Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1996 - John Major’s Speech to the 1996 Welsh Conservative Party Conference

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Porthcawl on Friday 14th June 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Britain Transformed

People will ask you ‘What have the Tories ever done for me?’

It’s an honest question - bluntly put - and deserves an honest answer, equally straightforward.

So spell it out for them.

Remind the questioner there’s been a revolution in education. In 1979 one in eight young people went on to higher education. Today it’s almost one in three. A third of all families can look with pride to their child’s achievement. A third of our young people enter the world of work armed with a better education.

‘Well’, they may say “So there’s education. But what else have the Tories ever done for me?”

Under the last Labour government, if you needed an operation, you had a one in five chance of waiting over two years. Today, only a handful of people are waiting that long.

‘Fine - there’s education, health. Fair enough. Anything else?’

Inflation. There’s another certainty. If we’d kept inflation at the level we’d inherited and followed Labour’s policies, today a loaf of bread would cost £1.25 and a pint of milk 70p. About double today’s prices.

‘All right. I give you that. But what else have the Tories ever done for me?’

Well, there’s tax. If we still had the tax system we inherited from Labour, the average earner would be paying £17 more a week- £17 a week - in tax. How about that?’

“Mmmmm. Education, health, inflation, tax. Is that all the Tories have ever done for me?’

Look, don’t have to tell you ladies and gentlemen, they’re tough on the doorstep. So come right back at them.

There’s the unions. In 1979, we lost twenty nine and a half million days to strikes. Twenty nine and a half million. The dustmen, the council workers, the car workers all proving Labour doesn't work. Since then, the number of days lost to strikes has hit the lowest since records began.

‘Yes, well’ they may say. ‘Apart from education, health, inflation, tax, strikes. That’s all very well, but what have the Tories ever done me?’

Take a deep breath, and broaden the picture.

Under Labour, loss-making nationalised industries cost the taxpayer £50 million a week.

Today, privatised industries contribute £50 million a week in tax. £50 million a week - enough to pay for 11,500 hip replacements, 1 new hospital a month and 5 new schools.

What’s more, electricity bills are down £18. Gas bills - excluding VAT - down over £90. Phone bills still falling - down £44 in the last three years. Privatisation works.

‘So there’s education, health, inflation, tax, strikes, household bills. But what have the Tories ever done for me?

Jobs. Under Labour, unemployment rose by 122 per cent. 2.500 people became unemployed every week. This week, unemployment fell again - down by 800,000 since its peak. We've more of our people in work than any major country in Europe.

‘Sure, sure. That’s all very well. But how else have the Tories helped me?’

There’s mortgages. Average monthly mortgage payments are around £170 lower than they were 6 years ago. At less than 7%, they’re at a 30 year low. The average rate under Labour was 11 per cent.

‘So that’s it, is it?’

No. Here in Wales. William has been working to improve the environment. Intending to designate the Menai Straits as a nature reserve. Aiming for 50 of Wales’ beaches to be of the highest, blue flag, quality. Helping to protect Wales’ coast. So there’s health. Education. Inflation. Tax. Strikes. Bills. Jobs. Mortgages. The environment. How about that for a success story?

‘Yes ... but why didn't you tell me about all that in the first place?’

Madam Chairman, that’s what life under the Tories has brought about: it’s quite a story. The story of a Britain transformed.

Which part of our United Kingdom do you think has recorded over 1,500 new inward investment projects, worth billions, during the last thirteen years?

Where has unemployment fallen by almost 26,000 over the last three years?

Where has self-employment risen by almost 30 per cent since ‘79?

Where have days lost from industrial action fallen to less than 1% of those lost in 1979?

Here in Wales. That’s the kind of change Conservatism brings in its wake. Change for the better. And it doesn't stop there.

Look at Caerphilly. Once overshadowed by Cardiff and Newport, today a thriving major retail and commercial centre in its own right.

Or the new Severn Crossing. Built with private finance as a vote of confidence for the growing South Wales economy.

Or the new Ford plant I visited this morning, a £340 million investment bringing almost 500 new jobs to Bridgend.

