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 on Welsh Party Members – 4 September 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made during a lunch in Wales to Conservative members on Friday 4th September 1992.


Thank you very much. I don’t know why you think I’m busy – it’s quite an easy job really! Not a lot’s going on at the moment! Could I just say firstly what a pleasure it is to be back and to see what the real world looks like outside London. Find out what’s going on. Can I also say right at the outset, how delighted I was firstly, with the quality of our candidates at the General Election, and secondly with the way in which the Conservative Party in Wales fought that General Election in each and every constituency in the Principality. You had some super results. You had the best candidates. We could have done with a few more victories – some were very close. But I don’t have any doubt that providing we continue with the right policies and have the right candidates – especially important, I believe, in Wales – have the right candidates, I’ve no doubt at all that Rod will have quite a few colleagues joining him when next we have a General Election – but I must tell you it is not imminent!

But you did work hard. You did extremely well, despite the difficulties of the recession, we came out of it with the same number of seats. And had the Opposition vote crumbled in a slightly different way we might have picked up several more seats than we did. On other occasions we’ve had 14 seats with the same number of votes that we had at the last election and only appeared with six seats. We could well have some boundary changes between now and the next General Election! And we will just have to find a bigger bench in Westminster for our Welsh Conservative Members of Parliament in the future.

And I am confident for another reason as well. Because I do think you have had, and retain at the moment, a remarkably good team at the Welsh Office. There’s been a long string of senior Ministers in the Welsh Office who’ve done, I think, a remarkable job for the United Kingdom as a whole, for the Principality, and of course for the Conservative Party. And David Hunt follows in that tradition. He’s a very old, longstanding friend of mine, and I think he does a superb job, both for the Conservative Party and Wales.

And you have Wyn Roberts, who occasionally breaks out of Welsh and into English, who I believe was the resident Minister in charge of Wales when William the Conqueror first came here! And I promised my daughter that her children will be able to serve with a Conservative Government and Wyn Roberts one day!

And Gwilym, who joined us only recently, but who I must tell you has made an absolutely outstanding start to his Ministerial career. I’m very pleased with the Ministers I have looking after Welsh interests, and I can tell you that they may sometimes put the fear of God into the Opposition, and they do exactly the same to the Treasury! And that is, of course, entirely as it should be. Somewhere, sitting outside the realms of the inner markets of politics, Peter Walker will be applauding the fact that they’re putting all the pressure they can on the Treasury, and some things never change, and they’re none the worse for that.

We’ve had the opportunity this morning of looking round at some of the things that are actually happening in Wales. Stripping away the newspaper headlines, the late-night commentary by reporters straight from university, with no experience, little knowledge but much time to fill. We can see what is actually happening in the world outside the chattering classes of Westminster. Alas, it is not an extinct species.

And what did I see looking around Wales this morning – and I will come to the difficulties later. But we started off looking at a remarkable firm right at the sharp edge of new technology, developing optical fibres which will revolutionise the way in which we live our lives by the end of this decade. Forget about televisions, telephones, computers that will both receive and send out, that will provide you instantly with all the knowledge of every encyclopedia the world has ever written. The most remarkable progress in technology that we’ve ever seen. Tiny fibres, almost too thin for the mind’s eye to see, that will carry into your homes within a few years – should you be unwise enough to wish it to do so – every conceivable news programme from every conceivable country.

It is here, in Wales, that the leading edge of that technology is taking place, and you can be proud. On the site of the old Shotton Steelworks, where eleven years ago today we could have stood here with our heads hanging down and said “What is happening to Wales? The great steel industry is breaking down, 8,000 people have lost their jobs and what is their future?” And there they are today, many of those same men and their families, working in a whole series of high tech and medium tech industries, with secure, well-paid careers, no longer dependent on a single industry, and leading Europe and the world with that medium and high technology. That is the change, and it’s not just to be seen on the Shotton site, but dotted about all the way around Wales.

It didn’t happen by magic. It happened of course because it’s an attractive place to build. Of course, because over the last decade our economy, despite current difficulties, has been revolutionised. But it happened also because Nick Edwards, because David, because Peter Walker, actually went out to America, Japan, and all the way round the world and sold Wales to the world as the place to invest and to build up their industries and commerce. [Applause].

And then I went to look at something, I suppose, which typifies the hopes and dreams of most of us – a young couple moving into their house – the 10,000th house that Homes for Wales has produced. And I had the opportunity to meet a young couple, he’d just left the army, two young children, moving into their own home, starting a wholly new life in this lovely part of the world.

