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 1992 Conservative Central Council Speech – 14 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the 1992 Conservative Central Council meeting, held at Torquay on March 14th 1992.


The phoney war is over. The Battle of Britain has begun.

That battle is a battle we’re going to win.

Win on our record.

Win on our policies.

Win on our values.

Win on merit – because we have the vision, the ideas, and the team to build Britain in the ‘90s. To make the future of our country as great as its past.

I’m not interested in standing still. I want to lead this country forward. To build on what we’ve achieved. To continue to change the face of Britain. And enhance still further its reputation and influence abroad.

Be proud of what we achieved in the ‘80s. The work, the growth, and the success of those years is the foundation of an even better future. So that when, in generations to come, people look back, they will say: ‘This was when the battle was won. This was when the British people came truly into their own. This was when socialism crumbled away and was seen off forever.’

After 16 months as Prime Minister, the immediate tasks I set myself and my colleagues have been completed – winning the Gulf War, bringing inflation down, putting the council tax safely in place, giving a new face to public service with the Citizen’s Charter, safeguarding the interests of Britain at Maastricht, and setting out in Tuesday’s Budget our strategy for recovery and growth.

That is now done. Britain is poised to come out of recession. All that is needed now is the confidence that will come from a clear Conservative victory.

And so now is the time to seek a new mandate from the British people. I believe they will share my vision, my ambitions for our future.

Let me tell you how I see that future.

I want to bring into being a different kind of country. Bury for ever old divisions in Britain – between North and South, blue collar and white collar, polytechnic and university. They’re old style. Old hat. And we need to be rid of these prejudices. We want a country in which people get on because of what they are, not who they are. If you are good enough, you can’t be too young and you can’t be too old.

For most of my lifetime, before I came into Parliament, before Margaret Thatcher changed Britain infinitely for the better, people were expected to be dependent – never, however hard they worked, never independent, never in control of their own lives or their family’s future.

It was a world in which we were told that Governments knew best. They knew best how to spend our money. How to make our choices. They knew best who should own homes, and run businesses. They always knew better than us.

And what happened? Town centres were bulldozed. Homes ripped down. Good schools closed. Taxes soared. Trade union barons carved out huge fiefdoms and marshalled their militants at the factory gate. Our very history was rewritten; our traditions despised. Through all that time, the time we were told that the man in Whitehall knew best, the people of Britain knew better.

And now, all over Europe, one after the other, the Socialist dominoes have gone down. Who believes that the answer to Britain’s problems is to go back to what everyone else has cast into oblivion? Socialism was the crowning folly of our time, which at this coming Election we Conservatives will finish for good.

A century ago Lord Randolph Churchill said ‘Trust the people.’ It is one of the oldest truths of Conservatism. That people know better than governments.

We trusted the people. We gave them the chance. And the British people led the world – in a movement that has swept every continent.

Would they be privatising in Latin America today, if we hadn’t first done it here?

Would they be cutting high tax rates in India today, if we hadn’t first done it here?

Would they be planning to bring Eastern Europe into the Community today if we hadn’t first suggested it here?

How astounding that now in Latin America, in India, in Bulgaria, and Moscow they understand more about free markets than they do in Walworth Road.

The Labour Party see the British people as pawns. We see them as partners. Partners in the building of Britain. With their values, through their values, commonsense everyday Conservative values, Britain’s future will be assured.

That is why our programme for the ‘90s will be a partnership with the people. With a Government that trusts the people. A decade of trust given and trust returned.

I promise you this.

Wherever freedom can be extended, there we will be.

Wherever choice can be widened, there we will be.

Wherever wealth can be created, there we will be.

Wherever care must be given, there we will be.

That’s the Conservative philosophy: wealth and welfare, hand in hand.

Our partnership with the people is already touching every aspect of our daily lives. And it is those lives that will be touched by the result of this Election – whether in city tower blocks, in lonely villages, or along quiet suburban roads.

This crucial election is not a faraway battle fought between warring factions at Westminster. It is a battle of ideas, of ideals – about our future. It is a battle about how we live – all of us. It’s about our schools. Our workplace. Our standard of living. Our security. It’s about who controls how we live – us or the State.

Our partnership with the people has come a long way. And we’re going to take it further.

In education we will go back to basics and make sure they’re properly taught. Where parents want them we’ll open the way to grant-maintained schools, free of Council control. We’ll extend parental influence and choice, everywhere – because we trust the people.

