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1994 - Mr Major’s Press Conference

Below is Mr Major’s on-the-record press conference held in London on Monday 13th June 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

This press conference is on-the-record, and I think I should say at the outset that I have reached the conclusion that it would be useful, from time to time, to supplement the normal briefings of the lobby with a press conference of this nature that is on-the-record.

Let me say something about current matters and the election results yesterday first. Let me acknowledge at the outset we had very poor results in the elections yesterday, very poor results but on a very low poll, two-thirds of the electorate simply did not bother to vote and the turn-out, not just in this country, but across Europe, was frankly derisory.

Having said that our results were poor, they were of course a good deal better than almost anybody predicted. The opinion polls have been discredited again, the Conservative vote was not as predicted, 21 percent or 23 percent or 33 percent behind Labour.

I believe it has been clear for some years that many people are simply not frank when asked questions by opinion pollsters, I suspect they resent the prying nature of the questions and it seems that the answers are not always accurate, perhaps a lower salience for opinion polls in the future would be welcomed by quite a lot of people.

Let me say a word about some of the lessons I believe can be learned from this election. Firstly, it is apparent that many people are still both angry and bruised as a result of the recession, that has happened here in the United Kingdom, as indeed it has happened right across Europe. The governing parties in Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, have all won a much smaller share of the vote than they did in their last general elections.

Here in the UK we are now firmly back into growth, but that is clearly not yet the general perception of the public. Many people simply declined to vote on this occasion, "Not this time" was a frequent message on the doorsteps. There was a general feeling of irritation amongst the electorate with all politicians, but certainly of course directed at the government.

Having said that, Labour had a good result, even though during the campaign they neither produced nor discussed any policies, and it must also be said that this election was held at a time uniquely favourable to the Labour Party for reasons, some of them sad, that I believe everyone fully understands. Even so, in mid-term, after a deep recession, on a low turn-out, they barely beat the share of the vote that we achieved at the last general election.

In the European elections it was only the Conservative Party that fought the elections on European issues, we mounted an effective campaign, a campaign that spelt out clearly the policy differences between the main parties. I believe that is one of the principal reasons why the Liberal Party failed to make the advances that had been so widely predicted for them.

What is clear from the outcome of this election is that we are back into the politics of a clear choice, the only alternative to a Conservative government could be a Labour government, everyone I think can understand that, any other choice is simply a good spoiler but unreal.

Let me just say a word or two about policy from now on, starting with the economy. We are now back into economic growth and that is going to continue, I am confident that we will meet our growth forecasts. We have the lowest inflation since the 1960s, I am confident we will meet our inflation targets. Unemployment is now falling consistently, I am confident that will go on and there is now more hope for the unemployed than there has been for a very long time.

We are pursuing, and we will continue to pursue, long-term policies that we believe will lead to success for this country, that is the reason for our education policies, our training policies and the thrust of the competitiveness White Paper, those policies are right and they are important to me, they will continue in the future.

We are also taking tough measures to fight crime in Britain, there is no doubt on the doorstep, not just during the election but in the travels around the country I have had in the last year or so, about the depth of public concern over crime. At present we are changing the law with the Criminal Justice Bill, reforming the policing system with the Police Bill, cracking down on drugs with more initiatives to come in the future. My priorities are to do more to protect the public from crime, more to bring criminals to justice and more to prevent crime in the first place.

We have at the moment a full programme of long-term reform going through Parliament, it is going through Parliament this year and there will be more next year. Apart from our long-term vision for the economy we have a long-term programme for public services in the Citizen's Charter, long-term reforms to complete in the Health Service, new ideas to create a better transport system for this country using private initiatives and private capital, ways of bringing together welfare, work and training to help and to encourage people back into work, and with the new national lottery, new ways of brightening people's future.

We have had a tough couple of years through the recession and beyond, government at any time is never easy, certainly not during a recession. There have been a large number of very difficult decisions to make and I have no doubt that is always the way of government and there will be difficult decisions in the future. But I intend to stick to what I set out to do because I passionately believe that is for the long-term benefit of this country.

