Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the National Press Club

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 788/75
Editorial comments: 1200-1400 local time; embargoed until 1800 UK time. Sections of the speech has been checked against ITN Archive News At Ten, 19 September 1975, and BBC Panorama, 22 September 1975 (editorial notes in text). The speech was broadcast live (The Times, 20 September 1975). "Questions after her speech ranged from Conservative policy on price control and nationalisation to her views on Ulster and Portugal. Mrs Thatcher handled them doughtily, if less wittily than Mr Wilson or Mr Heath in their recent appearances at the National Press Club. She gave long and detailed answers to each query explaining to Americans such British issues as pay beds in the National Health Service, North Sea oil taxation, and the controversy over newspaper "closed shop" proposals" (Daily Telegraph, 20 September 1975).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1822
Themes: Conservatism, Economic policy - theory and process, Energy, European Union (general), Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Religion & morality, Science & technology, Media
Beginning of section checked against BBC Panorama, 22 September 1975

I think it was a well known Hollywood producer—it might have been Hitchcock, and it might have been Griffith—once coined a piece of advice which I've always tried to observe in my political career:

“Let us cut to the chase” .

So just let me plunge in quickly: I'm here to talk about Britain. And I'm proud to do so. End of section checked against BBC Panorama, 22 September 1975

In my country at present we have serious problems, it would be foolish to ignore them. We have, to a more intense degree than many other countries, a combination of rising prices, falling output and unemployment. And, we have a sense of losing our way. The problem is not a technical one. It is one of the life and death of our national spirit. We are in the midst of a struggle for human dignity.

It is not my job, nor the job of any politician, to offer people salvation. It is part of my political faith that people must save themselves. Many of our troubles are due to the fact that our people run to politicians for everything.

But nations have to be governed. And those who vote for us have to feel that in the end the people who govern are trying to do a good job. [end p1]

But I know you'll agree with me that trying is not enough. What counts now is succeeding.

Now I know that to some of you, Britain seems at present to be an object lesson in failure. Social and economic failure. I disagree with that verdict. I want to report some of the signs of Britain's recovery.

First, there is a turnround albeit slow, of public opinion.

You will ask how I know that. The referendum was one concrete sign. I think the sheer size of the “yes” vote was more than a vote for Europe. It was also the voters saying— “We want no part of extremism” .

It may be that the British public, like the American public, don't know how to get rid of the extremists. But they hate them running their lives. Public opinion is behind firm and commonsense policies.

The second sign of Britain's recovery is less subjective. We have abundant supplies of energy, coal, oil and gas. No other industrialised nation, outside North America, can count, as we can, on becoming in the near future, self-sufficient in oil.

The third reason for our national recovery could well be science and technology. The other day I was looking at the list of Nobel prizes awarded since 1901.

The United States, with 215 million people, has won 121 Nobel prizes; Britain, with 55 million people has 72 awards to its credit. This is more than France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium put together, and no less than five times the number awarded to the Soviet Union. (Though to be fair to the Russians, they haven't had any for peace!)

The majority of our awards are in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine—and many of them recognise the pioneering work that has been done in our laboratories since the War. [end p2]

Now put all this together—the swing of public opinion, natural resources and scientific achievement—and we have the potential for national success.

What observers all agree that we lack, however, is not potential. It is the will to win through. It is no use having potential. The world judges people by what they do, not by what they might have done.

How shall we express the will to win? To answer that question I have to put it in an international perspective. Britain stands at the intersection of three major international groups—Europe, America and the Commonwealth. What happens anywhere in the world is of the greatest possible significance to us.

The other day I was criticised for not being as enthusiastic about Helsinki as some other people were. When detente is all the rage, it may seem a bit ungracious to point out some obvious truths; but people—politicians especially—neglect the obvious at their peril.

The Cold War is said to be over. The end of the winter's freeze however, can be the most dangerous time.

I am in favour of detente—who isn't? But in a dangerous world, I am also in favour of attente. Of advancing one step at a time. Of learning from hard experience.

My experience is that the West did not lose the Cold War. From the Marshall Plan onwards, Europe was saved from Stalinism. What a wise and amazing act the Marshall Plan was.

No, we did not lose the Cold War. But we are losing the Thaw in a subtle and disturbing way.

We are losing confidence in ourselves and in our case. We are losing the Thaw politically. [end p3]

In the free world it is constitutional government that is being damaged.

It is Bicentennial year here in America. For any freely elected leader to visit Washington now is a moving experience. The American Constitution is a great document because it epitomises American life.

The Constitution has kept this vast and complex society together for 200 years. Your heroes—Jefferson and Lincoln—are our heroes precisely because they defended, despite everything, the idea of constitutional government.

