This is the text of Prime Minister John Major’s speech to the Conservative Party conference.
Prime Minister John Major speech to Conservative Party conference.
Well I’m glad you came!
Shall I tell you what I felt when I first used to come to this conference and I sat down there, where you are at the moment? I used to sit there and I used to wait, and I used to look up at this platform up here, that great barrier that we used to have between the people who lead this party and the people out here who work for this party, and you know what it looked like to me? It looked just like the politburo at Vladivostok.
So this year we’ve decided to change, to lower that barrier and get nearer to you, the people who make the Conservative Party work up and down the country.
And there’s a message in that for all of us: we now have to get closer to the people who vote for this party, and help make this country what it is, from one end to the other.
Mr. President, the political landscape has changed in the last few years, and it’s changed again in the last few months. The language of politics is now Conservative language. With every speech and every copied aspiration, the Labour Party finally admit how wrong they’ve been for so long, and how right we have been.
So forget the hype. It’s we who’ve changed the whole thrust of politics and moved it in our direction. We have won the battle of ideas, and it is an astonishing triumph.
When the Labour Party consider what has happened, they may realise what they’ve done, because what they’ve done is to study our instincts and our attitudes and then go away and market test them. And when they’ve done that they’ve discovered what we told them long ago: that they are the hopes and dreams of the typical Briton. It’s a huge compliment to this party and we should accept it gratefully.
But it’s one thing for the Labour Party to commit grand larceny on our language. It’s one thing for them to say what market research has told them that people would like to hear. But it’s quite another to deliver it. They have some hard questions to answer.
If you talk of full employment, then you should say what you mean. And then you should explain how that could possibly square with the minimum wage and the Social Chapter, which sound comforting but are deadly to jobs.
And if you talk of low tax and low spending, does that mean supporting Tory tax cuts and Tory expenditure reductions? As to that we shall see before the writ of this parliament is run.
If you preach about community, then you shouldn’t grow politically fat on the politics of envy – and didn’t Blackpool reek of it last week.
And if you’re going to attack over-mighty government and bureacracy, then you shouldn’t promise Scottish and Welsh parliaments with more bureacrats and more taxation.
And if you do, you should answer the question: Will Scottish Members of Parliament be permitted to vote on matters in England that English Members of Parliament would not be permitted to vote on in Scotland?
And if Labour plan a Scottish Parliament, will they plan also to reduce the number of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons at Westminster, or will they gerrymander the Commons to boost their own political chances?
Mr. President, these are deep waters. So let Labour be the party of devolution. We are the party of Union, the party of the United Kingdom.
Mr. President, I’ve relished this debate. These are great issues, but they are our issues, this is our ground, and upon this there is a battle to be fought that this party will undoubtedly win.
So I have this advice for you: don’t waste time on the past – it’s gone. Out there, up and down the country, people are concerned about the future, not the past. That is where the political debate should be, and that is where I intend to take it in the months and years ahead.
In politics, if you expect the unbelievable, then you’ll never be surprised. It is probable that at the next election, the government and the alternative government will both be talking tory language.
But there is a difference: only one will mean it. Buying Tory policies from Labour is like buying the Rolex on the street corner. It may bear the name, but you know that it isn’t real. Our task is to promote the real thing, and expose the counterfeit.
We hear talk of a new Labour Party. A new Labour Party. These aren’t people without a past, lovable little extra-terrestrials beamed down for the duration.
Mr. President, since 1979, we’ve beaten the old Labour Party, the very old Labour Party, the redesigned Labour Party and the new model Labour Party. And as for this new, “biologically improved” Labour Party, it may wash blander, but I would give it a shelf life of under three years.
Mr. President, at Blackpool, Labour filched two of the principles on which we fought the last general election: opportunity and responsibility. But wasn’t it interesting that they left out two others: personal choice and private ownership. They’re vital to us.
So socialism may be a bit out in Islington just now, but Conservatism isn’t off my agenda. As they so often invent what we think, let me tell them clearly what we stand for: we believe in free markets, we believe in private ownership. It doesn’t go against the grain for us to say so. It’s not a new Conservatism that we’ve just discovered, it’s one of the oldest principles of our party and we believe in it passionately.
And because we’ve believed in it, millions of families up and down the land now have savings of their own: Granny bonds, TESSAs, PEPs, the hundreds of billions of pounds in the banks and building societies. It is our philosophy that has given people that choice and that security.
