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1995 - Mr Major’s Speech in Westminster

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech, held at a presentation meeting for the party leader, held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London, on Thursday 7th July 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

It's been a memorable fortnight.

Challenges, walkouts, unprecedented rows.

All at Wimbledon!

And while that has been happening the Conservative Party has resolved its internal problems and prepared itself for unity.

Mr Chairman, I have been a member of our party for all my adult lifetime.

I was proud to work for it at constituency level.

To be a Conservative Councillor.

To be a Conservative Member of Parliament.

To be a Minister in a Conservative Government.

And to be Leader of our Party.

So I feel greatly honoured to have been chosen again by my colleagues to lead it - and to have been given the greatest number of votes in a serious contest of any leader in its history.

I intend to use those votes to fulfil the mandate I was given at the last election.

And then, Mr Chairman, I intend to renew it at the next General Election.

I wish to thank all those who helped my victory this week happen.

Robert Cranborne and his team, who appeared from every part of our Party in Parliament and beyond, and who mounted such a superb campaign.

They volunteered their time and energy to assist - and they did it magnificently.

But, above all, the literally hundreds and hundreds of constituency associations and the thousands and thousands of party members who made their support of me so clear and decisive.

Frankly, I preferred their correspondence to some people's editorials.

So, I am grateful to all those who supported me. But let me say this to those who did not.

I am not a factional politician. The Government will continue to include and represent all parts of our Party.

Conservatism is a broad river, fed by many streams. No part of our Party has a monopoly of wisdom.

We are and we will remain a national party, with a message and an appeal to the broad masses of the British people.

I believe that today the Conservative Party can face the future with renewed confidence.

We've had a healthy debate - and cleared the air.

And we've removed once and for all the distraction which had prevented for so long any opportunity of getting our real policies across to the public.

As a result, our party can now be more united, more determined and more effective than at any time since the General Election.

So let me tell you a little about our message - not in abstract generalities but in concrete examples.

For months we have been looking at ways to take forward a radical Conservative agenda not just to the General Election but into the next millennium.

This afternoon Gillian Shephard announced the introduction of vouchers to provide free nursery education places for all 4 year olds.

Vouchers are a very Conservative idea.

They put choice and power in the hands not of town hall bureaucrats, but of parents.

They will spread opportunity not just to those who have parents who can afford to pay for nursery education, but to every parent of every 4 year-old in the land.

And they enable there to be widespread provision not just in the state sector, but in the private and voluntary sectors too.

Labour of course opposed this idea, just as they have opposed each and every education reform we have introduced.

They opposed the National Curriculum - and now they say they were wrong.

They opposed league tables - and now they say they were wrong.

And they opposed tests - and now they say they were wrong.

So just wait a few years. Today they oppose nursery vouchers.

In three or four years' time, Labour will be claiming that nursery vouchers were their idea all along.

Our reforms of education took another big step forward yesterday with the merger of the Education and Employment Departments.

As we approach the 21st century, we can no longer assume that people can stop learning at 16, 18 or even 21.

The new merged Department reflects our understanding that if you are undertrained and underskilled you are more likely to be unemployed.

We want people in work. So they need skills. And we took a major step forward yesterday in delivering my ambition for Britain to have the best qualified workforce in Europe by merging the Education and Employment departments.

That is a vital part of building up skills for everyone. Of course, Labour opposed this change too. They gave us a typical 1930s cloth cap reaction.

"You can't care about the unemployed", they said, "if you abolish the Employment Department".

What rot. It's because we care for them that we've done it.

Labour may see the unemployed as a special group who must be set aside from the rest of us and treated differently.

I don't. I see them as people - people who must be helped, encouraged and trained so that they can get a job as fast as possible.

Under this Government unemployment has fallen by 600,000 in the last two years - further and faster than anywhere else in Western Europe.

That is the best way to show that you care about the unemployed.

You don't do that by saddling this country with the burdens of the Social Chapter.