And then, at my own request, to see one of the areas of difficulty – hill farming in Wales. And it’s been a novel morning – we’ve been rained on, shone on, wind has nearly blown us over, we’ve been up to our necks in mud and sheep. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it! And there was one marvellous moment. We were standing there on this hill being blown – if you’ll pardon the expression, I’ll use the expression my father would have used – blown from here to buggery and back again. A mass of cameras over there, and I was standing there with the Secretary of State with this great backdrop of sheep and the wonderful rolling environment and the reporter shouted out “Can we have a crook between you?”

Discretion forbear! Discretion forbear! And every time I sit there in Westminster, and open the newspaper, listen to the news, listen to the in-talk of the in-crowd, and then you actually come out and see what the atmosphere is like in the country – they are as chalk and cheese. People today were extremely friendly – a whole primary school turning out to say hello – you actually see what the heartbeat of this United Kingdom is really like, when you actually get out and see it face to face. And that is what I want to do. And that is what I want every one of my Ministers to do – to a very substantial part of their time.

So let us come back to Wales. Somebody once said in Portsmouth, I think it was Harold Wilson. “Why do I talk about the Royal Navy?” “Because you’re in Portsmouth, Prime Minister.” And I suppose that’s true.

But Wales I talk about it for more reasons than just the fact that I’m in Wales. I talk about Wales for this reason perhaps above all. We are changing, in the Conservative Party – it is changing. It has been a Party that has rolled with the evolution of our instincts for 300 years in a way that no other political party anywhere in Europe has remotely been able to. We can trace our lineal descendancy right back to beginning of recorded politics – those inate instincts which make people Conservative are clear as crystal.

But just as this country has no written constitution – it has evolved, changed, responded to the needs of the time and the instincts of the people who live there, so has our Party. We don’t have a written set of dogma, a clause 4 which becomes irrelevant as the page changes. We have a series of basic instinctive principles by which we believe people should live, and aspirations which we believe most people themselves have. And we develop them as time moves on. And there is one of those that, to me, is particularly important for the Conservative Party. And it is this. I don’t want the Conservative Party to just draw its strength from the South and the East. I want a Conservative Party that draws its strength in the South West as well, in the Midlands, in the North East, in the North West, in Scotland and in Wales. I want a strong Conservative Party in every single part of the United Kingdom, in time again, not excluding Northern Ireland. Every single part of the United Kingdom. [Applause].

And that is why in the election we did something which I believe myself was one of the turning points of the last general election. You may recall some way into it we suddenly began to talk clearly and urgently and for days nobody would listen, about the importance of the Union within the United Kingdom. The importance that we were a United Kingdom. And I will tell you what I believe happened, I believe we stretched over the heads of people worried about their mortgage, their prospects and their jobs, and we stretched right into the deepest instincts of the people who live in these islands.

And we of course are a Unionist Party. We call ourselves the Conservative Party, but in truth we are the Conservative and Unionist Party. And the union here in Wales between England and Wales is the oldest union of all. Older than the Act of Union in Scotland. And our futures are, have been and I hope and pray always will be, inextricably linked. We stand together, we thrive together, we suffer together, we fall together. And for me up here in North Wales that means some things political. It means winning back Delyn, for example. And winning Ynys Mon, which we had not all that long ago. We came within a whisker in April and with your help we’ll get it, Delyn and many other seats the next time.

Why am I so confident? Not just for the reasons I’ve set out – the candidates, the Ministers – but I think it is not fanciful to say that in recent years Wales has been leading the way with the economic miracle of the 1980s. Who, I wonder, amongst the most venerable in terms of years in this room can last remember when the level of unemployment in Wales was below the national average in the United Kingdom. Not in my lifetime. Very possibly because of the imbalance of jobs in Wales right since the turn of the century, very probably not within the lifetime of anyone here. But it’s the changes in the economy, the inward investment, the £44 bn of inward investment and the 100,000 jobs that have been created that have actually made the difference. And I believe that that difference is doing something that I believe is critically important – it is breaking down that imbalance – what people crudely call the North/South divide. But what they meant by that was the prosperity of the South East compared to every other part of the United Kingdom, and we are breaking that down by lifting up the prosperity of those other parts of the United Kingdom. And that is not only right in itself, it is an instinctively Conservative thing to wish to achieve and to bring about as the very basis of policy.

So we have more businesses in Wales than ever before. And although one can never be sure on the basis of a few months figures, the indications are that manufacturing output, indeed all output in Wales, is growing far above the levels of nearly every other part of the United Kingdom, and way above the average of the United Kingdom presently. But that is important for many reasons. And the hill farm this morning brought some of them back to my mind. What enables you to preserve cultural traditions, a quality of life, an instinct of preserving the best of what is past and building on it. You don’t do that out of grinding poverty. You don’t do that at a time of need. That’s when your culture and your traditions are thrown to one side. You do that at a time of greater prosperity.

