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 to 1995 Conservative Party Conference – 13 October 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the 1995 Conservative Party Conference, held in Blackpool on Friday 13th October 1995.



Today is Friday the Thirteenth. Remember it. This is the day I’m going to tell you how we’ll win the next election.

And if anyone is superstitious they shouldn’t be.

This is Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday and she won three elections in a row.

So the omens are good.

Many happy returns to Maggie today, and it’ll be many happy returns for us at the Election.

We’ve won four and we’re going for five.

All elections are important.

But the next is a watershed.

Because whoever wins will inherit the strongest economy for decades.

We built that economy.

It wasn’t easy.

And I don’t know about you but I’m not in the mood to hand it over to Labour to wreck.

So, Mr Chairman, we’re going to mount the fight of our lives. And when the time comes, we’re going to deliver the win of our lives.


But first a bit of housekeeping.

As you know, in June I resigned as Leader of our Party and called a leadership election.

I did so because speculation was drowning out everything we were trying to do.

How could you argue our case on the doorstep with that sort of thing going on?

Well of course, you couldn’t.

It had to end – whatever the risk.

I might have lost. If I had I would still have been at this Conference. Still offering my full support to the Party, I believe is best able to govern this country.

But I won.

And today, face to face, I’d like to thank you – for your support – when the going was rough.

Thank you, too, to my campaign team led so ably by Robert Cranborne.

And there’s someone else who has always been there when the stakes were high.

She’s here today too.

Of course – I mean Norma.


But, that was yesterday.

Today, we meet united, healed, renewed – and thirsting for the real fight – with Labour.

Last week the Labour leader predicted that we’d wave the Union Jack. Of course. This Party has never waved any other flag and we never will.

To win, Labour must persuade people this country is on its knees. Clapped out. Beaten up.

They shouldn’t find that too difficult. That’s the way it always is – under Labour.

But they know it isn’t true under the Conservatives. And the world knows it isn’t true.

The world knows the only way our country would match their deception would be if they were running it.

I don’t question Labour’s patriotism.

But is a funny patriotism to rubbish our achievements – how shall I put it? – before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner, and then get up and do it again before breakfast – on the Today programme.

I don’t doubt Labour’s good intentions : the road to hell is paved with them.

They say they want to help businesses – so they’ll clobber them with the Social Chapter.

They say they want to help the unemployed – so they’ll destroy jobs with a minimum wage.

They say they want to treat the unions fairly – so they’ll give them privileges even Michael Foot didn’t dream of in the 1970s.

I think Labour has been re-reading “1984” – the book that introduced “Doublethink”.

You remember – doublethink is the trick of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same tine – and accepting both.

It was the brain-child of another public school-educated Socialist. His name was George Orwell.

But actually it wasn’t. That was his pen name.

His real name – was Eric.

His surname?

You’ve guessed it. It was Blair.

Eric Blair.

He changed his name. I can’t say the same thing about my opposite number.

He’s changed everything else. His politics. His principles. His philosophy.

But – to the best of my belief – he hasn’t changed his name.

At least not when I got up to speak.

But he’s abandoned so much, so fast you never know.

The Liberal Democrats support all Labour’s nonsense.

But they’re neither here nor there.

Because as we saw the other day, they’re the only party in British political history that has had its entire battle plans wiped clean off the media – by a goldfish.

The Great Divide – Us Versus Them

Mr Chairman, around the world, people now believe Britain is winning.

But don’t let’s fool ourselves.

I’m looking to the future.

There’s still a lot to be done.

The new Millennium will bring longer, fuller lives.

Shifts in world power.

More and more competition.

Changes in technology, fast and furious.

And, even with growing wealth, new welfare problems.

That is the Millennium challenge. We have to respond to it.

Explain to people the opportunities within their reach. Tell them what can – and cannot be done – and what the price will be.

By telling them I mean really telling them. I don’t mean insulting them by trivialising issues for instant media consumption.

I believe the public will respond to the plain truth.

I believe they’re as sick as I am of politics by soundbite, by nudge and wink.

No wonder people are turned off politics. The way some politicians conduct the debate would disgrace a nursery.

There are only two ways to the future. Labour’s way. And there’s ours.

