The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Article on State of the Country – 9 September 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s article on the state of the country, issued on 9th September 1993.


I can’t pretend the past year has been easy. But the difficult decisions we took were necessary. Our difficulties have been well chronicled. But our steady progress in so many policies – less dramatic perhaps but vital – has often been overlooked.

So it is worth setting out what has also been happening away from all the fuss and palaver of Westminster.

Who would have predicted that we’d be able to bring down inflation to below 1 1/2 per cent for the first time in over 30 years?

Who would have predicted we could bring interest rates down to 6 per cent?

Who expected that exports would rise to record levels and that unemployment would have fallen in the first five months of this year?

Who forecast that it would be Britain – not Germany or France which would lead the way out of recession in Europe?

Who imagined that growth this year and next year in Britain is likely to be higher than anywhere else in Europe?

No one did. Yet these are the facts.

And that is not all. Away from economic matters much else has been happening. Quietly but surely we have carried forward reforms in our major public services -shifting their focus to the consumer – to you, the public – not the vested interests which deliver them.

A few examples will suffice: more patients treated in NHS hospitals last year compared with the year before – itself a record year. New guarantees for patients on waiting times and fixed appointment times.

In education we’ve seen a steady increase in parent power. Nearly a thousand more schools voting to run their own affairs. All schools now having their own budgets. And parents getting annual reports on their childrens’ progress and more information on schools GCSE and A levels results. And judging by this year’s results there are already signs of some improvement in standards.

Under the Citizen’s Charter we are seeking – and are beginning to get – improved standards across a whole range of public services. The Council Tax has been introduced successfully, despite all the dire predictions; trades union reform taken a step further with new rights for workers to ballot before strike action and join the union for their choice.

The sort of country I want to see

Yet people say “okay, these are details, but where are we going? What are you trying to achieve?”

My hopes for our future are built around the four simple principles we set out at the election: choice, opportunity, responsibility, and ownership.

People want more control over their lives. That means they want more choice, more opportunities, more people owning their own homes and shares and building up wealth. It also means taking more responsibility for the consequences of their choices. And more responsibility for their own actions and those of their children. In other words, not forever looking first to the State or the social worker to solve their problems.

I want to develop these policies because I believe they reflect people’s aspirations.

Everywhere people want jobs for themselves and for their children. They want to be independent. They want to choose schools, holidays, where they live, how they live. They don’t want others telling them what to do. They want better prospects for their children: good schools, good hospitals. They want security in their old age, and they want a more courteous and a safer society; one in which the law is respected and crime is punished.

People have always had ambitions like these. But, too often, I have seen people whose ambitions were frustrated, not through any fault of their own, but because they were denied opportunities. They were denied opportunities by a new form of snobbery, all the worse because it cloaked itself in the language of “progressive” social conscience: “We know best, so you’ll do as we say, not as you choose”.

I want to change that attitude. I want opportunity for all based on a free market. And I want a country which feels a sense of continuity with its past and a sense of responsibility for its future. Without that we will never have a country at ease with itself. And I intend to fight for it whatever the difficulties and whatever the opposition.

Sustaining the recovery

These are “social” goals. But all social policy begins with economic policy. We can’t spend what we haven’t earned. There are three touchstones: low inflation; sound public finances and sustained recovery based on competitiveness at home and abroad.

First inflation. We have brought it down and we intend to keep it down. It does immense damage: to businesses, to jobs, to people on fixed incomes and people with savings. Pensioners especially. It is public enemy number one. So don’t expect me to listen to those who say a little bit of inflation can do you good. It can’t.

Second public finances: the fact is we are living beyond our means and consuming at the expense of our children. We will stick to our manifesto pledges on pensions and other benefits.

But we need to look at the long term difficulties in funding social expenditure – now outstripping inflation by some 3 per cent per year. That can’t go on. We need to decide now how to create the resources to care for the vulnerable, the sick and the elderly in the future. We need to reduce Government borrowing and control government spending across the board.

We are not alone in facing this challenge. Countries like Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Italy have similar problems. Difficult decisions are being made everywhere. Britain cannot be the exception. For the sake of jobs and prosperity in the future, we must make the right choices now.

