony Left – and too many loonies still are left – if those people ever got to work with Labour’s plans?

No controls on spending.

The Audit Commission abolished.

Competitive tendering abandoned. Councils allowed, in Mr Gould’s own words, to do ‘anything they want’. Anything? Anything?

Just imagine it. Lambeth free of spending control. Haringey allowed to do anything they want.

Anything they want? Why don’t Labour councils just get on with what the public want?

Collecting the rents.

Finding people homes in empty council property.

Taking politics out of the classroom.

Collecting the rubbish – not talking it.

Backing the police, not running them down.

They tell us the extremists have gone from Labour town Halls. If only they had. Gone quiet, maybe. But not gone, as all too many of you know. And if ever Mr Gould’s ‘do what you like, spend what you like’ policy gave them a chance, Labour’s extremists would be out of the woodwork so fast you’d think chemicals were being injected. A case of Rentokil meets Rent-a-mob, if ever there was one.

At this conference we see the responsible face of local government. The true face of local government that has served our country well. Too many local councils have drifted away from the public. Become remote; sometimes resented. I want us to see more of the right people attracted onto local councils. I want us to restore the friendly face of local government. That must be our aim for the 1990s.

And we will succeed in that aim by working on Conservative principles. Principles of public service. Principles shaped by open minds and steady hands. Principles of leadership.

One thing must not change. The Conservative Party belongs to the people. It is, quite simply, on the people’s side.

It is an historic choice that Britain faces this year. Five hundred years after the new world of America was discovered, the ancient continent of Europe is rediscovering its destiny. Just as in 1492, it is a new world that we see opening before us. A single market in our community. A single continent after generations of division and of strife.

And, as ancient nations are reborn as democratic states, as hope is rekindled, it is plain to see that the rebirth of our continent is rooted in something far older than the froth and frenzy of Socialist philosophy. What has Socialism done in this century throughout the world. Socialism in this century has sown seeds of envy, division, and spite. Seeds that have borne bitter fruit in countless ways in the lives of countless millions.

But now that rotten fruit is dropping from the trees. What you hear is the dying fall of Socialism. The springtime of a new Europe. Founded on lasting free market principles. On freedom. On wealth creation. On the responsibility, to others and for others, that this Party and those who support it always affirm. On the right to own. And the power to choose.

Under the Conservative Party, throughout the 1980s, Britain under Margaret Thatcher, stood firm when the wind was still cold from the East. The stand that we made in those difficult times helped to make the new Europe possible. And it is this new Europe we are beginning to shape now.

Yes. In a Conservative Britain you do – and you will – have the power to choose. To choose between the past, the old ways, the rabble and rubble of Socialism. Or the future, the way of hope, the way of partnership, the way of prosperity – the Conservative way, where welfare and wealth creation for all the people go hand in hand. A true partnership with the people. I know that in 1992, wherever that choice is made, it is to our way that the people of Britain will turn. And with our Conservative Party that they will stand, and fight, and win.