Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to the 15th anniversary Adam Smith Institute dinner at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London, on Tuesday 16th June 1992.
THE NEXT PHASE OF CONSERVATISM: THE PRIVATISATION OF CHOICE
I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you this evening about our domestic agenda for the years ahead. It is, of course, as Private Eye or The Guardian would have me say a time ‘of not inconsiderable interest in Europe’. But this evening my theme is domestic.
After our fourth General Election victory in a row, Conservatives might be forgiven for thinking that the Millennium had arrived a little early. They may even be forgiven for thinking we’d reached an end to politics, with the final demise of Socialism, and the Conservative philosophy of choice, of opportunity, of responsibility and ownership triumphant.
Such complacency would be wholly wrong. Complacency usually is. The good politician
treads the waters like a duck. Unflurried calm above water and paddling like hell
beneath it. But Socialism as a philosophy has been defeated and discredited. We should
remember why. It has been defeated because of its intransigence and inflexibility.
The attempt to marry 19th century political theory to late 20th century realities
carries no conviction any more. Socialism has passed its sell-
CONSERVATIVES: THE PARTY OF EVOLUTION
The real lesson is this: it is dangerous to get stuck in old ways. Conservatives, thank goodness, no longer debate the merits of the Corn laws. Yet Socialists still agonise over public ownership. To live, a political Party must always be examining and reexamining. It must listen and adapt to peoples’ changing needs. That is what this Party will always do.
The greatest strength of the Conservative Party is that we look to the future. We move with, and help to mould, the spirit of the time. We choose policies which break down barriers to personal achievement wherever we find them; we are ready to take on vested interests; we take our stand in defence of the interests of the ordinary man and woman.
Now, as ever, that means change. Not challenging the basic instincts of the individual
Let us leave the Socialists to defend the status quo and the collectivist past; we are on the side of individuals, of innovation and of reform wherever it is needed.
LISTENING TO PEOPLE
Some were apparently surprised that we won the General Election. Some commentators wrote us off well in advance. I am not by nature vindictive. But I was able to bear the sight of them with more egg on their faces after the campaign than I had during it. I can only suggest that next time they look for opinions a little wider than the chattering classes of W8 and NW3. Perhaps they should try the real world. What they totally fail to appreciate is how deep the Conservative revolution is sending its roots. Just how total is the resection of the ‘State knows best’ assumptions of Socialism.
THE DEVOLUTION OF FREEDOM
We live in a new country. People have greater self confidence, independence and ambition. Forelock tugging belongs to yesterday. Living standards for the average family have risen by over a third since 1979. Millions of families now enjoy the freedom of ownership; ownership of shares, pensions and homes. We achieved an enormous amount in the 1980s. But that was only the beginning of what must be done. Now we must spread freedom and opportunity ever wider and ever deeper.
The instinct for independence is a basic human instinct. Any parent knows that. During
the 1980s that instinct was reasserted throughout the world. Yet old habits die hard.
Among too many people in this country -
Well, I was brought up among people who had little. Yet they -
TRUST THE PEOPLE WITH CHOICE
If you stifle freedom; if government always ‘knows best’, you sow the seeds of resentment. I believe that it is the arrogance of central planning over many decades that lies at the roots of much unnecessary social division. Some express their instinct for independence in anti social ways. They reject the values of a society which gives them no voice. It is one of Marxism’s many ironies that wherever it has been tried, it produces a deeper sense of alienation from authority than capitalism ever has. We now see the anarchy that underlay the Soviet totalitarian state. Burke said ‘Freedom and not servitude is the cure of anarchy’. Give people more choices and responsibility; trust the people, and you will have a more just and ordered society.
We have made great progress. But we have no reason to be smug about it. Despite all
the advances of the last thirteen years, one of the most over-
THE NEXT PHASE: THE PRIVATISATION OF CHOICE
This then must be the next phase of Conservatism: To shift the balance of choice in Society more radically than ever before into the hands of ordinary people. We have made a start.
