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 “Country with a Heart” Speech – 19 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech, “A Country with a Head, a Country with a Heart”, given in Manchester on Thursday 19th March 1992.


Mr Chairman, I’m delighted to be back in the North-West and in Manchester – one of our great cities, with a fabulous international airport that grows day by day.

You don’t need me to remind you that Manchester has been the home of that great cause, free trade, now becoming a reality in the Single Market. It’s the arts centre of the North. Two football teams riding high in the First Division. And it’s our ambition that, in the year 2000, Manchester should host the Olympics.

We’re going to back that bid. I want the Olympics here in the year 2000 to start the next millennium in the best possible way. And to provide better – and permanent – facilities in the heart of the North-West.


Mr Chairman, some commentators say that there’s really little difference these days between the Conservative and Labour Parties. How wrong can they be. The divisions between us could not be more fundamental. They could not be more clear.

I know the Labour Party. I grew up with it. I know the envy – and, yes, the spite – that so often motivates it. I know the way it thinks. The determination to treat people as blocks and groups – as pensioners, trade unionists, or council tenants – never as individuals.

Labour have no new ideas. They simply want to turn the clock back, Take John Smith’s mockery of a Budget. That takes us right back to the past. Let there be no doubt what Labour are proposing.

It is the biggest increase in personal tax since the war. Let me repeat, to avoid any doubt or misunderstanding, the biggest increase in personal tax since the War. Worse even than Labour’s notorious promise in the ‘70s to squeeze the taxpayers until the pips squeak. This time it’s not just squeaking pips that John Smith is after. And it’s not just the rich.

It’s millions and millions and millions of middle income families up and down this land. Just what have Labour got against middle income families? Consider the people who would be hurt. Not the wealthy – but doctors, teachers, engineers, police. What have these middle-income earners done wrong? Why should they be singled out for such punishment?

Labour’s ‘vision’ for the 1990s is now clear. It goes as follows. If it’s successful – tax it, penalise it, control it, nationalise it. Never offer hope or encouragement. Nothing shows more clearly that Labour don’t trust the people – with their own money, with their own choices, with their own future.

What Labour says is: “Trust us – we’ll decide for you, we’ll provide for you.” Labour don’t want people to choose for themselves. They might choose something that Labour don’t like.


Well, I’ve a message for Labour. It’s something I came into politics to say. They used to call us ‘our people’. It was as if we were – and would always be – their dependents. It was as if we were in bond to the Labour Party. What arrogance that was – what arrogance it is. Like some feudal lord discussing his serfs.

Today, we don’t live in a forelock society. We are a new generation – we and our children. We don’t live in a country where people are prepared to have their past, present, and future determined by the State. We are fortunate – we have more independence than those before us. And we’re not going to give it up. What a tragedy it would be for Britain if Britain alone were to put a whole generation back in the straitjacket of socialism.

Let me say this. Never again, never here, never in our time will we turn down that road. The plain fact is that the Labour Party is standing against the tide of history. Well, history has a way with tides. And Labour will be swept away on its flood.

Mr Chairman, during the 1980s, the Conservatives shaped a new Britain. A Britain, where ambition is encouraged and success rewarded. A Britain where freedom is extended and people have more control over their own lives. A Britain which can afford to spend more than ever on health care and the social services. A Britain with an international reputation, once more a power in the world.


Mr Chairman, what made this possible? We did. The Conservative Party made this new Britain possible. Under Labour, back in the seventies, we had a closed door society. If you could afford it, you had choice. But if you couldn’t afford it, the council, the union, or the State made your choices for you.

For so many people life was just a series of closed doors. Of hopes turned away. Government offered a hand out, never a hand up. It was a planned progress from the cradle to the grave, with no easy way out of the world where you lived. No way to increase independence. No opportunity to become an owner at all.

In the eighties Conservative Governments began to throw open the doors that were closed. We began to turn the nation of ‘Have-Nots’ into a nation of ‘Haves’. Opening those doors wasn’t always easy. We faced vested interest. Lack of interest. And always, always blind Labour hostility. Socialist bouncers blocked every doorway.

I can think of no right that we extended – whether in housing, unions, schools or through low taxation – which the Labour Party didn’t oppose, resist and reject. The Party that likes to boast it is of the people is frightened of the choices of the people.

But, Mr Chairman, we defeated them. We did. The Conservative Party did. And, because we did, millions of people went through the doors that we opened into new opportunities, greater freedom, independent lives.

It is this great revolution that in the 1990s we must protect. That great revolution we Conservatives want to take further. We want every individual in Britain to feel a belonger. Not to turn away from the doors we open, but to walk on through.