That is the message that we must carry forward. Our opponents present ownership as if it was something selfish, self-centred, perhaps even greedy. Some people are all of these things, but most are not. People who have earned well, people who have saved, people who have inherited the fruits of a parent’s lifetime’s work are not the “undeserving rich”.
No, Mr. Brown, they are deserving workers. How does Clause IV put it – “by hand or by brain”. So let me hammer the point home ever more clearly: we are the party of savings, of ownership, of property, of personal independence. We offer people choice: the liberty to grow, and yes, the liberty to make their own mistakes. We admire success in life, and we will never, never, never resent it in other people.
We try to remove government from the everyday lives of people. We believe that every family should be entitled to enrich their own private corner of life, and then pass it on to their children without over-mighty taxation. That, Mr. President, is what Conservatism is about, and there is only one party in this land that truly believes it.
Mr. President, I know when people hear the word “economy”, the spirits droop. They think they’re in for a lecture on the PSBR, GDP, and all the rest of it. Well, you’re normally right, but not today. I just want to say today that the word “economy” should lift the spirits and not depress them, because the great cries of lasting growth with low inflation, which we have sought for the whole of my adult lifetime, is now within our grasp. Whisper it gently, but we are now doing well as a country.
For most people, it isn’t their everyday experience, not yet. But it will be, and I’ll tell you why. Britain is making more, selling more, exporting more. This time we have built a recovery to last, built on firm foundations, on export and investment. Month after month after month, exports from Britain have broken the record set the month before, and they did so again just last week.
These islands of ours are exporting cameras to Japan – you did hear me right, cameras to Japan; computers to Germany; cars to America; clothing to Hong Kong, and Cosmetics to France.
We know what we were told. We were told unemployment would go on rising to five million. It’s been falling for the best part of two years, and Michael Portillo announced another fall earlier this week.
We were told we wouldn’t get interest rates down, but we have; that we couldn’t hit low inflation, but we have. These are the very things that bring security, make jobs safe, improve living standards and strengthen this country’s influence right across the world.
What is the prize that lies ahead? Let me tell you what it could be. In 1954, in Blackpool, “Rab” Butler was speaking to this conference. Suddenly he said something quite extraordinary. He said that living standards could double in this country in 25 years. People scoffed, but he was right. For the country as a whole they did double in 25 years.
So let us have the courage to look forward once again. If we are able to keep inflation down, as we must, and control public spending, as we must, what does that mean for our people? It means stronger growth, improving the services we care about – education, health, the police service; it means more money in people’s pockets and more free choice for those people.
Britain has changed. It may not have been noticed but it has changed. Not for 30 years has this economy grown so much faster than prices. So let us bang the drum and say so. It’s time to put the marker down, but as Ken Clarke told you yesterday, we need to stick at it, and for this reason neither Ken nor I, ever again, want to go through the boom-bust cycle that causes so much pain and so many lost hopes for so many people up and down this country.
And that is why in some ways we are a bit puritanical. That’s why we are so determined to control public spending, improve competitiveness, cut regulation, and let private enterprise build public wealth. That’s why we’ll be prudent
about what we spend, cut taxes where we can, and above all build up the long-term health and strength of our industry and of our economy.
Mr. President, it’s time for this country to set our sights high again. What “Rab” Butler saw was prophetic and positive. Let me echo it today. Because of what has been achieved, with the right determination, with the right policies, we have the chance once again to double our living standards in the next 25 years, and that is something that everyone in this country can feel good about and feel good today.
Mr. President, I want to talk about education. How many people in this world are fulfilled, really fulfilled? How many do the jobs that they might do? How many have had their minds stretched and extended? “Not enough” is the answer. Not as many by hundreds of thousands as should have. That’s why education matters so much to me.
I’m just burned enough to know a little about that. I left my chance late, so I did a lot of my schooling while off for a year with a shattered leg, in the company of Trollope, and Jane Austen, and Adam Smith, and a lot of dull but terribly useful books on banking. Better companions one never had, until now.
But I was lucky. Not everyone is. It’s my personal ambition that everyone should have the same chance to rise to the top on merit. Never mind where they come from, what their parents income is, what their religion is, or what their colour is. These are irrelevant, and please God they will always remain irrelevant to the people of this country.
