Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for Signpost ("This is your choice")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Signpost, 1959/3 (early September 1959)
Editorial comments: Item listed by first day of month of publication.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1556
Themes: Conservatism, Education, Industry, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, Family, Labour Party & socialism, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties


Margaret Thatcher Sums Up

The chief function of a general election is to decide not who shall be the local Member but which party government shall rule us for the next five years. It also decides, of course, who is to be Prime Minister; but the choice of government is by far the most important function.

It is a straight choice between a Conservative or a Labour government. There is no realistic third alternative.

What about the Liberals? some may ask.

Just suppose for a moment that the Liberals were fortunate enough to double their present representation in the House of Commons. That would give them twelve Members. Suppose those twelve held the balance between almost equal numbers of the two main parties. What would happen?

Well, the Liberal Members held the balance in 1923 and again in 1929. Neither government lasted more than a couple of years, which meant another general election. And on both occasions the Liberals put the Socialists into power. The ultimate result on the second occasion was the financial crisis of 1931 and the split in the Liberal party.

It is an absolutely safe bet that, if we give the Liberals the balance of power this time, we shall have to face another general election very soon, and then we shall have to decide between the two main parties. In the meantime unimagined harm can have been done. So surely it is better to make up our minds in the first place.

“Government” or “The State” ?

Let us look at the main features of the Conservative and Socialist policies.

To put it broadly, Conservative government means rule by consent; Socialist government means control by compulsion. It is a measure of the success of the present government that everybody is now thinking more in terms of “government” , and less in terms of “the State” , than they did in 1951.

Conservative government stands for three main principles—Freedom, Responsibility and Opportunity.

First, FREEDOM. It is not until we look back to 1951 that we realise just how much freedom has returned [end p1] to us. Food rationing, licensing and a host of other controls were cast aside the very moment the Conservative Government found it possible to do away with them. Consequently, we have now practically no black market, the law is no longer held in contempt and we are recovering our sense of moral values, which we had all but lost.

In 1951 there were 22,000 criminal prosecutions for ‘crimes’ which are no longer crimes at all. The Conservative Government has abolished them.

Freedom, as we see it, means freedom within the law—freedom to live one's own life as one wants to live it, particularly as a family. I am sometimes asked why one person should have a better start in life than another. The question ignores the fundamental relationship of the family, one to another.

Greatest Creative Force.

As a mother, I have a right to make sacrifices so that my children may benefit from them. Take away this freedom and you take away the greatest creative force we have—the greatest force for building a better future for a nation.

Next, RESPONSIBILITY. When I have been canvassing in this Division, people have told me that there seems to be no point in trying to be responsible citizens. You may work harder, build up savings, pay more taxes—and then you see the people, who don't take the trouble to do any of these things, getting more out of the State than you do.

Now, this criticism isn't entirely fair. One of the most welcome things this Government has done is to lower the rate of taxation. For example, earned income relief has been greatly increased, which is a direct incentive to those who are prepared to help themselves. When the Conservatives were returned to power in 1951 the standard rate of income tax was 9/6d. Now it is 7/9d. Child allowances have considerably increased.

Let us see what this means to, say, a married man with two children under 16. In 1951, if he earned £1,000 a year, he paid £167 in taxes; this year he pays £77. If he earned £1,500 a year, in 1951 he paid £357, this year £226.

Tax Relief for Savings.

Mr. Macmillan 's budget in 1956, when he was Chancellor, aimed at giving tax relief for savings. Savings by self-employed persons, for private pension policies, were made tax free, up to a top limit, for each year's savings, of an amount equal to one-tenth of that year's earned income. Further, the capital repayment of annuities was exempted from tax, and so was the interest on pension funds.

These are just a few of the measures which the Conservative Government has taken to encourage thrift.

Now, OPPORTUNITY. Conservative government wants to encourage people, whatever their start in life, to make the utmost of their abilities—to the benefit not only of themselves but of the society in which they live.

That is why Conservatives attach such tremendous [end p2] importance to education—both the education the nation provides and the education which a child can get only at home. Education means training character and conscience as well as skill and intellect; so, if a happy home background is lacking, it is doubly important that a child's education at school should go as far as possible towards filling the gap.

We are sometimes apt to forget that there were, in fact, abundant educational opportunities in the nineteen-thirties for above-average children. Scholarships and grants enabled them to win their own way through university, in spite of their parents' meagre means.

Conservatives believe, too, in free enterprise—in the right of a person to develop his own business from small beginnings. Most of the licences, controls and regulations which prevented people from starting up on their own have now gone, so that this kind of opportunity has been restored. It is individual effort which is the positive driving force in our trading life and we owe our success as a trading nation to it.

Our Own Possessions.

There must also be every possible opportunity and encouragement for us to have, and take a pride in, our own possessions, whether as savings, as houses or whatever we may want to own. There is every justification for private possessions. If we have our own home, for instance, we don't have to rely upon the State or the local authority to provide one for us. If we have savings we can tide ourselves over hard times on our own resources. And we are much more likely to be responsible citizens if we have possessions to look after, because we are answerable to ourselves for their upkeep and we are the first to suffer if we fail in our duty.

Principles of Socialism.

Now let us see how these ideas compare with the principles of Socialism.

In the first place, Socialism demands that all should be alike—that the unequal should be artificially made equal. It starts by dividing up the nation's total income, without giving a thought to how, or by whom, that money is to be created.

What they don't, or won't, understand is that if you are to help those who need help—the weaker or older members of the community—you must encourage those who are able to make money to do so. Otherwise, where is the money coming from to help those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves?

Secondly, control by the State, which is the basis of Socialist policy, is the first step towards a completely Communist State.

But I'll come back to that.

State control—and the Socialists are proposing to put more and more industries under State control—is taking over what somebody else has built up. These industries are then no longer responsible to those who built [end p3] them. They aren't even responsible to those who control them, because the Parliamentary system was never intended to control industry's day-to-day activities and can't be adapted to do so. So industries no longer have any incentive to make profits and, instead of bringing handsome contributions to the Exchequer—companies pay about £1,100 million a year in taxes out of their profits—nationalised industries may become a drain upon it. Without profits there can be no Welfare State.

The Choice.

The choice, then, comes down to this. Is it to be a country of steady progress under a Conservative Government, building up resources so that there is money to invest in men and machines as well as in the Welfare State? Or is it to be a Socialist State, controlling our homes, our industries—and consequently our jobs—leading ultimately to a Communist State?

That is what we have to face at the coming election, for the Socialist party programme proposes a far greater measure of control over our lives than any we have ever experienced or have ever contemplated.

Five of the sayings of Abraham Lincoln put, more forcibly and succinctly than I can, some of the fundamental principles which Conservatives uphold:

1. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

2. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.

3. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

4. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could, and should, do for themselves.

5. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred.

These ideas have stood the test of time. Conservative thought and Conservative government have worked in practice. The nation has now reached a standard of prosperity it has never attained before, and with that prosperity we have increasing freedom.

Let us cherish these prizes—and see that we keep them.