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1989 May 26 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Mansion House (receiving freedom of the City)

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Speech
Venue:Mansion House, City of London
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Between 1250 and 1510.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:1670
Themes:Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Defence (Falklands War 1982), Economy (general discussions), Monetary policy, Public spending and borrowing, Religion/Morality

My Lord Mayor, Your Grace, [ Bernard Weatherill] Mr Speaker, Your Excellencies, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Ladies and Gentlemen.

May I first thank you, My Lord Mayor, on behalf of all the guests for the enormous privilege and pleasure at being present on this great occasion and for your kind hospitality at this luncheon.

May we thank the Remembrancer for his faultless ceremonial arrangements. May I thank the Honourable Artillery Company for the Guard of Honour and may I thank the Chamberlain, once again, for his most elegant speech. I do so hope it was all true.

As My Lords Mayor said: "be not idle", I heard my [ Kenneth Baker] Education Secretary say: "Ha ha, she is not". Of course not.

The City, as you said, is indeed a thriving centre of commerce and finance, bringing advantage to the whole of our country in the earnings it brings to us.[fo 1]

It is also a place which combines enterprise and generosity, not newly so, this has always been part of your tradition as you have helped not only the arts, but the education of the young, as you set out to help so many good causes, a tradition which you keep up and as an example to us all.

And the third thing for which you are renowned in the City, you set standards for the professions and for the crafts which have been such a fundamental part of the tradition of our whole country.

And may I thank you so much for the beautiful casket which you gave me which contains the scroll, it is of itself a superb example of beauty and craftsmanship with the Guildhall at one end and No 10 at the other.

It is even more valuable for everything that it represents. Because with these fantastic traditions which you have in the City and with this great ceremonial, your influence spreads out to the whole nation and way beyond even our shores.

I believe it is immensely important for the coming generation to have two things: standards to live up to and I believe that they are asking for it and longing for it once again; and the ceremonial as part of their lives, by which they honour those standards and have something to remember and some great tribute to our country and to this great City.[fo 2]

You spoke of the Livery Company, the Poulters, of which I am indeed honoured to be a member. I did a little bit of extra research into the history of the Poulters. In 1363 there was an Act of Parliament which ordered that prices of capons should not exceed threepence, prices of a hen should not exceed tuppence, prices of a goose should not exceed fourpence. However, down the road at Westminster they were not to know that here there was Mayoral Proclamation which calls prices to be raised 50 percent above the Parliamentary maximum, thus confirming the notion that prices in the City are always higher than in the rest of the country. Perhaps the origin of today's London Allowance.

For me it is a tremendous honour to be a Freeman. I have so many memories of how much the City of London meant to us and, since I have been Prime Minister, particular memories.

First, as a child I was brought up, as Mr Chamberlain said, in what I would call a nursery of civic virtue. It was a great honour to serve your locality as an Alderman. And so every year we listened on radio to the Lord Mayor's Banquet because that was the zenith of everything we believed in. That set the standards of honour, set the standards of service, set the standards of tradition, set the standards of ceremony. So every year we looked to that as inspiration and you know every year somehow there was a slight ambition in my own heart and mind that maybe one day I would be there, and you know I never got there until I was Prime Minister.[fo 3]

Of course it is as well for the Banquet of the City of London that everyone does not have to be Prime Minister to get there but it was so very important, not merely in the City of London, but out in many small towns and cities and villages we look to the City for our inspiration, for our standards, to set and continue the standards of service.

It was so fascinating as I heard Mr Chamberlain quote one of my favourite quotes from Goethe: "That which Thy fathers bequeath thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it". The City of London has been doing that for 800 years and not only earning it anew but, as we said in response to Mr Chamberlain, adding our own bequest to future generations, because that is what life is all about.

And then I remember, to just give you two examples as Prime Minister, I have been in this Hall on an occasion when we have had either a lunch or a dinner and it is a marvellous privilege. We were having very difficult times, as you might have remembered, in about the year 1981, I might say to you privately I just recall to Mr Gorbachev sometimes: "Now look you are going to have great difficulty in getting the economics right, even I did and I did not have half such a difficult job to do as you have got."

