Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for News of the World ("Britain Can Win")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: News of the World , 22 September 1974
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 880
Themes: Conservatism, General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Housing, Labour Party & socialism


I am in politics for one reason only. I believe passionately in a free society, and in the qualities of self-reliance and enterprise which go with it.

It follows that I believe there is only one way to restore this country's prosperity and strength. It is by releasing and encouraging these qualities, which are instinctive to the British people.

I reject vehemently the politics of envy, the incitement of people to regard all success as if it were something discreditable, gained only by taking selfish advantage of others.

I do not believe it is the character of the British people to begrudge a lion's share to those who have genuinely played a lion's part. They are ready to recognise that those who create wealth—and I mean not only material but intellectual and spiritual wealth—enrich the whole nation.

It is not possible precisely to relate money income to the value of work accomplished or services rendered. If it were, then it would not be difficult to devise an incomes policy.

It is, unhappily, relatively easy to persuade one group or another that it is getting less than it deserves, and to induce it to use the economic power at its disposal to enforce a claim for more.

I am not suggesting that this by itself is the cause of inflation. That would be to take far too simple a view.

But I do strongly assert that the deliberate exploitation of envy has made it infinitely more difficult to deal with the problem.

Whatever counter—inflation policies are adopted, however strenuously they are applied, they will not be effective unless we can get away from the sterile doctrine that the redistribution of wealth is more urgent than its creation.

The Labour Party, in pursuit of their egalitarian ideas, have consistently given priority to the redistribution of wealth. In the end that can only mean we shall all be equally poor.

The Conservative Party, without claiming the present patterns of wealth distribution to be by any means perfect, place the emphasis on the encouragement of those who can create wealth.

In other words they prefer the motive of ambition to that of envy.

These are the broad principles underlying our political controversies. How do they emerge in actual policies?

Because they have a built-in suspicion of profits as if they were some form of brigandage, Labour politicians aim to transfer vast areas of productive industry to the ownership or control of the State.

This is in effect an assertion that only they themselves and the civil servants they control can be trusted to run industry in the interests of the community as a whole.

Conservatives are not so [end p1] arrogant. We do not claim a monopoly either of wisdom or public spirit. We believe that private enterprise, by reason of its variety and flexibility, has an infinitely better prospect of discovering and developing new means of creating wealth.

The problems of distributing it fairly are vastly easier when there is more to distribute.

There is more to this than mere efficiency. A society in which all powers of economic decision are concentrated in the hands of the government is not a free society.

At best it is a bureaucracy, at worst a dictatorship. Conservatives maintain that the powers of decision-making should be widely spread with as much discretion as possible left to individual initiative within the broader frame of national policy.

Labour is claiming that one of the purposes of nationalisation is to extend what is called “industrial democracy,” the participation of working people in the decisions which affect their lives.

This sounds fine. But the extension of State-ownership and control is far more likely to frustrate than to promote it. It moves the point at which the significant decisions are taken not closer to but further away from the people who are affected.

What is the point of worker-management consultation if the management itself is subject to remote control from a government department?

In our Conservative manifesto there is one outstanding pledge. As I am personally associated with it, naturally I regard it as an excellent illustration of our Party's interest in individual independence.

This is our undertaking to encourage home-ownership by reducing mortgage interest rates, helping first-time purchasers and enabling council tenants to buy their homes.

The desire to own a home is wholly admirable. It provides the best possible protection for people's savings against inflation.

It is, moreover, highly practical. It costs no more for the State to help three families to buy their own homes than to install one family in a new subsidised council house. And it is a matter of fact that owner-occupied houses are in general better maintained.

As an incentive to personal saving and as a more efficient use of resources the development of home ownership is a sound support for a counter-inflation policy. But that is only part of the case.

By giving people a real and tangible stake in the community, it encourages them to reject the divisive doctrine of envy.

It makes them more readily aware that prosperity, if it is to be achieved by anyone, must be achieved by everyone, that it cannot be grabbed at someone else's expense.

Without this sense that we are indeed one community, one nation undivided, I do not think that we can conquer inflation, and remain a free people.

With it, whatever the differences, I have no doubt that we can.