Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women's Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Central Hall, Westminster
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The press release was embargoed until 1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2676
Themes: Agriculture, Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Education, Industry, General Elections, Local elections, Monetary policy, Taxation, European Union (general), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Religion & morality, Society, Social security & welfare, Voluntary sector & charity

Madam Chairman,

I must begin by thanking you for the way in which you and all your fellow helpers have organised this great conference.

I must also congratulate you on getting up so early yesterday morning to broadcast on the radio. I understand you are not an early riser [end p1]

I welcome Janet Young as a new Party Vice-Chairman. She has already shown those special qualities which make her such a valuable addition to Central Office.

(Remarks on Chelmer Appeal)

During this successful Conference, we have discussed some key issues facing Britain, and the conclusions which have been reached will be of immense value to the Shadow Cabinet and the Party's spokesmen in Parliament. [end p2]

In normal times this Parliament could last until 1979. But these are not normal times.

Never has a Government been so discredited as this one so early in a Parliament.

I choose my words carefully, because as we all know, the Labour Party may be discredited but it is not divided.

Like the two sides of the Grand Canyon, it is joined by the gap in the middle! [end p3]

That is why we, the Conservative Party, must be ready for whatever may befall.

We have had some outstanding results in local government elections, particularly in industrial areas.

There is encouraging news from the constituencies, and dare I say it, even from the opinion polls. [end p4]

This afternoon I want to talk to you about the relationship of politics to people as I see it.

I will do it under six heads:- Personal ownership Enterprise Obligations & Opportunity Protection Law & Liberty Europe [end p5]

Let us start with the people's right to personal ownership.

We do not need statistics to tell us that vast numbers of people in this country first want to own a home in which they can take pride, in which they can live their personal lives in the environment of their choice.

In short, terrible as this may sound to our socialist opponents, they want to own a piece of personal property. [end p6]

In order to obtain it, they are prepared to save their money.

They are prepared to forego some immediate pleasure or luxury for what they judge to be the greater satisfaction of ownership.

It is worth asking ourselves two further questions.

Why do they find such satisfaction in ownership?

Why are they ready to make sacrifices for it? [end p7]

The answer is because it gives them a sense of independence, of self-reliance, of individuality. They feel some of the pride of ownership.

Independence, self-reliance, individuality.

These are the values which count most with so many people.

Here is a firm foundation on which to build a policy, more reliable than the discredited theories of Karl Marx. [end p8]

These values have offspring of their own. If you value independence and self-reliance, then you will practice thrift to achieve them.

You will seek an ordered society in which an individual's chosen pattern of life is protected by the law from criminal violence.

But the desire for an ordered society has consequences beyond respect for the law. [end p9]

It also encourages patterns of personal behaviour which will avoid offence or provocation of others, and which will favour hard and responsible work.

People who cherish these values will seek to live according to the golden rule of Confucius:

“What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do unto others” .

I do not know if any of the thoughts of Chairman Mao have superseded that excellent maxim. [end p10]

But, of course, if you have been led to believe that personal property is wicked and that ownership is contrary to pure socialist morality, then naturally you will be disposed to denigrate the values and virtues which are associated with personal property.

You will despise independence, thrift, self-reliance, self-denial.

You will be less shocked by violence and disorder. [end p11]

You will get less satisfaction from work and therefore will be less inclined to work hard.

The evidence is there in the pattern of people's lives.

Now I turn to our second great belief, the value of ENTERPRISE. Let us think for a moment of the self-employed, of the small business, of the family factory providing employment and prosperity to family and neighbourhood alike. [end p12]

The farmer seeking to hand on the achievements of his husbandry to his sons.

Writers, Painters, Journalists, who add colour and inspiration to our lives. [end p13]

The joiners, the plumbers, small builders. the corner shop.

These are the people who, without state investment provide us with jobs, with goods, and with service. They are vital to our prosperity.

Yet it is these wealth creators who are harried by taxation.

These are the new oppressed—the masses of middle Britain. [end p14]

What is it about these small enterprises that leads socialists to attack them so violently?

Let us examine these doughty and independent firms who produce more than half the wealth of the realm.

In their beginnings they are rooted in the decision of one man, or maybe two, to leave the security of employment, and to go it alone. [end p15]

To risk the modest savings on which the family would depend in hard times.

The men and women who set out on this venture know that there can be no fast and easy way to make a fortune.