We have privatised State-
There is no going back on this. We will continue to take the State out of the market place. We will privatise coal. We will bring private operators onto our railways. We will not go back to the corporatist days. No picking winners. No lame ducks.
We have been accused on occasions of wanting to centralise -
In the 1980s we opened doors. Those choices which used to be the monopoly of the
That must be the story of the 1990s. Where once Socialism nationalised or municipalised
personal choice, taking it away from the individual and the family, we will give
choice back to them and extend it further. Of all the privatisations that this Conservative
Government conducts, the greatest and most far-
A RADICAL PROGRAMME OF REFORM
That is the message of the reforms which make up the Citizen’s Charter. It is the most radical programme of reform of public service at all levels that we have ever seen. Yet thus far it has barely begun.
It starts with Government. Already, we are acting on our Manifesto commitment to
open a wide range of central government services to competitive tender. I want to
bring to central government the benefits which contracting-
MORE OPEN GOVERNMENT
I also want to see a significant change in the role of the State. Whitehall should
not be so inward-
LIMITING THE ROLE OF THE STATE
Adam Smith believed that the State had a responsibility for reform, to remove impediments to natural liberty and to facilitate the development of services like basic education for all.
I agree with Adam Smith. It is a little over two hundred years since he wrote the ‘Wealth of Nations’. In the intervening years the State has arrogated to itself more and more powers. The wheel is now coming back full circle. For an increasing number of public services the State should be an enabler and facilitator. Adam Smith believed that in providing services, the State should simulate market conditions wherever possible. It is a pity he is not alive to advise us on the Citizen’s Charter. No Adam Smith perhaps. But at least we have Madsen Pirie, who sits on my Advisory Panel.
EMPOWERING THE USER
Let me give you four examples, in key areas of Conservative policy, where we must work to empower the user better in the course of the 1990s. In education. In housing. In law and order. And in health.
CHOICE IN EDUCATION
In education, I have a simple dictum -
Mr Chairman, we will extend further choice for parents. The introduction of open enrolment and Grant Maintained Schools is already beginning to have a dramatic effect on standards and attitudes in Schools. Where are all those people who predicted it wouldn't work because parents would not be interested? I'll tell you. They are the people who are now complaining that parents’ determination to choose the best for their children is cutting across the educationalists’ plans. Imagine: parents having the effrontery to cut across educationalists' plans. Whatever next? Well, All I can say is: ‘About time too’.
We are extending parental choice everywhere. But I can tell you today that we will go further. It is all very well if you live in an area where there is a choice of good schools. What if you don’t? In too many deprived inner city areas, where councils are dominated by the Left, there is still too little choice. Many of these schools still provide standards of education which are inadequate. A choice between the bad and the barely tolerable is no choice worth speaking of.
We cannot leave this as it is and we won’t. We intend to take powers to set matters right. I want to see good schools grow and bad schools improve or close. I want to expand opportunities for new schools and new types of schools to develop. And where our new independent Inspectorate finds that standards are unacceptably low, I do not believe that Government can stand indefinitely by. If the governors or the local authority are unwilling or unable to put things right, then we must find ways to raise standards for the children in them. Children’s needs come first that is why John Patten will be producing new proposals to tackle the worst schools in his White Paper later this summer. They will be radical. They will be controversial. And they will be absolutely in the interests of the pupils.
CHOICE IN HOUSING
In housing, we have brought about a revolution in the years since 1979. Millions
of people are now homeowners who never thought it possible. And we have given tenants
new rights in place of the old rules laid down by Council housing departments. Here,
too, we must now take our programme further. To create more new owners with the Right-
We also want to take further steps to improve the availability of housing in the
private rented sector. Our ‘rent -
In upholding the law we want a return to the old approach to policing. 130 years ago, a Russian coming to Britain said; ‘Until I came to England the appearance of a police officer always produced an indefinable disagreeable feeling and I was at once morally on my guard against an enemy. In England a policeman at your door merely adds to your sense of security’. People should feel that the priorities of the police are their priorities. There should be a policeman passing your door regularly, and not just when the burglars have called. People in our cities should not be afraid to walk the street or open the front door.
