Below is Mr Major’s speech at a rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Independence of India and Pakistan. The speech was given at The Commonwealth Institute on 18th January 1997.
Britain – The Best Place in The World
I’ve just returned from a long visit with British businessmen to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Everywhere I went the welcome for Britain was very warm.
Today, many people with an affection for those nations are gathered here.
What brings us together?
The same beliefs, the same hopes – to see Britain prosperous, stable, secure.
A tolerant, civil nation, where everyone has the opportunity to make a success of life.
We don’t wish to see people boxed into compartments or pigeonholed to fit into plans, according to their colour or sex or wealth. That isn’t the kind of society I care for. It isn’t the kind of society we’re building.
We should relish the fact that every person is unique, with their own talents and abilities. Diversity is a strength and we should play to it, so that everyone can make the most of their skills.
Some will do better than others – that’s a fact of life. Some will need help – and a Conservative Government will be there to help them. That’s a fact of life too. But all should have the same opportunities and choices.
My aim is to make Britain the best place in the world to live.
Is that a pipe-dream? We aren’t the same size as some countries and don’t have the raw materials or climate of others.
But we do have something quite unique. We have our history. Our instincts. Our national character. We have, above all, the British people.
And thanks to their hard work, Britain is in an enviable economic position.
We’re enjoying growing prosperity – and, as we look forward, we can expect hard work to be rewarded with higher living standards, year in year out.
The present prospects are very bright.
And stability and prosperity are already giving even more people the opportunity to get ahead in life, the chance to realise their dreams and ambitions. Ahead of us is opportunity for all – irrespective of background.
All of us here today share values that are instinctively Conservative. Some of you – or your parents or grand parents – have risked everything by leaving your country of birth and settling here. Your livelihood depended on your enterprise, your determination to come to Britain to give you and your families a better life.
If you say to a gathering of British citizens whose fathers or grandfathers came from Asia or the Caribbean, “Look, we’ve all done a lot better than we ever expected, and life together is a happier experience than anyone would have supposed thirty years back”, you are bound to be accused of complacency.
But I am going to say that.
I believe the general record since the sixties is a good one – a record of living together, getting along with one another, of general decency. It utterly contradicts the fears which were so widespread in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Many decent people feared racial tension – that there’d be riots, killings and endemic hatred, a trench war between dark and light-skinned peoples.
The press was heavy with speculative articles about the rage pent up and waiting for explosion, the backlash which was so certain to come. Commentators deplored racism while waiting excitedly upon events.
But the great trench war between the races never happened.
Why is it those fears were so wrong?
I believe it was thanks to the fundamental goodwill and decency of the British people. And politicians recognised that and built on it.
Plenty of perfectly decent people were unsure about whether actual formal legislation on racial equality, the actual out-lawing of the colour bar, was a wise move.
They feared the backlash and doubted the possibility of making good by law. That’s a respectable point of view, but also quite wrong. Public goodwill and decency existed Out there in the country, but had to be given a lead. If freedom includes freedom to run a colour bar, and bureaucracy forbids colour bars as evil, then that bureaucracy is right and that freedom is wrong.
Politicians agreed on how to tackle the problems. We had fine leadership on the race issue from many in all parties.
The best expression of the consensus is – not surprisingly to me – in the words of lain Macleod. Listen to what he told a Conservative Conference:
“I believe quite simply in the brotherhood of man – men of all races, of all colours, of all creeds. I think it is this that must be in the centre of our thinking. .”
Macleod went on:
“And this is coming. There are foolish men who will deny it, but they will be swept away…”
And they were swept away – not by legislation alone but by the British people. It was the British character that won the day. Civil, decent and tolerant.
Society is an unimaginably complex thing made up of little threads and small actions. It works through a blurring of sharp edges, a million acts and omissions. And the acts and omissions of most people in recent decades are ones which imply acceptance and tolerance.
Yes, tolerance. Tolerance is the real test of civilisation. Most of the relationships between people turn upon tolerance. It’s tolerance that confounded the forecasters of doomsday.
“Oh,” says smart, knowing opinion. “Is that all? Tolerance? What a banal commonplace, little thing.” Yes, indeed. It is so banal, so commonplace this tolerance, that it is Alpha and Omega. It is so little a thing that if it disappears, men die.
If you disbelieve me look at Srebrenica. That’s a warning of what happens when people no longer tolerate other religions or values or races. Tolerance had disappeared. Civility vanished.
Civility goes far beyond politeness. It’s a breakwater against first thoughts and worst instincts. It inhibits anger, pulls away from prejudice. Civil people acknowledge other people – they respect their cultures and traditions.