And yet here is a second strength of the basic, unchannelled instincts of the Conservative. He is a traditionalist. I hear you, I of course mean he or she. He is a traditionalist. He doesn’t want to change something instinctively until he knows there is something better. There is a conservatism with a small “c” embalmed in the instinct of everyone in these islands, however they may vote, whether they call themselves a Conservative or something else.

And you certainly can’t come to Wales without being aware of your great cultural traditions. You can’t go to the opera, whether its the Welsh Opera, the English National Opera or Covent Garden without seeing the great musical traditions, without finding one or other great Welsh singer leading the way in our musical traditions. After the lunch today, Wyn is taking me – by virtue of some roads for which he will undoubtedly ask for more money! – to the sight of the new Arts and Leisure complex at Llandudno. I’ve no doubt that when there he will talk to me of other matters too. He will talk to me of the importance of the Welsh language. And it is highly likely that he will talk to me in Welsh about it! It might be appropriate if he does!

And then if I know him – and I’ve known him since I was but a lad, but then haven’t we all! He will also talk to me of local government reform and here I return back to the instincts and the traditions of the British, and in this case the Welsh. Go out there and find me a Welshman, any age, any size any shape any political party who doesn’t want back Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire, Merionnethshire and Anglesey. [Applause]. Well I’ve got some news for you – you’re going to get them back. [Applause]. Because David Hunt has arranged it.

Let us not hide our eyes from the difficulties that exist at present. But neither should we overstate them. Neither should we misrepresent them. And I believe both of those latter two things are happening, not least from people within our own Party as well as beyond it. I don’t pretend for a second that for many people across our country in different parts of it that things are easy now. I know it is a difficult time for many businesses. And I understand from personal experience many years ago, how people feel, what it’s actually like to see your security, your family business, perhaps even your home disappear. I certainly recall vividly what it’s like not to know whether you will actually have enough money to last through the week and pay the bills when they come in at the end of them. There is no-one in this country who wants this recession to end more speedily or more adequately than I do, or than Norman Lamont does.

But I will tell you something else about this recession. I want this to be a lasting recovery. Not a transient recovery. Not a recovery that takes us over the hill and down into the valley and back into exactly the same problems again and again. When we were having lunch Chris said to me, “We got through the election in a recession.” Time after time we’ve been on the way to permanently low inflation, we’ve run up again an electoral timetable, we’ve taken short term action and the problems have recreated themselves. Now we can kill them off for good. We have within our hands for the first time, in my political lifetime, the prospect of licking inflation once and for all and having permanently low inflation.

It’s only two years ago that people were saying to me there are two great problems – inflation, getting up to 11 per cent is out of control, and stable exchange rates. Just solve that and all will be well. We have inflation at 3.7 per cent and our exchange rates are stable. And of course there are now other requirements that are laid upon us.

But everyone I think has something about which they care particularly passionately, and I do about inflation. For some it is a slogan. But it is not just a slogan. I will give you two reasons why we should care passionately about inflation.

The first is to consider what inflation means. Inflation means, particularly for people on fixed incomes – and as people live longer in retirement a higher proportion of our population is on fixed incomes – for every per cent of inflation you erode the living standards of people who are no longer in work and who are living on the savings and the product of their lifetime at work. I say to you bluntly. I regard it as a moral imperative as well as an economic necessity to keep inflation at the lowest possible level to protect the living standards of those people.

Throughout the 60s and the 70s inflation went through the roof and through the 80s and still in the 90s there are hundreds of thousands of elderly people humiliated and embarrassed because they have social benefits, because inflation tore away the security that they had built up in the whole of their working lives to ensure they didn’t have to go out and ask for help from other people in their retirement years. And I do not want to see that happen to this generation or any future generation. And so we will bear down on inflation.

But there’s a second reason. We are living in an increasingly competitive world. We may be an island geographically, but we will never ever again be an island economically. What happens in America, or Japan or Germany or France or Denmark affects us directly. Our living standards. We cannot pretend, however much some would wish to, that it doesn’t matter to us and that it will all go away. We are an inter-related world. It is that investment that has created those new jobs in Wales, it is those markets which provide the markets from which those products made in Wales will predominately be sold. And so we have to be efficient. Suppose we had inflation in this country at 4 to 5 per cent and they had inflation in America, Japan, Germany and France at 2 to 3 per cent, what does it mean. It means that they will get relatively well-off, and we will get relatively poor. It means we will lose jobs, living standards and all the sweet things of life, because we will become an uncompetitive society and it will become more difficult year after year.

Why more difficult year after year? Because all those Eastern nations that once we were able to sell things because they couldn’t manufacture them for themselves now can. Go to Indonesia, go to Korea, go to Hong Kong, go to China; and those captive markets to which we sold things when we weren’t competitive in Europe have gone. Because they manufacture them now for themselves. And either we are successful, or we will fall behind – not just in living standards, but we will fall behind in political influence in building the sort of society at home and abroad that we want to see.

