The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at Rotary Club Lunch in Florida – 30 January 2006

The text of Sir John Major’s speech held at the Rotary Club Lunch in Florida on 30th January 2006.


Delighted to be here. The United States and the United Kingdom have been close allies for a very long time.

Once, America was British – until George III was foolish enough to let her go. Although we British regard that as only a temporary setback.

Some time ago, in the late 18th Century, the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, was reflecting on Britain’s relationship with America and realised he had not heard from his Ambassador to Washington for a long time. He picked up his pen and wrote to his Secretary of State: “If we have not heard from our Ambassador in another year …. we should send a note.”

Today, the leisurely world of William Pitt is long gone.

Except, in many parts of the world, the privation and primitive life that existed in Pitt’s time, still exists today.

The work that Mercy Ships does is invaluable. No-one else does it so well – and few even attempt to do so. Don and Deyon Stephens have seen Mercy Ships grow from the seeds of what was once only a dream – into a global reality. The lives of many hundreds of people – in far away lands – have been changed in ways that to them, quite simply, seem a miracle.

And among the miracle-makers are great benefactors like Charlie Towers. Charlie – as you know of course – is a one-off. But we need others like Charlie to help.

Let me tell you why.


Hawa was born deformed in a tiny village in Sierra Leone, arguably the poorest country in the world.

A common toothache as a child turned into a severe noma and ate away her nose and upper lip. She was scarred. Hideously deformed. Other children ran from her in fright. Hawa stayed hidden away. She hated the constant stares and provocation when she ventured out. No Prince on a white charger came along to rescue Hawa from her misery. And so her young life continued.

At 16 – despite her deformity – she was married off for a dowry. Her first children, twins, died at birth – cursed, villagers thought, by their mother’s own ugliness. Two other children came along but generally she was ignored – and ultimately rejected – by her husband.

Rebel forces invaded and attacked Hawa’s village. She fled with her young children and spent three years in the bush – isolated and alone.

None of the other refugees she came across would give her any support of shelter. They did not hide their repulsion at her physical appearance and wanted nothing to do with her.

Finally, Hawa found her way to a refugee camp but even there her children were constantly taunted and bullied by the other children at school due to their strange looking mother.

At the end of the war Hawa and her children returned to her home village only to find it destroyed. Hawa’s house had been burned to the ground. Absolutely nothing remained.

They scraped by together until the day Hawa’s son heard of a Mercy Ship coming into Freetown. Somehow, the family found the money for transport and Hawa attended a clinic.

She was accepted as a patient. Her treatment took many months as her face was slowly rebuilt. During all that time, her mouth was sewn tight together but she still managed to communicate an indomitable spirit and a sense of humour that had remained hidden so deep for so long.

Hawa’s eyes spoke volumes whilst her healing mouth could not. The pain finally lifted from her face – not just the physical pain but also the inner pain she had been suffering from over forty years of rejection.

At the end of her treatment, Hawa was keen to return to her village to show off her new, healed face. As she left the Mercy Ship she managed to whisper out of the side of her mouth: “No-one has ever shown me so much care and concern. No-one has made me feel that I belong. Now I do. Please tell my story so that others can learn to be loved and accepted too.”

So I have.

That is what Mercy Ships does. Their ships treat both trivial and major ailments. They cure pain and hurt. They change people’s lives. They bring hope where there is none. That is why, when I was invited to become their Patron, I accepted without hesitation. It is why I am here today: in the hope that you can help Mercy Ships continue and expand their work.

We are privileged. We live in a world Hawa would not recognise.

In China, India and Asia an economic revolution is tilting world growth from West to East. Every time I visit the Far East, I come away with two emotions: admiration at their progress and foreboding about how competitive they have become. No-one can ignore this new Leviathan.

Nothing is as it was: nothing will be as it is.

Amid these shifting sands, we are wise to look with care at the future. Russia has become more attractive economically, but is showing worrying signs of slipping back politically. The Middle-East is a powder-keg.

I am not just talking here about Iraq, Iran, or the Middle East Peace Process although each of these is potentially disruptive. Other countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria – could also de-stabilise the region. Elsewhere – in the Near East and Latin America – growing economies are beginning to flex stronger economic muscles.

No-one should be surprised. There is no immutable law of economics to say that growth must always be led by the industrial West.

Historically, it was not: for 1800 years China had the largest economy in the world: then in the early 19th century, the West had an industrial revolution – and the East did not.

Now, once again, the growth of China holds centre stage. Can she overhaul the industrial West? Well, yes – she already is, but not as a phoenix rising; it is more an old nation re-asserting herself. The Chinese were making silk and pottery before the Egyptians built the Pyramids, and before ancient Britons built Stonehenge.

