The Conservative Party in Blackpool: Major calls for defence of values: Patricia Wynn Davies and Stephen Goodwin report on the Prime Minister's speech at the close of the Tory conference

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR yesterday sought a return to core values of self-discipline, respect for law, traditional education and personal responsibility that should never have been pushed aside.

'The old values, neighbourliness, decency, courtesy . . . They are still alive . . . yet somehow we feel embarrassed by them,' he said. 'We see attacks on the very pillars of society - the Church, the law even the monarchy, as if 41 years of dedicated service was not enough.'

The Prime Minister said governments could legislate and provide resources, but governments could not make people good. 'That is for parents, for churches, for schools, for every single citizen.'

Fashionable opinions had replaced communities with tower blocks, stopped the teaching of spelling and tables, said the family was out of date and that criminals needed treatment, not punishment. 'Fashionable - but wrong, wrong, wrong,' he said. 'We must go back to basics. We want our children to be taught the best; our public services to give the best; our British industry to beat the best.'

Tackling party unity, first with a joking reference to Lady Thatcher's forthcoming book, he said: 'I see memoirs. Memoirs to the left of me. Memoirs to the right of me . . . Let me say right away. I'm not about to write my memoirs, not for a long time.'

But in a plea for unity that went further than the conference platform, he said: 'Of course we won't agree on every single aspect of policy. But I think you will agree with me on this . . . we have to have our agreements in public and our disagreements in private. And if agreement is impossible, and sometimes on great issues it is difficult . . . then I believe I have the right as leader of this party to hear of that disagreement in private and not on television, in interviews outside the House of Commons.'

In a similar appeal on the theme of differences of views over tax and public spending, Mr Major said the Tory party differed from others because it wanted a government that 'lives within its income and without your income'. High income tax would never be part of the Conservatives' programme. But he continued: 'Success has another vital ingredient. Getting public finances under control.' Now Britain was in recovery and had to cut the deficit. 'We all agree on that. But it's no good agreeing on the principle unless you take the action, and it's no use people urging us to take the action unless they are prepared to back us when we have taken it, for it may often be difficult.'

Opinions differed on whether to tax more or less or spend more or less. 'All that's perfectly okay for the Opposition. But it won't do for the government party. We can't have a lobby against every difficult decision. Decisions are what government is for. Once the debate is over, once Ken Clarke has announced our Budget, we Conservatives must work together and take that message to every single part of the country.'

Insisting that inflation was in check but was never in check-mate, he said ensuring high inflation never happened again, destroying businesses and livelihoods and savings, meant sometimes having to hold back ambitions for tax and spending. The Prime Minister said nothing would do more for growth, jobs and confidence in Britain's future than agreement in the Gatt world free trade talks. In an implicit warning to the French, the main obstacle, he said: 'Let me say to some of our European colleagues, 'You're playing with fire,' or to put it more bluntly, 'Get your tractors off our lawn'.'

On the return he wanted to 'those old commonsense British values that should never have been pushed aside', Mr Major said he was proud to pay tribute to tens of thousands of teachers up and down the country. But there was bad teaching as well. The principle of simple pencil and paper tests was not negotiable, he said. 'Unless we teach the child to read, to write and to add up, then we hobble that child for the rest of his life.'

Personally endorsing proposals for tougher rules on bail, police use of DNA testing and an end to the right to silence, and for a new imprisonable offence of possession of child pornography, Mr Major said there was alarm where alarm was never before, in rural areas as well as in cities. He added: 'Policy must be dictated by the needs of justice, not by the number of prison places we happen to have available on any given day. Better the guilty behind bars than the innocent penned in at home.'

Turning to attack Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Mr Major listed the 'scare talk' which he said party workers could confidently reject. There would be no charge for visits to the doctors, no charge for stays in hospital, no prescription charges for pensioners, and nor would pensioners have to go the bank instead of the post office to collect their pensions.

Dealing briefly with VAT on domestic fuel bills, the Prime Minister said he knew the concern people had. 'They think they're going to face massive rises. They aren't. And the vulnerable fear they are going to be left without compensation. They aren't'

He mocked John Smith, the Labour leader, as a 'Scottish Buddha' saying nothing as his front bench changed tax policy, planned a united Ireland and opposed testing in schools. 'We saw something rather remarkable in Brighton last week. They called it a famous victory; Labour's victory. I would call it John Smith's political Munich.' Citing one of the composite motions passed last week, he said the trade unions would 'now only make 70 per cent of policy and choose one third of the leader. Which third is unclear. Perhaps they think it doesn't matter. They have long had the bit above the neck. What we had last week is a minor reduction in union influence in the Labour Party and a promise of a huge increase in union power in Britain if there was a Labour government . . . One small step for the Buddha; one giant leap for the 'brudders'.'

As for the Liberal Democrats, he said they were against VAT fuel in the morning and for a carbon tax in the afternoon; they were the high tax party - income tax, local income tax, carbon tax, regional tax and Scottish and Welsh taxes. If they thought it would raise revenue, they would tax syntax and tintacks. Liberal Democrat leaders were the 'fanatics of federalism' in Europe. They had been out of office so long, the only decision they could take was that they wanted someone else to take the decisions for Britain.

Mr Major said the Conservatives were the only mainstream party not prepared to move towards a centralised Europe. They should fight the European Parliament elections on a clear and distinct British Conservative manifesto for the future of Europe. The Tory vision was of an independent, confident Britain giving leadership in a wider, free-trading Europe.

Mr Major took another swipe at Paddy Ashdown as he moved on to Bosnia, accusing him of 'distasteful' posturing. It was all very well to call from the sidelines for a huge military commitment, he said, but service chiefs knew that while the threat of air strikes was a good deterrent, a guerrilla war could not be settled by bombing. He would not ask the British soldier to risk leaving his mother without a son or his family without a father unless there was a real settlement. And he meant a real settlement - 'not some ploy to suck outsiders in and then start the war again'.

The Prime Minister promised the Tories would remain the Conservative and Unionist Party and said they were not going to bargain away the Northern Ireland people's democratic rights 'in order to appease those who seek to rule by bullet and bomb'. To do so would be a betrayal, he said, particularly of those parties who took the lead in constitutional politics.

(Photograph omitted)