Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Harrogate
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The press release (224/75) - the "finale" alone - was embargoed until 1430. Sections of the speech (marked by editorial notes in the text) have been checked against John O’Sullivan’s report in the Daily Telegraph, 17 March 1975, a BBC Radio News Report 1800 15 March and ITN’s Late News (2230-2242) 15 March 1975.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3182
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Industry, General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, European Union (general), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Religion & morality, Society, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action, Voluntary sector & charity


It is a very happy coincidence that this meeting of the Central Council gives us a chance to get together so soon after my election as Leader of the Party. I hope we can ‘here highly resolve’ (as Abraham Lincoln said,) that this Spring of 1975 will mark a turning-point in the fortunes of our Party and our country.

I know how valuable these three days in Harrogate have been, particularly since we had no Party Conference last autumn.

You have had here the first chance since October 1973 to exchange views in this sort of forum. A lot has happened in those 18 months. Indeed to some people a lot can happen in 18 days.

And you have also had the chance to hear some of our new team. It is new—new in the best sense, because it combines an infusion of fresh blood with the wisdom and knowledge of some of the most experienced servants of our Party—and I was delighted when Lord Thorneycroft agreed to become our new chairman.

I keep on reading in the papers about my new face. Some of it is very flattering. But the flattery [end p1] is coupled with the charge from Mr Wilson and his colleagues that they are all tremendously experienced, and that we on our side are innocents abroad. [Beginning of section checked against press reports] Well, if I had had some of Mr Wilson's experiences I wouldn't boast about them.

Of course, I agree that Mr Wilson has been around a long time—he's beginning to look it. [End of section checked against press reports.] He has had his chances in the last twelve years. But the question now is not—Can we survive without him? The question is—Can we survive with him?

I said that you had heard the members of our team. This is what we are and what we must be—a team. Not just in the Shadow Cabinet. Not just in the Parliamentary Party—front bench, back-bench, Central Office and Constituencies, all are in the same team.

Working Together

We all have something to contribute. We cannot afford to take things easy. We must work together. That doesn't mean that everything will be dictated from the centre—even if that were possible. It doesn't mean [end p2] that policies will be handed down from the top of the mountain on tablets of stone. It doesn't mean that different views and opinions won't be encouraged as part of our exchange of ideas.

But it does mean this. That without a common purpose and common endeavour, we shall not win. And if we do not win the next election—whenever it comes—if we do not win, then this country will almost certainly be set irreversibly on course for a fully Socialist State.

So when we talk about loyalty, we are not talking about loyalty to any individual. We are talking about loyalty to the Conservative Party as a whole, to the beliefs we share, and to the overriding importance of a Conservative victory at the next election.

We shall have the chance of working together this year on many fronts. In Parliament against nationalisation, against malicious taxes, against the whole range of Socialist incompetence and Socialist spite. In the country we shall work together in the local elections and, when they occur, in bye-elections. [end p3]

This year we want more new members, more new subscriptions, and more mutual aid than ever before.

And in the campaign to keep Britain in Europe, the great majority of us will be working together with like-minded people from other Parties. That is a great and important cause, a cause worthy of our most determined effort. It is worthy of our idealism—the idealism handed to us by Winston Churchill. And common sense tells us it would be absurd to isolate ourselves at this time from those who are eager to co-operate with us.


I cannot offer you an easy road; you would not expect that of me. Hard work is the only way back for our Party and for our country. In Parliament we shall give a lead. In the constituencies we shall need your help at every stage. Political revivals only succeed when we make personal contact with our neighbours.

We also need to involve our friends in the universities, colleges, industry and the mass media. That is where our philosophy and our policies for a free society must be renewed and retold. That is where the Battle of Ideas must be fought—and won. [end p4]

It was done before by Rab Butler and his young team.

I am delighted to have working with me now some of those who helped to bring about that renaissance of Tory influence and morale—helped by a new generation of young men and women.

The Disillusionment Today

The situation now is worse than it was then. The country has been taken further along the road to Socialism. Britain is more divided. We are losing our sense of common purpose and of common pride in being British.

Something vital has been lost, which we must restore.

Most of us were brought up to have a set of standards for living. We worked hard and conscientiously; we lived within our income; we didn't borrow to buy goods we couldn't afford. We put a bit by for a rainy day. Children were taught to be polite and to respect others; always to stick up for their family; we were clearly taught what was right and what was wrong and to uphold the law, and support the police. [end p5]

We paid our taxes honestly. And things didn't end there—it was part of our life to do some voluntary work and to take a pride in our local community.

These social ties and standards that hold a community together have been dangerously weakened.

Who profits now? Not the people who have always tried to pull their weight. But those who use their weight to push others around.

But people will not put up with this much longer.

I sense that the limits are being reached now. Taxpayers and ratepayers and the self-employed are restive—and less inclined to go on paying up without appeals and arguments and even demonstrations.

Our prime task, then, if we are to restore hope to the disillusioned is to show them that we will take up their cause. Our job is not to sit on the sidelines while a Labour Government widens the divisions in the country and erodes personal responsibility.