They perfected suspension bridges, when the British still lived in mud huts and the only citizens of North America lived in wigwams.

It is a wondrous sight and one I never thought I’d see: a once closed Communist economy marching out into the Capitalist world.

But not all is rosy for China. Adopting quasi capitalism means she must face the problems of the free market such as unemployment and the migration of labour from rural areas into the cities. It means confronting problems of pollution, water scarcity and energy needs.

Ironically, 9½% growth per year brings its own problems. Economic wellbeing leads to greater expectations: to resentment of a growing disparity of wealth; demands for a social welfare system; to an appetite for more self-government. Shanghai does not wish to be micro-directed from Beijing.

It means China must overcome a paradox that will challenge Communist rule: to retain popular support, the Government need successful economic growth, but to obtain that they must loosen their grip on the regions. This is alien to their philosophy, but essential to China’s well-being.

For the last quarter of a century, the principal engines of world growth have been the US, Japan and the EU. Soon, China, non-Japanese Asia and India will join them. As a result, growth in the world economy will be better balanced than ever before – which is excellent news economically – but the price for the democracies of the West is that political power will be more widespread.

The threats our nations face are different too. Once, nuclear confrontation. Now, it is terrorism.

Terrorism has been with us since ancient times: but now it is globalising. Thus far, the worst atrocity has been in New York, but Bali, Jerusalem, London, Moscow, Tokyo all bear the mark of terror. Moreover, terror has developed a particular flavour: it has become a tool of religious groups and a vehicle to oppose the free market system.

Terrorism can cause mayhem – but often it merely entrenches more securely what it wishes to destroy: it is – ultimately – an ineffective way to bring about change. Gandhi did far better at changing minds than Bin Laden ever will.

The threat we face is the attempt to radicalise Islam; to set Muslim against non-Muslim by playing upon prejudice and by fostering hatred.

Terrorism and democracy are polar opposites. They cannot co-exist. One must defeat the other. If democracy is to win, terrorism must lose.

To ensure that, we need policing action against terror groups now, as well as political action to undermine their message … and make it difficult for them to spread their contagion in the future.

We need to work with other nations threatened by terrorism … to deny terrorists safe havens, cut off their financing, and stem the flow of recruits. Democracy must deny them their causes. And, to defeat the ideological threat, we must understand the motives that drive them if we are to win over the minds of those who have sympathy with them.

We will win this battle: but we will win it more speedily if democracies work together to stop the free movement of terrorists; attack money laundering; reduce their supply of weapons; agree extradition; and penalise States that fund terror. So much, I think, is obvious – although not all of it is done.

In much of the world radical ideology tells us daily that the religion of Islam is under attack. Al Qaeda assert this as an article of faith.

Radicals use this fiction as a recruiting sergeant.

The Radicals case is crude propaganda, and wrong, but it is effective. To rebut it, democracy must lessen the opportunities for demagogues to exploit hardship to promote Terrorism. We must fight for the hearts and minds of those into whose ears radical poison is poured. Words alone will not do: we must accept obligations that show the morality of democracy.

Mercy Ships does that. So do other charities.

But Governments need to do so as well.

One example stands out. Our world has six billion souls. Of these six billion, one-half live on less than US$ 2 per day, and one-fifth on less than US$ 1 per day. This cannot be acceptable. The rich nations do much to help. At present, the rich nations spend US$ 50 billion in total on overseas aid: an enormous sum. But less generous than it seems when you realise that Europe and America also spend US$ 350 billion on agricultural subsidies alone.

To put that into context: we spend seven times as much subsidising cheap food for those already well-fed, as the whole world spends on all the needs of those with no food in their bellies at all.

I believe that common humanity suggests that – if we are right to wage war on terror – and we are – then it is right to wage war on poverty and hardship as well.

And it is in our interests to remove grievances, to cut away the resentment of the “have-nots” for the “haves”. Moreover, as we act, we foreclose on misery and hardship to come and undercut the message of hate that fuels radicalism.

Unless we act in our generation, we will bequeath a problem to the next generation that they cannot solve.

They will have enough problems – on energy, environment, pensions – in a world changing faster than ever before.

Our children born today will see the conquest of the stars.

They will live longer, see more, do more, know more than any earlier generation. They will see deserts bloom. See a genetic rebuilding of failing bodies. Live with technical innovations beyond our present imagination. It will be a world unrecognisable to their forebears. A world with new and ever more complex problems. Let us not leave them to solve ours as well.

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Mercy Ships is the “Good”.

That is why it has my support – and I hope yours too.