Let me just add one final point before I take any questions you may have. Going round the country I find a great deal of concern about the way in which Parliament does its business, I share that concern expressed to me. Parliament has before it an excellent report from Michael Yopling, I hope we can find ways of enabling the Commons to do its business in more sensible ways, in more sensible hours, without either unacceptably reducing the government's capacity to carry its programme or reducing the Opposition's flexibility in deploying and pressing its case against government legislation. I believe that this effort has very strong support on both sides of the House and very strong support outside the House from millions of people who follow our proceedings. The government is keen to make progress on this front, if the Opposition are equally keen I hope we should be able to map the way forward before the summer recess.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Michael Brunson, ITN):

May I put to you, since you said that we were now back to the politics of a clear choice, the point that the Labour Party makes this morning, it is twofold: one is they say that the mantel of trust, as they put it, has passed from the Conservatives to them, because of the actions you took over tax; and two, that if you try to go down the tax-cutting road in an attempt to win the country over you will not succeed because nobody will believe you?

PRIME MINISTER:

The clearest illustration from the Labour Party is that they certainly do not have tax-cutting in mind, that even when the opportunity for tax cuts may be there, they would prefer to spend your money, Michael, on things that they think are important rather than put it in your pocket for you to spend.

As far as trust is concerned, we said a number of things at the general election that we sought to do: we put education at the top of the agenda and we have left it there; we have said we would continue with the health reforms, and we have done it; I said we would get inflation down, and we have done it; interest rates down, and we have done it; unemployment down, and it is happening. We had to take the decision on tax, not because we wished to, not because we expected to have to do so, but because the position of the economy was such that it was necessary for us to do so. We therefore took the decision that we judged was right for the country and I think the impact of that can be seen in the economic circumstances we are now reaching. If and when it is prudent to cut taxes in the future, our instinct will be to cut them, I cannot tell you when that will be, but if the circumstances arise where we think it is right to cut taxes I would rather let people decide themselves how to spend their own money than we should decide on their behalf.

QUESTION (John Pienaar):

Are you ready and waiting for any challenger to your leadership and since then you have appealed to be allowed to finish the job that your party was elected to do. After these elections, how do you assess the chances of a challenge and your own chances of leading your own party at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will be leading the Party at the next election, John.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] given that these results, though perhaps not as bad as expected ..

PRIME MINISTER:

I keep hearing this, John, I keep hearing this, I am still here, we have a mechanism if people wish to challenge me in the autumn, that is a matter for them, I do not expect one, I will be here waiting for it if there is one, I will beat it and I will be here to and through the general election.

ELINOR GOODMAN:

Do you think you can recover given that no previous Government has ever recovered from a trough like this and isn't there then a case for changing leadership under those circumstances?

PRIME MINISTER:

You say no-one has recovered from a trough like this. I wonder whether that is right. When I became Prime Minister, at the start of the campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party at that stage we were 19% behind in the opinion polls. That looks exactly the same as the position that emerged from yesterday's results.

That was self-evidently wrong in the past because we did recover; not only did we recover from that 1989 trough, we recovered to win the general election with more votes than any party has ever had at any stage in our history so can we recover? Of course we can. Will we recover? Of course we will. Will we win the next election? Yes, I believe we will.

ADAM BOULTON (SKY NEWS):

I wonder if I could ask you if you are finally going to get a grip on the civil war which has broken out once again in your own party with those MEPs who lost their seats almost unanimously attacking the divisions in the parliamentary party while Eurosceptics or whatever they want to call themselves are saying you have got to bow to the silent majority who didn't vote, take on Europe which they say is now going to be dominated by Helmut Kohl and the Germans?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am glad you asked that question because let me make it clear yet again I am not bowing either to the Euro-enthusiastics or the Eurosceptics. I am saying and doing precisely what I believe is right for Europe.