Mr Chairman, I’ll tell you how we’re going to do it. It’s in our Manifesto. My Manifesto. If you want to know what I believe in – read the Manifesto. That’s what I believe in. It’s what I care about. Read it. Study the ideas, the arguments, the policies. It offers the best future for Britain. It’s based on four C-O-R-E principles – choice, ownership, responsibility, enhanced opportunity. It gives the right leadership. It captures the mood of the nineties. It’s a Manifesto for the people.

Mr Chairman, the decision this country has to take on April 9 is as critical as it’s ever been. So let me tell you what I believe in. Where I want to take this country; what I will fight for and what I will fight against.


In education I will fight for a good start in life for every child. I will fight for higher standards, more variety, and a return to basics in our schools. Our children have only one chance for a proper grounding in life. Education can make or mar each child’s future. If things don’t go right at school then getting started in life can be a tough struggle. I don’t need to ask anyone about that. I know.

That’s why I am so angry when I see some of the things that have been done in the name of education. Too many good children have been let down by bad ideas. by the teachers, most of whom do a difficult job extremely well. I want to see good teachers properly rewarded for the work they do.

Too many of our children have been victims of a giant left-wing experiment in levelling down. Vital props for life, like spelling, tables and dates written off as so much old hat. Children of different abilities made to learn at the same speed. Tests resisted – in case they showed how little had been learnt. Parents denied information – in case awkward questions were asked.

Can you believe that any political party would set out deliberately to close down good schools and undermine quality in those that remained? But that’s what the Left did, right here in Britain. We must never let in a Labour Government that would unmuzzle such people again.

In the schools of Britain this Conservative Government is putting parents and pupils first. We have set out 39 steps to a world in which every school will see every child and every family as separate individuals, with different needs.

I want to provide the best for every child; and to ask the best from every child. That’s what I’ll fight for in this Election – because that’s what our children deserve.


Mr Chairman, what else will I fight for? I know how important good public service is to millions of lives. I know how frustrating it is when you are tossed from pillar to post in Government office or council department. I know; because I’ve been there. That’s why I launched the Citizen’s Charter less than a year ago.

I want Government that is more open, and more accountable. Let us throw open the closed door society. I want services that put customers first and respond to their needs. Our Charter is raising standards of service. It extends people’s rights.

Of course. That’s why Labour oppose us. It’s inconvenient for some of their union friends. But just consider, Mr Chairman. Yesterday, only yesterday, what did the Socialists in France do? I’ll tell you. They launched a Citizen’s Charter. Mesdames et Messieurs, it’s yet another international success for Tory ideas. One more proof that we’re on the side of the future and Labour the side of the past.

In the next Parliament the Charter will transform every part of public service for the better. We’ll make them listen in Town Halls – and we’ll make them listen in Whitehall. And who will they listen to? We’ll make them listen to the people.


And while we’re about it, let’s talk of another area where the people need support. I see no reason why people should be inconvenienced by illegal industrial action in public services. None at all. So in the next Parliament we will legislate to give every citizen the power to take legal action to restrain unlawful strikes of this kind.

And, Mr Chairman, we will also act to ensure that all pre-strike ballots are postal and that at least seven days’ notice of a strike is given after a ballot. All done to protect the public. All done to keep our position as one of the nations least affected by strikes. Labour would let the trade unions loose once again. When they were in power, other countries looked to our strike record as the British disease; now they look to the British example. We need the next Conservative Government to keep it that way.


Mr Chairman, now let’s turn to another area where I care passionately. About better housing and the rights of tenants. If there’s one thing for which Labour should never be forgiven, it is their bitter rearguard battle against the Right to Buy. Even now they are fighting against it. With go slows on sales. With small print to stop them. Labour’s concern is for the welfare of housing departments rather than for the tenants they so often neglect.

Our Manifesto takes our programme in housing still further. Creating even more new owners. Giving new rights for those who rent.

We will crack down on council departments that patronise their tenants. We’ll give tenants new rights to repair and improve. They shouldn’t need to hang about council offices, where it always seems to be Friday and time to close.

Mr Chairman, all the good ideas to widen choice in housing are Conservative. They’re our ideas. And all the policies to undermine home ownership. They’re Labour’s. Unfair rates. Uncapped spending. Unstable interest rates. But none of Labour’s policies against the home owner would hit harder than their new tax programme.


One of the Conservatives’ greatest achievements has been to bring down rates of income tax – to reward hard work, success and enterprise. So people at every level of income can keep more of the money they earn.

We’re always being told that Labour are edging their way to this kind of thinking. Well,

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor has finally killed that notion once and for all.

Labour’s idea of Santa Claus is John Smith out of season, with a sackful of taxes to kickstart, not the economy – never the economy – but to kickstart the society of class and the philosophy of envy.

They’ve reverted to type. They always do. They can’t help it. It’s that old tax bug that gets them. The mask slips and the real voice of Labour is heard in the land. So after all, there’s to be no gradual phasing in of National Insurance Contributions. All the increases come in at once. Well, well. It’s tragic really. Neil’s night out at Luigi’s. His grip on his Party, or his grip on the facts, gone for a Burton.