And you don't do it by imposing the job-destroying idiocies of a minimum wage.

You do it, as we have done, by reducing the burden of regulation.

By setting enterprise free.

And, when it is in the British national interest to do so, by saying one short word to Brussels - No.

Behind the day-to-day headlines Conservative policies are transforming Britain for the better. We need to carry those further - to develop and deepen those policies.

Each month 41,000 new businesses start up. I want to entrench and expand that.

Small businesses are the engines of growth for future wealth and employment.

So we will hold a major series of conferences, starting this autumn, to listen to their needs and to [indistinct].

And I am already convinced that when we can afford it, we should set our sights on the capital and inheritance taxes which act as a drag on enterprise. My aim is to see those taxes reduced, and if possible, abolished altogether. I make no promises when we can do that - but I do set it as an objective.

Each week 3,500 homes are bought, 200 of them council homes.

I want to see that accelerate - so that we have 1.5 million new home-owners over the next ten years.

And, following our white Paper last week, we will introduce legislation to extend the Right To Buy still further to many Housing Association tenants. And we will help expand private investment in homes for rent too.

As Conservatives, we spend huge sums on those in need. We never begrudge that. But we are determined to root out fraud and to encourage those who can provide for themselves to do so.

Because no government which is serious about creating a platform of small government and low taxation can afford to ignore the challenges of the welfare budget.

Peter Lilley has launched the biggest anti-fraud drive in the history of the social security system. And we have gone a long way to encourage self-provision in pensions.

Now we need to go further - and we're looking at proposals to make it easier for those who are wage-earners today to save and buy insurance to help provide care for themselves when they are tomorrow's pensioners.

Mr Chairman, this Party embarked on a path of radical reform in 1979.

Unlike our opponents, we have not changed our principles or our values.

This is still the only Party in Britain which believes in free enterprise, low taxes, individual liberty and responsibility, and a strong and proud nation.

We now have a fresh team to take the fight to the enemy.

Fighting hasn't been easy over the last couple of years.

Well, that will change.

For we can now set out the very clear contrast between the two parties.

Labour call for a Defence Review - but they mean deep new defence cuts. The country does not want that - and, Mr Chairman, I believe that our superb armed forces have earned the right to have a period of stability.

Labour would deny choice in education for parents - with the exception, I suppose, of those Labour MPs who have exercised choice themselves and chosen to send their children to Grant Maintained Schools.

Labour would reverse our health reforms - undermining the better patient care which Trust Hospitals are delivering, and taking away from GP fundholders their new freedoms.

Labour have no economic policy targets for the level of tax, or for monetary policy. Ken Clarke wrote to Gordon Brown about all this - and has not received a reply. Why not?

Tell us, Mr Brown. Can't you read - or can't you decide? Perhaps the new Department of Education and Employment has found its first client!

And Labour's badly thought-out devolution plans would threaten the very survival of the United Kingdom - just as their commitment to a federal Europe would undermine our sovereignty and destroy our independence.

Mr Chairman, Labour offer us some very juicy targets.

All of us. So let's take aim at them. From every Minister in Whitehall to those on the real front line - the canvassers slogging up flights of steps in blocks of flats.

Let's have some fun ourselves.

Switch the focus to Labour's divisions. And wipe the smug smile off the face of the modern Labour Party.

Mr Chairman, the Conservative Party, united, is the most powerful and effective political force in Europe.

We have come through our time of trial - now we will be stronger and more united.

We have the opportunity over the next two years to build on the strongest economic position our country has seen for decades.

We have the chance to continue to roll back the state, to widen choice and opportunity for all and to bolster our country's unity and standing in the world.

We can now both explain our record and improve on it still further.

The next General Election campaign beckons.

The next Government will inherit the strongest economy this country has seen for very many years.

We worked for it.

We built it up.

And I want us to inherit it. It's in our hands.

The choice is very clear.

And last Tuesday we made it.