The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1997Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Conservative Party Rally – 22 February 1997

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Party Rally, held in Birmingham on Saturday 22nd February 1997.



I am delighted to be here in Birmingham today.

Birmingham is one of the great industrial cities of the world. It’s a superb shop window for the United Kingdom.

Each year, the G7 group of industrial nations meets to discuss policy. In recent years, they’ve been joined by Russia. Next year, the United Kingdom will hold the presidency of the G7 taking over from the United States.

I’ve decided that Britain will host next year’s G7 summit here in Birmingham. The great economic nations of the world will meet in one of the great industrial cities of the world.

Between now and then, we must achieve something never done before – a fifth successive election victory.

The question we’ll face is simple: “After 18 years, why 5 more?”

Well the answer to that is easy: it’s because on all the main issues we’re right and – as usual – Labour is wrong.

After the election the government will inherit the soundest economy Britain has known for generations.

We built it and I intend we shall inherit it.

The longest consistent fall in unemployment since Ted Heath was Prime Minister. The longest period of low inflation since Mr Churchill was Prime Minister. The lowest basic rate of income tax since Mr Baldwin was Prime Minister. The lowest level of strikes since – well, since Mr Gladstone was Prime Minister. Britain is becoming the economic success story of Europe.

That’s a fact. You can’t hide it.

These days Britain’s economic success is so obvious – even Labour daren’t deny it.

So they claim it would be safe with them.

Well, you have to admire their nerve; they opposed our spending plans, tax changes, privatisations, deregulation – they opposed every single policy that has delivered success.

And then they claim they can carry forward the success of these policies.

They also claim they can be trusted with the unity of Britain when their priority is to break it up into smaller parts.

And they say they can be trusted on Europe, when their policy is to copy its mistakes.

On three main election battlegrounds – the economy, Europe, the Constitution – Labour are wrong, wrong and wrong again.

The Foot-in-the-Door Salesmen

To understand what New Labour is all about, you need to put yourselves in Labour’s shoes. When you’ve been wrong all your life what do you do?

Imagine the PR men’s advice.

“Ditch your past. Don’t say what you’d do. Just say what you’re against. Avoid details. Dream up gimmicks for headlines. Copy Tory language. And – above all – don’t forget to smile”.

New Labour is one great marketing scam. They only say what they are told the customer would like to hear. The exact characteristic of the foot-in-the-door salesman.

Nothing is quite what it seems. It depends on who they’re speaking to.

They are for grammar schools in the Wirral, but against them at the Party Conference. They are for lower taxes in The Times. But in favour of more spending in The Guardian. They are tough on crime in The Daily Mail. But soft on crime in the House of Commons. Put it altogether, and what do you get?

The world’s first:

Federalist – Nationalist,

Unilateralist – Militarist,

tax-cutting, more spending,

grammar school loving, grammar school hating,

socialist, non-socialist party.

There’s an old story of a seasoned politician who was once asked what time it was by a voter.

“What time would you like it to be?” he replied. That, in a nutshell, is New Labour policy.

If it would win a vote, please a newspaper editor, satisfy a pressure group, Labour would say anything.

If it would win two votes, they’d believe anything.

And if it would win three votes, they’d do anything.

They’re prepared to disregard the views of a lifetime in the briefing of a lunchtime.

As day succeeds day, the fraud that is New Labour becomes more transparent.

You can’t take at face value a word that Labour say. That’s why they’re so dangerous.

The Labour Leader claims he and his Party have changed.

Well the oratory has changed.

But have Labour really changed?

New Labour runs Liverpool – the council with the highest Council Tax. No change there.

New Labour runs Sheffield – the council with the largest number of empty homes. No change there.

And, of course, New Labour runs Islington, the council with the worst education results in England. No change there.

Mr Blair says – and I quote, “I don’t think the character of any party becomes clear until you’re in power”.

Let’s take his word for it. In all these councils New Labour are in power.

And what do we see?

New Labour – same old story.

One thing is clear, locally or nationally, you can’t trust Labour with Britain’s future.

Why Five More Years

But why does Britain need five more years of Conservative Government?

Not just to protect what we’ve achieved but because there’s much to be done.

In the 80s and early 90s we curbed inflation, extended private ownership, began to reform our schools and hospitals, toughened up the law.

We should be confident and proud of what we’ve done.

In the Tory years, the quality of life has been transformed.

No other Party would have attempted it – let alone achieved it.

But the Conservative reforms aren’t over – not by a long chalk.

Now we must carry them forward.

What is it people are still concerned about?

Where are the areas that still need reform?

They’re the areas where the state still has too much control.

Where the consumer is swamped by bureaucracy and the individual is forgotten.


Take education.

I believe parents have a simple wish: to know that when they send their children to school, that school – paid for by their taxes – will give their children a decent education.

They should be able to count on that.

