QEII Conference Centre Speech

1990-12-14 - John Major


Mr Chairman, when I joined the Conservative Party 30 years ago, I scarcely imagined this moment. That it has happened is a tribute above all to our Party and to the changes we have seen in the last decade.

We owe so much of that to the will and determination of one woman. And I am glad beyond measure that she is here today so that we can tell her so.

Margaret Thatcher has been a remarkable Prime Minister. There can be no doubt that history will record her as one of the great figures of our century - in Britain, and far beyond. The principles she fought for are right. They are shared by millions of people in this country. And we will build on them in the future.

There was one simple precondition for those triumphant years.

It is that we won three successive elections. Of course we did so partly because we were led by Margaret Thatcher. Partly because we touched the public instinct. And partly because you have made the Conservative Party the most formidable electoral fighting force in modern politics.

But there was one other ingredient. We won those elections because we were united - in our principles, in our actions, and in a common cause.

Margaret Thatcher knows that success for our Party depends on unity. That is why in her last speech in the Commons as Prime Minister - an unforgettable occasion for those of us who were there - she urged us all to work for a fourth election victory. So the message for the whole Party from the Branches to the Constituencies, from the backbenches to the Cabinet Room is this: there must be no backbiting, no recriminations, no post-mortems. There is too much at stake. We have an election to win.

If there are any who doubt that judgement, let them ask themselves this question - what do the Labour Party want - and need? They want - and need - us to fight one another. So we must never forget that we have only one fight - and that fight is with them.

Mr Chairman, people ask what I stand for.

Let me tell you.

First and foremost, I loathe inflation. To me inflation is not an abstract concept. It means the destruction of competitiveness for industry and commerce. It brings the destruction of peace of mind for people who see prices rising beyond their capacity to pay. It is economically destructive and socially divisive.

So the centre piece of our policy must be an intolerance of inflation and a determination to beat it.

Mr Chairman, what are our hopes?

Again, let me tell you mine.

It is to build a truly open society.

Open because we believe that every man and woman should be able to go as far as their talent, ambition and effort take them. There should be no artificial barrier of background, religion or race. A society of opportunity where people can better themselves and their families by their own efforts. A Britain that puts people in control of their own lives, to exercise their own choices in their own time, in their own way.

And yes, amidst the inevitable competitive thrust of life, it should be a compassionate society. Genuinely compassionate - because some people do need a special helping hand to help them enjoy a full life of choice and independence. And we should never forget that small changes in the lives of private people are every bit as important to them as dramatic changes in the lives of public people. And a classless society: not in the grey sense of drab uniformity - but in the sense that we remove the artificial barriers to choice and achievement.

We should not underestimate what has already been achieved.

But there is still more to be done.

For there are still too many corners of Britain in which the effects of our Conservative reforms are yet to be felt.

It is for this reason that I want the 1990s to become a Decade of Opportunity.

Let there be no doubt that in spreading opportunity we must continue to encourage wealth creation.

Continue to keep taxes low on families and on business.

And continue to reduce regulation and promote enterprise.

And, of course, we must continue to enlarge the private sector wherever we can. But where services do remain in public hands we will not hesitate to apply private sector skills to ensure that they are more efficient and deliver the high quality that people deserve and demand.

When I came into the Party we had set ourselves the goal of a property-owning democracy.

We wanted people to own their own homes.

Now two thirds of families do.

In the 1980s we worked for the capital owning democracy - more building society accounts, more shares, more personal pensions.

And millions of families have gained from the actions we took.

Now in the 1990s we must work to extend savings further.

For two reasons: one economic and one social.

The economic reason is that as a nation we will need those savings in the 1990s to finance the investment necessary to keep our companies competitive.

And I don’t want those savings to be imported; I want those savings to be British.

The social reason is that we want more people to have savings behind them. Because money set aside gives them and their families a greater sense of security and a wider freedom of choice.

Those who talk of the selfish society misjudge a country in which more time is volunteered and more money is given in help to others than anywhere in Europe.

For what do you see if you go to a local charity, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or the Red Cross?

Half your constituency executive: that’s what you see!

The challenge to us now is to remain the radical Party.

Spreading the privileges once available to the few so they can be enjoyed by the many.

We are committed to schools where all children have a quality education. We have brought in open enrolment, given financial control to the schools, encouraged more involvement by parents, and introduced a national curriculum. Now we want to ensure that the best people are attracted into the teaching profession and that teachers command respect for the job they do.

We offer no sudden solutions or miracle cures.

But where we find that things are not quite right, we will listen, and we will make the changes that are necessary.

And that is precisely why we have put in hand a further review of the Community Charge.

The Government that never reviewed policies, never made any.

Mr Chairman, in this country 32 million people are under the age of 40.

If we are to build for them we must look to the kind of world we would like to see in 25 years time and begin building it.

The European Community remains central to our place in Europe and the wider world.

The Channel Tunnel, connected this last week re-emphasises yet again that we are part of Europe.

I believe it is in our national self-interest to help build and shape the European Community as it evolves.

We must be in there, arguing, persuading and, yes, fighting for our interests and our vision of Europe.

Just like our partners.

But being a good European does not mean accepting every proposal from the Community.

The more committed we are to our role in Europe, the more we must ensure that the Community is constructed on the principles we care about: liberalism in economics, democracy in politics, evolution in constitutional questions, and cooperation in foreign policy.

So we will set out to work with our Community partners in building such a Europe. And do so with enthusiasm.

But we will not be deterred either from saying what we believe to be wrong – or pressing what we believe to be right - by the cry that we are insufficiently European.

Politely but firmly we shall say what we think.

And our partners will respect us for it.

Mr Chairman, there is one dark cloud that hangs over us.

In recent months we have seen the invasion and systematic destruction of Kuwait.

And now the United Nations Security Council has taken a momentous decision. It authorises use of all necessary means - and that includes force - if Iraq does not withdraw by the middle of January.

No-one should doubt our objective.

We want to see a peaceful solution in the Gulf.

That is our preferred outcome.

So we fully support President Bush when he says that he is prepared to travel the extra mile to achieve such a solution.

So are we.

But there can be no question of negotiations, concessions, partial solutions or linkage to other issues.

The whole international community has made it clear that Iraq has to withdraw from Kuwait totally and unconditionally.

The legitimate government has to be restored.

And of course, all the hostages have to be released and sent home to their families - where they belong.

If Saddam Hussein does that, he need have no fear of attack. It is in his hands.

But for the international community, a vital principle is at stake. It is not only the restoration of the rightful government of Kuwait, important though that is. It is that if we want a safe world in future, Iraq’s aggression must be reversed.

Mr Chairman, everyone’s political belief stems from his personal experience.

My Conservatism comes from what I saw, what I felt and what I did, as well as what I read.

It shaped what I want to do.

To me, Conservatism is not a creed. It is essentially the common sense view of life from a tolerant perspective. And let me give you two cast-iron pledges today. As long as I am privileged to lead our Party it will never become an exclusive club.

Conservatism will remain a word for economic progress, social mobility and for the individual dignity that is the natural right of every citizen. Ours must be a Conservatism which touches every instinct and enters every home.

It will never be a word for “nothing left to do”.