Conservative supporters in my constituency have, I think, a right to know why I have allowed myself to be nominated as a candidate for the leadership of our party.
I hesitated for some time before agreeing to stand. It was obvious that I should be accused of disloyalty to Mr. Heath, of splitting the party and of unseemly personal ambition. Let me put the case to you as simply as possible.
In order to become a Conservative Member of Parliament, I (like all my colleagues) must be formally readopted as candidate before every election. My constituency Association can confirm or reject me as they please, even before the electorate is asked to vote on polling day.
Since 1965 there have been four General Elections. The Conservative membership of the House of Commons has changed substantially. Yet since 1965 there has been no election for the leadership of our party. There was, indeed, no provision for such an election. [end p1]
It is therefore not surprising, particularly since our party has lost three out of the four elections since 1965, that there should have been a wide-spread demand for a procedure which would enable Mr. Heath to submit himself for re-election. The result might be that he was confirmed in the leadership—but at any rate his colleagues would have been given the chance to support an alternative candidate. Whatever the result, the party could then sink its differences and unite in support of its chosen leader.
This feeling among many of my colleagues appears all the more reasonable when you realise that the leader of our party in opposition personally appoints—without any procedure for election or confirmation by Conservative M.P.s—the whole of the Shadow Cabinet and those who control the party machine at Central Office. Many Members felt that they should be given a chance formally to express their views not simply about an individual as leader, but about the whole nature and style of party leadership since 1965 and the general tenor of its policies.
When Mr. Heath recognised the strength of this feeling, he very properly set in train the procedures for a leadership election. A number of my colleagues asked me to stand as a candidate and assured me of a considerable volume of support. I therefore allowed my name to go forward, since it seemed right that their views should be represented. [end p2]
It is not a particularly easy time for me. Some people, in the press and outside it, have not hesitated to impugn my motives, to attribute to me political views which I have never expressed and do not hold, and to suggest that the idea of a woman aspiring to lead a great party is absurd (a strangely old-fashioned view, I should have thought!).
You can forget all the nonsense about ‘defence of privilege’—I had precious little ‘privilege’ in my early years—and the suggestion that all my supporters are reactionary right-wingers. It seems to me that those who propagate this idea do Mr. Heath a poor service by implying that his support lies only on the ‘left-wing’ of our party!
This is not a confrontation between ‘left’ and ‘right’. I am trying to represent the deep feelings of those many thousands of rank-and-file Tories in the country—and potential Conservative voters, too—who feel let down by our party and find themselves unrepresented in a political vacuum.
For past errors, in government and opposition, I accept my full share of collective responsibility. But I hope I have learned something from the failures and mistakes of the past and can help to plan constructively for the future. [end p3]
In the desperate situation of Britain today, our party needs the support of all who value the traditional ideals of Toryism: compassion, and concern for the individual and his freedom; opposition to excessive State power; the right of the enterprising, the hard-working and the thrifty to succeed and to reap the rewards of success and pass some of them on to their children; encouragement of that infinite diversity of choice that is an essential of freedom; the defence of widely-distributed private property against the Socialist State; the right of a man to work without oppression by either employer or trade union boss.
There is a widespread feeling in the country that the Conservative party has not defended these ideals explicitly and toughly enough, so that Britain is set on a course towards inevitable Socialist mediocrity.
That course must not only be halted, it must be reversed. The action by the Tory Party to carry out that reversal must begin now, while we are in opposition and have time to look at our policies afresh before the next election. That will be a priority task, whatever the outcome of the leadership ballot.