What matters to me is that they have the same chance. Good schools can be a lifeline out of poverty, the ladder to a better life. That’s what our changes are all about: the curriculum, the testing, the league tables, the inspection, the new parental choice, the challenge to the old council school monopoly, the emphasis on better vocational education, and the creation of new universities. Mr. President, it is not reform for its’ own sake, it is reform to deliver higher standards for all our children.
Bad teaching fails children. They may get through if they come from families with a social edge, a sophisticated home and the good books that go with it, but bad schooling falls most heavily on pupils who have none of these things – children from homes without a book in the house, from blaring day-long television homes.
Mr. President, we are a national party, and these children are as much our responsibilities as are the higher climbers. If the school ladder’s all abstract theory and holds out no rungs of letters, facts and numbers, who loses? The children lose. The people who need our protection lose. The people easily defeated lose. The people who live at the bottom of the heap who deserve a chance to get off it lose, and it’s just plain wrong.
And that is why I want teaching in the weaker schools to be levered up, because if it is, someone will get off the bottom of the heap, and if it isn’t that is where they will stay, probably for the rest of their lives. I will never accept that. I’ve no time for those who are complacent and oppose improvement, and all too often they are the high priests of the politically correct.
They are the people who can afford the good things in life, who chortle away about our emphasis on basic standards and the three ‘R’s, and then move to a different catchment area, with better schools for their own children. They’re people who have in their own homes the books that they say other people’s children aren’t up to reading. They are the people I cannot take, the kind of people who have clambered up the ladder and then seem ever ready to kick it away from other people.
Education’s there to lift the eyes, broaden the horizon, distinguish between the great and the trite, the right and the wrong. It’s there to unlock the gate to a better life, and by and large teachers deliver this. They have a hell of a job, but they can make the difference for children between apathy and despair, and seeing the remote but inviting light upwards and out.
Teachers that do their work well, for heaven’s sake, teachers that do their work well, are the prime route out of the class trap. I care enough about teachers to give bad teachers a bad time, and I care about children enough to oppose sloppy, experimental teaching that ignores common sense.
Up and down the country, dedicated teachers have worked hard to put our reforms in place. They haven’t always liked every aspect of them; so we’ve listened. Sometimes they have been right and we have changed our minds. Many teachers feel there’s been too much paperwork. I agree with them, and there still is.
That’s why we’ve been working with them on slimming down the National Curriculum. We’ve now finished that job, and it’s been dramatically cut, and we’re now out to reduce much of the other paperwork that schools have to deal with. Teachers should be marking homework, they shouldn’t be doing it, and we’re determined that is how it will be.
After the curriculum changes of recent years, teachers deserve stability, to be able to get on with their jobs without any more upheavals. So today I promise them this: there will be no further significant changes for the next five years.
And there’s another area in which we must give teachers our full support. I’m disturbed by some of the stories I hear – too many stories to ignore – about violent attacks on teachers and false allegations against them. The teachers’ unions are concerned about these issues and so are we. In this area, the unions deserve our support and the unions will get our support.
But education involves fun as well as facts. Schools are friendlier, less forbidding places than once they used to be, and I think that’s good. But they seem to have lost something. I don’t regard sport, especially team sport, as a trivial add-on to education. It’s part of the British instinct, it’s part of our character. Sport is fun, and it deserves a proper place in the lives of all our children.
Of course it can’t supersede Maths and English, though how I longed for it to do so when I was at school! But it must take its proper place alongside them. We are therefore changing the National Curriculum to put competitive games back at the heart of school life.
Sport will be played by children in every school, from five to sixteen, and more time must be devoted to team games. Many schools already offer at least two hours a week for sport and physical education. That should be the minimum, and I hope schools will offer more.
Schools should establish links with local clubs and national sports bodies to help do this. They must open up their facilities outside school hours, and harness the willing help that I know is out there. There are sports coaches, parents and other volunteers by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds who will willingly come in outside school hours to help our youngsters have a better grounding in sport, and all it means, for the rest of their lives.
So while we’re about it, I don’t want councils selling off school playing fields they may need. I want those playing fields kept, and I want those playing fields used.
Mr. President, there are many views about nursery education. My view is quite clear: I am in favour of it. The picture’s improving. Over half our three and four-year-olds go to nursery school. Nine out of ten have been to a playgroup or nursery school before they’re five. I think it’s time to accelerate this trend. So I’ve asked Gillian Shephard to work up proposals to provide places for all four-year-olds whose parents wish them to take it up.