Mr Chairman, John Smith’s mockery of a statement wasn’t a Budget; it was a fudge it. Riddled with error. Spiced with spite. Its effects on families up and down Britain would be devastating. The combined rates of tax and contributions would be 49 per cent and 59 per cent. They make Healey’s axe look like a feather duster. Labour’s tax increases would hit everyone with ambition who wants to get on. They would hit enterprise – the wealth-creators and job creators, the very people who are so desperately needed today.

They would hit people who never dreamt that they would be classed as rich – and who are not. People on middle incomes. People working hard to make the best of their lives. Secure in their homes, until Labour’s taxman comes hammering at the door.

Think of it. Young couples with children. Proud of their first home. Making ends meet. The first thing that happens is that tax goes up and take home pay goes down. It’s not the holiday they’d be worrying about. That would be out of the window. It would be far more serious than that. It would rip the very heart out of the housing market in every part of the UK. Not just in the short-term. Not just in the recessionary phase. But for good.

Mr Chairman, almost overnight, the value of the largest investment that millions of families have made for their lives would plunge through the floor. No-one at any stage in the history of Britain has launched such an onslaught on the security of hard-working, middle income families. It is an incredible proposal for a modern political party to make – a devil’s cocktail of incompetence and of malice which defies belief.


But it’s not just the housing market that Labour would hit. Who could believe that any would-be Government would set out to wreck the pension policies of four and a half million young people saving for retirement? But that’s precisely what Labour would do. Wreck them.

And, Mr Chairman, what would these brutal increases mean for those who depend on work in the home? For the builders? The decorators? The electricians? The DIY shops? The garden centres. The corner shops. Labour would slash the incomes of the very people who give them work. Labour would blight their livelihoods as surely as if they’d targeted them direct. Their tax hike would be a fast-spreading cancer that would seek out independent trades in every part of the economy.

What incentive do Labour’s policies give to our young people planning for the future? What prospect for those seeking promotion? What hope for the parents and grandparents wanting to see their children and grandchildren making a career, building a better life? None, Mr Chairman. None, none, and less than none. No incentives. No prospects. No hope. No future.

That’s Labour’s policy.


Mr Chairman, if there were ever to be a Labour Government, I warn you not to be ambitious. I warn you not to be qualified. I warn you not to be successful.

I warn you not to buy shares. I warn you not to be self-employed. I warn you not to accept promotion.

I warn you not to save. I warn you not to buy a pension. I warn you not to own a home.

None of these would be encouraged in a Labour Britain. None of them would be safe in a Labour Britain.


Mr Chairman, there’s one other issue at the heart of this Election. It’s the question of leadership.

As Foreign Secretary, as Chancellor, and now as Prime Minister I have travelled the globe. I know at first hand – from Presidents and Prime Ministers – how high Britain’s standing is in the world.

We have a reputation for principle, for strength, for loyalty. A reputation we have earned. By the strong lead Britain gave to the countries of Eastern Europe as they moved from dictatorship to democracy. By the unswerving support we gave to President Yeltsin during last August’s coup – the first country to do so.

By Britain’s total determination to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

As a result the world is a far better place than it was ten, five or even two years ago. But it is also a more unstable place. This is no time for an unsure hand at the helm.

Would you want Britain led by men who, not that long ago, were all for giving up our nuclear defences and caving in to the old dictators of the Soviet Union?

Would you want Britain’s case in Brussels to be put by men who have conducted somersault after somersault in their attitudes to Europe – who’ve held every principle, but never for long?

When you go to a summit and it comes to the crunch you’re alone in there. Alone in the conference chamber arguing the case for Britain. With 55 million people depending on your judgment. You need to be cool, clear-headed, have conviction. That’s how it was at Maastricht. That’s how it’ll be from 1 July when Britain holds the Presidency in Europe. And that’s how it’ll be at all seven summits I shall be attending for Britain in the rest of this year.

Mr Chairman, Britain can’t afford to be led by people who don’t know what their policy on foreign affairs and defence is from one day to the next.

That must never happen. Never.


Mr Chairman, every society has choices. The question at this Election is – who makes them? That’s what’s at stake.

Strip away the masks. Strip away the pretence. It’s a choice between going forward, along the road to greater freedom and wider ownership, towards a more responsible society.

Or to turn backwards into what even the Labour leader admits is still the world of Clause IV. The world of outdated class divisions. The world of high taxes, State regulation and control. This is a world that the remainder of Europe has cast into oblivion.

That’s not the road for Britain, That’s not the way for Britain.

What we want is a better Britain. A country which is strong in the world. A country where the individual counts. A country of real opportunity, where everyone of her people is free to choose. A country with a head. And a country with a heart.

And, on April 9, Mr Chairman, I have no doubt. It is for our Britain that the people will make their choice.