Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to the Carlton Club in London on 3rd February 1993.
CONSERVATISM IN THE 1990’S -
When I became Leader of our Party, I spoke of ‘carrying forward the Conservative tradition’. I spoke of Conservatism as ‘a commonsense view of life from a tolerant perspective’. I set out my aim to create ‘a classless society’ -
In every speech I made in the general election campaign I talked about those aims again. I spoke of the Britain I wanted to see. A Britain in which effort is rewarded; and everyone has a stake in our country’s future. A Britain where every youngster can aim high; every family can build for its own future.
Dignity, security, independence, self-
The instincts of the British people
In every city, in every town, in every village we found a ready response to our message. That was -
These are the instincts of a free people; an enterprising people; a generous people; a tolerant people.
Of course these instincts can be suppressed, or twisted, or simply lost. We should not claim too much for ourselves! Of all political philosophies, Conservatism has been perhaps least prone to foolish optimism about human nature. But our defining characteristic is to have greater faith in the individual than in the State.
We believe in fostering freedom by giving people more power to choose for themselves; by leaving people more of their own money to spend.
We believe in fostering enterprise by keeping personal and business taxes low; by cutting down the jungle of regulation; by creating a level playing-
We believe in fostering generosity by respecting and reinforcing the independence of local communities, in which neighbours willingly help each other.
We believe in fostering tolerance by respecting the individual; by recognising every citizen’s power to choose and right to own.
It is on those instincts of the individual that Conservatism is founded; and that Conservatism trusts.
Carrying Conservatism forward
The policies and language of our Party may evolve, but the principles remain the same. Our political strength has always rested on our ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the British people.
We have no repository of doctrine which we set on an altar above commonsense and instinct. There is no Clause Four in the Conservative Party -
As a party, we have always worked to meet people’s aspirations to own their own homes; to have greater opportunities for themselves and their children; to enjoy the respect that follows from the exercise of choice; to build up wealth and then to be free to pass it on.
This has always been a great Tory tradition -
The second continuous thread of Conservative thought, from the time of Burke onwards, has been a wariness of the danger of over-
We reject utterly the idea that the state can manage economic and personal relations between people better than businesses or families.
And the third great thread of thought is our understanding of what binds a stable and healthy democracy together. It is a sense of continuity that permits change without instability. Above all, perhaps, it is the local networks and small communities -
The modern Conservative Party is heir to both the great nineteenth-
Look around you. It is not where the free market pervades that ties of community are under threat, but where the State owns and controls to the greatest extent.
Look at our suburbs and small towns and villages -
The big problem lies elsewhere. It is from the inner cities, where the state is dominant, that businesses have fled. It is in the inner cities that vandalism is rife and property uncared for. It is here that fear of violent crime makes a misery of old people’s lives.
Socialists seek to explain the difference in terms of affluence. But that simply won’t wash. That explanation is demeaning to people of modest means who contribute much to their communities. It is insulting to those families who may face all the problems of unemployment and yet do not resort to crime.
Socialism must face up to its failures. It must recognise the harsh truth that it is where, over many years, the State has intervened most heavily, that local communities have been most effectively destroyed. It is where people feel no pride in ownership; where they are stripped of responsibility for the conditions in which they live. And it is in the inner cities that schools -
The paradox of change
So far, I have been speaking mainly of the continuity in our philosophy. But I need hardly remind this audience that Conservatism has been a powerful force for change in Britain, too.
Willingness to face up to change is vital if we are to develop as a society. Each generation must make its own decision: what to preserve, and what to change. But change must run with the grain of a nation. That was true when our Party was founded; and it is true, still, today.
But the paradox is this. On the one hand, we need to change in order to preserve: if we cling to outdated habits, rules and restrictions, we risk the collapse of our economy and society. On the other hand, change is itself destabilising. It brings its own risks. Sometimes it seems that by removing just one brick, we may risk bringing the whole house down. The careless or the ill-
There will always be those who seek to sever our links with the past. Even in Britain, we have for years been bombarded by the arrogant claims of those who believe there can be no point of contact between the present and the past. Some say that the glories of British history, the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, the works of Dickens and Trollope -
Others claim that the figurative tradition in art, and the lessons of classical architecture, have no relevance to the present day. The destruction they have wrought has been physical as well as emotional. We have seen the arrogance with which their disciples, up and down the country, have made their names by destroying urban villages. We see academics make their names by destroying our heroes. More recently, the institutions that embodied our nationhood have come under attack: institutions in whose name our countrymen and women have been ready to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
I sense a growing fear that we may lose so much that is precious to this country; a feeling amongst people that our deepest values as a civilised nation are being threatened. That anxiety feeds on the daily tales of selfishness and brutality that make the headlines in our newspapers. Is it the newspapers that are changing, or the world we live in? People are not certain. They feel uneasy; they feel threatened; they lose their bearings.
