Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Pilgrims of the United States ("Heritage and Horizon")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Union Club, New York
Source: (1) The Times, 17 September 1975 (2) ITN Archive: News At Ten
Journalist: Peter Strafford, The Times, reporting
Editorial comments: 1730 local time. MT spoke at a reception (Thatcher Archive: "Programme in New York", 10 September 1975). See NBC Today interview (Daily Telegraph) for a second account of the speech.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 850
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Economy (general discussions), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)
(1) The Times, 17 September 1975

Mrs Thatcher tell the US that Britain has played soft options for too long

Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Opposition, said in New York tonight that democracy was on trial in Britain, and that “if Britain were to break, a well-nigh mortal blow would be struck against the whole Western ideal” .

Whatever Britain's present shortcomings, it would stand for “those fundamental freedoms which are the breath of life to nations who believe in human dignity, for a just and impartial rule of law … and for a stubborn, independent character which would capitulate to neither man nor nation nor alien creed” .

Mrs Thatcher was speaking at a meeting of the Pilgrims, the Anglo-American group, at the end of a long day of engagements. She has set herself a hectic pace for her visit to the United States, and the day had begun with an early appearance on television on the Today show.

During the morning she paid a visit to Mr Abe Beame, the beleaguered mayor of New York, and found some similarities between the situation of his city and that of Britain. Paying tribute to him for the firm stand he was taking, she said that they were both trying to find the answers to difficult problems.

Tonight her theme was the Anglo-American relationship. She expressed thanks for the presence in Britain of American servicemen, and for the large investments made in Britain by American industry. And she made the obligatory reference to two of her predecessors, Sir Winston Churchill and Mr Harold Macmillan, both of whom had American mothers.

Turning to Britain, she said that its difficulties were some that were common to other countries, and some of its own making. “For too long we have played the soft options. They lead where we Conservatives always said they would lead—to inflation at 25 per cent; to unemployment over one million; to a lower standard of living.”

But, she went on, the underlying sense of the British people was sound. “We have been brought face to face with today's realities, and we must act now, if we are to keep pace with tomorrow's world … The ability, inventiveness and determination of our people are just as much there today as they were in the past. You can count on them for the future.”

Britain, Mrs Thatcher said, was “an eleventh-hour nation” . The eleventh hour had struck, but “there is yet time to prepare for the morrow” .

Throughout her visit so far, Mrs Thatcher's main theme has been the need to restrict government spending if Britain is to emerge from its troubles. On television this morning, she said that Britain had been living beyond its means, and that it would have to accept a lower standard of living.

But she also ventured into foreign affairs. Tonight, before the Pilgrims, she turned to East-West relations, and in particular to this summer's security conference in Helsinki. “I am all for the spirit behind this” , she said, “for easier contacts and the freer movement of people. I am for détente—who is not?

“I am also for attente, for wanting to see results; for not letting down our guard; for keeping our powder dry.”

“Let them show us that they will practise what they preach, about reducing the threat of war, about non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries” . [end p1]

(2) ITN Archive: News at Ten, 16 September 1975

The Conservative Leader, Mrs. Thatcher, said in a speech in New York tonight that democracy in Britain is now on trial.

“The country,” she said, “is beset by problems. For too long people have played with soft options.”

She called Britain “an eleventh hour nation” and warned “the eleventh hour has struck.”

But she said the traditional ability, inventiveness and determination of the British people could still be counted on.

Twenty four hours earlier, Mrs. Thatcher made another, more controversial speech, in New York, when she appeared to blame Socialist policies for Britain's economic troubles, pinpointing what she called “the relentless pursuit of far too much equality” and the “persistent expansion of the role of the state. [end p2]


First, the pursuit of equality itself is a mirage. What is more desirable and more practicable than the pursuit of equality is the pursuit of equality of opportunity and opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal and of freedom to be different. One of the reasons why we value individuals is not because they're all the same but because they're all different. I believe you have a saying in the Middle West: ‘Don't cut down the tall poppies, let them rather grow tall’. I would say let our children grow tall and some taller than others, if they have the ability in them to do so. Because we must build a society in which each citizen can develop his full potential, for his own benefit and for the community as a whole. A society in which originality, skill, energy and thrift are rewarded and in which we encourage rather than restrict the variety and richness of human nature.