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 General Election Candidates – 22 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech given to a meeting of Conservative Party General Election candidates on 22nd March 1992.


Let me first thank Margaret Thatcher for coming here. Weeks ago when I invited her, she accepted immediately. It is what we would have expected. She is one of the most successful campaigners in our long political history – and no-one expected when the fight began that she would be anywhere other than in the thick of it.

It is given to few people to change the face of our nation. But Margaret Thatcher did. And I believe her changes have made an enduring impact not only on our country, but on the world at large.

We know she has many great qualities. But let me single out one. Looking forward. She always looks forward. It’s always on to the next thing, the next challenge. There is always more work to be done.

As there is for us now. To build on the successes of the ‘80s. That is what our Manifesto does. It builds on Margaret’s legacy. And for the same two reasons. To promote Conservatism – and to beat Socialism.

The Transformation of Britain

Let me tell you why we’ll win the Election. We will win because of what we believe. Because of our principles. Because of our policies. And because we set no limit to our ambitions for our country.

In the 1980s Conservatives built in Britain one of the most successful economies in Europe. Some things did go down, of course. Inflation. Strikes. And the Labour Party. Socialism’s unholy trinity. They all went down. And, together, at this Election, we must keep them down.

But the things that mattered went up. Productivity. Prosperity. And pride. We grew faster than France, faster than Germany. Manufacturing exports grew faster than America’s, even Japan’s. Taxes on incomes were slashed. The standard of living of the British people has grown as never before. Today the income of a typical family man on average earnings is nearly 40% higher, after tax and inflation, than it was under Labour.

Defend our record? No, don’t just defend it – go out and proclaim that record. It’s changed the face of Britain.

Millions more people are owners. Owners of homes. Of shares. Of pensions. People who never imagined such things would ever be something for them.

Britons have earned more, owned more, achieved more than ever before in our history. That’s what Labour call failure? Well, if that’s failure, there are plenty of countries across the world who’d like a share in it.

Labour’s smash and grab raid

Labour couldn’t have done it. But their Mr Smith wants a share in it. And his mock ‘budget’ shows he means to take it. Take it from the people who have earned it. What he proposes is a systematic smash and grab raid on the independent, the hard-working, the middle income families of Britain. Labour’s huge tax burden would shatter their budgets and alter their lives.

It’s not just the unfairness of it. Or the injustice. It is the effect it would have. It would shut down small trades in droves – the jobbing builders, the electricians, the decorating businesses, all those people who depend on work in homes and offices.

It would drive away from Britain the huge tide of foreign investment that we have attracted. Does anyone seriously imagine that Japanese, German, American firms would create jobs in Britain with their executives clobbered, and militant shop stewards loose on the factory floor? They wouldn’t. They wouldn’t come. They’d stay away. They’d go away. And the whole of Britain would lose.

Labour’s tax plans are spiteful. They would hurt millions and millions of skilled people in Britain – and for what? Who gains? In order to pay out between 2 pence and 4 pence a week to 9 million families. Twopence a week – the price of a Polo mint.

Don’t confiscate wealth – spread wealth

There is no logic to this. It is the politics of the socialist stone age. The politics of envy. Economically illiteracy with a dash of calculated malice. Intended to wound. Intended to bite. Doomed to fail.

That is the wrong way for Britain. We don’t believe in confiscating wealth from those who have created it. We believe in creating wealth. In spreading wealth. And we believe in taking the threat of inheritance tax off the back of the homeowners of Britain. What people have spent a lifetime building up, they should be free to hand on to their children. We will give them that freedom.

Growing wealth to an ever wider number of families – that’s what we believe in. Growing living standards in which all can share, in a growing economy. That’s what our Manifesto promises. It’s for that we must go out and campaign.

Labour’s Manifesto – £1250 a year more tax for everyone

How different it would be with Labour. Then your worry would be how to protect your savings, protect your income, protect your home. There’s only one industry Labour would manage to revive – the tax avoidance business.

But it doesn’t stop there. Yesterday the Chancellor revealed the true scale of Labour’s threat to Britain. All we’ve said up to then was based on John Smith’s absurd little mock ‘budget’. Now we have had a look at that ‘budget’s’ big brother, the other half of Labour’s plans. The spending plans. Their ambitions for other people’s money. Neil Kinnock promised to cost his Manifesto. But the promise “lapsed”. Somehow those costings failed to turn up.