This is a long-term proposal, but we intend that this new provision will begin to come on-stream during the lifetime of this parliament. This won’t be an easy exercise. We must consult parents and practicioners to get it right, because any additional publically-funded provision must be of high quality, it must promote diversity and parental choice, and it must be carefully targeted in a way that expands and does not crowd out the private and voluntary provision that we have at present.
Since we are making a lasting change to pre-school opportunities, we will have to phase in the introduction of this extra provision, but what I am doing today is giving you a cast-iron commitment that it will happen, and I’m giving you that commitment now so that Gill Shephard can start consulting on it next week.
Mr. President, I intend now to dispose of one of the most insidious lies in British politics. In life, some of our deepest convictions are formed by experience. Book-learning is vital, but life-learning runs deeper.
When I was a boy, my father was elderly and sick, and my mother was frail. Their life wasn’t comfortable; they needed treatment regularly. They got it from the National Health Service. They had no money to pay, but they weren’t asked for any. I saw then, not only how well they were treated by the National Health Service, but the security of mind it gave them to know that it would always be available. I have never forgotten it.
Now let me tell you a later story. Two weeks ago when Boris Yeltsin was at Chequers, we went for a walk. There was some comment afterwards that I was using a walking-stick. Naturally if I was using a walking-stick there must be an
ulterior motive – was this my bid for the rural vote?
Well, no, actually. I was using a walking-stick because I injured my leg badly in a car accident thirty years ago. For a while, that many years ago, I thought I might use it. It was saved by treatment on the National Health Service. I have never forgotten that either.
Against that background, is it likely that I would damage the National Health Service or privatise it? Believing as I do that the greatest nightmare for millions is that one day, however prosperous they are today, that one day they may be old, sick, poor and uncared for, is it likely that I would take away from them the security of mind that was of such value to my parents? Mr. President, I can tell you, not while I live and breathe would I take that away.
Let me say something else about the Health Service: It is the National Health Service, it doesn’t belong to any one political party. The Labour Party, even today, take credit for setting up the NHS. I wouldn’t take that away from them – it’s one of the few bits of their past they don’t currently seem willing to repudiate.
But who has been in government for most of the fifty years since the Health Service was established? We have. It is we, the Conservative Party, who have been in government for most of those fifty years. It is we, the Conservative Party, who have cherished the National Health Service, and built it up year after year after year after year. Mr. President, it’s our Service too.
But there is one difference between us and Labour. We don’t use it as a political football for party ends. Mr. President, we just build it up. I wonder how many of you know how many huge new hospital projects have been built since 1980 – you know, that period during which it’s said we have been running the National Health Service down?
How many? None? Five? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? More than that? Surely not. In fact yes. The actual figure is over seven hundred big projects, each costing more than a million pounds and some of them many tens of millions for the one project.
And I’m not talking about car parks and offices, I’m talking about patient facilities – new hospitals, operating theatres, pharmacies, maternity units and the like – all within the National Health Service, seven hundred of them since 1980, and I saw the latest bulletin here today: a new day surgery unit in the Royal Bournemouth Hospital just down the road.
But there’s more. Consider it, perhaps, as it is: one multi-million pound National Health Service project every eight days the Conservative Party have been in government, throughout its fifteen years. That’s not words, it’s reality, and go out and tell it because it’s our Service too. So I have a message for Labour’s Health Spokesman, “Junket” Blunkett.
Mr. President, when I became Prime Minister, I asked for a fresh look at the criminal justice system: the way we prevent crime, the way we police our streets, and the way we punish the criminal, and I did so because I felt that concern had shifted too much towards the criminal and too far from the victim.
Why is there so much crime? The cheap, thought-free answer is to blame the so-called “acquisitive 80s”, but that’s just party political posturing; the roots are deeper than that. It is a long-term trend: sadly too many people feel
less respect for their neighbours and for their neighbours property than once they did. And yes, I believe we have fostered too easy, too casual a response to crime by too great a tolerance of crime over many years.
There have been too many voices excusing crime, explaining crime, and justifying crime. We think that’s wrong. That’s why we’ve increased penalties for rape, violence against children, firearms offences, drug-related crime and crimes committed on bail. And so that we can not be said by our opponents to have ignored what our opponents call our “friends in the city”, let me say we have also increased sentences for financial crime.
