Two years ago, almost to the day, I made my first visit to Japan. Then, I was Leader of the Opposition. Today, as Prime Minister, I am delighted to be back.
This is a special year for relations between Britain and Japan. Britain has just assumed the Presidency of the European Union and the Chair of the G8. Your Prime Minister will come to Britain for both the Asia/Europe meeting in April and the G8 summit in May. In May, Their majesties The Emperor and Empress will make the first Imperial Japanese State Visit to Britain for twenty-seven years. And on Monday I will launch the British Festival. These events will highlight and strengthen the unique partnership that exists between Britain and Japan.
Looking back at the speech I made to the Keidanren two years ago, I said that New Labour would be different from past British Governments of either persuasion. And in Government, we are fulfilling that promise.
We are setting economic and monetary policy on a sound, prudent basis that will last - an end to the old boom and bust.
We are putting through the greatest changes in British education policy for 50 years.
We are embarking on a structural reform of the welfare state, to make it fit for the 21st Century.
We are developing, in Britain's relations with the rest of Europe, a new, positive and constructive partnership for the future.
It is as ambitious a programme of reform, modernisation and renewal as any contemplated by any Government round the world. And yet I have no doubt it is right. This is a world of change: massive global economic forces; social change and diversity; a cultural and technological revolution in travel, communications and innovation. No nation can stand still when the world is turning.
Of course, change takes time. It is hard, sometimes, when there is work-in-progress to see the finished product. But it's happening. And the end product will be a Britain of which we can be proud. A sound, high investment economy, schools and hospitals better, a welfare state renewed, a country at home in Europe, leading in the world again. It takes time. It isn't easy. But doing the right thing for the future is always worth it in the end.
Have no doubt: this Government will not be deflected by short-term considerations. We will take difficult decisions. When it comes to putting our economy on a secure footing for the long term, we intend to go the Full Monty. This is a very English expression. Most of you won't know what it means. It is an expression of absolute determination and I am determined that nothing will get in the way of making Britain a model 21st century economy. The Full Monty is also the name of a new British film. I hope you will have a chance to see it in Japan soon.
I am proud of the fact that, at a time when all governments and all political parties, of left and right, have been forced to change traditional thinking, New Labour has been at the forefront of change, and at the forefront of new thinking. We have broken through traditional barriers of left and right.
I often ask myself: in ten or fifteen years time how would I want commentators to judge the Britain that New Labour will by then have created? I would like them to say first, that we are the real long-termists now. That Britain has once and for all broken away from its post-war record of short-term decision-making, the political expediency of the quick fix and the destabilising economics of boom and bust.
Second, that the potential of our economy is much stronger; that Britain is much better equipped to succeed. I want to enhance the essential features of our potential for the future: better standards in education; better opportunities for training and lifelong learning; exploiting our unique potential in science; improving our infrastructure.
My mission is simple: to build a modern Britain in which prosperity, and a decent, fair society go hand in hand. To demonstrate that we have a new model for government in the 21st century that works with the grain of globalisation. A model that combines economic dynamism with social justice. A Third Way in which government works in partnership with business to boost enterprise, education and employability.
In these part eight months, we have made progress in all the key areas on which we were elected.
Within days of taking power, we gave the Bank of England independence in determining interest rates. This was our guarantee that politics will not get in the way of sound economic management. For decades, this had been advocated as a means of ending political short-termism. We did it.
In July, we put forward a Budget that kept to our promise of not raising income tax rates, but has cured the structural deficit in our public finances. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Britain, after a period of boom, endured the pain of bust: 15% interest rates for a year or more and record borrowing. No more.
We have also cut corporation tax to the lowest level of any major European economy.
The education revolution is under way. We are putting more money into the education and training of young people in Britain today. We are reforming student finance, to raise student numbers and improve our science and research base. This is about developing tomorrow's workforce. We are prioritising literacy and numeracy for primary school children. We are cracking down on truancy and indiscipline.
Our aim is high standards, the pursuit of excellence, discipline and leadership.
Britain offered a great deal before we were elected - a good workforce, access to the EU's single market, the English language, an attractive legal and commercial system.
A modern Britain, a Labour Britain, is offering more - a better skilled and educated workforce, better infrastructure, and a macroeconomic environment more conducive to sustained investment.
So your investment in our country is more than welcome. It is a vital part of our efforts to build a modern Britain.
Japanese companies have now invested ??20 billion in the UK.
They have contributed to the regeneration of areas which had been in decline, and have transformed the lives of tens of thousands of British families.
And investment continues to flow in. Japanese companies are already demonstrating their confidence in the new Government's policies.
Shortly, before dinner this evening, I had a meeting with Mr Okuda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation. He told me that his company will be expanding their operations at Toyota's Deeside engine plant. They will invest a further ??150 million to make the engines for Toyota's new small car, creating over 300 new jobs. This reconfirms that Britain is the most competitive location for manufacturing cars in Europe. It underlines Toyota's commitment to the UK, and to Europe. I am delighted, and proud, that Toyota has chosen to invest further in the UK.
But it's not just Toyota. Since the election:
* Panasonic have doubled their capacity at Port Talbot and now employ more than 2,500 people in Wales. * NEC have expanded in Scotland. * Toshiba now employ more than 1,500 people in Plymouth. * Ryobi have increased their investment in Northern Ireland to over $100 million. * and Nissan in the North East of England were rated "the most productive car plaint in Europe" by a recent Economic Intelligence Unit survey.