Scratch beneath Labour’s rhetoric and you see the reality. Prescott, Beckett, Blunkett, Dobson, Cook. They believe a socialist state can do it all.

If that were true the past 50 years would have been quite different. Cradle to grave socialism – I always thought that rather constrained way to go through life.

But the State can’t do it all – and, what’s more, the State shouldn’t do it all.

Beat Labour one more time, and we’ve beaten socialism for good.

Our way – the Conservative way – is very different.

We believe the Government should choose what Government should do – and do it better.

Beyond that we should help individuals shape their own future. Help them – but not nanny them.

Conservatism is choice.

Choice is liberty.

Blazon it on your mind.

We should offer choice whenever we can.

But there’s one thing in our Tory tradition that has inspired me, it’s our historic recognition that not everyone is thrusting and confident and fit. Many are not: and they deserve protection. With a Conservative Government they will always get it.

Individual rights will be defended.

Ownership will be encouraged.

And, above all, we will stand for – and will protect – one United Kingdom, unbroken and undivided.

The Enterprise Centre of Europe

We Tories often talk of business and the need for success.

It’s worth remembering why. It’s quite simple.

If business makes profit, it provides jobs and pays taxes.

And those people with jobs pay taxes too. Taxes pay for our teachers, our nurses and our public services.

So we must make business more successful.

We are in Europe – and rightly so. It’s the richest home market in the world.

Half of our trade goes there.

But half does not. And both halves are equally important.

That’s why Malcolm Rifkind will actively pursue the vision of Atlantic Free Trade – refreshing our vital links with the Americas.

If we’re to compete with America, Japan and the Pacific Basin, we must be the unrivalled Enterprise Centre of Europe.

Let me spell out precisely what that means.

It means high spending and high taxes are no longer an option. The state spends too much of our national wealth. We must get that share below 40 per cent – and keep it there.

The state spends too much of our national wealth. We must get that share below 40 per cent – and keep it there.

If the State spends too much, it taxes too such.

In the recession, we had to put taxes up to protect the vulnerable.

Now the recession is over, as soon as prudent, we must get taxes down again.

And – be in no doubt – I don’t only mean income tax.

I mean the taxes that damage investment and stultify wealth creation. I mean inheritance tax. I mean capital gains tax.

We must cut them, and then – when affordable – we should abolish them.

We receive more investment into Britain than any other European Country.

This very day, the Queen will open Samsung’s massive new development in the North East.

Fujitsu, Daewoo, Nissan, Black and Decker, NBC, Siemens have all decided their future is here.

You don’t hear Labour talk of this.

Of course not. These companies didn’t invest in a socialist Britain.

They set up here because it’s a Conservative Britain.

And they’ll only be followed by others if we keep Britain Conservative.

Labour say they know how to run a market economy.

I asked Humphrey the cat about that.

I’ve the first time I’ve seen him move so fast.

It took all the resources of the Royal Army Medical College to get him over the shock.

Labour have stood in the way of everything we’ve done.

Where were they when we cut inflation?

When we faced down union power?

When we fed life back into the corpse of so many nationalised Industries?

Humphrey could answer the question. Humphrey knows. Like Macavity, Labour wasn’t there.

They were the advocates of the easy options and they opposed every tough decision we took.

Interest Rates up? Disgraceful, said Labour.

Interest Rates down? Not enough, said Labour.

Interest Rates the same? The Chancellor must act, says Labour.

Always, always, always the easy option.

So when they criticise us, just remind them of this.

If we’d followed their advice, we’d have been in Carey Street.

Unemployment has been coming down for two and a half years.

But it’s still far too high.

The best route to more jobs is more small businesses.

We are the Party of small business. When I was a small boy, my bread and butter was paid for by my father’s small business. He made garden ornaments 40 years ago and some fashionable people find that very funny.

I don’t.

I see the proud, stubborn, independent old man who ran that firm and taught me to love my country, fight for my own and spit in the eye of malign fate. I know the knockers and sneerers who may never have taken a risk in their comfortable lives aren’t fit to wipe the boots of the risk takers of Britain.

When my father’s business failed – because his health failed – I saw the price the small businessman may have to pay.

I know the sacrifice they make for the dreams they have.