In health we’ll extend the reforms which have led to more patients being treated than ever before. Don’t be misled by Labour’s shoddy, shabby propaganda about our National Health Service. There will be more of those successful trust hospitals. More GP fundholders with power for doctors to decide on their patients’ needs. We’re giving more weight to local decisions, everywhere – because we trust the people.

In local government we’ll open up to the public how their councils are doing, allow tenants new rights and shake up arrogant bureaucracy. And, something else, there’s a lasting affection throughout the land for many of our historic and familiar counties and cities. That’s why we’re asking the public’s views on how local government should be structured, everywhere.

All these policies have something in common – that choices will be there wherever people want them. We’re giving power to the people, because we trust them. We’re pushing choice back to the people, because we want all of them – every single person in Britain – to have greater control over their lives and their families’ future. To be the masters, not the servants, of their personal world. That’s my Conservatism.

To our fellow citizens I give this pledge: when the next Conservative Government has completed its work, you will feel, more than you’ve ever felt before, that Britain belongs to you, and that you have a secure place within it.

But there is one area above all in which we trust the people. To do what they wish with the money they earn, to have and to hold – for themselves and their children – a growing piece of their country which they can call their own.

Last Tuesday’s Budget underlined the giant gulf between the Conservatives on the one hand and Labour or Liberal on the other.

We want low tax and personal choice; they want high tax and State choice.

What the country decides on that great divide will affect the future of every family in Britain.

When I became Prime Minister I said I wanted a nation at ease with itself. That means a Government that people believe is fair. To be fair, isn’t it right that those most in need should be helped most? That’s the British instinct. That’s what I believe in. And that’s what the Budget does. It has cut tax in a novel way – to help most those who earn least.

The new 20p tax band does three things. It cuts tax for everybody. It confirms our intention, as soon as we can, to lower the basic rate to 20 per cent. But, it also gives that benefit now to four million taxpayers with the lowest incomes. In future, they’ll only pay 20 per cent, not 25 per cent.

These are people on modest incomes. Men receiving low pay. Many married women, who perhaps work part-time. Disabled workers who are often low paid. Pensioners with modest savings. Young people starting out on their career. We’ve given them a helping hand, by cutting their tax by a fifth. Labour have voted to put it right back up to 25 per cent. They’re no longer content with taxing the rich; now they’re even after the poor.

We knew Labour wanted massive taxes on the better-off. We knew they plotted new burdens on middle incomes. Now we know they want high tax on low pay. Unbelievable. But that’s Labour policy for you.

John Smith said it himself. There would be no tax cuts under Labour – ever. However hard you worked, however well the country performed, the fruits of your labour would be Labour’s, not yours.

So how would Labour support schools? By taxing teachers. Help hospitals? By taxing nurses. Beat crime? By an assault on the pay packets of the police. It’s a lunatic strategy -by prejudice out of ignorance. All founded on the bogus claim that in order to build tomorrow you need to rob today. Just remember yesterday – when Labour taxed and taxed and cut and cut – cut, let me remind you, hospital building and nurses’ pay. Labour cut the National Health Service.

Does anyone want to go back to those days? When every Budget was a day to dread. When tax took 35p in the £ from the wages of every worker. When you even had to ask permission to take £50 abroad. But that’s the philosophy of the people who now want to be brought back to run this country. The nerve of it.

Labour’s higher tax commitment is a mean-spirited manoeuvre. It would break the backs of businesses, hit every family and drive people out of their jobs. You will never create the permanent jobs we need by punitive taxes. High taxes mean high unemployment – permanently.

The British people can now see clearly what we have warned them of for ages – Labour have a fatal addiction. Tax. They are high on tax. We must make sure that it’s Labour, not Britain, that this high tax habit drags down and destroys.

Even after all this some commentators still ask – does it really matter who wins this election? Let me say this to them. The result of this Election matters as much as any we’ve known. Labour talk of time for a change. There would be change, all right. Short change.

Short change for workers as pay packets shrank.

Short change for pensioners as inflation surged.

Short change for savers as taxes rose.

Short change for homeowners as interest rates soared.

Yes, Labour would change Britain. Short-change Britain. They would stop the revival of Britain dead in its tracks. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to stop them dead in their tracks.

Somersault Socialism, Labour’s game of ‘look at us, no hands, we’re different now’ won’t fool anyone. Whatever mask they put on we’ll take it off and show the people it’s the same old face underneath.