So let me say a word or two tonight about the balance between change and continuity in our national life. Yes, we are changing, and in many ways for the better. The days when people could be considered somehow superior because of who they were, and not what they were, are finally fading into history. We see them pass without regret. A view of society based on deference is out of date, damaging and divisive in today’s Britain.
The barriers are not yet all gone -
But our task in the 1990s is to widen the road to success, so that such achievers are no longer remarkable exceptions, but a natural part of the rich diversity of our nation. To achieve this, we need to break down the barriers between blue collar and white collar in industry; to raise the esteem in which vocational qualifications are held; to make them a real choice for the youngsters in our schools. The stirring examples amongst today’s National Training Awards show how we can help to make people believe in their future.
But in burying deference, we must take care not to destroy respect. Respect for what people achieve -
There is a concern that respect for other people is disappearing: respect for what they achieve; respect for their property -
Well, I don’t accept that. I believe we must tackle the problem of rising crime, openly and directly. And just because we can no longer hope to enforce good behaviour by simple threats of hell-
Nor do I believe that idealism, concern for others, commitment and self-
There are, indeed, thousands of young British people, straight out of school, working in difficult conditions throughout the third world for the young, the old, the poor, the oppressed. There are thousands of businesses who accept, with enthusiasm, the need to involve themselves in the communities around them. And there are hundreds of thousands -
Towards the year 2000
We are coming up fast to the Millennium: one of those milestones that have no intrinsic importance, but yet act as a catalyst for thought and action. This will be a highly competitive decade, in which the race will go to the swift. It will bewilder many and frighten some. It will test our national confidence -
At such a time, the cohesion of society is particularly important. When people have to find strength and direction within themselves, we need more than ever that anchor of past experience and those institutions which give continuity and a framework to our national life. The monarchy. Parliament. Our churches and voluntary organisations.
They saw much more clearly than many do today the unbroken chain of community linking the monarchy to the humblest household: linking our Parliamentary institutions to the most local parish council, linking the Union of the United Kingdom with the little unions of families and local communities.
So as we change and modernise -
As we modernise the honours system -
As we reform the civil service, we must cherish its traditions of impartial service -
And as we work to improve our public services, we must remember one cardinal rule: change must be driven by the users, not the providers.
Civilising the welfare state
For too long we failed to ask the right questions. For too long we allowed the State to over-
Well, attitudes are changing, radically and dramatically, under our Citizen’s Charter. The Charter is about convenience and choice for the user, not an easy life for the provider. It’s about replacing the impatient shrug of bureaucracy with helpful and courteous service. It’s about changing the system to deliver simple, practical things that improve people’s lives.
The traditional structure of public services has not provided the kind of incentives that competition in the market delivers automatically. We are creating these incentives. We are privatising choice. We are transferring power to the user of public services by providing them with real information about the performance of providers. We are opening up the old, cosy systems of inspection. We are introducing new systems of redress for the individual.
There are those who see accountability for public services only in terms of the occasional election at the focal and national level. I want a new accountability. I prefer a much broader and deeper concept: of accountability to the individual. That is why the aims of this programme run very deep. They concern the sort of society we want to see.
Through our reforms, we are encouraging local providers of services to run their own affairs. We are creating new vehicles for involvement, in grant-
Giving people more freedom of course means giving people the opportunity to make mistakes. No one ever climbed a mountain without facing the risk of falling off. We must expect some disagreements between teachers and governors, even in grant-
We must allow people the maximum freedom to discharge these new responsibilities. Of course the State has an important role as regulator -
We must resist the temptation to respond to every mistake, every tragedy, by introducing another burdensome raft of regulations. Sometimes, of course, these have emanated from Brussels. But sometimes, I am sorry to say, the guilty are closer to home. That is why the Government has launched its deregulation initiative -
A radical programme
I rather think that some are forgetting, a little too easily, how we are moving to put our principles into action. We have a radical programme which is transforming Britain for the better, and which is being imitated across the world.
