Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at Peterborough Cathedral on Friday 10 June 2016.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
It is extraordinary that this is the 900th Anniversary of this great Cathedral.
Its foundations were laid over 50 years before the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett, and 100 years before Magna Carta opened a small chink towards democracy. In those days, one third of England was forest –
Today, it sits in the middle of a city, and the forest has long gone: although part of its wood survives in the great ceiling above us in this Nave.
Nine hundred years ago our dinner –
We would have had knives but no forks. We would have been discouraged from licking our fingers clean (very bad table manners), or taking too much food, or using bread to mop up morsels from the communal plate. And if we were wise, we would not have drunk the water. We would certainly have never imagined the future.
So much has happened since then and –
The role of the Cathedral has evolved over the centuries. Faith is more liberal now, more user-
Yet it remains massively important to its community. As part of the celebrations of this anniversary Peterborough 900 is raising funds for community purposes: a heritage and education centre, and a Music School, are projects that will benefit many people.
So will re pitching the Organ to enable the Cathedral to function as a concert venue with a new sound system. Some may say –
I would say, “Yes, it is”: in a secular –
Our country was once a collection of small towns and cities and tiny villages, and the Church was the heart and soul of the community: today, when so many are elderly, some lonely, and others possibly a little frightened at the pace and change of modern life, this role is as important as it has ever been.
For the sick at heart, it is a sanctuary: open to the good and the bad alike: a comfort zone for some when none other may exist. That is why in my view –
Today, around the world, intolerance of minorities is on the rise. In country after country we see them scape-
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Some problems are eternal. Twenty five years ago, at the door of Downing Street, I set out my ambition for “a nation at ease with itself”. At the heart of this was my wish to tackle inequality.
That day I had the power, but the economy was failing and there was no money. By the time the economy was mended and I had the money, I lost the power. I made some progress –
With age comes reflection and, these days, I am more and more concerned about inequality. Sixty-
The global market is driving inequality –
For a long time, civil society has bridged much of this gap –
But, inevitably, there are gaps: as a country, we are one of the richest in the world –
Even in areas that are recognised as wealthy, there are families or individuals who have fallen behind.
In communities where traditional jobs have gone, too many are on low incomes –
And let us cast aside a common misconception. Everyone out of work is not an idler. Everyone in receipt of benefits is not a scrounger. Of course idlers and scroungers exist –
We have made progress. We can raise living standards: we have been doing so for a long time. At the turn of the 20th Century, millions struggled to eat. In London, one in three lived below the poverty line; in York, one in four ate less well than the unfortunate wretches in the poor house.
Over the decades, mass poverty has shrunk back. The quality of life has risen across all income groups –
A nation at ease with itself requires fairness.
370 years ago, in the Putney Debates, Colonel Rainsborough observed: “… the poorest he that is in England has a life to live, as [has] the greatest he…”. So had he, or she, then, and so has he, or she, now. We may never achieve a perfect society, but we can surely create a fairer one.
Of course we’re not all born equal: the raw ingredients of an impoverished life often start in childhood. As a boy, my family lived in two rooms in Brixton. Life was hard but for others it was worse. I saw poverty all around me –
There is no security. No peace of mind. The pain of every day is the fear of what might happen tomorrow. It is terrifying –
We see poverty as a social evil –
And inequality –
Some think the solution is easy. Penalise the rich. Cut defence. End overseas aid to people who are far poorer than us –
The arguments against such an approach are so comprehensive, so compelling, I won’t waste any time on them, except to note they have failed before and would do so again. Easy promises, with no practical policy to bring them about, are simply posturing.
And that is of no help to the poor. Good intentions don’t fill empty bellies, or provide shelter for the homeless, or jobs for the unemployed.
What does help is national wealth accompanied by national conscience. The richer we are as a nation, the more we can do. If the Good Samaritan is in debt, he can be of no help to others. That is why the health of our national economy is an essential preliminary to a nation at ease with itself.
* * * * * *
And that brings me to my final point. Ahead of us in a few days is a pivotal choice –
But I am a realist. And unlike many in the present debate, I sat for seven years at Europe’s top table and saw it from the inside. I learned its intentions. I know its virtues, its faults and its frustrations at first hand, yet I have not a shred of doubt that it is in our present and long-
Our world has changed. We Britons are 65 million people in a world of 7,000 million. And it is a world that is drawing together in trade, in politics, in travel, and in facing common threats. It would be an extraordinary moment to suddenly cut ourselves adrift from the largest and richest free market in history.
I am a Briton, and an Englishman, and I believe our country is a benevolent influence in the world. I don’t want us to isolate ourselves. Overall, we are a force for good, for reason, for moderation. We have much to offer.
I hope everyone will think of that –