I believe what I set out in the election campaign is the right way ahead for Europe if it is to succeed. I have made that clear on innumerable occasions. I wish to see the European Union succeed. I think one can see from these results right the way across Europe, not just in this country, that people are concerned at the way the European Union has developed. The turn-out was rotten in other countries as well as here, people are frustrated. All the governing parties did badly.

I think, therefore, we have to think afresh about how to make Europe a success and I don't believe myself that the idea lies on either extreme - tearing down what exists or building it up to some unreasonable federalist centre. There is a middle way, a practical way, for Europe; it is the way that I believe in and in stating that I am not nodding in a Eurosceptic direction or in any other direction, I am nodding in the direction of what I believe is the right way ahead for the future.

GEORGE JONES (DAILY TELEGRAPH):

Prime Minister, your Party Chairman, Sir .Norman Fowler, has spoken this morning about the need for a reshuffle and some new faces at the top of the Government. Can you give us any indication of your thinking on that and when the time might be? Are you going to do it this week, next week or never?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you can rule out this week, you can certainly rule out next week and I am absolutely positive you can rule out never.

Yes, there will be a reshuffle. I can't tell you when it will be, I think I owe that to the people who are concerned with it, to let them know first when we have a reshuffle. There will be one, it isn't imminent. I think there are appropriate times to hold a reshuffle both in terms of good management and in terms of man management and when I reach the appropriate time then I will make the changes I think are necessary.

ANDREW MARR:

Have these election results changed your mind on anything?

PRIME MINISTER:

These election results are disappointing. No Conservative leader, no prime minister, likes to lose seats. I don't think it has changed my mind as a result of these elections. It has made me more determined to pursue the things that I think are right and try to explain them more adequately so that people can see what we are doing and why we are doing it rather than labour under some of the misapprehensions that perhaps are about now. I don't think it has changed my mind; it has reinforced my view that we concentrate on the things that are of long-term importance to this country.

If you are concerned with matters that are long-term, you often have to take a good deal of short-term pain and short-term unpopularity. If I may give you a practical illustration of that, the first thing I said, not when I became Prime Minister but when I became Chancellor, was that we needed to get inflation down.

That is easier said than done. I stuck to a firm anti-inflationary policy right the way through the general election. There were many people saying: "Cut interest rates, it will make you more popular at the time of the election!" I didn't do so because I judged it wouldn't put us in the best disinflationary position for the future. I have taken the same view on other matters. If something is right, it is better to see it through even if it is unpopular and difficult to explain in the short-term so nothing has changed.

ROBIN OAKLEY (BBC):

Prime Minister, why do you believe you are still being punished by Britain's electors in the face of economic recovery when Chancellor Kohl appears to have escaped a similar degree of ire from the German electors after a much shallower recovery?

PRIME MINISTER:

I saw Boris Johnson's report this morning; I think he misses the most important ingredient in explaining that phenomenon.

The phenomenon you have seen in all Western countries during the last twenty years is of a mid-term dip in governments' popularity and people returning to their natural and instinctive preference as they near a general election. We are not near a general election, we are up to three years away from a general election. In Germany, they are only months away from a general election and so the normal impact of politics, the normal way it has tended to work for twenty years, is that people tend to protest less and move back to their natural home as they get near a general election. I think on this occasion the CDU in Germany, Chancellor Kohl's party, has benefited from that. Their vote fell but not by as much as that of other governing parties in Europe and I think that is the principal reason.

ROBIN OAKLEY:

As a supplementary to that, what are the results in the European parliamentary elections which would have led you to contemplate resignation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I did not believe the opinion polls this time any more than I did last time and I was right again so the question didn't cross my mind.

DON McINTYRE:

Prime Minister, some of your Ministers have been pretty dismissive of Tony Blair but David Mellor said yesterday that he was an exceptionally gifted politician and that the Conservative Party should take note and get its act together. Where are you in that expression of opinion?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the spirit of good nature to someone who may become the leader of the Labour Party but isn't yet, I would, if I may, offer Tony Blair a piece of advice: Don't believe what is said about you today, Tony, and don't believe what is said about you in eighteen months' time.

