Release of MT's private files for 1980 - (2) "NOT for Turning"

MT made one of her most famous speeches at the 1980 Conservative Conference, which - in its backs-to-the-wall style - came to typify the year

The conference took place at Brighton. MT stayed at the Grand Hotel in the same rooms as she did in 1984 - the Napoleon Suite (named for Napoleon III rather than Bonaparte)

There were some unpleasant demonstrations against the Conservatives at Brighton in 1980 and a large police presence, but of course it was all much more traumatic next time the party visited the town. There are hotel floor plans in the 1980 files, which have an eerie feel: some of those killed in 1984 are listed there

"NOT for Turning": background

Not for Turning - MT's annotations

Setting things up for the business of speech drafting, often a trying experience with MT, No.10 diary secretary Caroline Stephens wrote in ironic humour to various speechwriters. To the chief, Ronnie Millar: "I look forward, as always, to the all-night sessions in October". To Jock Bruce-Gardyne: "I am the bearer of good tidings! The Prime Minister would like you to do her conference speech". (Bruce-Gardyne in fact scheduled a holiday clashing with the conference dates and to everyone's apparent satisfaction was not there).

Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, John Hoskyns, was reluctantly brought into the speechwriting group (the final speech was essentially a joint effort between him and Ronnie Millar, at least as regards domestic policy). Early in the process on 3 October he sent MT a remarkably blunt note about the failings of her approach to speechwriting, describing the previous year's effort as an "unbelievable shambles" and demanding the exclusion of Bruce-Gardyne.

"NOT for Turning": content

The famous section was introduced into a later draft by Ronnie Millar. (In his memoirs he tells a story of MT reading through the passage for the first time and immediately turning to DT for a reaction, only to find him slumped asleep over the newspaper.) Changes MT made to tighten the text are visible in the image on this page.

The phrase puns on the title of a play - even then a bit obscure, now almost completely forgotten - by Christopher Fry, The Lady's Not For Burning. This piece was commissioned for the Arts Theatre in 1948 by Alec Clunes, father of Martin. Its content bears no apparent link to the Thatcher speech.

Soundbites are as much born as made (perhaps more so): no one seems to have had an inkling that the phrase would have anything like the resonance it did.

There is some sign that the speechwriters and advisers involved on the fringes were at odds about how hard MT should hit Labour. Labour's conference the previous week had been a particularly low point for the party, with Callaghan defeated on key reforms to the party constitution and his leadership clearly at an end (he announced that he would be resigning some on 15 Oct, five days after MT's speech). Labour's troubles were the brightest thing on the horizon for the Tories at this point. In the end MT said very little about Labour, as if they were doing such a good job on themselves that she didn't want to spoil it. (That may well have been the calculation, though no proof found.) By contrast, advisers as various as Alfred Sherman, Woodrow Wyatt, Lord Hailsham, and John Biffen all offered more on Labour. Sherman in particular offered some brilliant insights on this topic, arguing that the Tories should approach Labour's capture by the marxist left as a national disaster, warning of the danger and simultaneously lamenting it, the better to offer to sanctuary to displaced Labour supporters and to ease their way across the (in Britain) historically narrow bridge from left to right. None of this was used, but that is not to say it did not register, as Sherman himself hoped in a post-conference letter to MT.

In the drafting material for MT's 1979 conference speech were several pages of handwritten notes in which she explored thoughts that surfaced in 1987 in her "no such thing as society" interview - not used at that point, of course. Again, for this speech, an important phrase later associated with her is mulled over for use but discarded. John Hoskyns wrote to Michael Alexander on 30 September sketching discussion of "the enemy within - especially trade unions". MT made the phrase famous in reference to the miners' strike in summer 1984, speaking to the 1922 Committee. (Michael Alexander was MT's private secretary for foreign affairs – although a definitively party occasion, the conference speech was such a central event in the political calendar that Downing Street officials quietly played a part in its preparation. Their role may explain in part the sparing treatment of Labour in the speech – Ronnie Millar’s memoirs recall of the 1981 speech that the Principal Private Secretary gently threw in the question “do you want to be so hard on Labour?” [in the speech] and thereby destroyed MT’s confidence in the 1981 Miller-Hoskyns draft, which was permanently discarded.)

The preparation of the 1980 speech was clearly a pretty fraught business even by the standards of Thatcher conference speeches. DT captured the mood: “Honestly, love, we’re not trying to write the Old Testament” (John Hoskyns, Just In Time, p231).

One goal of the speech seems to have been to correct the idea that the Thatcher Government was heartlessly and dogmatically pursuing a narrowly economic policy at the expense of all else. To that end MT sharply distanced herself from the jargon of monetarism, using a passage inspired by John Biffen (as noted, an increasingly deep critic of the development of policy): “Our policy is, in fact, traditional. It existed long before ‘sterling M3’ embellished the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, or “monetarism” became a convenient term of political invective”.

And there is a section in the speech headed: "Beyond Economics", which takes up ‘Big Society’-type themes discounted or ignored in MT’s political rhetoric at the time and since. "Without a healthy economy, we cannot have a healthy society. And without a healthy society the economy won't stay healthy for long./ It isn't the State that creates a healthy society. For when the state grows too powerful, people feel that they count for less and less".

"NOT for Turning" documents


Next page - THE No.10 MACHINE