1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of John Major’s speech at the ERG Conference, held on Thursday 2nd July 1998.
When William Hague became Leader of the Conservative Party, I offered him my full support. I told him that if he ever needed my help, he had only to ask. If he asked for advice, I would offer it. If he wanted support, he would have it. But I never expected to deliver his speeches for him.
I know William is sorry not be with you this evening. He’s asked me to offer you his apologies and best wishes for a successful evening.
But William’s loss is my gain. It’s an unexpected pleasure to be amongst so many friends this evening.
Changing mood of politics
In just the last few weeks, I sense that the mood of British politics is beginning to change.
There is an arrogance about this Government that is very unattractive. It has a huge majority and enjoys tremendous goodwill, but it is in danger of squandering it.
I approve of some of the Government’s policies -
I will support expenditure where it is sensible, since the National Health Service belongs to all of us and is not just the political plaything of Labour. Nor is Parliament, which sometimes seems like a by-
The Prime Minister -
The Chancellor prefers to ignore economic debate in Parliament -
It is all very well to appear on the Des O’Connor Show and the Richard and Judy sofa. But for senior Ministers, it should not replace rigorous debate in Parliament or on the media. It is not disrespectful to Mr O’Connor or Richard and Judy to say they should not be the main shop window for presenting the policies of an elected Government.
Call me old-
I somehow cannot imagine Mr Gladstone, Mr Disraeli, Mr Attlee or Mr Churchill dumbing down politics in the way the present Government are doing.
I shall turn on another occasion to the ill-
Select Committees are not to be treated in a high-
Mr Cook was among the first to demand public inquiries in the last Parliament. He should not be slippery now. He should be the last to hide information from Parliament. It is unethical. What happened to the Government’s wish for freedom of information? If Mr Cook has a public interest reason for secrecy, then so be it; but if so, let him tell us so.
Unless he does, he should tell the Select Committee all he knows and let them see all the papers he has. He should tell them who saw the papers, to whom they were copied, whether there was a Joint Intelligence Committee Report and to whom it went.
I make no judgement prematurely about all this, but the Select Committee should make a mature judgement and they must be given the information to do so. Parliament should not be bypassed by the Foreign Secretary, however large the Government majority might be.
So the mood is changing -
Economy and business
Why is it that serious commentators are starting to dust off those 1970’s buzzwords -
Don’t misunderstand me. That strong economy has not all disappeared. Much of it is still doing well. The service side is still growing steadily. Services strong. Manufacturing weak. Rising inflation and the early signs of rising unemployment. That is why businesses are beginning to fear stagflation again.
The Chancellor’s policies have pushed up interest rates and raised the cost of borrowing. Sterling is up over DM3 again, piling extra pressure on exporters. Last week’s CBI figures on export orders for May and June were the worst for 15 years. No wonder manufacturers are finding life tough.
The last Conservative Government had many detractors, but we left the economy with the best set of prospects Britain has seen for generations. Low inflation. Falling unemployment. Low taxes on companies. Base rates at 6 per cent. Companies creating more jobs.
Labour promised so much. They got elected by reassuring hard-
Nor is it just big business and exporters who are under pressure. Small businesses are the real engine of growth. They find high interest rates even more difficult to bear. So it is doubly unfair that they are being singled out for extra taxes as a result of Gordon Brown’s tax-
Take the decision to abolish retirement relief on Capital Gains Tax. Under the current system, a small businessman selling up to retire pays no tax on the first £250,000 of the proceeds. For many hard-
But under proposals soon to be come law, retirement relief will be abolished and replaced by a tapered system of CGT. So businesses under £250,000 in value will now be liable to tax.
Perversely, the new system will mean lower tax for some larger businesses, but higher tax for small ones. It is no way to encourage people to work hard and build up their businesses. It is no way to boost the enterprise culture.
It is just one example of what I mean when I say the Government is putting our Golden Economic Legacy at risk.
Duty of Opposition
There are two great tasks for the Conservative Party in the year ahead. First, we have to mount effective opposition to the policy mistakes that the Government is making. As the impact of those mistakes starts to feed through in the form of higher interest rates and taxes, there will be plenty opportunities for us to do so.
Second, we must be confident about our prospects. This Government are not undefeatable. They obtained fewer votes in 1997 than we obtained in 1992. We have lost before and won again.
The Conservative Party has served our country in Government more often and longer and better than any other party in the history of British politics.
It will do so again.