For a whole range of crimes, then, we have toughened sentences, and judges are now using them. For the first time in years, a rising proportion of convicted criminals are being sent to prison. I take no pleasure in that, but everyone has the chance to stay within the law, and that is the point. If we are to change the climate against crime, then the offender and the offender’s chums must know they will not be able to swagger out of court, untouched, immune and boasting about getting off scot-free.
I believe such firmness is right, and I believe it is necessary. Prison should be decent, but it should be spartan. No-one wants to alienate and harden attitudes, but prison is there to punish and not to pander. I fear that is not always the case, and where it is not, Michael [Howard] and I are agreed, it will have to change.
But don’t let us fool ourselves. Punishment alone will not do the trick. We have to change attitudes, improve policing, and support the innovative methods of Chief Constables. We are now developing much more targeted approaches to crime – new approaches; we’re investing in more effective crime prevention.
We must make streets safe for the law-abiding and dangerous for the criminal, and that is why we’re putting yet more money into closed-circuit Television. It’s been a huge success, not only in big cities like Newcastle, but in smaller places like King’s Lynn as well.
We’re going after drug dealers and drug trafficking, putting together the most comprehensive campaign against drug use ever launched in this country, and we will be announcing the details of this next week.
And we are putting modern science at the disposal of the police. As Michael Howard told you yesterday, we’re giving them wider powers to take DNA samples from people they suspect of crime, and that will help target sex offenders against women and children, and as a result help make this country just a little bit safer for millions and millions of people.
The powers in the Criminal Justice Bill are needed, and I can tell conference this: we will never be deterred by the disgraceful riots like those we saw in London last weekend. And the sooner the Labour leadership disowns those Labour MPs involved in organising and speaking at this event, the sooner we may be prepared to take seriously some of their strictures on crime.
And I can tell you how I feel about that episode: I think there’s something profoundly sick with people who organise a demonstration which turns into a riot, and then criticize and attack the police who are only there to protect the
public from the results of that riot.
Mr. President, we hear enough bad news about crime. Let me tell you some good news. In Manchester crime fell by 12% in the last year; by 12% too in my own county of Cambridgeshire; in North Wales by 10%. What does that tell us? Not to relax, never. It doesn’t tell us to be complacent. But it does tell us we can fight back successfully. If you can target burglary and cut it in London and Warwickshire then you can do it elsewhere. Mr. President, it will take a
national effort to beat crime, it will take time, and it must involve everyone, but we are determined to succeed and we have made a beginning.
Many of the changes I’ve been talking about have come about in the last year or so, and I believe that people who have spent that time criticizing my good colleague Michael Howard would have been far better off supporting him during that year.
Mr. President, a generation ago it was said that Britain had lost an empire but not yet found a role. It may or may not have been true then, but it surely isn’t true today, because economically and militarily Britain remains in the top league – a member of the permanent five of the United Nations, a leading member of NATO, of the European Union, and of a Commonwealth that covers one-third of all the people on earth, a member of the Group of Seven of the worlds’ most powerful economies and one of only five significant nuclear powers in the world, and we have too as a priceless asset, perhaps the finest professional armed forces anywhere.
That is Britain today, stripped of the masking-tape so often placed above it. So let’s recognise what we are, look with confidence at the new world, and go out and put our own distinctive British mark on it.
The changes taking place around the world are truly awesome. I’m not sentimental about them – I know how fragile they are. Two months ago I was in Warsaw, where the first bombs fell in 1939, fifty years on from the heroic uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. It was good to be there. That August evening, we met in a free Poland, whose President was Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker who helped to change history. And taking his hand in friendship were the leaders of a democratic Russia and a united Germany. Poland’s past enemies were there as friends; hope had flowered and the world had changed.
A month later I flew to Berlin, where allied forces were leaving after half a century. That day, our troops marched away from Berlin with that professionalism and that patience which is the special preserve of the British soldier. For nearly fifty years, they had stood guard for peace and freedom at the gates of Berlin; now they were no longer needed; the world had changed.
Three weeks ago, I was in South Africa. When Harold Macmillan spoke there of the “wind of change”, it was to an all-white audience and a South Africa that was soon to leave the Commonwealth. But I spoke to a parliament freely elected by all South Africans, and that great country is back in the Commonwealth, back where it belongs.
And what a tribute that is, to the statesmanship and the vision of Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk. Finally, Mr. President, I flew from South Africa back to Chequers. There Boris Yeltzin was my guest, and the President of Russia and the British Prime Minister shared a country house weekend, a walk in the English countryside, and a pint of beer in a British pub.