They don’t know whether they’ll succeed.

But they work as hard as they can.

That’s why, as Ian Lang told you, we’ve set up the biggest consultation with business ever seen in this country – to find out what more we can credibly do to help then.

Frankly, Mr Chairman, I think they’re heroes.


I know one thing: we mustn’t pile burdens on business.

So let me say this to our friends and partners in Europe.

Don’t ask me to sign the Social Chapter. I won’t do it.

I don’t look for popularity abroad – I prefer to protect jobs right here.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m for Europe, not against it.

And I intend to argue for policies that will help it succeed. Pressure to stop arguing and go with the European consensus is strong. It’s difficult to set rational argument against the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth.

We must be sympathetic, but we must stand our corner.

We must ask our partners to understand our thinking and we must understand theirs.

Against the background of the traumas Europe suffered over the past 60 years – war, dictatorship, civil war, military occupation – it’s not surprising to me that they look towards European unity as a guarantor of political stability. Of their decision never to go to war with one another again.

Only twenty years ago, Greece, Spain and Portugal – new partners in Europe – were ruled by men in dark glasses and epaulettes.

Now these countries are secure in the European Union.

In a few years’ time – thanks in large part to British policy – they will be joined by Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and others, now liberated from Communist dictatorship.

They are knocking on the door to entry and we want to tie them in to the democratic family of Nations.

Because it’s in our British interest: a further guarantee that our children and grandchildren will never face the conflicts than cost the lives of so many of our fathers and grandfathers.

Unoccupied, undefeated, the war left Britain with a very different perspective from the rest of Europe.

If we want to persuade our partners that their policies for Europe are wrong – as I believe many of them to be – we must use our imagination to understand their feelings and their motives.

We entered Europe,

For prosperity.

For co-operation.

For a louder voice on that great Continent.

But we did not enter it for a new tier of Government.

We did not enter it for Socialism through the back door.

And we did not enter it for a federal Europe.

It wouldn’t work for us. Our partners must understand that it’s politically and constitutionally unacceptable.

But that’s what Labour would agree to and I believe they are profoundly wrong.

We will advance our arguments firmly and courteously in Britain and in Europe.

For Britain for Europe.

But underneath the rational argument we should not be misunderstood.

If others go federalist, Conservative Britain will not.

Welfare spending

Mr Chairman, providing quality care for those most in need is a strong part of the Tory tradition.

Shaftesbury and Disraeli were doing it when socialism was just a distant nightmare in most people’s minds.

We are proud of our free National Health Service. We have fought to make it the best in the world in the next century. We have put more resources into health. Not just once, but year after year. And we are modernising it, so that it remains the best in the world.

But, Mr Chairman, we are succeeding. People are living longer. And that success in health creates new challenges for our welfare system.

The easy way out is to load the bills onto future generations – issuing blank cheques for our children to pick up.

In other words, living on tick. I wasn’t brought up to do that. And I don’t think that it’s right for the country.

We have already done more than anywhere else in Europe to build up massive pension funds.

But because we live longer, we need to develop similar approaches to long term care – encourage new forms of savings, new kinds of insurance, more flexible use of pensions.

That’s the next step forward in our welfare system, and one we are examining right now.

We don’t have all the answers yet. But it is important that people know we’re addressing their long-term problems.

It’s a huge challenge but it’s one we can’t duck and one we must get right. And it’s one that will only be met by recognising the money we spend has first to be earned through an enterprise economy.

It’s a strong Tory tradition that you and I look after ourselves and our families before we turn to others to pay our bills.

That’s why we need to target our welfare spending on those who need it.

I don’t need anyone to tell me that the welfare system matters.

I know what it’s like when the money for the week runs out by Thursday.

But welfare should offer people a ladder back to the pride of self-reliance, not a trap for the poor.

That’s why we’re designing a welfare system for the twenty-first century.

Targeting benefits. Reforming pensions. And helping people from welfare back into work.

But not tolerating those on welfare who won’t work.

From next autumn, everyone who is unemployed will need to undertake a contract for work.

A contract that makes it absolutely clear that they have obligations to accept paid work when it is available.

Mr Chairman, we’ll continue to shape a welfare system that is generous to those in need. We can do no other.