One success after another under a Conservative Government. To borrow a phrase you may have seen about town: ‘Yes, it worked’,

Life is better. And if people want a change, they need to be clear what they’re changing from, and what they’re changing to.


The Next Election

At the moment too many people are sleepwalking into the next election - which is precisely what Labour want them to do. It’s the whole point of their strategy. They want to drug people into thinking that voting Labour is risk free. They don’t warn people to realise that if they vote Labour, Britain will never be the same again.

Madam Chairman, that’s not my idea of politics. Britain is the oldest democracy in the world. I've always believed that if you give the people the facts, and treat them like adults, then you can trust them to make their own minds up.

Our job is to set out our case. To make people think before they vote. And to leave them in no doubt what the consequences would be for Britain if they decide to cast aside everything we've achieved and take a massive step into the dark.

Because the next election is a watershed election. Many of the changes Labour want to slip past us are irreversible.

Three over-arching issues will lift this election out of the run of the mill. Issues that will decide the kind of country we live in.

First, there’s the United Kingdom itself. You might think it’s right to give Scotland its own Parliament and Wales an assembly. Or you might think that’s a rotten idea, as I do. But whatever you think, once you go down that route, it’s difficult to turn back. The change might be irreversible. It would be no use saying ‘No one told me that would happen’. It would be too late. The Union would be gone.

Then there’s Europe. You might think that Britain’s destiny lies in being drawn ever deeper into a federal Europe. Or you might, like me, believe we should resist that tooth and nail. Because once you've given powers to Europe it’s all but impossible to get them back. No use saying ‘Oh I didn't think that would happen’. It would have happened.

Finally, there’s the economy. You can eve an argument about whether you have more state control, as Labour believe, or less, as you and I think we should. Whether or not you agree, don’t doubt what’s at stake. You’d be throwing away the strongest economy in Europe - I repeat the strongest major economy in Europe. No point in complaining ‘Oh, I didn't think that would happen’ when taxes, strikes, inflation all start going up - as they always do under Labour. By then it would be too late.

Britain’s success, our Union, our nation - that’s what Labour threaten. Between now and the next election I’m going to set out the difference, the major difference, if I may say so, between us and Labour - and I’m going to say it and say it and say it until everyone understands all that is at stake.


The Choice

On the day they go to the polls, people will think of a number of things. High on their lists will be which party will make me and my family better off?

The Conservative answer is simple. We believe in rewarding hard work. Encouraging people to set up their own business, to save and invest for the future.

We want to give people the chance to spend more of their money as they wish.

So as soon as we can safely do so, our instinct is to cut taxes. They’re still too high.

Britain will never be able to compete in tomorrow’s world if we’re lumbered with high taxes, cramping enterprise and investment. That’s what you’d get under Labour.

But to cut taxes we need to keep spending under control. We’re doing just that. For the first time in its history, spending on the welfare state will grow slower than the economy. Of course we’ll always help those in genuine need. But let spending spiral out of control, and we can wave goodbye to a strong economy.

Now look at Labour, they’re addicted to the spending state.

Look at what they’re planning.

First, anyone earning as much as Clare Short could be taxed more. Care has a bee in her bonnet. She thinks they’re doing too well. So it’s bad news for them.

It’s also bad news for anyone living in Scotland. They’d be clobbered by Labour’s Tartan Tax.

Bad news for any middle class parent with a child staying on at school. They run the risk of losing their child benefit. Labour’s Teenage Tax.

Bad news for anyone who owns shares in a privatised utility. Labour’s Windfall Tax.

And heaven help anyone who uses a company car or drives to an out of town shopping centre. They’d run straight into Labour’s Shopping Tax.

Oh, they’re high on tax in the Labour Party. So to keep your money, make your choice: lower taxes under the Conservatives, higher taxes under Labour.

As for jobs, we've the lowest unemployment of any major European economy.

Why? Because of our policies.

Look how much it costs to employ someone across Europe. I don’t mean wages. I mean extra costs over and above wages.

