The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Conservative Central Council – 1 April 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Conservative Central Council Meeting at the International Convention Centre at Birmingham, on Saturday 1st April 1995.


We’ve had a great Conference here in Birmingham. Our first, but not our last.

This Central Council has often in the past been a platform for a change in our fortunes.

Three years ago – it was from a Central Council – we set out and won a general election many believed we would lose.

I believed we would win – and so we did – in three weeks, with a recession at our throat.

Now we have two years, with a strong recovery at our side.

So let me tell you something loud and clear right at the start. I believe we will win again.

I have no time for faint hearts.

The next election is there to be won. By the party with the verve and tenacity to reach out to people and catch their imagination.

We did it before. We can do it again.

And I expect every single person in our Party to want it, and work for it, as hard as I will.

To those who say look at the polls, I simply say this: it is possible to look at the polls too much and your principles too little.

I have a way in life. I learned it as a boy. I offer it to you. Stick to your principles. Stick to your guns. However rough the going may be, just keep going.

So today I’m going to tell you how we’re going to win back the faith and trust of the British people.

Let me take you back to five years ago when I became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let me tell you what was on my mind. I looked back on 50 years of a boom and bust economy. Good years. Followed by bad years. If the good years coincided with elections, you won. If they didn’t, you lost.

Over generations, we slipped back economically as a country. I grew up in that period. Even from the back streets of Brixton I found it depressing. And I was determined to try and change it. To help our economy to grow and to beat other countries.

For the truth is that without growth every year, no Government will be able to improve education and health, increase pensions, provide care in the community, better law and order or anything else.

But I want those improvements.

So I need long-term growth. A stronger, more prosperous country. That’s why we’ve had to do things that have disappointed our supporters and seemed against our natural instincts.

You know what I mean. We are the Party of low taxes. But we had to put them up. Now the economy is growing again and we can look forward to bringing them down.

We are the Party of law and order. But crime continued to rise. So we put through controversial measures to tackle it. Now recorded crime is beginning to fall – the largest fall for 40 years.

We’re the Party of personal well-being. Yet, on our watch, unemployment rose to nearly 3 million. But we kept our nerve. We pursued the right policies. Now it has fallen 600,000; down 1,000 a day. It is now among the lowest of the large nations of Western Europe. It is falling fastest, too. And I believe it will fall far further.

So times are changing. And so will the political climate. The country has been through a difficult period. No doubt we’ve made mistakes. But we have learned from them. We have weathered the storm. And now we are poised to return to our natural agenda from a position of strength. Unrestrained by the iron bands of recession, the country can look forward with confidence.

– the economy grew last year by over 4 per cent;

– we expect it to grow by at least 3 per cent this year and next;

– prices are rising at the slowest rate most people can remember;

– exports have risen at record levels as we win markets across the world;

– manufacturing expanding again – and so, too, employment in it.

In all we’ve done we have been playing for the long-term. My target is growth every year; higher living standards every year; manufacturing growing every year; public services improving every year – and to do that without fear of inflation.

No one has achieved that before. It’s meant saying ‘no’ to short-term options. ‘No’ to fashionable ideas. ‘Wait’ for the tax cuts we all wish to see.

It did hurt. I said it would. I told people in 1989 – “if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working.” But now it is working. And the reality is – if we stick to present policies we will improve life for everyone and double living standards within 25 years.

The prize at stake is that, after the next election, the Government in office will inherit the soundest, most secure economy of any Government since the 1st World War. It will be able to address its social and political agenda more freely than any predecessor.

Mr Chairman, I want that Government to be a Conservative Government.

It is a massive achievement. We can be proud of it. So let’s use every day and every hour and every minute of the next two years to tell people of the great future that lies ahead and once again earn their trust and support.

That’s the fight ahead of us. I relish it. It is a fight we can win.

Our work is long-term – but already it’s changing our country for the better.

And while we’ve been doing this, where have Labour been? In the lobbies – in the TV studios – in the streets – against us, that’s where they’ve been.

