The text of the speech made by Sir John Major in Solihull on 21 April 2015.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
In 16 days’ time, the people of the United Kingdom will elect our next Government.
Five years ago, we were on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, we’re creating jobs, increasing investment and reducing taxes.
So – there is a very simple choice to make: do you vote for the Party that presided over economic chaos: or the Party that has led us out of that chaos?
If current predictions are correct, Labour’s only route into Number 10 is by some form of multi-Party arrangement.
The Welsh Nationalists, the Greens and the SNP are willing to support Labour –at a price – and there is no doubt what that price would be: more borrowing, more spending, an end to welfare reform, and far more people dragged into higher tax brackets.
In Wales, the Nationalists will ask Labour for more money to rescue their health service – and that is ironic, since Plaid Cymru are keen to point out that it’s the Labour Party in Wales who wrecked the Welsh NHS in the first place.
The Greens will seek a pledge to spend more money on everything. But, however worthy Green policy may be, it is – quite simply – a recipe for economic self-harm.
That leaves the SNP.
If Labour were to accept an offer of support from them, it could put us on course to a Government held to ransom on a vote by vote basis.
And we would pay the price.
Last Autumn, Scotland voted narrowly to remain within the Union. It was, the SNP promised, the end of the matter for a generation. I didn’t believe that for a moment, and now, we can see that they are merely waiting for a good excuse to put separation back on the agenda.
Current polls suggest the SNP will sweep Labour out of their Scottish strongholds. If they win even 35-40 seats – and that is well below the latest predictions – they will become a significant presence at Westminster.
If this happens – and no Party wins an overall majority – the SNP has offered to support Labour in an anti-Conservative alliance: they are, as you know, deeply Socialist. And by “support”, I don’t necessarily mean a formal partnership, but an informal understanding – perhaps even unacknowledged – to keep Labour in power.
So, Labour would be in hock to a Party that – slowly but surely – will push them ever further to the Left. And who would pay the price for that?
You would. We all would. We would all pay for the SNP’s ransom in our daily lives – through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt.
But that isn’t all. The SNP’s driving ambition is an independent Scotland and – as the price for their support – they will demand policies that favour Scotland at the expense, quite literally, of the rest of the UK. That is no way to run a country. And nor is it remotely fair to England, to Wales and to Northern Ireland.
The Labour leader in Scotland has already started down that route. He’s proposed that Labour’s new tax on the family home in England would raise funds for Scotland. The point of that is this: if a Labour leader asks for that, how much more will the SNP demand themselves And if this is the way Labour intends to behave towards England – how can they then say “No” to the SNP when they behave in the same way? And if Labour did say “No”, the SNP could withdraw support and bring down the Government at any time.
This is a recipe for mayhem. At the very moment that our country needs a strong and stable Government, we risk a weak and unstable one – pushed to the Left by its allies, and open to a daily dose of political blackmail.
The SNP at Westminster will have one key objective: to entrench SNP popularity in Scotland ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. That is their principal aim – and it creates a wretched dilemma for Labour. For whilst SNP support might put Mr Miliband into No 10 – the payback for Labour will be very costly indeed. For with every bribe Labour concedes, the more popular the SNP will become, and the more popular they become, the more likely it is the SNP will win the Scottish Parliament elections one year later.
And if the SNP do win next May, what will they do with their victory? I can tell you – they’ll demand a further Referendum on independence. They will either put that in their Manifesto, or claim it as an entitlement of their win. The once-in-a-generation vote will become a once-in-a-Parliament vote. That is their plan.
The SNP has a second tactic. It is to drive a wedge between Scotland and – especially – England. They will manufacture grievance, probably on an industrial scale, to make it more likely that any future Referendum would deliver a majority for independence. They will ask for the impossible, and create merry hell if it is denied. The nightmare of a broken United Kingdom has not gone away. The separation debate is not over. The SNP is determined to prise apart the United Kingdom.
I am a Unionist and I always have been. More than that, I admire Scotland and would hate to see our two countries part company.
Separation would not only be a leap in the dark for Scotland – it would diminish the UK. If chunks of your country fall off, you lose prestige and power.
And how much more narrow – and diminished – would we be as a nation? How would we feel if our neighbours – who happen to be Scots – suddenly became “foreigners”?
And what would it mean for Scotland?