It is hard, unremitting and often a lonely toil. If they survive the first few dangerous months, they may come to employ others. [end p16]

It is remarkable that when these enterprises build up their staff, they do so with a record of industrial peace that must be the envy of state and major industries alike.

This is because the employees and the owner are involved in the job. They know and respect one another as people. They work together.

The prize of success is modest. [end p17]

The penalties of failure—loss of everything.

Perhaps people risk all this just to be their own masters, or because they wish to mould their own destinies.

Or because they wish to create something to hand on to their children.

Yes, all these are valid reasons.

But there is something more. [end p18]

It is the unquenchable spirit of enterprise that is the bedrock of our national character.

It is a trait that should be encouraged, not stifled. [end p19]

But what is the Socialist attitude to these concerns? Bleed them by taxation. Blister them with regulations. Plunder their capital, and plague them with forms and surveys.

The state looks on these family companies as a concern to be picked clean rather than a thriving body with a right to life.

And when a man dies, it is the state who further picks the rewards of a lifetime's labour. [end p20]

The state's right to levy taxation on an inheritance was admitted many years ago.

It was reasonable so long as the state assumed the duty of protecting the inheritance.

But now the state is taxing inheritance on a penal scale. [end p21]

The economic objections to this sort of taxation are strong.

It is a vicious disincentive to enterprise, to investment, to saving, to capital accumulation of any kind.

These are values which a state should maintain and encourage, for they lead to greater prosperity for all our people.

Years of socialist propaganda have eroded faith in these basic values. [end p22]

But they have not destroyed it.

But have we done enough to promote or encourage these values? Could we have done more? [end p23]

Perhaps it is we politicians who have lost faith and confidence in the prime and simple qualities of the British people.

We have not appealed to them boldly enough: we have not trusted them enough.

Therefore the warm response which might have been ours has not been forthcoming. [end p24]

I venture to doubt if enterprise, as we have known it in this country for many generations, can possibly survive the piecemeal destruction of the private sector which is now proceeding.

We Conservatives will restore it to its rightful place in our society. [end p25]

Our third belief is that of the individual's obligation to his family and community.

For a lesson in duty and social commitment, we need go no further than this hall.

Many of you—indeed most—will be doing some voluntary work for one of the great causes.

The list of jobs you find time to serve your neighbourhood and fellow citizens reads like the roll of battle honours for a real social contract. [end p26]

Here are women of the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance Brigade.

The WRVS, of the Women's Institutes and the Mothers' Unions.

Members of the Towns Women's Guilds, Sunday School Teachers and workers of the Inner Wheel.

Supporters of the NSPCC, Oxfam and Help the Aged.

Drivers for Meals on Wheels.

Here are members of parent teachers' associations who really care about the standards of education. [end p27]

Here are Managers and Governors of schools, First Aiders and Samaritans.

Here is the spirit of a real Social Contract: Service not strife. Giving, not grabbing Caring, not classifying.

The Welfare State can never provide everything.

No Council budget, however high the rates, could afford enough social workers to replace the good neighbour. [end p28]

No level of social security can bring that wealth of support that comes from friends in time of need.

This is not to attack or to suggest the dismantling of the Welfare State. Our record in Government proves that.

It is merely that we must remind ourselves before it is too late, that we are responsible for ourselves and our families before, after, over and above any role that the State can play. [end p29]

I have spoken of the ways in which many of your serve the community at large. But you also serve your family, children and parents. [end p30]

We assume the responsibility for bringing up our children and for teaching them a true standard of values.

We wish to take an active part in choosing the kind of education best suited to their needs.

We believe a proved record of educational success is more valuable than a ton of education experiment.

We believe—in our society we have a duty to see that every child receives the education which will bring out his or her talents. [end p31]

To give our children these opportunities is our obligation.

Their obligation in turn will be to recreate a society where individual talents are developed and put to the service of all the people.

Our fourth belief is that of protection.

Protection of the weak and protection of our country. [end p32]

In the inflation of today, it is the strong who gain and the weak who lose.

By our restraint we must ensure that inflation is not allowed to bear most heavily on those most needing our care.

Inflation robs people of their savings.

It inflicts cruel injustice on those whose incomes are fixed. It impoverishes those who have been thrifty and careful when they become old and vulnerable. [end p33]

It is, of all trends, the most demoralising, penalising the very qualities of self-reliance and independence which it should be our business to encourage.