Now they say they’ve changed. They say they’re changing everything they’ve always stood for. They claim to be entering our world.

If they want to fight us on that ground, I look forward to it. They’ve been squatting here a few months. We’ve been living here for centuries.

Ours isn’t an off-the peg philosophy. We’re not trying out someone else’s ideas for size. We’re not putting on blue in this year’s spring fashion show because “red’s out”.

Our policies flow from core convictions, gut instincts, beliefs and ideals we’ve all grown up with.

In these debates we are in copperbottomed, mainstream Conservative home territory. And no slick, sloganising, snake-oil salesmen from the Labour Party are going to take it from us.

Labour today is just one more synthetic PR campaign. The workers are out. The minders are in.

Their ideas are picked up from opinion polls, techniques derived from advertisements, language copied from us.

Nothing is original. All is derivative.

And if there’s one thing we’ve learned lately, it is that trading in derivatives is a risky business.

Let me illustrate Labour’s technique for you.

Last week the Leader of the Labour Party said Conservatives don’t understand duty, nor do they act upon it.

Frankly, for that comment, he deserved to be laughed at from Lands End to John O’ Groats.

Duty, responsibility, self-responsibility are the core of the Conservative instinct.

Perhaps, Mr Blair simply intended a casual political kick. After all, it’s the sort of scatter-gun, all purpose abuse that is the daily language of new Labour.

The technique is old and effective – throw mud until it sticks.

Well, I know this Tory Party.

I grew up in it.

I am of it – from the grass roots upwards.

And I know we’re none of the things Labour claim and we never have been. Duty and responsibility are instinctive to Conservatives as a Party, and as people.

Ask the huge number of Conservatives who run Voluntary Service, Meals on Wheels, Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, Red Cross shops, and a hundred thousand charities up and down the land.

I will tell you who attack duty and responsibility. Those politicians who claim the state is responsible for everything and everyone.

Those who believe the welfare state should cope with everything.

Those who promise that whatever the problem is. the Government can cure it.

And we know who those politicians are. And they’re not in the Conservative Party. They’re in the Labour Party.

Mr Chairman, we Conservatives have not changed our fundamental values for 250 years. Our ambitions and hopes have moved forward. But our values have been constant.

In 1979 we promised to get Britain off its knees and on its feet. To end hyperinflation, curb old style Union power, turn round loss-making nationalised industry, and begin to spread choke and ownership to everyone.

We’ve done that. Now we must turn to the future.

Some months ago I set in hand a massive exercise to build the next phase of Conservatism – a new agenda, not just for the next Election, but clear through into the next century.

This work is in its early stages – but today let me restate some of the core values we stand for and lift the veil on some of the ideas we’re developing.

First, that most fundamental of Tory instincts, the pursuit of prosperity and security for all.

Prosperity begets security. But prosperity doesn’t drop as the gentle rain from heaven. It has to be earned.

Our industry has to be competitive. Britain must mean business. Britain must believe, in business. Britain must reward hard work. And must welcome the healthy profits of success.

I’ll tell you when we’ll know for certain that prosperity will grow in this country. When our leading companies are world beaters. When our exports are booming. And when Britain is a magnet for foreign investment. That’s when we’ll create new jobs and lasting wealth.

Mr Chairman, I have news for you – that time is here. That time is now. Billion after billion of dollars, yen and marks poured into Britain by foreign investors. They’re not here for our weather. They’re here for our prospects.

Toyota, Nissan, NEC, Samsung. Record inward investment. Attracted here not by sound bites, but by sound Tory policy.

Mr Chairman, we’re here today in Birmingham, the heart of one of the great manufacturing regions of Europe. And I have good news for Birmingham. After decades of decline manufacturing is growing and expanding.

Despite automation the number of jobs in manufacturing is growing as well.

And something is happening today that I didn’t expect to see for years: Britain now has a current account surplus with Japan – and we’re selling them our cars, our televisions, our motorcycles and our cameras. Made in Britain. Sold in Japan.

This is Britain as she was – making and selling goods of high quality to all parts of the world.