And I will tell you a third instinct of the Briton. I actually believe, and so do the British nations, that the British instinct is a force for good in international affairs. That force for good is pushed aside and derided if you have an economically weak nation it has no political clout either.

So we have to deal with those problems. Not because we wish to, but because we have no choice but to do so for this generation and the next. And that is why I am not in the business of soft-options. All my life I have seen Governments driven off a virtuous path of economic revival because things got difficult in the short term. Well we’ve just had an election, and we’re not going to be driven off that virtuous path. And so we are not going to devalue Sterling. We are not going to leave the Exchange Rate Mechanism. We are going to make sure that we get that inflation level down to the level that will secure permanent growth and prosperity for this generation and the next, that I want us to see.

And let me just say a few further words about it. It’s fashionable, it’s very easy suddenly to say it’s terribly difficult here and to blame somebody abroad and to say if only they’d do something it would all be better. I know what the instinct is in this country, they say of Europe: “Well, they’re foreigners; and of course we should be in the Common Market, it’s very important the Market and we understand all that, but I just wish we could only just sell things to them.”

Well, that is unreasonable. That is no longer the world in which we live or will ever live again if your face the hard day to day realities that businessmen face. That jobs and businesses in Wales depend on Europe. They depend on the Community. 60 per cent of our trade is with the European Community. And it isn’t just prosperity, it is peace that has been bought. If I may say so without disrespect there are people in this room, as I look around, who will remember the Second War very clearly. They’ll also remember from their history books that it was the Balkans that brought about the First World War, as they look at the events of Yugoslavia.

But let us say something about the Second World War. The greatest virtue of the Community for all its faults – and I’m no Europhiliac, believe you me, I see all the faults and dislikes of it, but I see its advantages too – when you look at the European Community, what is its greatest thing? Is it the growth that it has over 30, 40 years brought to Europe? No, it isn’t. What it is is that it has so intertwined the trading of those great Western nations that it is inconceivable that nations that twice fought the whole world at war would ever be in military conflict again. And that is why we want to extend that Community across Eastern Europe, so that we bring in those newly democratic nations – The Czechs, the Slovakia, Hungary, old friends of ours. Bring them over time into the Community so that we can extend that impossibility of conflict right the way across eventually our continent of Europe. A course to the North, to the Scandinavians, a course down to Austria and then to the Eastern part of Europe.

Those are the policies that we must pursue in the long term. And if we pursued them successfully it will mean something that I think would be valuable to all of us here. It would mean that our children and our grandchildren would never live under the threat of war that many of the people in this room have lived under and in some cases experienced for much of their lives. It is a long policy, but it is the right policy and it is a Conservative policy, for it is instinctive for the Conservative Party to look beyond one generation. We are not a mono-dimension Party. We are the only Party in this country and the Party most fitted anywhere in Europe, to look down cascading through the generations and frame policies now that will bear their greatest fruit long after we have ceased to have any direct influence on them. And I think that is what is happening in Europe at the moment, despite the frustrations that many feel about it.

I’ll tell you why we won on April 9th. It was become in some remarkable subliminal way those instincts communicated themselves to people. For all the difficulties that there were with the recession, that heaven alone knows is now stretching to every part of this world, there was the belief that people would be safer with us. Safer economically and safer in other ways. And I think that is because our Party understands the instincts of the British. They want to keep more of what they earn. They want its money to keep its value. They want low inflation and low taxation. They want the kind of choices and opportunities that their parents only dreamed about and they know that their children will want for their children opportunities that were denied to them.

They want better education. They want an absolute determination to concentrate on the basics of education – Neighbours out, Shakespeare in – which is the basic instinct of the Conservatives in this country. And they want people to read, to write, to learn to do sums, then they want to put them in the Treasury! They want a Britain where people with talent and who work hard can go all the way to the top no matter what their background or where they may have started from. That is what they want in this country.

And then they want something else – two things I think. They want a Britain where after a lifetime’s hard work they can pass on what they have built up to their children and grandchildren, and not pass on what they have built up to the taxpayer. [Applause].

And they want a Britain safe at home and respected abroad.

So we can take this opportunity – there’s only a transient opportunity in politics – to celebrate that victory on April 9th. But the best way to celebrate that victory on April 9th is to make use of it. To make use of it to build those things we care about. To stick with them firmly, rigidly, with conviction but with understanding even when times are difficult, for that is the way we believe we can build something better for ourselves and for future generations. For if I may come back almost to where I started, that is the instinct of the Conservative, and we are Conservatives and that, I promise you, is the instinct of your Government.