To take a concrete example, I think most civil people would share my concern about an approach some have to Islam.
If you were to play the game of word association – you know, think of a word, then follow with the first next word you associate it with – I fear that I know what would too often follow the word “Islamic”.
It would be “fundamentalism”.
Now where all extremism or militancies do occur – Christian, Moslem or Political – I am going to be against them.
But “Islamic fundamentalism” – how glibly it trips off the tongue. It comes out for all the world as if there were no other things which go with “Islamic”.
But there are. And we must resist the temptation to judge a race or religion by its least worthy members.
Because what is salient about Muslims – just as it is about Sikhs and Hindus – in Britain is that they respect the law, secular and religious, that they cherish the family and bring children up by earnest moral standards, that they are good citizens.
They were attracted to Britain by our values – values that have brought people here for centuries. The Flemings, Huguenots, Jews.
There’s a new, twentieth century word to describe our kind of society. Multi-cultural. I prefer a different word – cosmopolitan. Our trading history has, in every sense, broadened our horizons and outlook. They brought with them skills, enterprise, innovation.
Their background did not stand in the way of success. They melded into the landscape of British society – and long may that continue.
Today, neither race, nor colour, nor religion, nor background must stand in our way.
If the man in the same office, cursing the same computer when it goes down, following the same football team, grumbling about the same café menu, has a different complexion, then it’s just about the only thing different about him. His job, his family, his hopes, his fears, his allegiances, his experiences are often otherwise all the same.
Life is lived, people join, people belong.
Darkness, lightness – that’s a difference losing significance with every day crossed off the calendar.
A quick glimpse at Britain today and you cannot miss the tremendous contribution the ethnic community makes to our country. From footballers to lawyers, businessmen to pop stars, newsreaders to doctors – they’re all adding to and sharing in Britain’s success.
And their success has come from hard work, enterprise, innovation. Making the most out of opportunities that come their way. That’s the kind of nation we Conservatives believe in and are creating.
The Challenge Ahead
I don’t wish to paint a picture of utopia. There is much still to be done. I don’t pretend that the prospects for the young black man in Brixton is yet as open to talent as it is to the young white man in the Home Counties. It clearly isn’t.
But we must try and make it so.
Jobs, crime, education – these aren’t purely racial issues – and no purely racially based solution would solve them. But many of these problems do bear disproportionately on ethnic minorities; unemployment rates are significantly worse for all ethnic minority teenagers. And black households are twice as likely to be burgled as white households.
The institutional barriers of racism and prejudices that stood in people’s way might have begun to crumble. But we still have more to do to entrench and broaden opportunity.
Politically correct policies won’t achieve this. No man or woman wants to succeed because of their colour. They wish to succeed on merit.
Few things would inflame racial tension more than trying to bias systems in favour of one colour – a reverse discrimination that fuels resentment. An artificial bias would damage the harmony we treasure. Equality under the law – yes; equality of opportunity and reward – yes. These promote harmony.
Policy must be colour blind – it must just tackle disadvantage. Faced by British citizens, whatever their background might be.
But how do you achieve equality of opportunity?
It begins with education.
Over the last few years we’ve opened up our schools so parents – and taxpayers – can see how well they’re performing. That hasn’t always made comfortable reading. Too often bad schools are found where we need good schools the most – in areas where education is a lifeline of hope.
Ironically, the councils whose schools score the poorest results are Labour controlled – the party that says education is their ‘priority’. In many of their areas it’s so bad it needs to be made a priority. Their politicians make the most of our reforms, enjoying the choice we’ve given them, but seek to deny it to other parents, leaving them to suffer the shoddy teaching their children have left behind. Equality of opportunity rings hollow coming from their lips.
We’re helping those children who suffer from such education with practical policies. Testing children on the basic skills, and giving parents the results. Inspecting schools on a regular basis. And, when it’s really necessary, closing down failing schools.
If young people aren’t able to read, write and add up from an early age, their chances of getting a rewarding job suffer a crippling blow.
That’s why literacy is so crucial.
We’re setting up literacy centres to pinpoint our efforts on those who need help most. On top of the tens of millions of pounds we’re already spending to help pupils who don’t have English as their first language, this will be another lever to raise standards.
But that isn’t enough – we need to promote success and give excellence the freedom to flourish.
Not every child is the same and they shouldn’t be forced to fit into a rigid education system.
Every parent wants their child to be given the best education – and they’re the ones who know those children the best.
So they should be in the driving seat of deciding what kind of education their children receive.