For every £100 an employer spends on wages, he’d have to pay an extra £32 in Germany. An extra £34 in Spain. An extra £41 in France. An extra £44 in Italy.

But here in Britain, the cost is just £18. That’s why we’re competitive. It costs less in overheads to employ people here than in other European countries.

That’s why we've attracted more foreign investment than any other country in Europe.

And that’s why I won’t sign the Social Chapter or have a minimum wage.

But Labour would. They say they’re after full employment - what they’d get is more unemployment. The minimum wage would price job-seekers out of the market. The Social Chapter would price Britain out of the market.

So once again, the choice is clear. Policies to create jobs under the Conservatives. Policies to destroy jobs under Labour.

Of course, the only way Britain will remain competitive is if our children learn the skills of the future. Education is vital.

Conservative Britain has come a long way. Schools are no longer a secret garden. Just look at our record. A national curriculum, tests, performance tables, regular inspection. Choice for parents - every parent - even Labour politicians. That’s all right. We’re broad minded. And more young people going on to higher education than ever before.

That’s the Conservative record on education and I’m proud of it.

And here’s the future under the next Conservative Government.

More choice.

More grant-maintained schools.

Tougher teacher training.

More selective schools – including grammar schools.

More Assisted Places.

More results published.

Every child is different. Every parent deserves choice. Opening doors for everyone. That’s Conservative policy.

Labour’s idea of education is a scorched earth policy. First they enjoy it, then they destroy it.

Some Labour politicians went to private school. But do they support them? Not a bit of it. They’d deny others the chance they had by abolishing assisted places.

Some of them went to grammar schools. So now they’d like to abolish them.

Some of them make the most of choice. They send their children to grammar or grant- maintained schools. They’d be abolished too - once the children have left.

Labour standards are double standards. And their motto: ‘do what I say, not what I do’.

When it suits them Labour mouth platitudes about teaching children the basics. But when it came to the crunch, oh, that’s different. Where were they when we had to fight to introduce the national curriculum, tests, and league tables and the rest? Who opposed us at elections, in Parliament and in councils up and down the country?

You’re right - Labour. My motto is: ‘watch what they do, not what they say’.

So it’s clear. More choice, higher standards, more freedom under the Conservatives. Less choice, more control, more restriction under Labour.


The Nation

A strong economy. A skilled workforce. A nation that’s winning in markets around the world. That’s how we'll become the Enterprise Centre of Europe.

But, just when we’re enjoying economic success, nothing would be more disastrous than Labour’s plans to carve up Britain. It would be an act of constitutional vandalism.

Our nation’s prosperity and future depends on unity. Once broken up, it would be difficult - probably impossible - to put it together. And that’s the second reason why the next election is all important.

I don’t say this for party political reasons. Nothing would improve the partisan, political fortunes of the Conservative Party than to see Scotland and Wales with Labour and Nationalist MPs going their own way. But we don’t want that.

For one thing, we want Scotland and Wales electing more Conservative MPs. But irrespective of how they vote, we believe the people of Scotland and Wales want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Our United Kingdom has been moulded over the centuries, battered by the tide of history. Yes, it has changed. And it is changing. But necessary change, not change for change’s sake.

Yet Labour’s plans are just that.

When was the last time you heard someone looking for a job saying ‘What we really need is an assembly. Then I’d get a job?’

Or parents concerned about their children’s education. Are they thinking ‘An assembly! That’s what my child needs to get through school’?

And how many pensioners have you heard muttering ‘Welsh assembly. Welsh assembly – that’s what we need to fight crime on the streets’?

Madam Chairman, a Welsh assembly is as pointless as a blunt pencil.

Worse still, Labour’s plans are an humiliating, patronising slap in the face for Wales.

Labour’s lust for power has forced them to promise Scotland a tax-raising Parliament. Why? Because the only way Labour can hope to compete against the Scottish Nationalists is to propose barmy plans for their own party political advantage. That’s why Labour want a Scottish Parliament. It’s their bid for Scottish votes.

