Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Federation of Conservative Students Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Ranmoor Hall, Sheffield University
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The conclusion of the speech was released to the press in CCOPR 261/75 (see editorial notes in text), embargoed until 1630.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2159
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Executive, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Higher & further education, Industry, Monetary policy, Taxation, Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Media

I'm delighted not only to be here with you today but to see so many of you gathered together.

One might get the impression from the media that there were no such beings as Conservative students—only an amorphous group called “moderates” , which appears to include almost anyone who is not actually a Maoist.

In fact, of course, I know how many of you there are working for the cause in the universities and colleges, sometimes against pretty heavy odds.

I know, too, how successful you have been in combining with other non-Marxists to curb some of the worst excesses of the militants, who often seem determined not only to create bad blood between students and university authorities but to alienate public opinion and exacerbate the taxpayers and ratepayers whose money keeps the whole higher education system in being. The following two sentences may have been omitted

Since this is my first visit to you as Leader of the Party, you will expect me to make a fairly wide-ranging political speech. [end p1]

However, you might also reasonably expect a former Secretary of State for Education to say a word or two about the Party's present policies for higher education in general and students' grants in particular.

Higher education is a matter of particular concern to myself and the entire leadership of the Tory Party.

While we believe that priority has to be given to strengthening the foundations of our educational system, one reason why we want sure foundations is to be able to build successfully upon them.

The period of massive expansion of higher education is now coming to an end and we should take advantage of this to improve the quality of education which is being given.

We need to redefine the role and functions of the different institutions of higher learning.

Universities exist in the first place to promote the intellectual life, to advance knowledge and foster research. [end p2]

Polytechnics are more closely connected with industry and technology with an emphasis on applied and vocational studies.

An especially valuable and important function is the provision of part time, sub degree and sandwich courses.

Colleges of education are and should remain primarily centres for professional training although it is right that diversification should take place.

All these and other institutions in the field of higher education do valuable work: they make different contributions but all are equally necessary: we should not fall into the error of preferring one type of institution to another.

I know that there is deep anxiety about the future amongst those who teach at universities and I want to take advantage of this visit today to make it clear to all those in the university world that we have their problems and their interests very much at heart. [end p3]

Polytechnics too are highly valued: they may have started as local creations but they are now national institutions in their own right.

We are considering the possibilities of transferring financial responsibilities from local authorities to the Exchequer and setting up a committee similar to the university grants committee to represent all non-university institutions in the higher education field.

We are also deeply concerned about the future of colleges of education.

The number of places at these colleges has to be reduced, but they should not be bludgeoned into ill-thought out shot-gun marriages with other institutions.

Sympathetic and exhaustive consultations should always take place and the views of the colleges carefully considered before final decisions as to their future are made.

The overwhelming majority of students are moderate and hardworking, concerned not with political agitation but with pursuing their own interests and friendships and leading their own lives. [end p4]

The Conservative Party has traditionally been the friend of the student and we intend to continue this tradition.

My spokesman on education, Mr Norman St John-Stevas, is a former honorary secretary of the FCS.

We are especially concerned about the structure of student grants.

Before we left office we had taken the decision to institute an annual review of student grants as a response to high inflation.

We will continue to give priority to the reduction of the parental contribution, although it cannot be abolished for reasons of cost.

In my experience nothing causes a greater sense of injustice and resentment amongst students than the deduction from their grants of a contribution which some parents can't pay and other's won't pay. [end p5]

At a time when all of public expenditure has to be restrained students along with other members of the community have to make sacrifices, but we are determined that it should be a fair and not an unfair share that has to be borne.

Before I ‘leave’ education, let me say how grateful I am to you for the responsible attitude you have adopted in this very difficult and burning controversy, and for the care you have taken not to embarrass the official Opposition now by pressing for impossible commitments in the future.

I have come here today to offer you two things: a pledge of my support for you, and a challenge for you to take up.

This Party of ours has been on the defensive for too long.

The time has come to counter-attack.

We have already begun the counter-attack in Parliament, and the pressure will be kept up until this divided and discredited Government finally disintegrates. [end p6]

However, there is another field of operations in which the opportunities for counter-attack are equally great and equally important.

The task is to influence the whole climate of educated public opinion.

The Conservative Party was faced with this same task between 1945 and 1955, and it achieved an astonishing degree of success.

But now we find ourselves once again, as we were in 1945, faced with a situation in which far too many of the influential opinion-formers are left-wing in outlook.

In too many areas the expression of quite moderate, common-sense Conservative views is regarded as eccentric.

To be reasonable and realistic is to be branded “right-wing” or even “extremist” . [end p7]

The intellectual counter-attack is as important as the counter-attack in Parliament and in the constituencies.

If we can win the battle of ideas, then the war will already be half-won.

Thirty years ago, the counter-attack gained enough ground to provide a base for three Consecutive election victories.

The climate of opinion was changed for half a generation.

The universities and the colleges of education are central features in the battleground of ideas.

We want your ideas as ammunition, and we need you as shock-troops in the forefront of the attack.

