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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on East Anglia

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on East Anglia, made during an interview in London held on Thursday 25th July 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why people still felt insecure about the economy].

PRIME MINISTER:

I know there are people who are concerned but if you actually look at what is happening in terms of employment you see that we are the only country in Western Europe that has had unemployment falling for four successive years and that is certainly true of course in my own region, in the Eastern Region, where there is the occasional black spot but across the region it is down to 6 per cent, the lowest in the United Kingdom and a massive growth also of small businesses and self-employment.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about those local people who didn’t feel secure in that way].

PRIME MINISTER:

I wonder whether that is as true as you say. If it is, I wonder why it is increasingly difficult to get into a restaurant in the Eastern Region, if that is the case I wonder why so many people - I think probably up to half a million people across the country, not just in the Eastern Region - will be driving in new registration cars in August. That suggests a return of confidence and self-confidence and a range of other things: the changing spending pattern in the shops, yet again today we have seen a major building society reduce its mortgage rate now the lowest for 30 years so a lot is happening that is beginning, I think, to restore confidence to people.

We have been through a recession that was very difficult, so have the rest of Western Europe. The rest of Western Europe has not recovered as we have. We now have growth higher than them, we have inflation going down towards 2.5 per cent and will fall - that hasn't happened elsewhere but it is happening here.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the 500 people who lost jobs in Northamptonshire and the nearly 700 in Peterborough the week before].

PRIME MINISTER:

I wonder how many people in the same period have obtained employment in East Anglia because always, even in the midst of the most raging boom, there are companies that succeed and companies that fail. The overall balance at the moment is that companies are succeeding and that unemployment is falling and we have seen that very definitely in East Anglia. If you have a company that loses 500 jobs, that is a single package, you can see it very easily, but all over East Anglia companies are employing an extra 5, 10, 15, 50 extra people and yet that isn't so evident and it doesn't get so much publicity and so much reporting but that is what is happening and that is why the overall level of unemployment is, I am glad to say, continuing to fall.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked that although it was accepted the economy was improving, would it be that got the credit for improving it].

PRIME MINISTER:

Then you must help them, mustn't you? Instead of perhaps asking the negative questions, we could look at it the positive way round. One could easily say: "Why is it that the United Kingdom is doing better than any other nation in Western Europe?" One could easily ask that question and the answer is because of the policies we have followed that are not policies followed by other countries across the European Union: we don't have a social chapter, we don't have a minimum wage, we do have a relatively low tax structure compared to the rest of Europe, we do have open markets to encourage inward investment and as a result of those policies and a number of others our economy is outperforming others. We are the most competitive economy in Western Europe and why is that? Because we have taken difficult decisions, painful decisions, sometimes very unpopular decisions but they are beginning to work.

You are about to talk of the feel-good factor, I could sense it coming! I think people can see increasingly the fact that life is getting better for them and for other people and whereas they said two or three years ago: "Well, I don't like that decision, that is very unpopular!" - and we were very unpopular for doing it - they are now beginning to see that those decisions are paying off, that they have changed the economic and industrial climate and I believe they have.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked that although people might accept the feel-good factor the indications are that they are not necessarily giving the Government the credit].

PRIME MINISTER:

But which indications are they?

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was told it was research by Kleinwort Benson].

PRIME MINISTER:

Ah, research! I think one needs to see what is actually happening across the country. I have, if I may say so, heard on many occasions in the past that a particular government isn't getting credit for something. Governments between elections are there to be kicked, that is the way the British conduct their public affairs.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether it was actually near an election and not between elections].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we are not coming up to an election very soon. We will have an election before 1 May next year but that is not very soon, that is almost one-sixth of a Parliament. Within a few weeks of the French presidential election, the winner of that election was a long way behind; in the last two presidential elections in the United States the winning candidate was miles behind the losing candidate just before the election.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether he was being complacent].

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not being complacent at all, I am just indicating to you what happens and what has happened. I seem to remember being asked seven days before the last general election what I was going to do after it because the Tories were so far behind we could never win the last general election. Well we did, we won it with the greatest number of votes any political party had ever got.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether he was now further behind in the polls].

PRIME MINISTER:

We weren't this far behind a week beforehand, we were this far behind a year or so before the last general election most certainly and I think people need to see the way things are changing.

We will go into the next general election with the best economic position that any British Government has had in facing a general election since the Second World War. That is the position we will go into the next general election in and people will recognise how that has come about - of that I am certain and I do not believe they will wish to put it at risk.