Having said that, however, we delude ourselves if we think that our ways, whether they be 200 or 1200 years old, are winning. At present they are not. We represent a diminishing band of brothers and sisters. The whole fabric of our society is under strain and attack.

Freedom under the law must never be taken for granted. This is the situation that we have to meet. That is one challenge. We have to revive belief in freedom under the law.

In the past generation there was Marshall, Bevin, Churchill, Adenauer and de Gaulle, who all, in their different ways, met their challenge. Today, in every continent, there are equally great challenges for which adequate political responses have to be found. Not least in Britain.

I say “political” because the problems we face are not only technical problems of economics and energy supply. They are a search for a political vision.

One answer to that search is one that I reject—that most of us reject. It is Marxism. I reject Marxism because its doctrines seem to me false. It is the negation of human dignity. Wherever you have Marxist Government you have tyranny, oppression and drabness.

It has a persistent attraction for some people in the free world. The attraction is said to be because the West has failed. [end p4]

But, as I look at America, if this is failure, what in Heaven's name is success? We are worrying ourselves into a decline. Talking ourselves into failure. There are problems. We live in an unsafe world. Many of the world's people are hungry. Many of them live under relentless tyrannies. But America's Bicentennial is an opportunity to remind ourselves that constitutional government means prosperity as well as freedom.

My real reason for believing in the future of Britain and America is because freedom under the law, the essence of our constitutions—is something that both honours human dignity and at the same time provides the economic opportunity to bring greater prosperity to our people—a personal prosperity based on individual choice.

In short, it works incomparably better than other systems. For hundreds of years men and women have struggled and died for it. We shall not let it go under because of attacks from without—or within. The persistent pursuit of a political belief demands of its people sacrifice and hard work. [Beginning of section checked against ITN News At Ten] I detect among my own people a deep feeling that hard work and sacrifice may not be such bad things. We don't want to suffocate in a soft society.

I was not brought up to prosperity. Hard work was the only way. We did not live wasteful, slothful or indolent lives but struggled to live a worthwhile life more rewarding in every sense. It is a moral struggle and the morality of work, of self-sacrifice, of trying to do the right thing at whatever the cost—that is the puritan morality of the founders of America.

It is also the morality of capitalism. [End of section checked against ITN News At Ten] It is one theme of the Bicentennial. The British crisis is the crisis of the West. It is the rediscovery of sense of purpose, of moral purpose. The period of high spending and slack thinking is over. [end p5]

When in 1947, Mr. Truman stretched out America's helping hand to Europe he tapped a deep well of moral sense; his action reflected the best in his people. The commonsense of the people tells us what to do. I trust people. I want to return power where it belongs—to the people. The people have good sense.

What is this commonsense they have? It is certainly not theories. One reason I'm not a Marxist or a Socialist is because I know you can't fit people into theories.

I was trained as a scientist—a chemist—and I know what a real theory is when I see one. I can do algebra as well as the next person. But you can't govern a country by algebra. The British people know that. The world is getting a little tired of being shaped and fashioned according to preconceived theories. Especially as they are so often wrong.

Conservatives like us are Conservatives because we know one great truth—that people come in all shapes and sizes, and that we thrive better together when each of us can fashion his own destiny.

And when people are free to make their own mistakes they learn from them and then get things right. Only people can save themselves, according to their own lights.

The task of politicians is to help provide:-

First, constitutional stability, without which there can be no confidence in the future.

Second, opportunity—the possibility for ordinary men and women to get ahead and in so doing to benefit their community as well as themselves;

And thirdly, the incentive—the prospect of reward—and profit—earned, and retained, as the measure, and the satisfaction, of work that is well and truly done. [end p6]

My country is a very old country, a beautiful country, an experienced country, and a realistic country.

We went through a period when we seemed to have lost our way. And when nations lose their way it is frightening for everybody.

The sense of disillusion seeps into every nook and corner like a Dickensian fog.

Now, slowly, we are finding our way. It is true that the reports about Britain still reflect a serious situation, and they are right to do so. But a change is coming over us. Beginning of section checked against BBC Panorama, 22 September 1975

In every generation there comes a moment to choose, and for too long we've chosen the soft option. And it's brought us pretty low. There are some signs now that our people are prepared to make the tough choice and to follow the harder road. We're still the same people that have fought for freedom, and won, and the spirit of adventure, the inventiveness, the determination are still strands in our character. We may suffer from a British sickness now, but we have a British constitution and it's still sound, and we have British hearts and a British will to win through.

I believe in Britain.

I believe in the British people.

I believe in our future. End of section checked against BBC Panorama, 22 September 1975 and end of speech