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)

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