Below is the text of Mr Major's 1991 Conservative Party Conference Speech, made on the 11th October 1991.
Earlier this week this Conference welcomed Mrs Thatcher. You gave her the most tumultuous reception. She deserved it. She led our country for over 11 years, our Party for over 15. We owe Margaret a great debt.
The Britain she left us is immeasurably stronger than the Britain she found. Above all, she helped others to believe in us and us to believe in ourselves. And on those foundations she laid three great Election victories.
It's good to applaud; it's grand to cheer. But the greatest tribute we can pay her
is to do as she did. To win, and win, and win again. At this Conference -
We've heard some cracking speeches this week. From the right team. A young team -
Just think for a moment. When the going gets rough in international affairs, who would be the first person you would send for? Gerald Kaufman? No. He would be the second person. The first person would be anyone but Gerald Kaufman. But far and away the best person would be Douglas Hurd, one of the finest Foreign Secretaries this country has ever had.
Of course, Labour's Captain tries to talk up his team. "A winning team" he calls
them. After three election defeats? Well, it goes to show that there must be more
than one way to look at history. Take waterloo. You thought Wellington won Waterloo?
No, Waterloo was a smash hit for Napoleon. But we can help Labour to win one thing
Last week at Brighton we had speech after speech about a fairy-
But while this was happening out front, there was something thoroughly nasty seeping from under the platform. I refer, of course, to what Labour pretends to believe are the Government's plans for the National Health Service. There's only one way to deal with a lie: nail it to the wall of truth, as William Waldegrave so conclusively did yesterday. We have all been brought up with the Health Service. We use it. We cherish it. We are proud of it.
I know that for millions of people in this country the National Health Service means
security. I understand that. Because I am -
The Health Service has been in existence for over 40 years. And who has been in Government
for most of that period? We have. For 29 of those years it has been a Conservative
Government. It has been under Conservative Governments that the National Health Service
has been built up, enlarged and improved. And our reforms will carry that right through
into the 1990s. So let me say now, once and for all, and without qualifications -
And so that no-
And if, after all I have said, there are still those who set out to frighten the
vulnerable, the weak, and the old, with carefully calculated smears, then the public
will know where to find them -
No Conservative need be defensive about the Health Service. On the contrary, every Conservative has the right to share my disgust at what is said. Go to your local hospital. What do you find? You'll find Conservatives. In the hospital shop. Serving with the League of Friends. Working on the wards. They are not just friends of the Health Service. They are part of the Health Service.
The National Health Service doesn't belong to the Labour Party. As its name makes
clear, it belongs to the Nation. And -
This is the first Conference I have addressed as Leader of the Conservative Party. It is hard to explain how I feel about that. It is a long road from Coldharbour Lane to Downing Street. It is a tribute to the Conservative Party that that road can be travelled.
Perhaps at the back of this hall today there is another young man or woman who stands where I did 30 years ago. Who knows few people here. Who feels it is a long road to this platform, too.
They should remember the last two leaders were a builder's son from Broadstairs and a grocer's daughter from Grantham. We don't need lectures in the Conservative Party about opportunity. We are the Party of opportunity.
This Party is open to all. And to all those who may be watching, wherever you come from, whatever your background, I say simply this, "Come and join us". There are no barriers in our Party, just as there will be no barriers in the Britain we are building together.
Some people ask whether we will have a different sort of Conservatism in future. Of course we will. We all bring our own beliefs, our own instincts, and our own experiences to politics. And I am no exception.
But the fundamental beliefs of the Conservative Party, those beliefs that brought me into this Party, are the beliefs that Chris Patten expressed so brilliantly on Tuesday. They remain as strong today as ever. Old though our Party is, the values behind it are older still. They are rooted in the instincts of every individual. And it is through our policies that we make them come alive.
What is it that we offer? A strong Britain, confident of its position; secure in its defences, firm in its respect for the law. A strong economy, free from the threat of inflation, in which taxes can fall, savings can grow, and independence is assured.
I want to give individuals greater control over their own lives.
Building the self-
Do you know what Labour believes? That choice is something for them. They just can't accept that choice is something most of us can be trusted with. You might make mistakes, they say. What arrogance. As if the State have never made mistakes, in our name, with our money. Try telling that the tenants of the crumbling tower blocks that disfigures our cities.
