Major pulls party back to basics: Prime Minister emphasises need for unity and says any infighting must be kept behind closed doors

JOHN MAJOR yesterday began to re-establish his grip on the Conservative leadership with a clear demand to his party to end public faction fighting, 'get back to basics,' and unite behind its 'commonsense British values'.

The Prime Minister coupled his most explicit warning yet to the parliamentary party - that he had the right to expect it to keep internal differences to itself - with a pledge that he would 'above all lead a new campaign to defeat the cancer that is crime'.

In a 62-minute speech designed to appeal to both the Blackpool Conference activists and the core Tory constituency beyond, Mr Major declared it time to return to the 'old core values' of 'neighbourliness, decency and courtesy' along with 'self-discipline and respect for the law'.

In a peroration which ended with a ringing expression of thanks for 'your loyalty to this party and your loyalty to me,' he said the party stood for 'self reliance' and for 'wages that stay in the pay packet, and don't drain away in tax' and for 'money that keeps its value'.

He also attempted to mobilise a moral majority in the electorate by pledging to roll back the permissiveness of the 1960s, announcing a crackdown on child pornography and denouncing the 'fashionable but wrong' nostrums on crime and education which had flowed from it.

And in a pronounced tilt towards the Cabinet right-wingers who had this week repeatedly underlined family values, he said one of the 'basics' was 'accepting responsibility for yourself and your family and not shuffling it off to the state'.

The speech, which did not mention Baroness Thatcher by name, and was light on references to the achievements of the 1980s, was the most effective Mr Major has made at a party conference. Its enthusiastic reception extinguishes any lingering prospect of a challenge this autumn, but without ending fears that the leadership issue could be revived in the winter or spring.

Although Mr Major has emerged stronger after a united conference which at one time threatened to be a disaster, the party still faces controversy over the Budget, value-added tax on fuel, and the prospect of the local and European elections next year.

After a week overshadowed by leaks from Lady Thatcher's forthcoming book, Mr Major declared he had been beset 'by memoirs to the right of him, memoirs to the left of him, and memoirs to the front of him'. In his only reference to his future as leader, he declared: 'I'm not about to write my memoirs. Not for a long time.'

Mr Major had considered an explicit attack - reminiscent of Neil Kinnock's blistering denunciation of Militant in 1985 - on the Euro-rebel factionalists in the party. But he scrapped the idea after advice from aides. Instead he launched a more generalised challenge to the party to unify, declaring: 'We have to have our agreements in public and our disagreements in private. And if agreement is impossible then I believe I have the right to hear of that disagreement in private and not in interviews on television outside the House of Commons.'

He reaffirmed that high income tax would never be part of the Tory programme while he was leader but, in terms which leave Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, free to impose indirect taxes, he warned that once the Budget was announced: 'We Conservatives must work together and take that message to the country.'

Mr Major reinforced the importance of his links with the Ulster Unionists to his parliamentary majority by declaring: 'We are not going to bargain the people's democratic rights . . . in order to appease those who seek to rule by bullet or by bomb.'

He derided John Smith, claiming his victory last week over Labour's internal democracy had won a 'minor reduction in union influence in the Labour Party'

at the price of 'a huge increase in union power if ever there was a Labour

government'.

Conference reports, page 4

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there