After years of reform, our Manifesto will give them a Guarantee of Standards. The first pillar will be tests.

In the next Parliament we’ll test children at 7, 11 and 14.

We’ll publish the results so that parents can see how their children are progressing, and teachers can discover how much their pupils have learnt.

And we’ll change the way tests are marked, so children get scores out of 100. I think you’ll agree that’s common sense.

It’s also common sense that every child is different.

So we will go on creating a range of schools, breaking up the drab slab of a solely comprehensive system.

More grant-maintained schools.

More specialist schools.

And, yes, more grammar schools.

If that’s what parents like, that’s what parents will get. Labour can’t bear any of this.

They wriggle, they writhe. They twist, they turn.

Never mind watching their lips – watch the agony on their faces as they perform their lingual gymnastics, trying to hide their hatred for choice and their dislike of diversity.

Grant-maintained schools, grammar schools, assisted places – we Conservatives believe in extending choice, not opposing it. It’s the basis of our philosophy.

And how Labour detest it.

But choice is meaningless unless it’s a choice of good schools.

A choice of bad schools is no choice at all and, tragically, in some Labour education authorities, that’s all you get.

We can already take over schools that are failing their children, but sometimes the problem isn’t just with the school – it’s with the education authority itself.

So where education authorities are failing, we’ll create new powers to take them over to drive up standards.

Labour will say, “But you have had 18 years to sort out education. Why has it taken so long?”

That’s rich, coming from them. Who’s opposed all our reforms? Labour. And here’s a fact for the doorstep.

The twenty education authorities with the worst education results are, without exception, traditional Labour authorities.

It’s their attitudes and their schools that have been failing our children.

So, after the election, I intend to ask the Government’s watchdog on standards – OFSTED – to examine, in turn, every single one of those failing education authorities.

We’ll improve them if we can, and replace them if we can’t.

We’re going to join the parents’ revolt against Labour education.

And if you don’t think there’s a revolt around ask them in Islington.

43 per cent of Islington’s parents agree.

They send their children to secondary schools outside the borough.

Some of them are rather well known parents.

43 per cent.

Parents running from councils like Islington.

Socialist-run councils – with Socialists running away from them, as fast as they can.

The People versus the Planners

That’s socialists for you.

Well-intentioned, but in love with controlling things.

But just look at our inner cities, choked by the dead hand of socialist planning.

We’ve brought in private investment and enterprise. And that public-private partnership is transforming what were once no-go areas for jobs and business.

But the toughest challenge still remains: large housing estates, soulless blocks where the only sense of community was snuffed out long ago, that have become deserts of despair.

Parties of every colour built them, thinking they were the right way ahead.

But they’ve become places where poor education, drugs, crime have created a vicious downward spiral.

Where people live dependent on the state, but are let down by local councils who own their homes.

Where the worst poverty is poverty of hope.

These estates are concrete proof that the old way – of hoping the state and councils can provide for all our needs – has failed.

These people deserve the chance to rebuild their communities and their lives.

Ours is a fresh approach, giving tenants the opportunity to vote to transfer their homes to new landlords.

This is People Power – giving people the chance to control their own lives.

To create a new community.

It isn’t just bricks and mortar that matter. It’s training and jobs, raising education standards, tackling crime.

It’s the community itself.

Our commitment is to transform the worst estates across the whole of the country and the lives of those who live on them.

We won’t solve it in a year – or even a Parliament.

But it can be done and will be done – by the next Conservative Government.

Just this week, we announced that tenants on 40 housing estates stand to benefit from millions of pounds to help the private sector transform 22,000 homes.

22,000 homes.

22,000 families.

I bet you didn’t read about that in your newspapers.

It probably didn’t merit a headline in some.

But that’s the reality of life in Conservative Britain.

As Britain grows stronger, more and more people are beginning to feel the warmth of prosperity touch their lives, whoever they are, wherever they live.

That’s why Labour have to knock it.

A week doesn’t pass without them kicking their favourite political football – the National Health Service.

Just look at the service they attack.

More patients being treated than ever before.

Shorter waiting times.

Better treatment.

Why is our health service such a success?

Not just because we’re spending more on it, though we are.

But because we’re giving the money to the hospitals and doctors themselves who know best how to use it.

Under Labour, bureaucracy would come back at the stroke of a pen.

They’d strip hospitals and family doctors of their freedoms and smother them with new layers of bureaucracy.

Our modern health service would be thrown into turmoil as Labour pushed it back to its bad old ways.

That’s not the way we should go.

We’re going to give more freedom to doctors and nurses. They’ll be able to offer more care in surgeries and nearer home.

And – where they want to – create a new generation of cottage hospitals, so patients can be treated by professionals they know in their own community.

And the same applies to our social services.

We’re going to end the politically correct regulations, which stopped couples who want to adopt children from doing so.