And tell that to the citizens of Eastern Europe, who have risked their very lives
for these freedoms, for the right to own, and for the power to choose. Ordinary values
During the summer I did quite a bit of travelling -
We've earned it, because when others have hesitated, we have always stood firm and given a lead. As we did again this year. In defence of freedom in Kuwait. We didn't want that war, its waste, its suffering, its grief. But to achieve greater security in the world, we had to reverse the annexation of Kuwait. And to keep that security we must destroy Iraq's nuclear weapons capacity. They are still trying to cling to it, still cheating, still lying.
They cannot be permitted to succeed. One way or another that nuclear capacity must go. I hope it will go peacefully. If not, it must go by force. But go it will. In January I flew by helicopter over our army in the Gulf. I can still see the scene below me. A great convoy of troops and heavy equipment moving forward across the sands. For mile after mile. You could only marvel at the organisation and planning involved.
But down on the ground, I had a different impression. Dug into position each unit
seemed almost alone. Young men -
Whatever doubts I had soon disappeared. They knew why there were there. They knew the cause was right. And they knew that they could do the job. They asked only to be allowed to get on with it. And, when they did, my goodness, how they proved their point. They really were the best of British.
I learned something else from that extraordinary war and especially from that precision bombing that amazed the world. It's this. If our troops are to do the job we ask, it is absolutely vital that their equipment and their training are the best.
That is why in the last few weeks we have bought the new anti-
And we will take with just a little pinch of salt the conversion of those who campaigned
for CND for the past thirty years -
As we saw again in the aftermath of war, a confident Britain is a force for good in a troubled world. If we had not created those safe havens in Iraq, hundreds and thousands of Kurdish people would have died last winter in bitter, freezing mountains. We spoke out strongly for human rights in Peking and spoke out first against the return of tyranny in Moscow.
Alone among all the nations of the world we stand at the hub of three great interlocking
alliances. Of NATO, which is and must remain the core of our defence. Of the European
Community. And of the Commonwealth, which meets in conference next week. There we
must persuade 50 nations, some -
And in the 1990s I hope to see one former member of the Commonwealth once more take
its rightful place. We have always fought for an end to apartheid. But we have worked
just as consistently for the long-
A great debate is now underway in Europe. One in which the Conservative Party can
speak with authority. Harold Macmillan first sought to take Britain into the Community,
Ted Heath finally led us there, and Margaret Thatcher signed the Single European
I believe strongly in partnership in Europe. Britain, as a great European power, has gained from our membership of the Community. That is the verdict of those people in our country who live by business, banking and trade, the very people on whom our prosperity and jobs depend. But it must be the right Europe. Let me set out for you the objectives that I have in mind, the principles that I will fight for, and the propositions I will resist.
First we want a Community that will in time embrace the new democracies of the East.
We have the chance to heal the scar that divided and disfigured Europe for two generations.
The nations of Eastern Europe -
Second, I want a genuine single market, open for business right across the Community. It must have common rules. And these rules must be obeyed. When we sign up to something, we put words into actions. Some of our partners, I fear, are keener on making new rules than on keeping them. We need a system that can deal effectively with those who call themselves good Europeans, but who hijack lorries or hold up free trade.
We are now negotiating new Treaties on political and economic union. I am always
ready to listen to new ideas. But they must be workable ideas. Ideas that make sense
for Europe, and for Britain. There are vital issues at stake. They involve hard judgments
of where our true interests lie. The idea of a single European currency is one with
enormous ramifications, both practical and political. At best it is an uncertain
prospect. And treaty must provide for a separate decision to be taken -
We already work closely with our European partners in financial affairs. So, too,
in foreign policy and defence. When national interest and Community interest coincide,
then common action is only common sense. But in no circumstances -
We are working to reach an agreement at Maastricht in December. But I cannot guarantee that our negotiations will succeed. For it is no easy task to get 12 nations to agree. And for my part, I shall put the interests of our country before any agreement. Not any agreement before the interests of our country.
I hope we can reach agreement. If we do, I will submit that agreement to parliament.
