The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Comments on Back to Basics – 26 January 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments during an interview held on 26th January 1994 relating to Back to Basics.


[Mr Major was asked about whether back to basics had a moral element]


But it does. It is genuinely extremely difficult to present a complex position like this with total clarity.

The whole concept of “back to basics” wasn’t the title we gave it. I referred to “back to basics” with a small “b”, other people put a big “B” on it later if I could make that point.

But the principle of it has a moral dimension, that is certainly true. The civic obligation that people have to other people, that clearly is a part of “back to basics”, the belief that you should accept the implicit responsibilities that go with your own extended family and the obligation that you naturally owe to people who are your neighbours. We don’t want to see a society in which every tiny unit is cocooned in their own self-interest with no concern for the people or neighbourhood that surrounds them. Clearly, that is part of what we seek in the policy so it does have a moral dimension.

What I don’t think it was expressly designed to do was to deal with the individual and personal peccadilloes of people. We are an imperfect race we humans and to draw black and white rules about individuals’ personal behaviour is extremely difficult to do because they are all different and the circumstances of each case are never identical – they may superficially look identical but they are not.

One of the “back to basics” characteristics that I think is very prevalent in the British is the degree of tolerance and understanding they tend to show and I think in areas of personal, human indiscretions that tolerance and understanding is an important part of the moral dimension itself.

Of course, what people are concerned about is the standard set by public figures – that is what you meant by the question – and I do believe that although one can’t set down absolutely black and white hard and fast rules, there is a general obligation upon people in public life to try and maintain high standards. I think that is right.