The need for competitiveness

That is vital if we are to achieve the third goal: sustained recovery based on competitiveness.

There are no easy markets any more. We have no Empire that will automatically buy British. We have to compete fair and square, not just with Europe and America, but with the emerging economies of the Far East and the Pacific Rim – Eastern Europe too. We can’t shut them out.

That means we have got to be competitive in manufacturing. Two-thirds of all we earn abroad comes from things we make and sell.

The 1980s saw a turn around in British manufacturing. No one talks of “the British disease” any more. Manufacturing output is growing faster than for 5 years. Productivity is growing faster than for 7 years. Unit wage costs are falling faster than at any time since records began. Yet even so we still lag behind some of our main competitors.

The vital need to improve education and training

Above all it is vital that we produce enough people with the necessary education and skills. Too many managers tell me that far too many young people come out of British schools unable to read or write properly, lacking self discipline and commitment.

The cost to British industry of poor basic skills is estimated to be £5 billion a year.

For far too long a small minority of so-called progressive educationalists have made the running in education. They mock the importance of getting children to learn the basics: spelling, grammar, tables, self-discipline. This attitude is damaging to our children and to our country.

So while we are working to simplify the curriculum and cut out unnecessary paperwork for teachers, we are not going back on the basic principles of our education reforms. Attention to basics in the curriculum. More emphasis on vocational training and experience as well as academic training. Regular testing and information for parents. And improvement in teacher training.

Helping industry win new markets

But that is not all we are doing to make Britain more competitive.

We are giving more help to our exporters. They now have better terms of credit so that they can sell more easily abroad. We’ve stepped up our export promotion efforts both at home, on trade missions, and in our embassies abroad.

We are giving greater emphasis to innovation. As early as the last century people were complaining that we did not use British scientific expertise to good effect in British industry. Our new science policy aims to ensure we exploit the practical application of British science in Britain.

We are providing more opportunities for private industry to work with the public sector. Who built the roads and railways hospitals and schools in the first place? Answer: the private sector with private finance. What they did once, they can do again in partnership with Government.

And in the coming year we will be cutting through the red tape jungle to help businesses concentrate on the job they are there to do. Regulation is sometimes a necessary evil. It’s those unnecessary twiddles, petty rules, forms and fussy details we need to cut out.

Tackling crime

Right at the top of our agenda for the coming year is the need to tackle the growing problem of crime.

I start with three propositions. First there should be no excuses for crime. Crime is the responsibility of the individual who commits it.

Second, crime needs to be punished. It is criminals who should be afraid, not the public.

Third, all of us need to be involved in the war against crime. We need to be involved as parents, teachers and ordinary citizens; teaching our children the difference between right and wrong. Helping to prevent crime in the area in which we live. Helping the police and courts to catch and punish the guilty. They cannot do their job without the help of the public.

This year we have introduced tougher sentences for drunk driving, joy riders and for people who offend while on bail. The courts can now take previous convictions into account. And we have reformed unit fines.

Next year we will be taking action to deal with squatters and new age travellers – two new scourges of the modern age. And we’ll be giving the courts new powers to place persistent young offenders in secure accommodation.

And we will be examining further ways of making our police and courts more effective as we review two of the most fundamental reports into our police and criminal justice system for years: the Sheehy report into the police and the report of the Royal Commission on criminal justice.

Priorities for the ’90s

Basic to our approach in the 1990s will be the need to shift priorities away from short term consumption to long term wealth creation. Ours is a proud country. The oldest democracy. The most stable and still one of the most peaceful societies in the world.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. If we want to preserve all those things we cherish, we have got to put the need for enterprise and the prime importance of manufacturing success right at the centre of our thinking. Industry should be the first choice not the last choice of our best people. We need to encourage and reward success and talent, not hold it back. We need to take responsibilities ourselves, not wait for others to come to the rescue.

If we can do all these things, then we will enter the 21st century an increasingly confident and prosperous nation, keeping our place as an influential voice in world affairs.

If we do not make these changes then the fault is our own. It is our choice. Our future in our hands.