For it is here in Britain that the crucial decisions must be taken. Not in the European
Parliament. Not in the Council of Ministers. Not in the Commission -
So far I have spoken of alliances. Of how much we can achieve if we work with other nations. But when it comes to the search for new markets, even our closest allies remain our competitors. I have never accepted the craven argument that Britain can't compete with Germany or Japan. And I have contempt for the defeatists who run down our country and write of its future.
Those who said we couldn't compete in Europe when we led Britain into the Exchange-
Those who said that we would have to push up interest rates. And that our inflation was bound to stay far higher than the rest of the Continent.
All that was just a year ago this week. And look what has really happened since.
We have cut interests rates -
Our exports to the rest of the Community have shot up. Our imports have fallen. Our trade deficit with Europe has been almost wiped out. And in case you haven't heard this morning's news, our inflation rate has fallen to just 4.1%. For the first time in a generation we have brought inflation down to German levels.
They said we couldn't do it. We did it. And in just one year. Let me remind the sell Britain short brigade of just a few facts. We attract more American investment than any other European country, and twice as much investment from Japan.
Only two years ago, this country had a 17,000 million pound deficit on manufactured trade. This summer, we had a surplus. Our manufacturers sold more abroad than ever before. They didn't sell Britain short. They sold for Britain. And they had to fight for their markets when the going was hard.
I know times have been tough. Unemployment has risen. Many people have faced great
difficulties. I know how they feel -
I have not forgotten -
It is because of that that I will never play fast and loose with the economy. Many
have pressed us to do so this past year -
And the clearer the signs of recovery, the louder the Labour Party complains.
Look how they rounded on the Governor of the Bank of England. All because he dared
to confirm what everyone else was saying. That recovery is on the way. When he said
there was a recession -
Do Labour realise what their policies would do to business?
It may be true that a Labour Prime Minister would no longer get his marching orders
over beer and sandwiches at No 10. In these days of designer socialism, he'd get
them over a G&T -
A minimum wage would create the very unemployment they claim to care about. New burdens would drive business out of markets. Higher taxes would drive business talent abroad. Above all, inflation would drive our economy out of the future and back to the past.
Remember who suffers from inflation.
Inflation is a tax paid by those least able to protect themselves. It is Labour's invisible tax. It wouldn't come through the letter box, though there are plenty that would.
They have eight new taxes lined up already.
Well, that's not surprising. We've costed Labour's spending promises. 35 billion pounds extra and still rising. Of course, they say there would be hardly any more tax for hardly anyone. But that's hardly credible.
The next Labour Manifesto will be the biggest tax demand in history. They love nationalisation.
High taxes nationalise choice. It won't be a case of 'you pays your money, you takes
your choice'. It will be -
High taxes would enrich the businesses, the laboratories, the the universities of
American and the rest of Europe at the expense of the businesses and universities
of Britain. We'd be back with something we haven't heard of for twelve years -
Our Party has always kept personal tax rates down. And in the next Parliament we will go on doing so.
Lower taxes don't just mean richer people. They mean a richer life. A life with wider horizons, in which people can develop their interests. Support their favourite charity, pursue their hobbies. Go fishing or to a football match, the theatre or the cinema, or just save up for a holiday.
But lower taxes give people more powerful choices, too. The chance to save for the
In the 1980s we began a great revolution. Our aim was a life enriched by ownership, in which homes, shares and pensions were not something for others, but something for everyone.
We can now see the lifeblood of ownership -
But this revolution is still not complete. In the 1990s we must carry it further.
We must extend savings and ownership in every form. And we now have the chance to
make enduring change. For people in their middle years are inheriting homes, businesses,
farms on a scale never before seen. The pioneers of the property-
We Conservatives have always passed our values from generation to generation. I believe that personal prosperity should follow the same course. I want to see wealth cascading down the generations. We do not see each generation starting out anew, with the past cut off and the future ignored.
So, in the next Parliament, I believe that we must go much further in encouraging
every family to save and to own. To extend every family's ability to pass on something
to their children, to build up something of their own -
Labour have their eyes on the money stored in the homes in which millions of people
now live -
As Harold Macmillan once memorably put it, people walk in public gardens, but they tend their own. I want to build a pride in our common inheritance of town and city, coast and countryside. In the very fabric of our nation.