It’s not surprising he should suddenly forget them. Not surprising he should suddenly clam up. Never lost for a word – always lost in the sums, when it comes to paying for the promises he’s made. Labour are beginning to protest that we are campaigning on the key issues of spending and taxation. I bet they are. Well, I make no apology for that. They go to the very heart of this Election. The choice is clear. What kind of country are we to be? A country in which it pays to be ambitious, in which it pays to be qualified, in which it pays to be successful, in which it pays to work hard or be self-employed? That’s what we stand for. Or a country in which incentive is abandoned – a hands-in-the-pockets Britain where you can only go so far before a Labour Chancellor is at your throat? When all across Europe Socialism is going down and down, we cannot, we must not, we will not bring it back here.

When you’re on the door-step you haven’t time to get across a long complicated message. You’ve got to keep it simple and clear. So let me give you one message to get across, come what may, at every hour on every day.

The cost of Labour’s promises. We’ve added them up – £31 billion on top of Mr Smith’s less than complete ‘budget’. To pay for them, on average every person would have to fork out an extra £1,250 a year. I repeat – 1,250 extra to the tax man, on top of everything else they are already paying. That’s the price of Labour. As ever it taxes belief. So take that to every doorstep in the land.

The challenge to Labour: a straight answer now

Yesterday we produced a detailed analysis of Labour’s public spending pledges. We have set out their promises in their own words. The Labour leader calls this ‘fantasy’. But that’s just tax avoidance talk. So come clean, Mr Kinnock. Tell the people. Set out your own costed programme. Take all your pledges – one by one. Accept our costing – or refute it. Stand by your promises – or withdraw them. Dig deep behind those pledges and come up with the tax, the whole tax and nothing but the tax. I challenge you.

The difference between the Parties

Some people talk of there being little difference between the Parties. Where have they been these last few years? We want to bring income tax down. Labour want to put income tax up. Even this morning, Roy Hattersley, their Deputy Leader, refused to rule out further increases in the higher rates of income tax. Higher rates today – basic rates tomorrow?

We will bring inflation down still further, set our course for stable prices. Labour will let inflation up again. We will extend choice. Labour will remove choice. We will widen ownership. Labour fight against it. We want to privatise more. Labour want to renationalise – though whether they’ll pay a fair price or not is another matter.

Little difference? There is all the difference in the world.

The Conservative Programme

So go out and tell the people of our programme. Tell them what we are fighting for. Back to basics in schools.

Go out and tell them we want a return to basics in our schools. Schools free from council control. Schools that reward good teachers. Schools where parents have more power. Schools that are regularly inspected, and that publish their results. Schools that families have the right to choose.

Long-term lasting jobs

Go out and tell them the truth about unemployment. Remind them how every move we make to control inflation and build the basis for recovery is designed to defeat it. Explain to them that introducing a minimum wage, bringing back trade union power, and putting up tax would send unemployment through the roof. Ram it home that 87% of businessmen say our economic policies are the best, and so the right way to create long-term, lasting jobs. Warn them that more than a quarter of business leaders say they would actually have to cut investment if Labour won.

New attitudes in public service

Go out and tell the people we want a new attitude across public services in Britain. Pride, quality and openness in service. A Citizen’s Charter that puts the customers first everywhere. Improving standards year by year.

The real National Health Service

Go out and tell them how we feel about the National Health Service. And by the way it is the National Health Service; it does not belong to the Labour Party. I will never forget what I owe to the Health Service. I will do everything I can to strengthen and develop it. So long as I am Prime Minister the resources we give it will grow year by year.

But tell the people about the real Health Service. About the record support it is given, the new hospitals, the millions more cases it is treating every year. Tell them about the modern Health Service, the new treatments, the tens of thousands of hip and heart operations that were unknown a few years ago. And, above all, tell them about the miracle of daily care given by the million who work in the Health Service – the night nurse tending the patient in the small hours, the skill of the midwife, the devotion of the junior doctor, the GP rising from her bed at night, the amazing skill of the surgeon.

And when you tell them all that, tell them how you despise the self-appointed ‘friends’ of the Health Service. Labour’s people who know the millions of things that go right every day, but boast of the few that do not. The people who know the truth, but proclaim the opposite. The people who stop at nothing to run down the NHS and those who work in it. The parasites who swoop on human error and personal tragedy, and can scarce disguise their relish as they do so. If you share my anger about the damage such people do to the Health Service – and to the peace of mind of the sick and the old – then go out and tell the people.

The Right to Own

And don’t forget to tell the people that we gave them the right to own, that we stand for wider ownership still. For rents to mortgages, homesteading and imaginative new ways to ownership in housing. For every firm to do more to spread share ownership to its employees – an end to a world in which there were share options for directors, but never for staff. Tell them we will be giving a new incentive, new help to the millions of young people who want personal pensions of their own. I want a growing piece of Britain for everyone – to have and to hold and to leave to their families after them.