But it must be one that also reflects the basic Tory instincts of rewarding prudence, thrift and family responsibility.


Education affects not just careers, but people’s whole lives. That’s why, when I became Prime Minister, I put education at the top of my agenda.

I haven’t changed. But education has.

Since then we’ve introduced regular tests. Made school inspection more rigorous. Given parents more choice and information.

Today, three times as many young people become students as in 1979.

Last year I told this Conference that we would make nursery education available to all 4 year-olds.

We’re doing just that with vouchers: to put power and choice where it belongs: not in the hands of bureaucrats. But in the hands of parents.

Choice. Choice. Choice. And all opposed by Labour.

I still want to widen choice in education.

Some years ago, we set up the Assisted Places Scheme. It helps children from low income homes to go to our best private schools.

It’s been a great success.

But Labour hate it.

That’s true to form – they always claim to want to help people – but in return they demand that people know their place.

And in Labour’s view there is no place for children of low income families in private schools. So they want to abolish the scheme outright. Labour’s message to them is: no choice for the poor.

One of the schools that offers places to pupils on this scheme is in Edinburgh. It’s one of Scotland’s most famous private schools – Fettes.

Quite a lot of famous politicians went to Fettes including – Iain Macleod.

Iain Macleod was a One Nation Tory and wouldn’t he have been proud to see pupils of poor families at his old school – sent there by a One Nation Government.

So am I. So I’m going to give more children that opportunity.

We’re going to double the Assisted Places scheme.

But I want to widen choice still further.

So if parents want specialist schools, we should let them have them.

And if they want religious schools, we should let them have them too.

This isn’t a dogma. It isn’t elitist. It’s based on the belief that children are first and foremost the responsibility of parents: and they know what is best for their children.

We also want excellence in education, so I believe we should let good schools expand.

Bad schools should be closed.

Of course, closing bad schools means a row. But it’s the right row to have and Gillian Shephard is prepared to have it.

Not every child can benefit from the Assisted Places Scheme or private education.

Real choice will come when every state school offers the highest standards – when every state school prizes discipline, when every state school puts learning before political correctness. Gillian is going to work with every good head and teacher to deliver that.

Many parents believe they’ve found a way to higher standards already. They’ve chosen for their schools to become independent, self-governing schools: what we call grant maintained.

These schools are in the state sector. Run by the Head and the Governors. They get their money from government to spend as they think fit.

Their results have been outstanding.

That’s why I want to enable all schools to become grant-maintained.

But Labour want to destroy them – wipe out their freedoms and take away their budgets.

These schools became self-governing after a ballot of parents. Parents chose independence. Labour want to wreck then without a ballot. Labour hate independence.

So, parents at the next election – choice or no choice. That’s the choice.


This year we have all remembered with gratitude the sacrifice our predecessors made for our forbears.

VE Day and VJ Day were very special.

Most of you would have attended some of the events or watched the remarkable television coverage.

I was there. I found it immensely moving.

The sense of pride was tangible.

But Mr Chairman, unlike others, I didn’t hear people on VJ Day shouting out party political propaganda.

For me, it was a day in which a free people paid tribute to those who kept them free.

Back in June you will remember the huge commemoration which took place in Hyde Park.

Let me tell you a story of that day.

At the entrance to one stand was an elderly man trying to get in.

He had no ticket – so the security guard was about to turn him away.

But luck would have it, a brigadier was passing by. Not any old brigadier, but one of the organisers of VE Day. He saw something pinned to the chest of this elderly man.

Not all of us would have known what it was. But the brigadier did.

It was the highest award for gallantry in our armed forces: the Victoria Cross.

The elderly man was immediately given a seat of honour on the platform.

Later that day, I had the privilege of meeting him – and the other Victoria and George Cross holders.

I learned that they receive a small annual payment.

It was £100 a year. A figure set 40 years ago, before many years of inflation. It has never changed.

It seemed to me that, in this year of all years, it should be changed;

So to show that this country has not forgotten the bravest of the brave: it will be changed.

From August this year that payment will be uprated to its original value. It will increase from one hundred pounds a year to one thousand three hundred pounds a year.

Northern Ireland

In the last year, life has changed in Northern Ireland.