I know that Keith Joseph and Angus Maude are devoting a great deal of time and thought to the organisation of this campaign, and no doubt Angus Maude will be saying more to you about it tomorrow. [end p8]

Make no mistake: this ground must be won, and we shall go all out to win it.

And not just because we want to win an election but because the whole future of the country depends on the establishment of a climate of opinion that rejects socialism and the encroachments of the State on the lives and liberties of individuals. Press release begins

And the future of the country, of course, involves your future.

The next twenty-five years are the crucial years for you—the years in which you will go out into the world, establish yourselves in your chosen careers, marry and set up new homes, take decisions about your children's education, and become figures of some importance and influence in your local communities.

What sort of Britain will it be, in which you have to live through the next two decades? [end p9]

What chances will it offer you to do the things you hope to do, to be the sort of people you want to be?

Young men and women like yourselves do not need to be told what sort of country Britain is going to be if present trends continue.

If I spell it out now, it is not to depress you but to clarify the challenge—to make clear what are the issues you will have to face.

When I was at university, even in those days of post-war austerity and socialist gloom, we were able to feel that the clouds would lift, and that wider and brighter vistas would open out.

We worried about inflation, but it never looked like becoming a menace that threatened the stability of our whole society and the survival of our economy.

Nor did we feel that the forces of anarchy—or even of socialist envy—were strong enough to threaten the collapse of the system. [end p10]

But now? You need to be a very tough optimist indeed not to fear such a breakdown.

There are altogether too many uncertainties about the future.

And the more use you make of your opportunities in higher education, the better you do now and the more successful you look like becoming, the more threateningly will the forces of envy, restriction and egalitarianism be massed in your path.

It is not just the prospect of redistributive taxation which will reduce your incentives and rewards, or the inflation that will steadily erode your real incomes.

Whole areas of employment are changing in a way that makes the prospect of a satisfying career less likely.

However strong his vocation, who is going to want to become a medical specialist or a hospital consultant in this country if present trends continue? [end p11]

How many men and women of quality and independent mind are going to see a future for themselves in journalism, if Mr Foot and the militants of the NUJ and the printing unions have their way with the freedom of the Press?

How much excitement, or scope for enterprise and constructive effort, will young people see in an industry either controlled by Mr Benn or threatened—as now they all are—with nationalisation in the future?

What certainty or continuity does entry into a family business or partnership offer, with taxation as it is now and the Capital Transfer Tax poised to demolish the undertaking in one or two generations?

And what are the prospects if you try to start up on your own?

If you feel a call to the public service, what chance will you have to plan wisely for the country's future or administer the system for the benefit of the people? [end p12]

You will be working to enforce narrow socialist policies, increasingly concerned to stave off total disaster, increasingly reviled by taxpayers and ratepayers as an interfering bureaucrat or a spendthrift parasite.

On top of all these obstacles, you will have to face the problem of finding and financing a home and of securing for your children the educational advantages you enjoyed yourselves.

But before you consider whether to emigrate, please pause to think whether all these disasters are inevitable.

Can the trend be halted, and then reversed?

If your instinct is to fight back, and to go on fighting for the right to a worthwhile life in a great country, you must help with the counter-attack.

Because I shall never stop fighting. I mean this country to survive, to prosper and to be free. And I need your help in the fight. [end p13]

I haven't fought the destructive forces of socialism for more than twenty years in order to stop now, when the critical phase of the struggle is upon us.

I haven't worked to try to preserve and improve what is best in our educational system in order to abandon the young men and women who have benefited from it to a lifetime of frustration and wasted talents.

My colleaguesand I intend to win the next Election.

During the next Parliament, we intend to reverse the damaging socialist measures which bar the way to recovery.

We shall revive hope for the future in the hearts of millions who have almost abandoned hope—and so revive and release their energies for the task of rebuilding Britain.

Above all, we want to give you hope and confidence. The hope that talent, skills, initiative and hard work will bring you satisfaction in your careers as well as adequate material rewards and the chance to save for the future. [end p14]

We want to free you to be yourselves and to make what you want of your lives. Not as servants of the State, but as partners in a common effort.

We shall encourage and stimulate industry to create new wealth for the people of Britain.

We shall restore justice and common sense to the taxation system, so that it no longer inhibits enterprise and effort.

We shall ensure that taxpayers' money is wisely spent for the common good and for the benefit of the genuinely needy.

We shall, wherever possible, restore and encourage freedom of choice for the individual—in education, in housing, in shopping, in provision for the future.

We shall ensure that Britain plays her full part in the Development of Western Europe—and in the defence effort of the Western Alliance. [end p15]

All this can be done, if enough people believe it can be done.

We can win the battle of the hustings, if we can win the battle of ideas now.

If we believe in our cause, and trust one another, we can persuade the rest.

There is such a thing as a faith that moves mountains—although it requires a bit of planning and a bit of muscle as well.

I have that faith.

If you will share it, nothing—but nothing—can stop us. Press release ends.