The Power to Choose

Go out and tell them we stand for the power to choose – in schools, in housing, in the conduct of daily life through lower tax. Tell them we stand for sound money and stable prices. For freedom from trade union dominance. For freedom from council interference. For the family and the individual first, and the state only when needed.

More privatisation and contracting-out

Go out and tell them we believe in more privatisation and contracting out. That we want to bring a new spirit into our railways. To open up the musty corridors of Whitehall to new thinking and less secretive attitudes. That we will bring outside skills into lazy and incompetent Town Halls – housing departments that patronise their tenants, white collar services that have never felt the challenge to change.

The Rule of Law

Go out and make clear that it is we, and not Labour, who stand for the rule of law, as we always have. We don’t intend to see trade union flying pickets back on our streets. We’re going to sweep the threat of crime off them. And let me say again, we want a return to the old approach in policing – where local bobbies knew everything that was happening on their patch. We want police out there on the beat. And I must tell you, I intend to confront the ideas of some of our commentators that crimes of burglary, car theft are minor matters. Tell that to the widow who has lost her treasures. Tell that to the young mother who finds her car smashed up. Property crime is crime that hurts. And we will tackle it.

A Brighter Britain

Go out and tell them we want a brighter Britain in which we don’t just enjoy the heritage of our ancestors, but create something to leave to our descendants. Tell them how we are going to breathe new life into the arts, the sports, the communities, and charities of Britain through our National Lottery and Millennium Fund.

A United Kingdom at home; no United States of Europe abroad

And another thing. It doesn’t get the headlines. Doesn’t always arise on the doorsteps. But it is fundamental. For me it is a passionate concern. I believe in a United Kingdom. I understand the emotions in Scotland but Labour’s devolution proposals could lead to the break up our country. Proper debate on them has scarcely begun. They would set us on the road to bitterness, conflict, and possibly, separation. Wherever I go in this campaign I will expose those damaging plans. I urge you to do so with equal passion.

As for Labour they would sign up to every idea from Brussels – with all the critical faculties of the toady who wants to be accepted. They would sign anything, sign everything, even a social chapter that would destroy jobs by the hundreds of thousands and halt our recovery. Labour would be a pushover in Europe. When it came to our national interests they wouldn’t even try.

The result of their policies would be a Disunited Kingdom in a United States of Europe. The British people will never agree to that – tell them the scale of the threat and let them decide.

Maintaining Britain’s standing in the world

The standing of our country in the world is no light matter. In the last decade we have rebuilt that standing. Britain is now a world leader – a leader with new ideas, a leader for human rights, a leader against terrorism, against tyranny, against all who oppress.

We cannot be certain what the years ahead will hold. Great opportunities, surely. But great dangers, too. Old lines are breaking. The new order for which we are working is yet to bed down. In a shifting, uncertain world men and nations look for rocks – rocks of principle, rocks of authority to which they can cling. I want a Conservative Britain to be such a rock.

Firm Defence

Twice in the last ten years we have faced sudden danger – the challenge of war, the threat of the dictator. We were able through the courage of our armed forces, and with the help of our allies, to meet and defeat those challenges. We succeeded because we were prepared – even for the unexpected. That’s the first rule in defence – unlike Labour, unprepared even for the expected.

Labour’s Defence Confusion

The world needs to know where Britain stands. We cannot afford to be defended by men who don’t even know, or daren’t even say, where they themselves would take their stand. For Labour defence is an embarrassment. Some of them hate it. Some of them resent it. None of them sits in the Shadow Cabinet to speak for it.

Consider Trident. This government is clear. We will order, build, arm, and deploy the fourth Trident submarine. But what about Labour? Is CND out? Or is CND in? Can’t Neil Decide? And Trident? Will they build it? Won’t they build it? Or will they, as some so foolishly suggest, launch it, but send it floating round the world like a defenceless ocean liner? An unarmed Trident? A sort of submarine liner. That wouldn’t deter our enemies. That would have them falling about in ridicule. They would be queuing up to hang out their washing on the Kaufman line.

Go out and fight for what we believe

Ladies and Gentlemen, when you’re out there in the front line fighting this campaign at this most crucial election for our country, remember this. You’re fighting for the things that our Party stands for:

– an enterprising society;

– a caring society;

– a genuinely classless society;

– a country where opportunity is open to all and effort is rewarded;

– a country that honours its obligations to the poor, the sick, the elderly;

– a country, respected by all, that stands proud among the nations of the world.

To those of you fighting an Election for the first time, one final thought. Trust the people. Give them your trust. And on April 9th, you will find, once again, that the people will trust us.