I want to make those changes permanent. To see the next generation there growing up in prosperity – and peace.

Patience, determination and fairness have carried us a long way.

No one has shown these qualities more consistently than Paddy Mayhew and Michael Ancram – Northern Ireland has been well served by them.

But we’re not there yet. There are still some who, in one breath, say they’ve given up violence for good – and in the next warn that it could return. It needn’t, and it won’t, unless they themselves pick up the gun.

But if it is to last, it must be a just peace. One that is fair to all sides.

And a peace that is constructed away from the shadow of the gun.

However long it takes, building this peace in this part of our United Kingdom will continue to stand at the top of our priorities.

Britain in the World

Mr Chairman, Britain has big interests in the world.

We are the only nation at the hub of the European Union, the Commonwealth, NATO and the United Nations. We are a nuclear power and a member of the Permanent Five of the Security Council.

Our armed forces are today serving in more than forty countries including Bosnia.

I sent troops there in 1992. Not everyone approved but I believe it was right.

They went to the Balkans for two reasons – to protect men, women and children from starvation, rape and genocide and to prevent a full scale war at the crossroads of Europe.

They have succeeded superbly – often at great risk to themselves. We can be proud of what they have achieved.

It now seems possible we may soon have an uneasy peace. I hope so.

But our role will not end there.

Help will be needed to monitor the peace and we will play our part in this.

International influence creates international obligations – and we will meet them.

The Constitution

Mr Chairman, we can only continue to be a big player abroad if we remain one United Kingdom at home.

We recognise that Scotland and Wales are Nations in their own right.

Of course, if they insist they could ultimately go their own way. We could not properly stop them.

At the moment there is a clamour for constitutional change as many see the Westminster Parliament as a long way away.

Some say we would be more popular if we bent to this clamour: if in Wales we set up Labour’s expensive talking shop, or in Scotland we said:

“OK. You want your own tax raising Parliament you can have it. Don’t blame us when it all goes wrong.”

But that is not our way.

We are the Conservative and Unionist Party.

I will not trade easy votes today for constitutional chaos tomorrow.

We are sensitive to people’s concerns in Scotland. So we are looking at more ways of giving people more say over decisions affecting their day to day lives.

But it’s my duty to warn of the effect of Labour’s plans for the constitution.

Labour are proposing changes to our Constitution for their own party political advantage.

In Scotland they are running scared of the SNP – so they have promised to impose a tax raising Parliament in their first year.

In Wales they are not so worried about Plaid Cymru so Wales would just get an Assembly.

And in England they can’t make up their minds so there they might – or might not – impose regional assemblies.

There is no demand for these in England. Labour only promise them in an attempt which fails to justify the over-representation of Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster.

It is a straightforward gerrymandering and we might as well say so.

In Scotland, the new Parliament would raise income taxes.

I hope Scotland realises what this means.

People in Scotland, uniquely, will pay higher income tax on the same income than people in England or Wales or Northern Ireland. To start with, a tartan tax of an extra 6 pounds a week for the average family.

Let me ask you a question: if you were a businessman, wanting to invest and create jobs, where would you invest: in Scotland, where you’ll have to pay higher wages to compensate for higher taxes, or somewhere else? You know the answer to that.

The Tartan Tax will do two things: it will pay for more bureaucrats and more politicians and it will begin the decline of Scottish prosperity. Neither of them are in the interests of Scotland.

All that is only the start. Conflict with the Westminster parliament would be inevitable.

And then – the siren voices of the separatists will foment mischief and demand an independent Scotland cut adrift from the UK.

These are not distant problems. These are Labour’s plans for the first year of a Labour government.

Mr Chairman, opinion polls tell us the Scottish people are not fond of the Government at the moment. But I’m fond of then and they are being deceived by Labour.

Labour’s plans are an immediate threat to Scotland and a threat to the United Kingdom.

We will continue to look for ways to improve the Government of Scotland. That is our duty.

But we will resist these damaging plans with all our strength. That too, is our duty, and the Conservative and Unionist Party will fulfil it.

Law and Order

Mr Chairman, as I go round the country I talk to people about crime. What they want is to feel safe – at home and on the street.

In the past two and a half years, recorded crime has fallen.