Next week we will publish the programme for the next Conservative Government. It will be a full, modern, positive programme for an independent people in an independent Britain.

But of all the issues in this Election there are three that I want to share with you at the outset of the campaign.

The place of Britain in the world.

The cohesion of our country.

And the future of the battle against inflation.

Let me take inflation first.

I don’t want a little bit of inflation. I don’t want a modicum of inflation. I want an end to inflation. I want to take this country back to stable prices. What a prize that would be. We all know what it means to walk into the supermarket and see that the price of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread has gone up. I want to see prices stay down. Nothing would give greater security to those on fixed incomes.

I know the fear, the despair that inflation brings to everyday lives – the raw misery when the bills at the end of the week are bigger than the pay packet, or when the value of savings melts like snow in spring.

Inflation is a curse. We’ve got to beat it. We’ve got to get prices stable – and do everything we can to keep them there.

No other Party will do that but us. No other Party would even try. And that’s one giant reason why Britain needs Conservative Government.

Next, the cohesion of Britain. That, too, is something I feel passionately about. I said in Scotland that the unity of the United Kingdom transcends the Election – and I meant it. I admire the pride of Wales. I understand the national aspirations of Scotland. I’ve been there. I’ve felt it.

But I know this. It would be hugely damaging to go down a route that, in short term or long, could lead to the break-up of our country. I hope that everyone throughout the United Kingdom appreciates the scale of this issue.

This is more than a Scottish concern. It matters in Gloucester as it matters in Glasgow.

Whatever they intended, the devolution proposals put forward by Liberals and Labour alike could put us on the road to a Disunited Kingdom. They haven’t faced up to the truth – that, if devolution for Scotland came, it must inevitably call into question the whole relationship between the different parts of our Kingdom.

Devolution is not – as some may fondly imagine – a safe option that wouldn’t, or couldn’t, lead on to separation. It would raise tax levels in Scotland and freeze out investment. It could also lead to calls in England for a fresh look at levels of finance, and demands for reduced Scottish representation at Westminster, leaving Scotland’s members with a second-tier status in the Union Parliament. If that were to happen, bitterness and conflict would be the certain result.

And where would that bitterness and conflict end? What began as a dalliance with devolution could end as the disaster of separation. Three hundred years of achievement together. The most influential voice for good in the dangerous world of today. Undone in a single careless moment. The Conservative Party must point out the dangers of that disastrous road. We have a responsibility to history. We must stand for the union. Fight for the union. And win for the union. For if we don’t the whole of the United Kingdom – every part of it – would be the loser, and our future the poorer.

And let me be crystal clear about another constitutional matter. Our voting system has served us well over the years. It has given us strong Government, capable of difficult decisions at difficult times. I have no intention of changing it. There is no need. Those who call for such changes should examine their motives. There will be no deals with those opportunists who stand for nothing except their own political self- interest. Who would sign up for anything, if it meant a seat at the Cabinet table. The flavour-of-the-minute politicians who’d be for night if it suited them and day if it didn’t.

We’re not playing their game. We’re going to show up their PR campaign for the sham that it is. The Government of smoke-filled rooms. No longer the MP of your choice, but a Party appointee. Not proportional representation, but permanent representation – for a minority party in control of our affairs. ‘PR’ is no principle. ‘PR’? What does it stand for? It’s Paddy’s Roundabout. Well, we won’t be joining him for the ride.

We stand on the threshold of a new era. Years which will be decisive not only for Britain, but the world. We have seen momentous changes in our continent.

It is nearly 80 years since Sir Edward Grey said the lamps were going out all over Europe. That they would not be lit again in his lifetime. Well, over the last two astonishing years we’ve seen those lamps coming on once again.

Historic nations reborn. Historic freedoms regained. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, the Baltics. All free again. It is the end of the age of empires. The last imperial power is gone. We have a chance in our lifetime that no previous generation has had. To unite our continent. To spread ever wider the free market principles on which the prosperity of the West is based. It is a time for vision. To lift our eyes beyond our domestic concerns. A time to open Europe up, not shut its other half out.

That’s what we were arguing for at Maastricht. For a wider Europe, not a United States of Europe; a Europe looking outwards, not in on itself. We want progress in the European Community; but we want progress outside it as well. We were told that the Summit at Maastricht would be high noon for Britain in Europe, a big shoot-out, certain defeat. They said we couldn’t do it, we wouldn’t do it. We did it. We won the right deal for Britain. And the right deal for Europe. All of Europe. Does anyone seriously believe that would have happened if Messrs Kinnock and Kaufman had been speaking for Britain? Not on your Douglas Hurd, it wouldn’t.

