Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1975 Dec 6 Sa
Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Crisis in London Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: London
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Morning. The Conference was organised by Greater London Conservatives.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2985
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Conservative Party (organization), Education, Local elections, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Health policy, Private health care, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Transport

Most of my active political life has of course been spent in London.

I have lost elections in the London area, and I have won elections in the London area, and I must say I prefer winning to losing every time. It is very much more satisfying, and it ends up of course with what I think suits us best power to make decisions rather [illegible words] power to make speeches about what other [illegible words] should be doing, and aren't.

We have an extremely important conference this morning. The real thing is to get the Conservative message across at every level. A coherent, cohesive message of the Conservative philosophy in practice, whether it be at Borough level, whether it be at County level, whether it be at Government level. [end p1]

We belong to the same cause, we have fought the same cause, we must preach the same cause and we must practice the same cause in the decisions we take, and I think the important thing is that there should be seen to be a clear link between the measure we take and the things we believe. The two are related, but I believe intensely that parties are not just a miscellaneous serious [sic] of progress. They all stem from a philosophy and a way of life.

Therefore we have to do the two things. To get the philosophy across and for it to be seen that wherever we are in power and control—that in fact is what we practice. [end p2]

We have this morning a conference called “A Crisis in London. A Crisis in the Capital City” . They are strong words to use, and I don't think that anyone can say that our crisis is as bad as New York. We are all very well aware that there are some similarities, and the time to act is before and not after the financial affairs have got completely out of control.

I have tried to divide this Crisis London into four separate headings—

Crisis of Cash

Crisis of Choice

Crisis of Decision and a

Crisis of liberty under the law

May I say a few words about each [end p3] I start with Cash because it is the most obvious one. It is the one where Socialist Governments at all levels tend to go wrong most quickly. They always spend, they always run out of money, they always borrow and in the end we always have to have a spell of Conservative Government to get to a sound finance one again.

I think that Government in London is no exception. One of the reasons we have a crisis now is a crisis of public expenditure.

Now rates are the only income which the local authority has, apart from the Rate Support Grant. We must bear in mind that councils must not embark on heavy expenditure sprees merely because the greater part of their expenditure is financed not by rates, but in fact by the taxpayer. [end p4]

We all know, having dealt with Central Government, that one of very great difficulties is how to see that local expenditure is brought under rigorous scrutiny in the same way as national expenditure ought to be. It is not always brought under rigorous scrutiny at national level, but it ought to be.

There are two things. One, the amount which the tax payer contributes towards spending, the other the total spending bill; because while public expenditure is not wrong on its own—there are a tremendous number of things that can only be financed that way—what is critical and crucial is the proportion of the national income which is spent, not by citizens but which is spent by governments at all levels. [end p5]

And when that proportion reaches its present proportion—about 56 per cent—then what we are seeing is more expenditure in the hands of centralised authorities and less in the hands of the people. And that is bad.

I believe we should get across to the people in this Crisis of Cash that those who demand more public expenditure are really saying to every single person in this country who pays tax, “We, Governments, know better how to spend the money which you have earned than you do” .

That really is what public expenditure—extra public expenditure—is. Governments putting their hands in the workers' pockets and taking out a larger proportion of the pay packet than they should be doing. [end p6]

There is a series of articles in the Sunday Times—I'm not plugging the Sunday Times—but they had a very far reaching series of articles on the crisis which faces us written by Eltis and Bacon—and they pointed out that our total levels of taxation of the average person are the same height which in days gone by were only expected to be paid by professional people quite comfortably off.

That is part of the same problem. Public expenditure—its level. It comes partly in tax, it comes partly in rates. The total amount taken in tax and rates is determined by the total amount which Governments, Central and Local, spend.

Now we know we have got a crisis in cash. We know what has happened in New York which had a crisis in cash when it went on spending, and spending and spending. [end p7]

The lesson should be obvious. You don't get into a cash crisis by following sound financial policies, but only by following unsound policies. Only by spending, not only beyond your means, but jolly nearly beyond your credit.

And yet in spite of all this, it is interesting to see how much extra expenditure is still being undertaken by the GLC.

Some of you have very kindly supplied me with some figures. If I may give a plug to another paper you have probably all read—the saga of Camden in the Observer last week—a saga of ludicrous spending without rhyme or reason. Ludicrous spending of other peoples' money.

And I see that in two years Budgets London GLC has set aside £96 million for municipalisation. Interesting—but you will see from your brochure that in 1965 the whole GLC budget was only twice that. [end p8]

That is the extent to which the expenditure of a local authority has increased, and this is one of the reasons why we have a crisis in cash.

In Parliament we have to fight extra nationalisation. In County Hall we have to fight extra municipalisation.

They are both the same breed. They are both using the people's money for public expenditure. They are both taking power from the people into a bureaucratic centralised authority.

That is where the philosophy comes in. Our philosophy is to keep more power in the hands of the people. Theirs is to take it away and centralise it. That's the philosophy.

The practice is they tax and have far many more increases in rates than we do, and not only that, they take away property from ownership by the people and put things into the property of councils and state and local authority bodies. [end p9]

They direct the power away from the people to authority. Two examples—the cash, and to some extent, the housing.

Also interesting to see in the cash crisis—what has happened to London Transport. In 1972, very nearly our last year in surplus—now in huge deficit. So you have got crisis in cash coming from enormous public expenditure, some of which need never have been and should never have been undertaken.