Now I remember it vividly, I was sitting down there somewhere, round about where Lord Belstead is, at a luncheon in 1981, it was a great occasion, I was giving the Businessman Award of the Year for a newspaper which you might not readily associate my name with—the Guardian—and I had a nice fixed little speech[fo 4] to give and I looked around, it was the day after the Budget, and I saw some journalists there who had written stinking, rotten leaders that morning, and I thought I am not going to deliver the set piece which I had come to deliver. I will say all of the things about business and enterprise, etc, etc, and did, and then I fixed my eye on one of those Guardian journalists and I said: "I am fed up to the back teeth of people who have urged us to have more and more and more public expenditure and then when we have not been able to get it down as much as we wish, have jibbed at paying the bill." And they had, and they did. No, they demanded more public expenditure, when they did not get tax down as much as they wanted they were highly critical and so I let them have it!

I told them I was no banker and I was not going to borrow money, we were going to finance that expenditure honestly and they looked at me in amazement, they had not had a Prime Minister who spoke like this before.

And then 364 economists wrote to The Times and said it could not possibly happen. My Dear, from that day we never looked back. And it all happened down there, somewhere round about the middle of that table. That sort of got the economy right. It was a very courageous Budget as it happened.[fo 5]

Then on another occasion, perhaps even more serious, when I was up there, round about where the High Commissioner of Cyprus is now, and had come, had been invited because The Lord Mayor is very generous in lending this Hall for very very great occasions and we were having a Heritage Dinner and the importance of conserving the heritage and I had had a very busy day at No 10, it was the Falklands year, the Task Force had gone down to the Falklands and had arrived and I knew, other people did not, we were about to do the reconnaissance to make the assault to which you referred on South Georgia.

I had not yet done the speech, that quite often happens but never mind, and about five o'clock in the evening along came the Chiefs of Staff to see me and this was not known at the time but of course was known later. And they said: "Look we have some bad news to give you, the first reconnaissance force has gone into South Georgia, the first helicopter landed on a glacier, the weather was much worse than they thought, they cannot get off. And so a second helicopter went and landed on the glacier and the weather was bad and they could not get off and we may have lost them." And I began to wonder whether we had been right to send the Task Force but it was a terrible augury and whether we were going to put people through terrible acts of courage for nothing.[fo 6]

And I went upstairs, knowing that I had to come to the dinner and thought about it and knew that life must go on and changed and came down, ready to go. As I came down to the hall, the hall which many of you know in No 10, of course I had not made up a speech, how could you carrying that burden on your mind, the Private Secretary dashed up to me and said: "We have just got a message, the third helicopter has got in, it has rescued all of the people and is on its way back to HMS Antrim".

The load that was lifted from my shoulders, I cannot describe. And you will know that when you have really had something to worry about, you never worry about the little things in life again.

Later that pilot was honoured for the fantastic work he had done. I had said to our Chief of Staff: "Is it an omen?" and I will never forget what he said to me, he said: "Look, things often start badly. Do not let that depress you, it does not mean they will go on badly."

And I have often remembered as we have embarked on great endeavours that somehow the first thing has not gone quite right, but just remember things may start badly, it does not mean that they will finish up badly.

It was within a week we had got one back, South Georgia, through acts of tremendous courage. It was within another few weeks we had regained the Falklands and from here, this Mansion House, we had seen the march-past and we had entertained those wonderful troops in the Guildhall.[fo 7]

The last group to march past were the Gurkhas and they were so disappointed that the Scots Guards had won the battle on Tumbledown so the Gurkhas were not called upon to do it.

But all of these things come back into my mind as I come to the City, as I come particularly to Mansion House because these are part of one's own memories and they merge with the ceremonial, with the standards, with the meaning of this great City to our country.

You have given me, My Lord Mayor, rules of conduct. They are not all easy to live up to but then rules are not. This one is really quite remarkable. I turn and look to the first rule of conduct: "Whatever you at any time intend to do, consider the end which you therein propose to yourself and be sure that it be always really good."

It is very difficult to live up to, but My Lord Mayor, taking your example, the example of the City of London over 800 years, may I pledge to you I will try.

And may I therefore, in that spirit, ask you to rise and drink a toast to The Lord Mayor and the Corporation and City of London in their 800th year and wish them well.