The greatest virtue of the European Community is not economic. Twice in the lifetime of our most venerable fellow citizens, conflict in Western Europe has brought the whole world to war. Now the peoples of Western Europe are bound together by the mutual self-interest of their economies and trade.

Those bonds make it inconceivable that war between them should ever again bring the world to ruin. That is a prize more valuable even than the greater prosperity those trade links have brought.

But we need to extend that security further. We must open the borders of the community to bring the new democratic states in the East. To extend the community until it reaches Russia itself. It may not happen in our political lifetime – but it will happen. And when it does we will have created a more secure future for our continent than it’s ever known before.

We in Britain are in a special position to make it a reality. We have a special place in the world. We’re leaders in Europe; members of the Commonwealth; allies and friends of the United States. And, as Boris Yeltsin has said, especially trusted by the government of Russia. And with good reason. We stood by them in their hour of need during the coup last summer. And we’ll stand by them still, as they take their place once more in the family of nations.

Does anyone think that a free Russia that has just ditched socialism would turn to a socialist Britain? The thought’s absurd. Socialism is what Eastern Europe has fought for generations to get rid of.

In the great decisions on the future of our continent, only a Conservative Government can carry the weight that is Britain’s due.

But there is another reason why the security of our country depends upon a Conservative Government. And that is defence.

Whatever is needed to defend our country the next Conservative Government will do. There will be no escape clauses. No fudges. No ifs. And no buts. Just a cool-headed judgment of the resources that Britain will need. There are still great dangers. We would be naive to imagine that we could for a moment lower our guard. Keeping the peace is a full-time challenge. And it means a full-time commitment. The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. This Conservative Government, which I am privileged to lead, will discharge that duty, whatever the pressures may prove to be.

I give you this promise. We will stick to our principles. There will be no chopping and changing to catch the prevailing political tide. While others retain nuclear weapons, we will do so. And while the man who currently rules Iraq and his kind are plotting new capabilities, we will modernise our own. That includes building the fourth Trident submarine. We will order it. We will build it. We will arm it. And we will deploy it. Let the British people have no doubt where we stand.

What of Labour? What is their stance? What are their plans? Mr Gerald Kaufman tells us that Labour have nothing to do with CND. Nothing? Really? That’s odd. Late last year 100 Labour Members of Parliament were still members of CND. Have they all followed their leader, and let their membership – what was the word? – ‘lapse’? Their attitude to our nuclear deterrent can be summed up in four words – ‘can’t say, won’t say’. But they must say.

So let them tell the British public – just where do they stand on the fourth Trident that Britain’s security needs? They’ve said they would order it; they’ve said they wouldn’t order it; they’ve even said they would order it and send it to sea without any weapons. A toothless Trident. A ghost ship. A sort of underwater Flying Dutchman. Going round and round in circles for ever and never getting back to base. You never know where you are with Labour on defence.

It’s time for them to stop the ducking and the weaving. So let’s hear it from Labour. Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you build the boat?

The defence of Britain takes commitment. Caution. Coherence. Conviction. And none of those words begins with a K.

These last 16 months have been an immense privilege. Much has been done.

Reversing the invasion of Kuwait along with our allies. Throwing the barbarous dictator out. Leading the world in the safe havens initiative for the Kurds.

We in Britain were the first to denounce the coup in Moscow, the first to recognise Russia, and the first to call for her to be admitted to the IMF.

We were the first with a Commonwealth declaration on human rights. The first to propose a debt write-off for the poorest countries. And the first to propose the register of conventional arms sales that has now been adopted by the United Nations.

Why does this Election matter so much? Yes, it matters because of health, education, Europe, inflation, tax, and defence. All these things.

But more than anything it matters because it will determine the kind of country we will build for our children.

I want ours to be a country that is confident. A country in which we can look people in the eye and know we’ve treated them fairly. A country that others will look to with renewed respect.

I want our nation to stand proud in the world – quiet in voice, firm in action, united in resolve.

I want Britain to be a byword in every language – for decency, for leadership, for trust, and for hope.

I want Britain to be seen as the best – not only in our eyes, but in the eyes of others.

First and first again – a world leader – that’s where I want us to be, and to stay. And that’s where Britain will stay – under the next Conservative Government.