Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for Daily Telegraph ("Participation - in what?")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Daily Telegraph, 26 April 1969
Editorial comments: The article is reproduced in the form in which it was published. A text of the final draft in the Thatcher Archive is dated 20 February.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1273
Themes: Executive, Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Secondary education, Industry, Monetary policy, Taxation, Housing, Local government, Social security & welfare

It is not lack of opportunity to take part in government, but simply too much government, that frustrates the citizen

Participation—in what?

Politics is the act of finding solutions to problems. Acceptable solutions. But some of the problems wouldn't exist if it weren't for the politicians. The current solution is “participation” ; the current problem is too much government: the fashionable theory which links the two—that interference by Government will be acceptable if more people participate in it—is nonsense.

What has gone wrong? We are full of doubts and protests. Yet the worst problems of poverty were solved several years ago and, although much remains to be done, the evils which seemed to derive from poverty or ignorance should have vanished and the future be promising. But it hasn't turned out that way. Why?

The political and economic structure in which we live has been changing in a way which seems to take less account of people and more of economic theories and systems. Size is the order of the day. Central control, statistical returns, regulations, taxes, levies and demands from the Government for yet more information are part of the daily round. What place is left for the individual?

In his private capacity he has less say over the direction of his affairs. Adding together the amount he pays in direct and indirect taxation, he is left with only about half his income to spend on the items of his choice. The politicians decide how the other half shall be spent.

Perhaps he has an occupational pension scheme. This gives him some private means independent of the State when he retires. Now he reads of a great new State scheme, which doesn't reveal its plans about the future of occupational pensions. So he doesn't know whether he will have any choice left, or merely have to subscribe much larger amounts to the State.

No choice

Supposing he recognises his responsibility to his wife and puts his house in their joint names. Nevertheless if he dies within seven years estate duty will be chargeable on the value of the whole house in spite of this gift. The Chancellor will take preference to the widow.

Perhaps he would like to have some say in the kind of school to which his child should go. But the Government is imposing a comprehensive system on everyone, so there, too, he has no choice.

Consider the case of a man who has a house near a proposed new fly-over. It will not be compulsorily acquired but its amenities will be adversely affected and therefore its market price reduced. He has no right to compensation. On the other hand, if the land should have some development potential and he sells it rather well he will have to pay a 40 per cent. levy to the Land Commission. If he gains he pays levy: if he loses amenities, he goes without compensation.

Suppose he works in the accountancy department of a large company. Much of his time is spent in filling in returns for S E T, or forms like those from the Department of Employment and Productivity which require 12 pages of information in question and answer form about selected employees.

Or he may work in a large State organisation; he is a skilled person, is ambitious, and needs to feel that his job is worth doing and that he has some importance in the scheme of things, but the decisions always seem to be passed up to someone else and he has to wait for them. He decides to submit a written memorandum to the Fulton Commission on the Civil Service, but it doesn't even reach a single member of that Commission. It was one of those sifted out by a sub-committee of officials! [end p1]

He is suffering from too much Government intervention and too little personal responsibility. There is little point in propounding the theory that everything will be much better if the person concerned participates in some of the decisions of government and local government. If the problem is the extent of authority, the solution is unlikely to be the method by which that authority is exercised. The relevance of the word participation is that Government has participated too much in the lives of our citizens and of our industries. The balance should now be redressed to give the citizen more say in his own affairs.

In taxation, this means reducing the total burden of tax and especially the amount taken in direct taxation. This is just what the Conservative Government did in our 13 years of office. Contrast with these Conservative policies the whole attitude of Harold Wilson, who when speaking in the House of Commons on April 5, 1960, said that in his view “the individual taxpayer” was no more than “a trustee” for his income “on behalf of the nation.” In other words he is allowed to keep some of his income by kind permission.

How the taxpayer disburses his own money is a matter for him.

In pensions, it means ensuring that the new State plan provides for the continuance of occupational pensions to which over 12 million people have been contributing. Many of these schemes provide better terms than the State. There must be adequate relief from the new heavy State contributions to the extent of the private provision. Further, the tax reliefs attaching to contributions under Section 379 and Section 388 of the Income Tax Act, 1952, must continue.

Turning to savings, if the citizen's money goes to the Exchequer in tax the Treasury decides how it shall be invested. If more remains to the citizen, he decides whether building societies, equities, unit trusts, investment trusts or life assurance policies are to his own advantage. One of the few bright spots in the recent Budget was the contractual savings scheme, which is on lines Conservatives have been urging for some time. But it is one thing to have a savings scheme and quite another to get people to save. The right climate for saving must be created and this means lower personal taxes and confidence in the value of money.

In housing policy it is important that young couples purchase their own home as early as possible. The chances are that they will never then come to be dependent on the State.

Intervention by Ministerial Departments can be cut down only by a reversal of policy away from the idea that the bureaucrat knows best, towards more decisions by the trained man on the spot, with the market providing the acid test.

Diffusing power

The words of de Tocqueville so aptly fit our rulers today:

We are face to face with an administration almost as numerous as the population, preponderant, interfering, regulating, restricting, insisting on controlling everything, and understanding the interests of those under its control better than they do themselves; in short, in a constant state of barren activity.

I referred earlier to the exercise of power. The case for regional councils or some other unit of local area does not depend on greater participation of the citizen, because only a comparatively small number would ever be involved. It depends on the advisability of diffusing power.

How successful such regions would be is a matter of conjecture: 50 miles away can be just as remote as 300; the people in an area would be just as dissatisfied with a bad decision by a regional authority as by the central government. Compulsory purchase, the siting of main roads, airports, detention centres or new towns are no more attractive because they are the subject of a decision in which the local council or region has been involved.

A large part of any MP's postbag consists of requests for intervention on local matters. It would be unthinkable to deprive electors of their right of redress through Parliament, which in the last resort can alter the law. The danger with new regional authorities is that an extra tier of government will be created involving yet another layer of officials, more delays, and more expense.