Our job is to unite the nation, lead it to victory and so revive the true values of our society. [end p6]

It would be premature today to set out a precise ten or twenty point programme for dealing with our economic crisis and our crisis of morale.


But I will tell you what I think our approach should be to the problems and challenges of today. I will tell you what sort of Conservative Party I want to lead. I will tell you where I think we should look for our inspiration, for our policies.

There is no rigid Conservative dogma.

We don't have a Clause 4 against which we can measure our progress towards, or away from, the Promised Land.


We do have our shared beliefs, and a tradition of shared objectives.

We believe that man needs more than material things. Our aim is to build a flourishing society—not [end p7] not an economic system.

We believe that man was born to be free, and that liberty is the breath of life.

We believe that liberty and human rights can only be protected by a just law, respected and upheld, and by institutions which command consent.

We believe in a fair chance for all our citizens to develop their talent, and that the educational needs of the child are more important than the dogmas of socialist theory.

We believe that we have a duty to help others in a way which recognises that they need to keep their human dignity and personal pride.

We believe that there are many things which the State can and must do, but we know that ultimately “the individual is the sun and the state is the moon which shines with borrowed light” .

We believe that as a nation we should stand ready [end p8] to defend our beliefs. History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak and timid.

We believe that all nations of the world are neighbours, one to another, and that in the future as in the past, we must be outward looking.

We believe in the diffusion of power. Spreading power among the people—political power, economic power, above all the power of people to run their own lives and to make their own decisions. The Socialists want power over people. We want to give power to people.

Look at some of the municipal barons who treat the massive council estates they have built as their private political fiefs. It is no wonder they resist to the last ditch the sale of council houses. Home-ownership scares them. It threatens their power. It poses for them all the problems that so worry bureaucracies when people can choose for themselves.

So as Conservatives, we must be concerned to spread ownership wider—ownership of property, ownership [end p9] of a real share in our private enterprise system—and we must also defend ownership as a defence of freedom.

This is our doctrine. The doctrine of common sense in a free society. For unless every individual and every group recognises the rights of others and unless they accept their responsibilities for a common interest, there can be no true freedom for anyone.

But I cannot pretend to you that defending freedom is an easy task.

Our way is not the comfortable way forward. The road to freedom isn't feather-bedded.

Freedom is demanding but it brings out the best in men and women. It is the climate in which we thrive. I believe, as Harold Macmillan said, that men and women walk in public gardens; but they cultivate their own. [end p10]

How does this Labour Government stand—as a friend or foe of individual liberty? Let us try to understand them by looking at what they seek to do. [end p11]


First, The Industry Bill (or rather, the Anti-Industry Bill), at present before Parliament, represents a massive shift of power to the State. It enables a Labour Government to buy into profitable enterprise at Mr. Benn 's whim. It enables a Labour Government to coerce private industry into dancing to whatever tune it wants. It continues the trend we have already seen towards extending the power of certain trade unions so that they might form a more solid foundation for the Transport House State.

But it's time the Socialists were told a few home truths about the achievements of private industry—or more to the point, the achievements of the millions of men and women who work in private industry.

The Socialists claim that private industry is a drain on the state. The fact is that for every £1 that industry pays to the state, the state only pays back a mere 23 pence. So it's the state that's a drain on private industry. [end p12]

And who pays for the schools and the hospitals that the Government is always boasting about? Once again a good part comes from private industry. The taxes that companies pay out of their profits can build an equivalent of 120 hospitals and 1,000 schools a year.

These are the companies that Labour are attacking. Are they really saying that what has held us back in these last few years from a real economic breakthrough has been that we haven't had a large enough nationalised sector?

The only thing that Mr. Benn hasn't told us yet is what he proposes to put in place of the sort of initiative and enterprise that enabled Mr. Marks (M-A-R-K-S not Marx) to turn a penny bazaar in Leeds into one of the most successful retail chains in the world.

And what other evidence do we have of the Labour Party's attitude to freedom? Look at the Capital Transfer Tax—the most vicious tax I have seen any Chancellor introduce. [end p13]

I suppose there must be some people who will quite like it. People who rarely save. People who think it's wrong to want to pass on your property to your children. People who don't mind seeing some of our woodlands and forests destroyed. People who think that, with a world food crisis, our farmers should be taxed out of existence. People who want to see family businesses wiped off the face of Britain. In short, people like Mr. Healey.

But one of the greatest threats to liberty—to all our freedoms—is inflation. It attacks every freedom precious to us—the freedom to save, to find a job, to do better for our families. It is in the fight against inflation that Labour have failed more disastrously than anywhere else.

The Government's own figures tell us how much worse inflation is today after one year of Labour Government and after one year of the Social—or more accurately—the Socialist Contract.