Well and good. Now we must make sure that the fear of crime starts to fall, too.

People want crime reduced and criminals caught and convicted. And so do I.

So today, let me add to what Michael Howard told you yesterday.

We’re going to step up the fight against crime. To hit it harder and harder and harder.

Organised crime is big business on an international scale. And – at its centre – is drugs.

When I see the sheer evil of the drugs trade I am devoid of sympathy for the men around the world who run it.

They live lives of comfort, often of outward respectability, while they pour poison into the veins of millions.

Today, no parent, however safe and prosperous their home, can be entirely easy in their mind that their children won’t be offered drugs.

And that is true in some of our market towns as well as our big cities.

Two weeks ago, here in Blackpool, a 17 year-old died having taken drugs.

That boy’s whole future was snuffed out for profit.

Let me tell you what we shall do.

First, there can be no question of lifting our border controls. We are an island and we need them. Those controls are vital. They are not negotiable. And they are staying.

Secondly, our tradition has always been to have local police forces.

But local forces alone aren’t equipped for this sort of crime.

So for the first time ever, we’re discussing with the police the establishment of a national squad. This will have one mission: to take on organised crime in this country and break it.

The police will lead on this. They will have the support of the new National Criminal Intelligence Service, working with Customs, MI6 and GCHQ.

But all our available skills are not yet involved in this battle.

For many years the Security Service has protected us against espionage and terrorism.

But they can’t help the police because it is illegal for them to do so.

I think that’s absurd. And in an age when our children are more likely to be killed by a drug dealer than by an enemy missile, I think it’s indefensible.

So this autumn, we will change the law. It’s time to let the Security Service into the battle for the public and against organised crime.

Day by day, we are making more use of modern science against the criminal.

We are already using Closed Circuit Television in public places across the country.

This has been hugely successful. More cameras mean less crime.

So over the next three years we will add 10,000 more cameras in town centres, shopping malls and public places in every part of the country. They will improve security for the shopkeeper and safety for the shoppers.

But the most effective eyes are the policeman’s eyes.

I want to make every street safe.

Since 1979, we have recruited an extra 16,000 policemen – 500 in the last year

That’s helpful. But not enough.

I want to send an unmistakeable message to every criminal that there are going to be still more police on the streets.

So let us tell Chief Constables now so they can plan ahead.

So, Chief Constables, begin to plan. Because in the overall arithmetic of this year’s public expenditure settlement we have found the resources over the next three years to put, not 500 but an extra 5,000 police officers on the beat.

Mr Chairman, I said we intended to intensify the fight against crime – and I mean it.


Mr Chairman, after four terms, why a fifth?

Because in a shifting world only we will build a safe future for our people and heal the scars of the past.

Because we are building a more secure economy as the enterprise centre of Europe.

Because we are reforming public service to make it more accountable to the public who pay for it.

Because we stand for choice and excellence in education, and in the midst of the biggest revolution since Rab Butler.

Because we will retain the old rock solid guarantee of the health service that care will be free at the point of delivery, and where improvement is necessary it won’t be treated as a sacred cow.

Because defence and security of the realm and the safety of our streets are paramount concerns of our Party.

We Conservatives are:

– for the individual, not the state

– for choice, not direction

– for ownership, not dependence

– for liberty, not control.

These are the enduring things, the cornerstones of our beliefs. We have worked for them, cared for them, fought for them.

We are building the greatest success for this nation that we have known in our lifetime.

We will not surrender them to a light-weight alternative.

We carry the scars of battle, yes, but they’re honourable scars. We know no other Party can win the battles for Britain that lie ahead.

So when you go home – refreshed and uplifted, I hope, by our Conference – remember these things, and ask the people on the doorstep:-

– Would taxes be higher or lower under Labour?

– Would inflation be higher or lower under Labour?

– Would there be more or less choice under Labour?

– Would our defence be more secure under Labour?

You and I only have to ask the question to know the answer.

We stand for a wise and kindly way of life that is rooted in our history.

Our hopes from our country are not tired.

Our ambitions are not dimmed.

Our message to our fellow country men is clear. Millions have still to make up their minds.

The choice is theirs. Our Nation’s Future is at stake – and we stand ready to serve.