Regulations like this might sound petty. But to a couple who long to raise a family they can, quite literally, stand in the way of making a lifetime’s dreams come true. That’s the heart of the matter.

Politically correct beliefs that prevent this don’t fit into the British way of life.

The Constitution

Britain’s progress – our prosperity, widening choice, opportunity – depends on one thing: stability.

Labour’s plans for Britain would rip up our nation’s fabric up by the roots. “The most radical” constitutional change our country has ever seen, they boast.

A tax raising parliament in Scotland.

An assembly in Wales.

A splattering of regional assemblies across England.

And a referendum on changing the voting system to PR.

Why in the name of sanity do they want to start cutting up this country of ours? Why risk Britain’s success?

Devolution is the ransom Labour would pay to buy off the voices of separation. But it wouldn’t buy them off – it would just build up their appetite.

Then there’s PR. That’s the price they’d pay for the support of the Liberal Democrats. Why else does Mr Blair want a referendum on PR? He says he’s against PR and against referendums.

The constitution, the Union, British history – they are all pawns to New Labour.

No price is too high.

Nothing too sacred.

Labour are after votes – at any price.

“What’s the point of history? What relevance has that to the future” they say. “New Labour, no history”.

Well, Mr Chairman – let’s make New Labour old history.

We treasure the stability and security of our Constitution.

Careful reform that builds for tomorrow – yes. Reckless change – no.

The Labour leader hasn’t the first idea how his plans would work. He’s like a weak contestant on Mastermind.

“Name?” “Tony Blair.”

“Occupation?” “Demolition specialist.”

“Subject?” “British Constitution.”

Would Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster be able to vote on matters affecting England, but not Scotland?


If someone from Birmingham was employed by a Scottish company, would they pay the tartan tax?


Why should Scotland get a tax-raising parliament, but Wales only an assembly. What have the Scottish done to deserve such a fate? Why not trust the Welsh?


Would regional assemblies duplicate the power of local government and Westminster?


And so it goes on, and so on, and so on.

“At the end of that round, Mr Blair, you were asked twenty questions – and you passed on them all”.

Labour haven’t begun to think through the implications of their plans. And yet this would be their priority for government.

The last Labour Government fell, tied up in knots of devolution.

It was a complete failure. That’s where Old Labour stopped. And this is where New Labour would begin.

That’s not a route map for Britain’s tomorrow. It’s a masterplan for disaster. And it’s deadly.


And if devolution wasn’t enough, there’s Europe.

Here Labour would damage both our economy and our constitution.

They want us to follow the European way of doing things – the European Social Model.

It’s that old-fashioned approach: you pretend governments can protect jobs by imposing regulations and burdens on business.

All Labour have done is dress it up in new words: stakeholding. Social justice, social partnership.

New words to try to camouflage reality.

But they can’t.

Over 4 million Germans, over 3 million French and about 3 million Italians know that. They’re all unemployed.

That’s over 10 million people in Europe without a stake in a job.

Where’s the social justice in that?

They have a message that Labour should listen to.

“Give us our jobs back.”

And unless we want to lose jobs in the same way, Britons should listen too.

Labour tells us we shouldn’t be isolated in Europe.

Translated, that means “You may be getting back to work in Britain, but really you should be joining your European colleagues on the dole”.

By signing the Social Chapter and inflicting a minimum wage, Labour would conscript British youngsters into the growing army of the European unemployed.

That’s the message: if you want to get people into jobs don’t give one to a Labour MP.

And that’s only part of the picture.

Labour wish to undermine our veto and hand more power to the European Union.

They’re prepared to ransack the Westminster Parliament of its power.

Some would go to Edinburgh; some to Cardiff; some to the regions; and some to Europe. Parliament could keep what’s left.

A United Kingdom reduced to regions, each competing one against another, with no one voice, no common cause, no national purpose.

A Europe of the Regions, the Europe so beloved of Robin Cook.

This surely cannot be the future for us.

To consign it to the long list of failed, discredited policies New Labour, Old Labour, any old Labour have to their name.

We don’t take this position because focus groups say so. Nor out of party political advantage.

We do so because we believe what Labour is proposing threatens this United Kingdom of ours with change on an unprecedented scale.


We should be more confident as a nation about what we’ve done, what we are, what we stand for.

If I had one wish, it would be that we could see ourselves as others see us.

As one of the most secure democracies in the world. An outstanding success story. A nation enjoying a renaissance in enterprise.

Behind us lie 18 years of building the foundations for rising prosperity.

When we came to power in 1979, Britain was derided as the sick man of Europe. Today we are admired as the success story of Europe.

The spirit of hope is around and growing by the day.

We must build on that and broaden the smile across the face of Britain. We have a tale to tell that cannot be denied.

Let’s not put it at risk.

The polling booth is not a casino. Not a place to gamble with Britain’s future. It’s the opportunity to secure our future.

An opportunity we Conservatives have created, and only we can build on.