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1994 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in Huntingdon

Below is Mr Major’s doorstep interview with the press, in Huntingdon, on Friday 16th December 1994.


QUESTION:

What's your reaction to the by-election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a very poor result and I don't think one can possibly say anything else. It was fought against a very unpromising background indeed in the last month, and I don't think that the Conservative candidate can have done anything else...... But yes it was a poor result.

QUESTION:

How does it make you feel to lose with the biggest swing in political history since the war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it wasn't the biggest swing since the war. There have been bigger. There was a much bigger swing against the Labour Party in Bermondsey, for example, some time ago. But I don't draw very comfort from that. As I say it is a poor result. But I think some good can come out of it. Providing people realise within the Conservative Party that they must pull in the same direction and for the same cause, at the same time, and against the same opponent, then I believe that will dramatically transform the political environment in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that a great deal is going right, economically and in other ways. But that message simply isn't getting through to people at the moment. It is masked. We must try and whip that mask away and let people see that this country is steadily moving into much more promising economic future.

QUESTION:

You say it's a poor result, other people have described it more as a disaster. What are you going to do about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think I have just indicated what needs to be done. When one has unpopularity in mid-term there are two things that need to be done. One is that you need to ensure that the policies are right and that those policies are working. Self-evidently, economically those policies are working, not even our fiercest critics would deny that now. The second thing is to make sure that the whole of the party is actually promoting those policies, talking about those policies and not being diverted into other, no doubt, interesting matters. Now that's what the Conservative Party must do.

QUESTION:

What were the critical factors, that you would say, were the voters' reasons for not voting for you this time?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think they feel the economic recovery yet. People can see that the country is doing much better, but people themselves don't feel that they and their families are yet doing any better. And I think that they are very upset about that. In due course that will become apparent to them. And I think also that is is scarcely possible to have found a more unpromising background over the last four or five weeks in which to have fought a by-election. A great deal has happened, none of it terribly helpful to the Conservative candidate.

QUESTION:

Has the VAT vote given ....... the way they voted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I dare say there are a range of things that would have had an impact upon the way they voted, no doubt that was one of them.

QUESTION:

What would you need to do now to actually get the voters back for maybe the next by-election or certainly for the next general election? Obviously they are very unhappy at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it isn't a unique phenomenon of course in mid-term. I don't wish to brush it away or be complacent about it. I am not remotely complacent about it. But by-elections that are very poor for the government of the day in mid-term are not unusual and this has been a cycle that has got progressively worse in every Parliament, I think, since the 1950s. People to tend to protest. It is an unusually volatile electorate at the moment. They do tend to express their feelings very forcibly at by-elections. What we have to do is to show people that we have the right long-term policies and above all that we have got an economic recovery which is going to improve their prospects. And if one looks at what is happening: unemployment has fallen by half a million over the last two years. Now, if we had stood here two years ago after a by-election, everyone would have been asking me questions about when we were going to get employment beginning to rise and unemployment beginning to fall. It is doing, and doing so in quite dramatic terms. Growth is running at a very high level at the moment - 4% - inflation is at an historically low level. I think these things are created in a much happier environment, they make people feel better and show that the country is doing better. But it isn't yet apparent to them. It will be. But it isn't yet.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the question is showing people what we are doing is in the country's interest. I believe that what we are doing is in the country's interest. The whole of the western world has been through a dreadful recession. In this country we have now come out of it in better shape than almost any other country in the world. There is no country in western Europe that has the growth that we have at the moment and that has the combination of rising exports, very low inflation and falling unemployment. Only in the United Kingdom has that happened. Now, that hasn't yet become apparent to people. They say that they are not concerned at what happens in other countries, and are concerned about the difficulties we have here and I understand that. I certainly understand that. It has been a difficult time for them. But what they wish to see is that their country is doing well, increasingly that is what they are going to see.

QUESTION:

When is it going to be apparent?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is already apparent to any people in business. If you talk to businessmen and if you have a look at the export figures for example, our export figures are running at record levels. Many people said when we came out of recession that inflation would rocket - well it hasn't rocketed. They said that we would have a balance of payments crisis. Well the balance of payments is narrowing. So it is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone in their own household and in their own individual circumstances. They are still worried about employment prospects, even though unemployment is falling. And we've learnt in the past that historically this takes time. It takes a while for people to see over a period of some time that things have been steadily getting better. Even as we speak that is happening. And it will eventually become apparent. I can't say when but it will happen.