Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Trade Unionists Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: London
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: speaking text (2) The Times, 3 March 1975
Journalist: (2) The Times Diarist, 3 March 1975
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1215 1 March.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1171
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Trade unions
(1) Thatcher Archive: Speaking text

Today marks the passing of an era in the world of Central Office and the Conservative Trades Unionists organisation.

Two of the Party's long serving professional staff who have for many years been in our Industrial Department are leaving us to go into long earned and honourable retirement, and the members of TUNAC, together with many of their friends in the Parliamentary Party, have subscribed to some small gifts to comfort John MacDonald Watson and his deputy, Robert Walsh, in the years to come. [end p1]

The gifts are, I must say, well chosen with the thought of comfort and pleasure in mind. (Decanter & glasses, silver tray and bottle of Scotch).

Robert, I know you went from being an agent at Blackpool to be our Industrial Organiser in the North West Area, and from there to Central Office where you have for the last five years been John MacDonald Watson 's deputy.

Being a deputy is never easy … And to be a deputy to a man with standards as high as John 's can have been no easy task. [end p2]

I hope that this gift will often assist you to relax far from the maddening din of the Central Office machine for many years to come.

What can I say about John MacDonald Watson? I know you are a Scot, so I know this gift is most appropriate.

I did not know until yesterday that you first became an agent in 1931…   . the year your President was born!…   . and that you have never left the service of the Party except for the war years. [end p3]

No doubt after a quarter of a century as a constituency agent you deserved a more restful life, but instead you have had 15 years of headquarters work, the last twelve in Central Office in charge of the Industrial Department.

Again, John, I would like to thank you on behalf of the whole Party, but especially TUNAC, whose Secretary you have been, for all that you have done, and to wish you a very happy retirement. [end p4]

As you know Mr Chairman, I am not able to stay to hear your debate but I know you will be pleased to have Jim Prior here now and Barney Hayhoe coming later in the day.

But before I go I want to tell you why I value the part which you play in our society today. Start of press release [end p5]

As you well know, for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli's day, since before the Labour Party existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trades unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members.

But, of course, alongside that belief, we have always held that the rights of the individual—even in relation to his trades union—must be protected too. So too must the rights of the community at large be protected.

Just as it is right that the immense power and influence of the trade union movement should be recognised, so it is right that such powers and influence should be used in the interests of the whole community.

You, as Conservative trade unionists, are part of the force for reason and responsibility in the movement. You are part of the majority which is both reasonable and moderate.

In a way, it is that very reasonableness and moderation of the majority, coupled sometimes with lack of action, which allows determined, fanatical, minority groups to manipulate events, not for the good of the unions or their members, nor of the community as a whole—but in the interests of extreme political cults. [end p6]

It is not just for the benefit of this Party—it is for the benefit of the trades union movement and of the whole country, that those of reason and moderation should be as active and determined in union affairs as are the extremists.

I am pleased that it has been possible for me to come to your conference so soon after becoming the Leader of the Party. I hope that you will be joined by men and women of all parties or those with no party allegience, in saving our unions and this country from extremism. [end p7]

(2) The Times, 3 March 1975

The Times Diary

Like having the Queen on your side

Margaret Thatcher went among the party hoi polloi on Saturday, when she visited the Conservative trade unionists' annual conference in London. Presumably on the advice of her image-makers, Mrs Thatcher seldom nowadays sports those delicious hats, and was without headgear, although one of her audience wore a startling number in green felt. Conservative trade unionists are more like Conservatives than trade unionists.

The leader was dressed in a full-skirted orange shirt dress, with short sleeves and a cream embroidered pattern at the bodice. (And I am not being sexist in mentioning it. Edward Heath 's spokesman used to complain about my comments on his apparel, so it is only fair that I should mention that his successor was less than immaculate. The hook and eye at the back of her collar were unfastened, and she had a thread hanging from her hem. Those image makers again?)

Even so, she enjoyed a great success. She won standing ovations both arriving and leaving, whereas Jim Prior, who accompanied her and made the major speech, had to be content with sober applause. The chairman introduced her as “our very own” rather as if she had been a music hall turn from The Good Old Days.

She had to present two Central Office staff who were retiring from the industrial department (see Friday's Diary) with bottles of whisky and decanter sets. One was the deputy head, and she said: “I know how hard it is to be a deputy, having served as deputy shadow chancellor and as deputy to so many able men on my way up.” The deputy slipped on the stairs on his way up to receive his presentation, and she smiled sympathetically.

In her speech she wondered aloud about the pronunciation of the word “era” , eventually choosing a long “e” . She accused Prior of pronouncing it Eire, rather to his surprise, and said it was like tomayto and tomayto.

Then she caused more confusion by claiming that she, too, had been a trade unionist in her time: “I was a member of the Association of Scientific Staffs when I was a research chemist” , she said. “I do not know if we have a union now, do we?”

Voices from the floor suggested she join up with ASTMS or APEX, but she covered herself by saying that by “we” she meant members of Parliament, and that anyway she thought the House of Commons was its own union, “and not a bad one either” . That was about the limit of her attempts at spontaneity, and it is fair to say that her prepared text was more successful.

The retiring head of the industrial department got a big round of applause when he said Mrs Thatcher had already “done so much to resume the forward march of the party” . Talking to delegates afterwards it was clear that almost all felt they now had a party leader who was a definite electoral asset. “It's like having the Queen on your side,” said a woman delegate from Essex.

Bad news for Mrs Thatcher. According to Occult Gazette, it is in the stars that “she will merely become a second Ted Heath” .