Speech to the Conservative Party Conference 1994
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Yeltzin 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 be significant 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
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
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
So Paddy Mayhew and his team - a team who have done so well, better than
[inaudible due to interference] constitutional parties. We intend to complete a
framework document with the Irish government. We hope to restore local
accountability and local democracy to Northern Ireland; to seek an agreement, an
agreement that is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, and we shall
test their view in a referendum as a cast-iron safeguard of our intentions.
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
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.