Four snapshots of change, historic days, when the impossible becomes not just possible but an everyday reality. Now the cold war is over, but while the threat was there, there were appeasers and accomodaters in plenty – but not in our party. We can say it with pride: We never heard their voices in this hall.
As in the past, so in the future. Whatever uncertainties may lie ahead, this nation can trust that instinct for security that is a defining characteristic of the Conservative Party. Mr. President, the challenge now is to catch the tide of events that have flown in recent years so very strongly in our favour, to draw the nations of eastern Europe – historic, vivid nation states: Poland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and others – back into the European camera [??], to make democratic Russia an ally and not a threat, to help the democracies in the third world escape the excessive debt that cripples their development – and time after time it has been British initiatives that have led the way in achieving this, to use our age-old links with Africa to help prepare that troubled continent for a better future.
These are historic roles; historic roles for which Britain and the Conservative Party are marked out by history and by experience. We will use that experience. We will use it also to carve out the right position for Britain in the right sort of Europe. There are extraordinary enthusiasms – hopes, fears, apprehensions – on both sides of the European argument, but I made our general position clear with my speech at Leiden. I believe it carries with it the overwhelming majority of this country, and that is the basis on which I will negotiate in 1996.
And if I am not satisfied, I will do as I have done in the past: I will just say “No” to changes that will harm Britain. But I hope I will be able to secure an agreement that we can accept, for that is in the best interests of Britain.
Across the world, the last four years have been turbulent. The years ahead may well be turbulent as well. We will be cautious, pragmatic and safe, but the world remains uncertain and unstable. If anything the end of the cold war has
made regional wars more likely and not less likely. We cannot safely assume that it will be a safe world.
Only this week we have seen how quickly a crisis can blow up in the Middle East, but who better to send there and act for Britain than Douglas Hurd, our own Foreign Secretary.
Mr. President, we have interests the world over. Isolationism is a luxury that Britain cannot afford, and there is a growing need for regional peace deals – we are very good at them; the defence of British interests does not always lie on British soil. So we will continue to play a leading role, as we have always done, through the United Nations.
Mr. President, the main point’s clear: while we have Conservative government, Britain will have a sure and stable defence, the best equipment, the best weapons, the best trained troops that we are able to provide.
Last week showed again how distinctive that position of ours truly is. In opposition it doesn’t matter that Labour voted to scrap Trident – in Government it would. In opposition it doesn’t matter that the first place Labour would look for cuts would be another defence review – in Government it would.
So let me mark out the clear ground, so that no-one serving our country in uniform is in any doubt. Three months ago, we confirmed our frontline would have an extra three thousand troops, and placed five thousand million pounds worth of orders and tenders for modern and effective equipment for the army, the navy and the air force. That, Mr. President, made implicit what I will now make explicit: the big upheavals in our armed forces are over. They deserve the best from us and they will get it.
Let me say something about Northern Ireland, and the momentous events through which we are living. For the past 25 years, Northern Ireland has faced the daily horror of murder and brutality, kneecapping and beatings, organised racketeering and viciousness to fund terrorism for political ends.
No morning has dawned that might not contain an atrocity: a father who didn’t return home, a woman or child indiscriminately bombed, a policeman or soldier killed by a hidden sniper. That evil has spread, from time to time, to mainland Britain: the Brighton Bomb, ten years ago this very day, that some of you will be remembering so vividly and so painfully. We still miss those who were lost and think of those who were injured. It was intended to murder a cabinet, but it ended up hardening the resolve of an indomitable Prime Minister.
We remember the murders of Airey Neave and of Ian Gow, the bombs in the city and at Downing Street, the agony of Warrington, and the heart-rending memories of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball who will never know the future that should have been theirs. What did those two little boys ever know of political disputes?
In all this time, these long twenty-five years, the extraordinary people of Northern Ireland have carried on with their lives. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. All the people of Northern Ireland need to know that a search for a solution to their problems is right at the top of the British government’s agenda, and I solemnly give them that promise.
We have made progress. It was the Downing Street Declaration that set out the principles that will continue to guide us. It helped isolate the IRA and push them to their ceasefire. As Jim Molyneaux put it, “It was significant”, he said, “when the IRA started to murder pensioners, children, mothers and fathers and so it was bound to besignificant when they stopped. The most significant part of all has been the victory of ordinary people over the terrorists”, and how right Jim Molyneaux was.