Specialist schools, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and – yes, if parents want them – grammar schools. This is the choice we’re opening up.
Creating a system that gives children an education that opens up a world of enjoyment, pleasure and potential. An education that prepares them for today’s modem hi-tech workplace, where getting a job becomes more competitive by the day.
Almost alone in Europe, we’re enjoying falling unemployment. Britain is bucking the trend in spectacular fashion.
This month, unemployment fell by 45,000 – down to its lowest rate for nearly six years.
Over the last four years, Britain has created 900,000 extra jobs – more than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.
Put it another way, since 1992 we’ve created the equivalent of two jobs every working minute – over 100 jobs every working hour.
We’ve given people the tools – lower taxes, stable prices, a competitive edge – and they’ve created more jobs. Without the costly burdens of red tape and regulation that are weighing down European companies, British enterprise is winning the day.
I know how tempting some of the policies of our political opponents might sound. New rights, new conditions, new minimum wages. But forcing employers to pay more to employ people means they won’t be able to take on new workers – but might end up sacking existing ones.
And who will suffer? The young, the unemployed.
Youth unemployment is 29% in France and 43% in Spain. That’s not a coincidence. Both countries have a minimum wage.
Unemployment is not the kind of future I want for our young people – and it’s them I’m thinking of when I say ‘no’ to the minimum wage and Social Chapter. Why copy the mistakes other countries are making when things are going so well here?
Unemployment is falling right across Britain – in every region, including the traditional employment wilderness of Northern Ireland – it’s now below 10%. That hasn’t happened for over 17 years. Some people used to point at certain areas and say they were no-go areas for new jobs. We’ve shown that doesn’t have to be so.
Like the inner cities, where people need opportunities the most, but where it’s hardest to get a foot on the ladder.
I was a councillor in an inner city once. I saw the problems people faced.
And all too often socialist thinking made matters worse. It was well-intentioned – but wrong. Generations of wrong-headed policies in the inner cities drove away jobs with punitive business rates.
The ambitious and the enterprising were driven from the inner cities by municipal controls and union driven services.
Bad local government policy shut out new business with political correctness and impossible demands and self serving red tape. And the minority groups in our country often suffered most from this policy failure.
But now look what’s happening.
Bricks and mortar, jobs and hope are flooding back.
Government-backed projects should create or preserve 600,000 new jobs, improve or complete more than a quarter of a million homes, and help over 92,000 businesses start up. Altogether, some £4 billion will be available over the next three years for local re-generation.
Concrete proof that freeing enterprise, trusting private business, attracting investment spells new jobs, new opportunities, new hope.
There’s more to do.
Bring in more private capital. Break up monolithic council estates. Encourage more home ownership. Create more jobs. Build houses on a human scale.
It’s a massive task. One I care about. But it can be done and we will bring in plans to do it.
The people Labour have deserted, we’re helping – not with soundbites and smiles, but sound policies and substance. Labour’s heartlands reinvigorated by Conservative policies.
Law and Order
These policies aim not just to make people better off, but feel more secure.
Safe streets and secure homes should not be a priority only for those in the leafy suburbs. Living free from fear is something every person should be able to enjoy. 5,000 more police constables by 1999, 10,000 more closed circuit televisions, tougher sentences for persistent offenders – these are practical policies to fight crime that has blighted too many communities.
I spoke earlier about tolerance and civility. Sadly, there’s a small minority who do not share those values. They incite racial hatred and violence.
That’s why we’ve given the police greater powers to deal with racially inflammatory material.
But all too often, it’s verbal abuse that causes distress. Continuous snide, offensive language, designed to hurt. So we’ve strengthened the penalties available for intentional harassment and our new proposals will make the law stronger still.
I’ve never been a victim of racial discrimination, but any decent person would agree that those kind of acts are utterly repugnant in a civilised nation like Britain. They have no place in our country – and never in our Party.
The Conservative Party/Peroration
The Party I joined is one that governed for the whole nation – because it represented the whole nation. You can’t tie a label to the Conservative Party. To me, that’s part of its attraction.
We should remind people more often that the Conservative Party is an inclusive party – open to all.
Its roots are sunk deep across the country. It must always be so.
We have always had an alliance with people from all walks of life. That must always be so too.
So to those of you here today and many beyond, I say that if you share our beliefs you are welcome.
If you share our love of country, you have a place in our Party – in our associations, in our councils, in our Parliament.
As an inclusive Party, we seek to build an inclusive Britain.
We know how far we’ve come. We know what still needs to be done. We know how to do it.
And if the work can be finished, we can then truly say “Britain is the best place in the world to live”.