To Mr Okuda and to all of you who have invested in Britain, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. You have shown your confidence in the skills and commitment of the people of Britain. You have invested in Britain for the long-term.
There has been a transformation of attitudes to Europe by the new Labour Government. Ours is a positive, constructive approach to Europe, widely welcomed by our European partners. I know that for Britain to be an effective partner for our friends outside Europe, we must have respect and influence inside the European Union.
I am in Japan today both as the British Prime Minister and also to represent Europe. I am delighted that one of my first tasks as President of the European Union is to come to Tokyo for the EU/Japan Summit.
The key decisions for the start of the single currency will be taken during our Presidency. We will play the honest broker in getting it launched successfully. Our own position is now also clear.
As the Chancellor said on 27 October in the House of Commons: "if, in the end, the single currency is successful and the economic case is clear and unambiguous, the Government believe that Britain should be part of it".
Unlike its predecessor, this Government has made it clear there is no insuperable constitutional barrier to our joining.
For good economic reasons, Britain will not join the single currency on 1 January 1999. Our economic cycle is not the same as our EU partners. Our interest rates have to be, at present, well above those of France and Germany. To join EMU now would mean economic decisions that would be wrong for the health and stability of the economy. That point is widely accepted. There must be economic convergence for a single currency to succeed. There isn't such convergence at present between Britain and the rest of the EU. Before a decision is taken we need a period of settled convergence, stability and preparation.
In any case, it is manifestly in Britain's interest that the single currency works. We will do our best to make it work. And, of course, we must prepare for the Euro in any event.
Those preparations are already underway. The Bank of England is working with the City of London to ensure that the City is the place to do business in the Euro. The British banking system will have the capacity to process payments in the Euro. And companies will be able to issue shares in the Euro on the London Stock Exchange.
Outside the City, businesses are also preparing. From 1 January 1999, business in Britain will be able to have bank accounts in the Euro. They will be able to file company accounts in the Euro. Japanese companies investing in Britain can have confidence. Their ability to trade with the rest of Europe including in the Euro, will be assured.
We also want to complete the Single Market; to improve the employability of the European workforce; to build a wider Europe by starting negotiations to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe; and to strengthen the relationship between Europe and Asia.
I want Britain and Japan to work together to ensure the Asia-Europe Meeting in April is a success.
I regret to say that the news headlines in Europe at the moment are dominated by the difficulties faced by many Asian economies. I do not want to exaggerate the scale of the problems. But they have had a worldwide impact.
I do not believe the present difficulties call into question the benefits of globalisation. We cannot afford a return to protectionism and nationalism. But today's global markets mean that inappropriate policies quickly come to grief. To work for all our benefit, globalisation must be accompanied by sound domestic policies and well-regulated financial structures.
I am confident that the current difficulties will be overcome. Confident of the underlying strength of the Japanese and other Asian economies. Transparency, good governance, tough financial supervision and regulatory reform are required if economies are to grow again. And hard choices have to be made for confidence to be restored. As incoming chair of the G8, we in Britain have a particular responsibility to work with Japan and our other partners in the IMF and elsewhere to resolve the immediate problems. I want to pay special tribute to the measures being taken in Japan to support the banking system, and to the financial reform programme - the "Big Bang" - under way. I am sure it will be of great benefit to Japan and the wider world.
The ties between our countries are strong and getting stronger. I have already talked about Japan's contribution to Britain. I believe Britain also has much to contribute to Japan. We are a creative nation. British software writers produce computer games for the Japanese market. British pop music is played in Japanese clubs. British fashion designers are as popular in Tokyo as in Paris. British retailers are bringing their innovation and design to consumers throughout Japan. The British Festival will celebrate Britain's creativity, vigour and youth.
I have already mentioned Japanese investment in Britain. But Britain is the world's second largest overseas investor. Tomorrow I will open the new British Industry Centre in Yokohama, which will help small and medium-sized British companies to invest in Japan. I have also brought a distinguished British business delegation with me. As the global economy becomes ever more integrated, I believe that, to succeed internationally, British companies will have to expand in Japan and extend their partnerships with Japanese firms around the world.
My message today is simple: we are in this for the long term. For the first time in years, Britain has a Government with a long-term vision, taking the hard decisions necessary.
The uncertainty, introspection and half-heartedness of the last few years have gone. We are building a modern, dynamic outward-looking Britain for the 21st Century.
The 80s were a time of change - more flexible labour markets; privatisation of basic industries. Those reforms will remain in place. But it was also a time of chronic instability in economic management and failure to address fundamental weaknesses in our skills, education and welfare systems.
Now, at the end of the 90s, Britain is embarked on a new transformation, a second wave of reform.
An end to an education system fit only for an elite.
An end to a benefits system that neither helps the nor promotes social well-being.
An end to boom and bust.
I want Britain to be a model 21st century creative economy, competing on the talent of its people, open in trade, adaptable to new world markets, confident of a leading role in Europe.
This is the new chapter opening in British history - a time of change that will become a time of renewal.
I want Britain to be a model others turn to. Not just in a competitive sense. But in partnership. Working with our friends round the world, with you in Japan, to make us all more prosperous, more secure and better able to face the challenges in front of us.