Take, for a start, those step-
In the health service, we have seen the spectacular growth of Trusts, far more rapid than originally imagined, and the extension of GP fundholding. By the middle of this decade, we will have transformed the NHS, made it much more responsive to patients and their doctors. And we will have exposed the short-
In education, we are seeing the emancipation of governing bodies and head teachers, taking the local authority straitjacket off their back. With testing, we are giving back to parents the right to know what, and how well, their children are being taught -
Through the Citizen’s Charter, we are carrying through a revolution in choice, in information, in accountability and individual power that no other political party will ever be able to reverse. We are extending performance pay, and launching the biggest programme of market testing of central government activities ever seen.
But that is not all. In Parliament this Session, we are creating:
These are crucial measures -
In education, we have further to go in reforming primary schools, to sweep away the failed nostrums of the 1960s and 1970s. And we need parallel reforms in teacher training, to help good teachers do the job the country needs.
For our teenagers, I want to create a better map of opportunity. I am determined -
In our cities -
In housing, I want those who prefer to rent to have a choice of modern decent homes. That means we need to encourage good private landlords, so that tenants have a real choice. But most young people still want to own their own home, and Conservatives believe strongly in helping them fulfil that ambition. I want more of them to have that choice. We must step up our drive to help all those who seek to escape from the prison of bad Council provision.
We want to give our exporters confidence they have the Government behind them. Manufacturing industry has a great opportunity to win new markets. It is not for Government to say where, or what, or how. We are not going to return to the bad old days of interventionism. But where Government can help to open doors and free up markets, it will do so.
I have already set up a scrutiny of why European regulations seem to gain extra frills when they reach the United Kingdom. Now we will be overhauling our horrendous total of over 7,000 regulations -
By forcing Whitehall to publish estimates of what it will cost business to comply with every new regulation, we should both deter the busybodies and contribute to my campaign to make government more open. But I do not believe the steps we have taken towards openness go far enough. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be bringing proposals forward in the coming months.
In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor opened the way to privately-
I increasingly wonder whether paying unemployment benefit, without offering or requiring any activity in return, serves unemployed people or society well. Of course, we have to make sure that any conditions imposed improve the job prospects of unemployed people and give good value to the country. But we have already introduced this principle, for example through Restart, in a limited sense for the long-
You would not expect me, so close to the Chancellor’s Budget, to say more tonight about economic affairs. But I would just say this about the longer term: that if we are to sustain sound public finance and make progress towards our goals of lower personal taxation we must keep firm control of inflation and take a rigorous approach to public spending. It is always dangerously easy for the State to settle into habits of spending which outlast their purpose and outrun their budgets. And to avoid that happening, it is necessary from time to time to re-
We need, through the honours system and other networks of recognition and encouragement, to give the volunteering movement extra support. I want to develop a new initiative, this year, to help local communities make the best use of the goodwill and energy of businesses and individuals in their areas.
We must build on the faith in our United Kingdom that was demonstrated at the general election. As we have been “taking stock” in Scotland, we have been listening for ideas to reinforce a Union that has served all concerned for centuries. We are not hostile to change; but we are adamant against destruction.
Let me draw together some of the themes of this agenda. Increasingly, I believe, we must develop policies that sound a common chord across all programmes. The Citizen’s Charter, deregulation, privatisation, private finance, market-
The Conservative message
So if people suppose -
These are beliefs that would, in the different language of their time, have been familiar to Burke, Disraeli, Salisbury. They link the ambitions of the child to be born in the year 2000 with the aspirations of previous centuries, it is the genius of our party that we fashion change in the image of our long traditions.
I have tried to show how I believe these aims are served today by fostering a national life in which merit is rewarded, achievement respected, opportunity opened up and the individual given power and choice. That is what I mean by “a classless society”.
I have tried to show how I believe we can rebuild confidence and nurture the best instincts of the British people. That is what I understand by a decent society; by “a nation at ease with itself”.
And I have tried to show how I believe the need for change can be reconciled with the deep need for continuity, for calm, for commonsense and steadiness in our affairs. In the words of the newest addition to that distinguished list of Conservatism’s historians and philosophers, our party ‘has long been the party of the silent majority’. And I am indebted to that author -
‘Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine, that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.’