As a result, Scotland would become widely over-represented at Westminster. The only way Labour could attempt to redress the balance is by lumbering England and Wales with totally irrelevant assemblies.

I come to Wales as an Englishman. A Conservative Prime Minister. But Prime Minister of a United Kingdom.

Labour Prime Ministers - one of them even sitting for a Welsh seat - have governed the United Kingdom without holding a majority of seats in England. But they never said they had no mandate to rule England. They never said England should go its own way.

But now Labour are singing a different tune. My duty is to point out the dangers of following Labour down the route they’d take us.

Wales will choose.

If the Welsh people want a focus for division, then a good way of doing so is to vote for a Welsh assembly. If they think an inspiring way to greet the Millennium is to have more politicians, chattering away in an assembly, then by all means they can vote for one.

If, unlike Mr Blair, they can guarantee that an assembly won’t demand powers to spend other people’s money, they can vote for one.

If they know why a Scottish Parliament should be elected by PR, but a Welsh Assembly by first past the post, they should telephone Mr Blair- because he hasn't the foggiest.

I have only one vote. I know how I’ll be using it. To protect and defend the United Kingdom from policies that would hurt and never work.

But Labour’s madness knows no bounds. It spreads to the third great issue - Europe.

Labour believe that our future lies in a sort of superstate. Let me remind you, Labour would undermine the veto. Jeopardize our rebate. Sign up to the Social Chapter. Give more powers to the European Parliament.

No wonder Mr Blair says he’d never be isolated in Europe. Armed with a blank cheque, he’d agree to what is wholly against our nation’s interests. With his set of policies, he’d have little choice.

Some people might like his idea of being part of a European superstate. If so, they can vote Labour. That’s their prerogative.

Others - like all of us here - have a very different vision. It’s a vision of a Europe of nation states, linked by traditions of freedom and democracy and a single market, trading together but preserving their own identity.

I don’t want to see our nation swept aside. Our Parliament at Westminster must remain the focus for British democracy - not Brussels.

Yes, of course we must remain a part of the European Union. We can’t afford to be outside the world’s largest single market. We created that single market. It remains in our national interest to be part of it. The Union has made co-operation, not conflict, the habit between the nations of Western Europe.

But we need to persuade our partners that the way forward is by building a partnership of nation states. A partnership that respects the cultures and traditions of European countries.

We will argue for the Europe we want. And if we disagree, and think Europe is going in the wrong direction, we'll simply say politely but firmly - ‘no, that’s not for us’.

Europe must be flexible enough to allow us to do that. As more countries join, we can’t hope to fit into some universal blueprint. Nation states can’t be expected to march in institutional step.

Flexibility, patience and understanding are essential. So I say again, if Europe goes federalist. Britain will not follow.


Peroration

Madam Chairman, no party has the right to point the British people towards the polling booth anaesthetised by warm words, hollow generalities, and a vague wish for change.

We Conservatives inherited a Britain on the rocks.

We've spent seventeen years rescuing this country from that inheritance and turning it round.

Turning the tide of progressive thought in schools takes years.

Reversing liberal approaches to crime takes years.

Curbing the powers of the unions takes years.

Getting inflation down to all time lows takes years.

Building a Europe of nation states takes years.

But on Britain’s doorsteps pointing to what we've achieved is only half the picture.

We need to alert people to the choice they will have to make. When they go into the polling booth and pick up that stubby little pencil, what they’re voting for will be nothing less than the future of Britain.

Say to the people before they vote ‘If you want a fragmented country, a weaker Britain, the end to our economic strength and that’s what you vote for, then fair enough, that’s democracy. You have that right’.

But don’t leave them on the doorstep under the illusion that they’re voting for something else. Don't let them be conned by that sort of thing: it’s a false prospectus.

These issues are too great, too important to be brushed aside. If Labour had their way, the face of Britain would be changed for good. Forever. And irredeemably for the worse.

We Conservatives can’t afford to let that happen - and we won’t. Which is why New Labour, Old Labour, any old Labour, are trying to pull the political wool over people’s eyes.