And this is Britain as I want to see her.

Our prosperity must be built on things we make as well as services we sell.

We’re looking at how to improve services to industry. To see what more Government can do to help.

Many of the things we sell will be made by small businesses. That is where the future jobs will come.

So we’re looking at still more ways to encourage them.

We’ll be making deeper cuts in regulation and red tape. And let no-one, anywhere, be in any doubt – we will resist pointless regulation in Europe.

And that includes the Social Chapter of which Labour are so fond.

There’s a world of new technology out there. We have to provide industry with the modern skills they need.

Britain must be a world leader in the new industries of media and information technology. So we will soon announce new measures to ensure it is.

Britain must have the best qualified workforce in Europe.

By the year 2000 we are aiming for over 80 per cent of our young people to have 5 or more good GCSEs or their vocational equivalent.

We want to make sure all our school leavers are good enough to get a job.

We’ve made giant strides forward. Creating 41 new universities; bringing in tough new vocational qualifications to enhance skills and test the mind. We’ve set a long-term target of one child in 3 going into higher education. And, let me tell you today – we’ve hit it five years early.

These changes will accelerate. They are the building blocks for prosperity. The humdrum, everyday policies that improve lives and build the security we seek.

Mr Chairman, the second thing we stand for is a nation of opportunity.

For the right to own and the power to choose.

Ownership is the very core of Conservatism. We believe in a capital-owning democracy. Where people can do what they wish with more of the money they earn.

We believe in a fair reward for hard work. And we’re going to carry those principles into the future.

So let me tell you again today. We’re committed to continue cutting rates of income tax in the future – moving towards our long-term target of 20% as the standard rate. For us, the tax debate is how soon we can bring it down and by how much. Labour’s debate is about how much they should put it up.

We Conservatives believe in thrift, with individuals encouraged to build up tax-free savings. That’s why we introduced tax-free TESSAs and PEPs. We want people to have the security and independence savings provide. And we want to do more to encourage them.

I also hold dear the belief that people should be able to hand on security to their children, cascading wealth down the generations. Over the last decade we’ve doubled the threshold at which inheritance tax becomes payable. It’s been difficult to go further in the last two or three difficult years. But I’m committed to doing so as soon as we can afford it.

I also want to provide more opportunity for people to help others. The talents and experience of pensioners are too often wasted at the moment. They should be used in ways that fulfil their lives and benefit the rest of us. It is high time that retirement was recognised as the opening up of new opportunity, not a drawing down of blinds.

All of that also means building on that explosion of giving, and working and helping others that has marked the last twenty years. Do you know that 17 million people volunteer every year – 2 million more than 15 years ago? And the Labour Party insult them by prattling on about loss of community. Comments like that belittle those who give so much.

But while they’ve been prattling, we’ve been planning.

So in June we will announce a comprehensive programme for voluntary service. It will cover all ages. It will be the most far-reaching imitative ever. Not a centralised plan to compete with private effort – but one that will reach into the wellsprings of goodwill that are found in literally every street of our land.

Nowhere is Conservative belief in opportunity and choice more important than in housing. The Right to Buy is not a chapter of history. It’s not yesterday; it’s today. 70,000 families a year are still becoming homeowners as a result of Right to Buy and similar schemes.

But there’s always more to do. Too many people are still trapped in grey, impersonal housing estates. Shortly we’ll bring forward a Housing White Paper. It will show how we could offer a choice of decent housing for everybody – and extend home ownership still wider.

On education, while I know this year’s settlement has been tight, I can assure you – education will be at the top of our priorities as the economy delivers further growth.

I also want to see more Grant-maintained schools to underpin choice and opportunity – and this week Gillian Shephard announced we’re giving them new powers to borrow and build for the future.

And, because opportunities start with the young, we will shortly also publish plans to fulfil our pledge to expand nursery education for all children aged four.

These are practical steps to give people more control over their lives. Taken together, they amount to a massive and irreversible shift of power and choice from the state to individuals and their families.