Let me deal in fact, not hyperbole. The oil price is now barely half what the SNP has boasted about to make independence at all viable.
As the IFS – and Mr Miliband and Alistair Darling – have all pointed out, a Scotland with full fiscal autonomy would have a fiscal deficit of £7.6 billion.
For a nation of five million people – that’s huge. And – when pressed on that point – the SNP is wonderfully imprecise. But – beneath the evasion and the gobbledegook – one thing is clear: in any negotiations on the fiscal framework, the SNP expects the rest of the UK to pay a large portion of the bill.
And what of other promises they make? What of the SNP’s wish to join the European Union? The European Union will not easily – or swiftly – admit an independent Scotland. There is a queue to join, and Scotland will be at the back of that queue. And countries that face separatist threats – like Spain and Belgium – will hardly rush to admit a breakaway nation.
The unhappy truth for the Scots is that the SNP are promising what they cannot deliver. They are fooling themselves and misleading their own people. The SNP are more focused on gaining political power than on the long-term wellbeing of their country.
I warned again and again – in 1992 and in 1997 – that devolution would lead towards the break-up of the UK. For their own partisan electoral advantage, Labour ignored all the risks. No, they said, devolution would kill independence stone dead. It didn’t. All it did was to fan the flame. We have now moved on a long way from that. In the Referendum, belatedly – but to their credit – Labour fought for the Union. The Union was battered, but it survived. Now, it is put at risk again.
Let me not mince my words as I don’t wish to be misunderstood: the SNP is a real and present danger to our future. They will pit Scotland against England. That could be fatal to the people of Scotland – and to the unity of the UK as a whole.
And this election may bring that danger to the fore.
Let me turn to wider matters, and particularly to the economy.
Five years ago, people could not even be sure their money was safe in their high street bank. It was a very real fear.
Although Labour is in denial about their own role in that, they cannot avoid their share of responsibility. The Conservative-led Coalition has brought us back from the brink to the genuine prospect of prosperity. Much remains to be done. But growth is healthy: easily the best of any large economy in Europe. Inflation is non-existent. Job creation has been outstanding, and unemployment is falling more rapidly than anyone dared to hope. The future is most definitely looking brighter.
More so as the economy begins to feed through: wages and salaries are beginning to rise, with every expectation that this will continue.
Bookings for one particular package holiday company are up by 30% on last year. That is not the mega-rich. These are families on average incomes up and down the country. It is no longer a fantasy to believe that there are better times ahead – they are within our reach – but only if we continue with sensible economic policies.
Now, quite properly at this election, the Conservative Party seeks a majority on their own account. Polls suggest voting will be very tight, but I believe that we can achieve this. A few thousand votes in crucial seats will dramatically change the outcome.
Only a few thousand votes … would secure a Conservative majority Government. And we need one, because – beyond the election – some momentous issues lie ahead.
Can we keep the UK together?
Can we reform the European Union?
Can we spread prosperity across all regions of our United Kingdom?
Can we continue to build world-class health, education and public services?
Can we build sufficient infrastructure to encourage investment in areas of low income and high unemployment?
Can we protect people and communities who feel that they are left behind by the global economy?
I believe we can do all these things.
But only if we build growth through financial, commercial and industrial success. We will never do that by raising taxes and spooking the business community.
Good intentions are no substitute for properly-thought-through policy. In 1997, Labour inherited a healthy, growing economy. While they remained within Conservative spending plans it stayed healthy. But when they struck out on their own – with Mr Miliband and Mr Balls advising Gordon Brown at the Treasury – they left behind a recession, rising unemployment – and debt.
They blame the financial crash – but all one needs to do is pick up a history book. Every single Labour Government we have ever had – from Ramsay MacDonald to Gordon Brown – has ruined the economy. Every single time. There’s a pattern. Labour wrecks the economy. The Tories repair it but become unpopular in doing so. Labour are re-elected and wreck it again. It’s time to break that pattern.
Do you remember the note left by the last Labour Cabinet Minister responsible for spending? “Dear Chief Secretary”, he wrote, “I’m afraid there is no money left. Kind regards and good luck!”. Exclamation mark. Exclamation mark …….
Well, I credit him with honesty but I don’t share his humour. Nor, do I imagine, will the millions of men and women in every part of our country whose lives would have been so much less painful if Labour hadn’t squandered the legacy we left them.