COLIN BROWN:

Prime Minister, on the subject of the single European currency, will you be moved off your policy of leaving it until after 1996 for the House of Commons to decide and what will you do about disciplining those Ministers who break that line?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they won't. The line is perfectly clear, clear in the manifesto and it is perfectly clear that it is both logical and the right line. The answer is I won't be moved off it and I don't expect people not to agree with it.

PETER BURR (REUTERS):

There has been some nervousness in the market today after Sir Norman Fowler's comments about the possible need for early tax cuts. Are you a little bit concerned that you might be pushed into an early move in that direction?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

PETER BURR:

As a supplementary to that, there has been a lot of talk, murmurings and briefings saying that the next movement in taxation is likely to be downwards. Clearly, you were punished by the electors for the tax increases. Can you say that the next movement in taxes will be downward?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will decide upon taxes at the time of this year's budget, next year's budget and the budget in the year after that. I am not going to anticipate what that is going to be.

When and if it is prudent to cut taxes, we will perhaps make a decision to cut them but not until. It is impossible to say at this stage when it will be. All that can be said is that our instincts are to be a tax-cutting party when it is prudent to do so - not recklessly but when it is right - and I don't know at this moment when that will be.

QUESTION ("TODAY"):

After a series of rather poor election results, your voters seem to be turning their back on you. Do you ever get fed up and really feel as though you want to turn your back on it, walk away and maybe take up gardening full-time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Do I look fed up? Do I look as though I am about to turn my back?

The answer, Paul, is no and the reason the answer is no is that there are things I want to do in politics, things I have set out, and I don't intend to be pushed off them. I intend to try and continue to complete them.

JOHN CRAIG (DAILY EXPRESS):

What do you think a Cabinet reshuffle will achieve? You seem to be acknowledging that the Government's problem is one of personalities rather than policies.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't necessary acknowledge that. Politics is like a moving stream, it moves on. All the way through Government there are people of talent and ability who wish to have their opportunity to show how they can serve their country in Government. Those changes necessarily start at senior levels and move down the ranks. I think that is a part of politics that all politicians live with.

QUESTION:

Can you comment on your Party's reverses in your own East Anglian backyard? Labour won in Norfolk and Suffolk and almost took your own seat of Cambridgeshire. Surely this is more than a mid-term protest?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think if you look at the size of the turn-out in Cambridgeshire you will see precisely what happened. The Conservative vote largely stayed home, the Labour vote recovered and the Liberal vote I guess - though I haven't studied it carefully - is pretty much where it usually is.

There are quite strong traditional Labour areas in some of the East Anglian areas, if you go back sufficient years you will find a lot of Labour seats there. Now that has changed. what has been evident on this occasion is that the Labour vote firmed in some areas and the Conservative vote didn't turn out so you had the results that you saw yesterday.

I don't have any doubt about the results at the time of the next general election. People then will make a clear judgement on policy. They won't be just voting against things they haven't liked during a recession, they will have to vote positively for which programme they prefer, the programme of the Conservative Government or the alternative programme of the Labour Opposition. When the people of East Anglia, as elsewhere, have to make that choice I have no doubt in my mind whatever about the choice that they will make. At the moment they are operating in a vacuum. Nobody knows what Labour policy is, whether they have any, how it would work and how it would be implemented. At some stage between now and the next general election when they have a new leader presumably that leader will be asked what his or her policies are and how he or she would propose to bring them about. I would imagine that will be the case and when and if that happy event occurs then I think people will form a more secure judgement about the future. In any event I am confident about the election.

I think that is it. Thank you very much indeed. I look forward to the next occasion.

MICHAEL BRUNSON (ITV):

When is the next one?

PRIME MINISTER:

In due course, Michael.

MICHAEL BRUNSON:

Every month?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will be on irregular occasions when I think it is appropriate.