Mr Chairman, the third pillar of our beliefs is that we stand foursquare for decent commonsense values. That’s true across the board – but I want to concentrate today on the fight against crime.

When I became Prime Minister I took the view that it was time to understand a little less and condemn a little more. By that I meant that we shouldn’t explain away why people commit crime. We should just say bluntly: “it’s wrong”.

Michael Howard has been acting on this – toughening penalties, bringing in new ways to prevent crime, phasing out soft options like cautioning young offenders time and time again. I believe Michael deserves enormous credit for what he has achieved in the teeth of constant abuse every inch of the way.

He deserves 100 per cent support from all of us – and he’ll certainly get it from me.

Too much of that abuse has come from Labour. They know they have to talk about law and order. But talk is all they do. They talk tough and act soft. Time and again they have voted against our plans to prevent and punish crime.

Mr Chairman, we stand for commonsense justice – delivered fairly but quickly. And frankly, I believe the administration of justice is often too slow, too complex and too costly. I’d like to change that.

So we’ve asked a leading judge to look into court procedures in civil cases, to bring faster and less costly judgments.

And we are also out to streamline criminal justice. That must include a change to the rules on disclosure. These place a very heavy burden on the prosecution and police, going beyond the balance that justice demands. Informants and witnesses can be put at risk. The police believe these rules should be changed – and we agree with them.

I expect some of you know victims or witnesses who have felt shabbily treated on a visit to court – as if they came last, rather than first, in the order of priorities. So we’ll soon be sending out new standards for better treatment of victims and witnesses. It’s a terrifying experience to be a victim. And often frightening to be a witness as well. We should remember and respect those fears.

In the war on crime we’re applying new technology. We’re introducing more and more closed-circuit television to help cut crime and delinquency in our city centres. Some people didn’t like it. But it’s been immensely successful. So we’ll now be working with business on comprehensive crime prevention measures in even more places.

This month we’re giving police wider powers to take DNA samples to help catch criminals. We will build up a national DNA database – making life safer for the citizen and whole lot tougher for the criminal. It will be the first national DNA database in the world. And we’re moving at the same time towards a national fingerprint register too. This is using technology to catch crime. And in the battle against crime, it is right to use all the science at our disposal.

Thousands of people want to help our police. So we are having a national call for volunteers to increase the number of special constables up towards 30,000. And those constables will be out on the beat.

Mr Chairman, we are an open-hearted country to people in difficulties – and I hope we always will be. But we can’t afford to accept abuse of our asylum laws. And so this autumn there will be a new Bill to tighten the asylum rules.

We are reforming the probation service – so that we’re able to bring in people of quality from all backgrounds.

And we will be experimenting with tougher new penalties for young offenders. It is right to have an alternative to prison. But I don’t believe it should be a gentle Saturday afternoon stroll.

And, yes, we must sort out problems that have arisen in some prisons. I was as angry as anyone to read of prison officers shopping for inmates. I am not against decent treatment. But I believe privileges should be earned – and stopped if behaviour is bad, So I can tell you today that from this summer a regime of sanctions as well as reward will begin to be seen in our prisons.

We are ready to look at anything which will deter crime and make it more likely that we will catch criminals. That’s why I can also confirm that we will soon publish a Green Paper to canvass public views on possible ways to bring in identity cards. And I hope in the debate that will follow you will make your voice heard.

Fourthly, Mr Chairman, just as we stand against crime, we stand for first class public services. Back in 1990 I set out to sweep away those old patronising couldn’t-care-less attitudes. Our people deserve better. I want Britain’s public services to be the best in the world.

So we began a 10-year programme of change – performance standards, league tables, market testing, independent inspection, improved compensation, and proper attention to customer needs. An information revolution for the public. We’ve moved from a world in which bureaucracy wouldn’t even give you their names to one where the results of every school, every railway line, every police force, every council are published for all to see. It’s a programme that’s proving steadily more and more successful – and it’s growing day by day. We call it the Citizen’s Charter.

Of course, services like health and education will always be provided in the public sector. But others need not. That’s why Britain led the world in denationalisation – moving lacklustre and loss-making public companies into the private sector.