In this election, Labour’s approach seems to be this – if you rob Peter to pay Paul – you can rely on the support of Paul. The truth is that if you rob Peter – by imposing punitive taxes – then you will hurt Paul, because Peter will invest less, create fewer jobs, and there will be a smaller tax yield to pay for essential public services.
High taxes are populist – they’re even popular with some. But they deaden enterprise. Quell ambition. Discourage the talented. Is that really what this country needs as we try and build a better future? I don’t think so.
After the Election, either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party will form – or at least lead – the new Government. We need a Government that can reach out to every single part of our country. And Labour can’t do that.
I know Labour. I grew up with them. I admire their virtues. But Labour is a class-based Party. It was born so and remains so. Class is in its DNA. Labour divides to rule. To win votes, they will turn rich against poor. North against South. Worker against boss. They have done this before. And they are doing it now. But it is emphatically not what this country needs. We need to bring people together, not create chasms to drive them apart.
The enduring characteristic of the British is fairness and generosity of spirit. I believe people will just turn away from Labour’s politics of social division. It has no place in a mature State.
Our future must be built on social cohesion and economic success. And we need to help people – all people – to meet their ambitions that – more often than not – relate to long-term security for themselves and their families: the most basic human emotion of them all.
That is why it is right to help people start – and grow – their own business. Or own their own home and, in due time, be able to pass on the value of that home to their children – not the Treasury. Or to have control over their lifetime savings for retirement.
We will never all be born equal. Life isn’t like that. But it is the Conservative mission to make opportunities in life as equal as we can make them. That is what first drew me to the Party nearly six decades ago. While Labour was offering me a hand “out”, the Conservatives offered me a hand “up”.
There are many young people now who are in the circumstances I was then. And they need a hand up too. Why would I give my lifetime’s work for a Party that didn’t help or didn’t care about people in need? We do care and we do help. We may not wear our heart on our sleeve but it beats just as strongly as any other Party in this country or in the world.
That is why – as the economy improves – David Cameron and George Osborne are working so hard to spread prosperity to the poorer regions of our country. That is what a Conservative Government is about. That is what being a Conservative means.
Is the election winnable for the Conservatives? I profoundly believe it is.
The Coalition Government can be proud of its legacy. Under the leadership of David Cameron, and the stewardship of George Osborne, our economy has been turned around. Every month, independent figures show this to be true. On growth; on job creation; on business formation. Our opponents deny this, while the IMF, the Germans and the rest of the world acknowledges it.
This turn-around has been achieved through the teeth of Labour’s opposition. They have taken every opportunity, month after month in Parliament, to talk down and oppose the Government’s economic policies – and undermine them in every way they can. They have been proved wrong time and time again.
Of course – as the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear – there is more to do but – at this moment – to turn away and turn aside would be perverse in the extreme.
* * * * *
Many years ago, I spoke of a nation at ease with itself. Events – and no doubt my own failings – meant I was unable to achieve this. It is a life-long regret. But that same wish is as alive in me today as it ever was, and I truly believe it is deliverable.
But only if the economy continues on its current course, so that wealth can spread into every part of the UK in fair measure: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We have just come through seven long years of national crisis. Let us make sure that something good comes out of that hardship.
I’m not running for Office any more. I don’t have to strike attitudes. I can say exactly what I wish. So let me say something to you that I feel from the very depths of my being.
Over recent years I have travelled to almost every corner of the world. And yet, my heart always lifts when I come home. With all its faults, all its problems, all its challenges, there is nowhere else I would rather be than here – in the United Kingdom.
Ours is a great and tolerant country, as free and honest in its dealings as any nation in the world. Even among our harshest critics, we have a moral authority few can match. We just need to have confidence in ourselves, who we are and what we can do
We can lift ourselves up to a better quality of life.
Sixteen days from now, this country will decide in whose hands they will entrust our future. And the choice is straightforward. It will be David Cameron or Ed Miliband who will become Prime Minister.
And however disaffected, disengaged – downright fed up – many may be with politics and politicians – let me repeat the very simple choice in front of you all on Polling Day: do you vote for the Party that presided over economic chaos; or the Party that has now led us out of it?
When you enter that private booth and pick up that stubby little pencil on 7 May – when all the noise and hubbub of this election campaign is over – that choice will, quite literally, be in your own hands.