And yesterday, yesterday the loyalist paramilitaries announced that they too were stopping violence. Another victory for ordinary people, brave people, in Northern Ireland. Today, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the people of Ulster have woken up to peace. Our determination must be to make that peace permanent.
To fasten down what is unfolding needs clear reasoning and cold calculation. Many people will urge me to hurry. I understand their enthusiasm. I will not tarry one day longer than I judge is necessary. But I will take it in my own time. The responsibility for Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the British Government.
I am used to being urged to hurry. I have had such advice daily since the Downing Street declaration. But if I had listened, we would not today where we are, with the guns stilled and the bombs stopped and Northern Ireland on its way to a better future. So other people can call for speed if they wish, but I must ask the hard questions and I must make the right judgements at the right time, and to the best of my ability, I will.
Things are changing; the profile of street security has lessened on military advice, men and women are no longer searched when they enter hotels and large stores; but let me give this assurance: for as long as is necessary, as many policemen and troops as are necessary will stay on duty in Northern Ireland to protect all the people of Northern Ireland.
We have made a beginning, but not yet an end. Every day that violence is absent brings more hope. Progress may not be easy, there will be setbacks, there may be disappointments – people who are suspicious, who block progress. All this probably lies ahead. But there is, I am sure, a way through. If you will something, you can make it happen, and the will for peace in Northern Ireland is very strong.
So Paddy Mayhew and his team – a team who have done so well, better than [inaudible] I know the size of the task ahead. I’ve no illusions about its difficulty, or the past record of many of the people with whom we are dealing. But we cannot let history freeze us into inaction. There is a chance, a window for peace. We will enter it if we can do so with honour and with consent.
In the words of the old testament, which is common to both traditions in Northern Ireland, “There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace.” The people of Northern Ireland are sick of war. It is for them that we must build a time of peace.
Mr. President, it’s a cliche’ today that every leader must have “the vision thing”. We’re told he must map out, in dramatic form, new direction. I don’t disparage “the vision thing”, but alongside “the vision thing” I must tell you I remain rather attached to “the action thing”, to “the practical thing”, to the “how on earth do you deliver these promises thing”. By all means listen to a politician when he tells you what he plans, but ask him too “How will you do it?”. Take it from me, the devil, the very devil, can be in the detail.
I don’t disparage the mapping of direction, or sometimes, new direction. I hope I’ve sketched out some today, but I must tell you, there is sometimes merit in the old direction. Change for the sake of change should never appeal to any Conservative.
In a world sometimes of bewildering change, this party must stand for continuity and stability, for home and for health. And we must build this for the long term, for our children and for our grand-children. It is the young people out there, it is they who will make the world in which we grow old. They will make the decisions. They may decide in their time to strike out along new pathways, but it is for us in our time to build for them a stronger foundation so they may have that choice.
And today my message to you is that Britain is growing stronger: we are beginning to see the fruit of all the things we’ve battled and striven for throughout these difficult last four years. You know, running the country isn’t like walking down the road. You have to hold fast to your core beliefs, whatever the short-term pressures may be; see the right things through to their finish, whatever the risks may be.
To govern is to be engaged in a hundred themes, a thousand roots, and the everyday visions, sometimes conflicting, of literally millions upon millions of people. No windy rhetoric, no facile phrases, no pious cliche’, no shallow simplification, no mock-honest, mock-familiar adman speak, can conceal or should be permitted to conceal the infinite complexity of government.
Take care nobody tries to conceal that from you. Take care not to confuse travesty with truth. Never assume that because an idea is easily communicated that it must be right. Take care not to confuse oratory with practical concern. Look for the achievements of government not always in bold plans or crude conflicts, but sometimes in mended fences too, and sometimes in the accretion of small steps whose pattern takes time to become clear.
In this difficult world, our interests are daily at stake. The time is ripe for grown-up politics. The glib phrases, the soundbites, the ritual conflicts, all these may be the daily stuff of life for the upper 1,000 in politics, but to fifty million other people in this country they are utterly irrelevant and my interests must be with them.
It is said that actions speak louder than words. I hope so, for in the end, and when it comes to a choice I shall bend my energies always to work, not talk. My trade has never been in adjectives; I shall be patient. I shall be realistic. I shall ask for patience and realism in others, and I promise you this: I shall put my trust in results. Thank you.