I want to foster ownership in its widest sense. In making people feel that public
property belongs to them. Giving them more say -
That's the idea behind our Citizen's Charter -
I see that Labour are now trying to copy my ideas. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised at that. Even the Labour Party has to have some good ideas amongst all the bad. It's just that they filch the good ideas from us. The bad ones of course they think up for themselves. They don't even hide it when they steal some of my clothes. Did you see how many of them were wearing grey suits last week? Have they no shame?
The test for Labour will come in the next session of Parliament. We will be legislating on the Citizen's Charter. We shall be giving parents a greater say in schools. Making the big utilities more responsive to customers. And as Michael Heseltine promised us yesterday, exposing incompetence in the council chamber.
And how do you imagine Labour will vote? With us? For the charter? And for the consumer? Or against us? For the trade unions? For the old ways? For the past? But it's not just a matter of changing the way we run things. It's a matter of breaking down the false and futile divisions, based on class and envy, that have been around for generations. They are wholly artificial. Labour fosters those divisions. It thrives on them. Our task is to end them for good.
I spoke of a classless society. I don't shrink from that phrase. I don't mean a society in which everyone is the same, or thinks the same, or earns the same. But a tapestry of talents in which everyone from child to adult respects achievement; where every promotion, every certificate is respected, and each person's contribution is valued.
And where the greatest respect is reserved for the law. There can be no harmony in
a lawless society. The recent outbreaks of violence in some of our council estates
involved a brutal disrespect for other people and their property. Such behaviour
cannot be excused and will not be tolerated. In the face of such violence, I know
that this Party will give the police the support that we always have. We admire the
bravery and the professionalism of those young policeman and women who have been
the front line against violent attacks. This Conference must leave no shred of doubt.
Rioting is a crime -
But dealing with crime is not just something for other people -
The attitudes of people who say that theft of vandalism are somehow less serious. They call it property crime. Property crime? Tell that to the widow who has been robbed of treasured mementoes of her past life. That's not a property crime. It's a personal wound which can never be healed.
This Government is going to crack down on crime, as Ken Baker made clear this week.
Let me give you an example. What the irresponsible call joy-
As for those parents who stand by and watch while their children commit crimes, they
are going to be held responsible for their children's actions. Those in authority
We don't help our children by excusing bad behaviour, we betray them. And we lead them into worse behaviour. Sometimes it's right to say no.
A great deal has been written about my education. Never has so much been written
about so little. Perhaps that's why I am so keen on the subject. I believe that Ken
Clarke's programme of reform is a turning-
Some have said that Ken Clarke and I are wrong to insist on simple pencil and paper tests for children in schools. Well, I'll tell you what marks I would give to people like those. Nought out of ten for concern. Nought out of ten for interest in our children. Nought out of ten for commonsense. And, so long as there is a Conservative Government, they'll get nought out of ten for influence in our schools.
What Labour Governments did, and what all too many Labour Councils are still doing,
is unforgivable -
I will fight for my belief in a return to basics in education. The progressive theorists have had their say. And they've had their day.
In the last twelve months we have seen the Socialist philosophy collapsing in ruins. Who will ever forget those days of high drama in the Soviet Union last August? Or the three young men in Moscow who gave their lives for reform.
When I visited the place where they died, I was struck by the number of young people who pressed in around me. They had copied Western fashions, wore Western gear. For decades they and their parents had been taught that Socialism was the destiny of their future. That the Soviet Union would bury the West. But it wasn't the West that the Socialist system had buried, it was the hopes and dreams of their own people.
Socialism has gone in Czechoslovakia, gone in Poland, gone in Hungary, gone even in Sweden. And here in Britain, I'll tell you what you'll see over the next few months. You'll see the Red Flag dying here. It's going. Going. Gone. Suddenly, it's just so old fashioned, so irrelevant, so out of date.
What I owe to this country and to its people is difficult to put into words. My greatest wish now is to give back something of what I have been given.
I want to work for a Britain that is the best educated and the best governed.
Where schools and universities are the finest and accessible to all. Where inner
cities don't mean deprivation, but communities that bind and belong. And where no-
I should like to live in a world where opportunity is for everyone, where peace is truly universal, and where freedom is secure.
If that is what you believe in, then go back to your constituencies. tell them what we stand for. Tell them what we care for. And ask them to choose.