In the twelve months up to January 1974, prices rose by 12p in the £. In the twelve months since then prices have risen by 20 p in the £—the biggest rise in prices on record. [end p14]

Now, how are families going to be able to keep pace with this kind of inflation over time? The answer, of course, is that they won't. Because if prices continue to rise by 20p in the £, a family man with two young children, now earning £3,000 a year, will, in only four years' time, need to earn over £7,000 just to prevent a fall in his standard of living. And, in ten years' time, he will need to earn over £50,000 a year, just so that he is no worse off than he is today on £3,000.

Those are the Government's own figures—whatever happened to Healey 's 8.4%;?

Further, at a time when inflation is easing for most of our competitors, here in Britain it is actually getting worse.

We all expected a Labour Government to be bad. But how many of us thought it would be this bad? Of course, this hasn't stopped Mr. Wilson going round, boasting about the record of his year in office. But what exactly is his record over the last year? [end p15] A record rise in prices A record Government borrowing A record balance of payments deficit And a record increase in rates

Ah—but perhaps strikes are down? No—days lost in strikes are up under Labour by two-thirds.

These are Mr. Wilson's records—and the sooner he takes them, and himself, off to his desert island, the better—for all of us.

Forget all those promises that subsidies would solve everything. We shall have to concentrate our public spending on priorities and that means we can't go on for ever subsidising my bread and Mr. Wilson's cheese.

Labour has made a deep and serious problem worse. Our standard of living and the very fabric of our society are threatened. And now Mr. Foot and Mr. Benn and others tell us that the answer is more Socialism. We say: the answer is less Socialism.

More than 50 years ago Bernard Shaw sent a shiver down the spine of England in his play “Heartbreak House” , with its vision of this country as an unnavigable ship manned by a gambling crew, heading through wild seas straight for the rocks. It might have been expressly written with Socialist Britain in mind. [end p16]

But what sort of Party do we become by embracing liberty? Section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 15 March 1975

Do we become extremist Right-Wingers? Because that is what our opponents will say, that's what they've been saying. [Following sentence added from BBC Radio News Report:] To stand up for liberty is now called a Thatcherism. (Laughter.) They'll dredge up all their tired and silly slogans, but we can deal with those. We can ask them, how can it be extreme to argue that men should be free? End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report.

The difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, between their dogma and our philosophy, is this. They do not trust the people, they dare not trust the people, they will not trust the people. Press release begins:


Last October we were defeated but not routed. The principles for which we stand, our banners in the political conflict, are still flying. We bear them proudly, confident that they represent what is best and most distinctive in the character of the British people, the qualities which always have been and still are the contribution which this nation has made to the world. [end p17]

First among them I place a profound belief—indeed a fervent faith—in the virtues of self reliance and personal independence. On these is founded the whole case for the free society, for the assertion that human progress is best achieved by offering the freest possible scope for the development of individual talents, qualified only by a respect for the qualities and the freedom of others.

In the old Roman world, the word “liberty” meant a privilege. It was the British people who took the lead in asserting it as a fundamental human right, and who devised political institutions to protect and to promote it. We have planted that doctrine and those institutions in every quarter of the globe.

How ironic that both should be under attack in the very country where they were previously so strongly nourished. Make no mistake about it. This is the truth about the present situation in Britain. For many years there has been a subtle erosion of the essential virtues of the free society. [end p18]

Self-reliance has been sneered at as if it were an absurd suburban pretention. Thrift has been denigrated as if it were greed. The desire of parents to choose and to struggle for what they themselves regarded as the best possible education for their children has been scorned. In the name of equality, that decent honourable ambition of many thousands of people is to be deliberately frustrated by the State. And now the direct grant schools are to be attacked. Also in the name of equality another decent and honourable ambition, to save and to acquire a modest capital or property, is savagely penalised by taxation.

Trade unionism, which was encouraged by Conservative Governments in the past, as a bulwark of economic independence, is now being distorted and the genuine interests of the individual worker are subordinated to the political purposes of a minority.

The small business, the seed corn of our future prosperity, is being strangled by vindictive taxes.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Great Athenian Pericles, in a speech which has survived through the ages, extolled the merits of the society in which free and intelligent obedience was accorded to a fair and reasonable code of laws. [end p19]

Now, defiance of fair and reasonable laws enacted constitutionally by a freely elected Parliament has been deliberately encouraged.

I do not believe, in spite of all this, that the people of this country have abandoned their faith in the qualities and characteristics which made them a great people. Not a bit of it. We are still the same people. All that has happened is that we have temporarily lost confidence in our own strength. We have lost sight of the banners. The trumpets have given an uncertain sound.

It is our duty, our purpose, to raise those banners high, so that all can see them, to sound the trumpets clearly and boldly so that all can hear them. Then we shall not have to convert people to our principles. They will simply rally to those which truly are their own. Final paragraph checked against ITN Archive: Late News 15 March 1975

We are fighting, and we have always fought, for great and good causes. For the rights of the weak as well as the strong. For the rights of the little man as well as the big man. We are fighting to defend them against the power and might of those who rise up to challenge them. And we will never stop fighting.

Speech ends; end of Press Release.