We will back the police. We always have -
AN NHS FOR PATIENTS
In health, we have won the battle of the health reforms. Look how many hospitals
applied for trust status before the election, despite all Labour’s threats to the
jobs of those who appeared too enthusiastic. Trusts and their equivalent in primary
health care, the GP fundholders, now have an unstoppable momentum -
In GP surgeries and in hospitals, our reforms are working. They are strengthening the health Service and extending the frontiers of free modern patient care. They are here to stay.
CITIZEN’S CHARTER: CONTINUING PROGRAMME OF CHANGE
Our Citizen’s Charter is about choice, competition, management change and responding
to the users of services. The Charter will be at the centre of all our decision-
That does not mean excessive new regulations. We are not giving people more choice
in some areas, just to see it removed by over-
So central and local government alike, be on your guard. We have a new commitment to deregulation. It was set out loud and clear in our Manifesto. And over the next few months we will be relaunching that drive.
But if we are to achieve the standards we want in key services -
That will mean reform in present arrangements. We have begun in education. But the
inspection of key public services must -
The Citizen’s Charter is no blueprint for those who want to push the public spending
ratchet up a few notches. No one who uses public services can fail to be aware that
within any given level of resources, standards and efficiency can improve. There
will be no let up in my personal determination to keep public spending under tight
control, no matter how difficult the choices will be. Better value for money is part
of better public service -
A CONSERVATIVE VISION OF SOCIETY
The Citizen’s Charter is about giving power to the people. And that is fundamental to my vision of the society I want to see develop in the 1990s. I have said I want a ‘classless’ society. I do not mean that in the sense that people should all be part of some amorphous mulch. Of course society forms itself into groups of people who share attitudes and interests. There is nothing wrong with that. And there will always be snobbery, no matter how much I personally deplore it. I cannot legislate to change human nature, nor would I want to.
What we can do is give everyone a better opportunity to make the most of their lives. That is one more reason why we will continue to ensure people keep more of what they earn. We will help millions more to obtain personal pensions, so that they will have extra security when they retire. And we will ease inheritance tax to enable every family to pass on to their children what they have built up in a lifetime of work. The politics of envy have no place in my view of the future this country.
I want to do away with the old divide between those who choose and those who have to take what they’re given. I want to do away with barriers to achievement. Too often people give up. They turn against those who slam doors in their face. Those doors should be open. I want a country where achievement is not resented because everyone feels they can achieve things too.
Reform starts at the top. We are chopping Goliath down to size. We are giving people the slings and stones to do it. I don’t want to hear any more carping about the faults of the dependent. Who has made people dependent? We have. By ‘we’, I mean Governments, planners, those who think wrongly that they have a monopoly of wisdom. We have done it not because we provide the welfare and the services, but by denying people the basic human dignity of independent choice in the way they are provided.
Michael Oakeshott wrote of ‘human beings impelled by an acquired love of making choices for themselves’. Yes, it should be their decisions which shape our society. He said ‘we know as little and as much about where it is leading us as we know about the fashion in hats of twenty years time or the design of motor cars’.
I agree. Some would criticise us for that. I take it as my starting point. The past 200 years has been the story of the evolution of democracy. The progressive extension of the franchise. The extension of wealth. The extension of choice. In the 1990s, I want the privilege of ownership and the luxury of choice to be no longer a privilege. No longer a luxury. I want them to be for all. To be as universal as the franchise itself. But just as individual and just as personal. For, like the right to own, the power to choose is not something which we kindly permit every four or five years. It should be the birthright of every citizen of every part of every corner of this country. And it should be there every day.
We are determined it will be.