What democratic legitimacy has a Prime Minister who lost the last vote in the House, who has lost every by-election by a mile, and who is now being abandoned by some of his most honourable Members, including the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson), who is warmly welcomed to the Opposition Benches today? How can a party at war with itself provide good government? Is it not degrading of the Prime Minister to deny the country an election and the choice between an exhausted Tory Government and an invigorated young Labour party? They cannot command the confidence of the people. The powerful cry from this country's people to the Government is to go—
In his busy life, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity yesterday to read in The Times, in the series on aging, a self-analysis by a middle-class married woman, in which she identified seven what she called
irritating little signs of the spiral towards death",
and did he note that she placed at their heart having voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last general election?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has just had an extremely interesting trip to Japan. While he was there, he might have been better occupied if he had travelled on the privatised Japanese railway—a policy which he and his colleagues also oppose for this country. What the right hon. Gentleman, despite his rhetoric, does not in his heart understand is that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector—[interruption.] I am delighted to see the opposition to private ownership coming from Opposition Members. Private ownership enables people to have, if I may use the phrase, a stake in this country.
He can tell that to consumers of water and electricity. Is it not obvious that the only reason that Post Office privatisation is back on the agenda is to placate that faction of the Conservative party that wants to privatise anything and everything? Is it not precisely because the whole business of his Government is now about pleasing one faction or another of the Conservative party that the country has given up on the Conservatives as a serious party of government?
For the right hon. Gentleman, who tries to tell the world that he is a moderniser who has brought his party into the 1990s, to oppose—as he does lock, stock and barrel—private ownership of industry in this country, when prices are falling and services are improving, shows the extent to which the glossy words he uses are not matched by what he really believes in.
The right hon. Gentleman will have observed over the years that we have included in our manifesto many policies to which he and his party have objected, and we have won elections on those policies. He should say whether he will re-nationalise those industries that arc now in the private sector. What is the answer to that? He does not know and he cannot say, because, if he says yes, he upsets one half of his party and if he says no, he upsets the other half.
Is it not clear that the Prime Minister cannot stop his colleagues from squabbling however many warnings he gives them on television? Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence now indulges in long-distance, intercontinental squabbling. As long as the Prime Minister has to face those elements in his party, he cannot address the concerns shared by thousands of people who voted for him last time, which were so clearly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson). Might he not now admit that the party is over for him?
I believe that the hon. Lady has made a decision that she will, in due course, come to regret, for reasons that I have set out in the past. She has made her decision and will have to live with it, both in the short term and in the long term.
Matters of concern for people in this country are mortgage rates, which are the lowest for 30 years; the basic rate of tax, which is the lowest for 50 years; unemployment, which is falling more rapidly here than anywhere else in Europe; and inflation, which is lower than it has been for 50 years. Those are matters about which the right hon. Gentleman used to attack the Conservative party some years ago; they are now being solved more successfully than they have been at any stage in the past. The right hon. Gentleman has no response to the economic prospects that now lie ahead of us.
There is, of course, a close relationship across Europe between socialist Governments who have been in power for a long time, the level of social costs that they apply, the adoption of the social chapter and the unemployment levels in those countries. That is why we are so determined not to adopt those policies, but to ensure that our economic policies create jobs and do not destroy them for dogmatic reasons.