Privatisation has been a huge success. Perhaps that’s why it’s under such vicious attack from Labour. Prices have come down dramatically – phone bills, gas bills, electricity bills, they’re down again this week.

Privatisation has worked wonders. And I don’t have a shred of doubt privatising British Rail will be a success. Nationalised British Rail has not delivered the service it should. It can and will be done better in the private sector.

Labour talk of reversing the public sector changes we’ve made. They would throw hospitals, railways and schools back into turmoil.

Dogma might win – but patients, passengers and pupils would all lose out.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mr Chairman, we stand for the nation – our United Kingdom. We are proud of its institutions, proud of its place in the world.

We will do everything necessary to defend our nation. In the 1980s Conservative Governments stood firm against communism. The result? The cold war was won – among the greatest triumphs for freedom, free enterprise, for our ideals in all our history. 400 million people free of repression. It wasn’t Labour – old, new, borrowed or blue – that led the way down that long hard road. It was we, the Conservatives. And never let it be forgotten.

Today Britain is a leader right across the world – at the UN, in the G7, in NATO and in Europe.

We treasure our links with the Commonwealth – so strengthened by the return of South Africa. It’s wonderful to have her back – in the Commonwealth – where she belongs.

Our influence in Asia and the Middle East is creating new opportunities for exports and trade.

And we for our part – 50 years on from the end of the war – will never forget those unique and lasting ties we have to the United States.

Britain has a world identity. But we also have a special place in moulding the future of Europe. You know well where I stand. In this dangerous and changing world this great alliance serves our vital national interest.

Yes, we benefit from Europe – but we also want to shape Europe. A Europe of nation states, built on co-operation, not intervention. A Conservative Government will never let Britain lose her national identity, her eccentricities, her uniqueness that we love. A nation state is what we are – and a nation state is what we shall remain.

And there’s another side to our nation. We love our traditions of sport, the arts, and our national heritage. But always in the past it was difficult for those causes to compete with the great claims on national resources like health, education and defence. That’s why I set up the national lottery – to provide more resources for these causes than they’ve ever had before. A little flutter. A chance to dream. And real benefit for the country.

Mr Chairman, I care about the integrity of our country at home as passionately as I do for its interest abroad. So that is why we’ll work to expose the fantastic folly of Labour’s plans for a tax-raising Parliament in Scotland. Those ill thought out ideas would take us towards the break-up of the most successful partnership in our history.

It would destroy jobs in Scotland, saddle all Scots with a Tartan Tax and damage our influence abroad. The nation we believe in is a United Kingdom – not half or a third or a quarter of one. We will continue to fight Labour on this, tooth and nail.

Mr Chairman, there is another part of our United Kingdom that is particularly close to my heart. I will continue day and night to do what I judge to be right to bring long-term peace to the brave people of Northern Ireland.

Mr Chairman, we have much to be proud of, we Conservatives. But we have much more still to achieve. Today I have shared with you just a few of the new ideas on which we are working. The work of government moves on – and, as it does, we are shaping the next phase of Conservatism.

We have to remind people that the essential things we stand for are, as always, the things they believe in too.

The pillars of Conservatism are as strong as ever:

– to deliver a strong economy and competitive industry, built on a genuine belief in private enterprise – that is the basis for future prosperity and security;

– to create a society where individual initiative, hard work, and thrift are recognised and rewarded. An open door society in which ever more people enjoy the right to own and the power to choose;

– to maintain order and decency, respect for self and respect for others, reinforced by lasting respect for the law;

– to ensure that Britain has the best quality public services – the best schools, the best hospitals – that British skill can create;

– and finally, to ensure that Britain has a Government that will keep our country secure abroad and safe at home, a Government which puts the long-term interest of our nation first.

Mr Chairman, those are the things we stand for. The things we are working for. They are why Britain needs a Conservative Government to lead this country into the next millennium.

Yes, we have a tough fight on our hands. But I have never run away from any fight in my life. And this is one more battle that, with your help, I intend to win.