The Prime Minister told the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Inverness that: 'Too often our politics is rooted in old battles, not new opportunities . . . Sometimes I feel . . . that there is too much knocking, too much carping and too much sneering. Too much setting up Aunt Sally against Aunt Sally.
'Being negative can be an addictive drug . . . but it corrodes and destroys the body in which it exists. It runs the risk of corrupting the body politic of the nation itself.
'If politicians fight - in party and across party - like ferrets in a sack on every issue, is it surprising if the public turns away?'
Turning on the Tories who rebelled on Europe, Mr Major said: 'For too long, Europe has been the poison in the well of British politics.'
Europe was absolutely fundamental to this country's national interest, he said. 'I am a Euro-realist. I look at Britain's interests with a cold and clear eye.'
In a reflective speech, with references to his 'hard' upbringing in London, and his part-American roots, Mr Major sought to lay out his own long-term vision. Politics was not just about power, but about ideals, he said.
'I sometimes wish that side of politics was more evident. I know politicians of all parties. They are not the cynical, power-hungry, self-servers that fiction so often portrays.'
He told the conference, which had adjourned on Thursday to mark its repect for the Labour leader, that he had liked John Smith. The nation had seen the Labour leader and the Prime Minister 'set up in an artificial confrontation twice a week in the House of Commons'. But there was friendship in politics, decency and private relationships across all parties.
'There is principle and there is respect and understanding for the beliefs and the convictions of others. What a shame that becomes apparent so rarely.'
Turning his troops towards the European election campaign, which will resume after Mr Smith's funeral, Mr Major said the Tories would be putting forward a positive vision of the kind of Europe they wanted. 'Whenever the storm blows, remember the successes we've had and why we had them. We had them because even when the going was toughest, we stuck to our guns. We kept cool and we kept faith.'
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