I say that this is a special charge on our Party, because manifestly people who make provision for their old age will not get much help from the Socialists.

And we must carry on the fight for the small fixed income groups, which has been waged so magnificently in recent years by Dame Irene, now Baroness Ward. [end p34]

But the people also need protection against external aggression.

Freedom will only be preserved if we are prepared to defend it. Defence expenditure is always the first candidate for cuts in a Labour Government and many of their supporters want to go further than they are prepared to go.

Recently, when we had a Defence Debate we faced a left wing amendment for extra cuts; there were more Conservative MPs in the Lobby defending the Government's policy than there were Labour MPs. [end p35]

Our fifth fundamental belief is Law and Liberty.

In times of peace, our freedom depends upon the rule of law, and without it, we are on the slippery slope to anarchy. Freedom cannot exist without law.

As Lord Hailsham stressed yesterday: “Elsewhere tyranny or anarchy may be the constant state of affairs; but in Western Europe civilised government is judged by the standards of a free Parliament, an independent judiciary and laws for the protection of minorities and individuals” . [end p36]

Conservative policies are rooted in respect for the law, and in every citizen's (and rate payer's) right to protection from the law breakers.

Last Wednesday, when Parliament debated Clay Cross, we came to within eight votes of defeating the Government.

The Labour Party would have us enshrine the Clay Cross clan in a special martyrs' gallery. The truth is different, for these arrogant law breakers are another kind, as Bernard Levin explained in a TIMES article last Wednesday: [end p37]

“They looted the public coffers with the keys to which they were entrusted under the law. Not to fill their own, but to turn the community which they were supposed to serve into a kind of miniature Soviet, a forcing house of their political ideas” .

There was in the Councillors' behaviour a complete disregard for the rule of law.

And where were the so-called Labour Party moderates when the debate took place? [end p38]

Most of them voted with the Government. Political acquiesence is the same as approval.

So Parliament bowed to the betrayal of the rule of law by an eight-vote margin.

If Governments do not respect the law it is little wonder that some individuals come to think they can by-pass it too. [end p39]

In the same way that Government and individuals should be bound by law so countries should be bound by Treaties.

That brings me to my sixth point—Europe.

Two and a half years ago. Britain joined the EEC.

The Treaty of Accession was the culmination of many years long and hard negotiation.

A Conservative Government succeeded in taking us in and Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed that decision. [end p40]

It was embodied in a Treaty signed in the name of the British people.

Britain does not renounce Treaties.

Indeed, to do so would damage our own integrity as well as international relations.

For those who are especially concerned about the interests of the Commonwealth, we should point out that it would be against the advice of the Commonwealth to withdraw from the Community. [end p41]

A communique to that effect was issued from the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference in Jamaica recently.

Those worried about jobs and investments will observe that in a recent survey of over 500 companies, more than half thought that jobs or business would suffer if we came out. End of press release.

Some thought it would make little difference, and only 5 per cent or so thought we should benefit. [end p42]

And a word about food supplies. Half our food is bought abroad, while the Community as a whole is almost self-sufficient. We have to depend on food surpluses elsewhere, and, if these failed, we should be among the first to suffer.

To stay in the Community is to give us access to a secure source of supply—and make us less dependent on world harvests.

A new Europe is being built as a partnership—in the interests of all.

We must both contribute to it and influence its development.

With or without us, it will be a powerful force in the world.

Where power resides, there must Britain's voice be heard.

I have spoken of our beliefs under six headings:- Personal Ownership Enterprise Obligations Protection Law and Liberty Europe.

This spells people—and that is what politics is about, and what governments are for—the furtherance of the health and happiness of people.

We are proud of our country. Its greatness is the part it has played in spreading throughout the world the ideas and principles of individual freedom, the political institutions which have given those ideas reality, and the rule of law which ensures them. [end p43]

These doctrines are not new, but it does not mean that they are not modern. They are as modern and relevant today as when the flame was first lit in human hearts and minds. All the progress which mankind has made through the centuries has been by their guiding light. It is our pride, our claim to greatness, that nowhere has the flame burned more brightly than in these islands. Lately it may have dimmed and flickered, but we know that it is not extinguished.

It will be our care, our mission, to see that it never is extinguished, that it will continue to burn here clear and bright, to illuminate the way ahead, for all peoples.