The fact is that every economy, however small, is worthwhile. If you look after the pounds, the poundage will look after itself. Simply applying the principles of good housekeeping to the management of a great city—it is precisely because New York ignored the commonsense of sound finance that it came within an ace of disaster.

This must not happen in London. [end p10] So much then for crisis of cash, directly, I believe, brought about by socialism in some of the local authorities.

Now there are other crises as well. Let us come to the Crisis of Choice.

Again the philosophy—the Conservative philosophy—that choice is a fundamental part of a democracy. A fundamental part of regarding the individual as more important than authority. And therefore we should be doing everything to extend choice to everything, to extend responsibility on the part of our citizens.

And you only get responsibility by being allowed to make your own decisions—by being allowed to exercise your own choice. Now that's the philosophy.

Let's look and see how that works in practice, as we saw how the cash worked in practice. [end p11]

Again I turn to housing under this theme. If you believe in choice, then you give people maximum choice, and one of the choices you give them is—look, if you have a council house, would you rather pay rent or buy it? That is increasing choice. It is also dispersing power among the people.

Increasing choice—but does a local authority like London do that? Not in the least. It applies the money I have mentioned to taking away from the people and putting them as the property of the local council or the property of the county council.

It is very ironic that this is called public ownership. In many ways it is a misuse of the word ‘public’. The moment things come into public ownership they in fact pass out of the control of the public.

And just at that point of time, citizens as such cease to have very much influence over them. [end p12]

That occurs whether it is nationalisation or public ownership—the time at which the public ceases to have power over anything.

Sometimes we think it ceases to have very much consideration.

Can't deal with its ownership in a nationalised industry. Can't deal with its ownership in a municipalised house.

Public ownership means power away from the public to the bureaucrat, and in fact it is a misnomer.

Our philosophy would be to increase the choice. To give the right to purchase the council house to the tenant instead of taking in so much extra private property into municipalisation. To try to help some of our younger people to purchase the older properties and do them up. That way you make the best of your housing. You give maximum choice and you give maximum opportunity to do something for themselves, and you also help to keep the buildings in good repair. [end p13]

So that is a very practical example where the Conservative theme of choice can and should work.

Now let's have a look at Education.

Again our philosophy is to extend choice. Now we have a crisis of choice. It is very interesting that in Education, they went for reducing choice, first, not in the private sector, but for reducing choice and influence for those who have to rely on State and County schools. That's who they really went for first.

Now, we are going to have problems in Education—very serious problems.

And if you narrow the choice only to one school, then let's have a look at what ought to be the accountability to the public. [end p14]

Because although we happen to have this curious denomination—public schools and private schools—the County schools and the State schools are really the public schools.

Are they really accountable to the Public? Not really. Are they really accountable to parents? Not really. I sometimes think they are only accountable to the bureaucrats.

What we really have to get is an increasing area of choice and influence for parents and people in education.

And the more you narrow the choice of the kind of school, the more you will have to try to extend the influence of parents and public over the kind of things they want within the schools.

Just let's remember a very good Conservative maxim— “All power is a trust, and we are accountable for its exercise” . [end p15]

Many, many parents and public want to have some say over the curriculum in the schools. Many of them would prefer to have a more traditional method of teaching. They would like to know that discipline—a kindly discipline—is taught in the schools. They would like to know that a respect for the law and liberty is taught in the schools.

Now, just let us remember that the power over curriculum is that of the local authority, and those who represent the people of the local authority are responsible to people, public and parents. They are not responsible to their own officers for the way in which they exercise their power.

And the more you narrow the choice of schools, the more you must try to extend the influence of public and parents to see that they get what they want and what they are paying for, both by rates and taxes. [end p16]

That is perhaps a new thought in education It is one which I am very interested to see is developing the other side of the Atlantic where they have encountered similar problems to us

We believe in choice, we believe in responsibility, we believe that we are accountable to the public for the exercise of our powers.

So that again is increasing our theme of increasing choice.

A crisis in choice.

There is a third thing under this heading—it is health.

Socialism is the same breed, as we said, whether it occurs at national level or local level. [end p17]

Just in the same way as they diminish choice in housing, diminish choice in education, so now they are also diminishing choice in health.

And it will have another effect as well. It will reduce the standards of the NHS for those people who have, and who wish to rely upon it.

In fact, if you take pay beds away from the NHS you will deprive the NHS of income—and heaven knows it does need extra income; indeed perhaps could have extra income if the socialists weren't so darned busy using the money on nationalisation and municipalisation, and taking it away from what they could well use it for in improving some of the NHS—now they will take more away by taking away pay beds.

They will also take away some of the expertise. For I think many, many doctors will regard it as a fundamental breach of their contract not to be able to have pay beds in the NHS. [end p18]

If they then withdraw their services—I'm not talking about industrial action to pursue objectives; I believe the doctors have a good case, but I deplore industrial action—but if their services are taken away it will rebound very severely on the standards of the NHS.

We believe in more choice, in using choice, to pull up standards, not in levelling down standards to whatever the socialist society decree.

The Crisis of Cash—the Crisis of Choice—both directly related to our philosophy.

Let me look at the third one—a Crisis of Decision.

At national level many of us feel that things are just drifting. It is as if one is drifting to disaster. They know they will have to cut public expenditure but they are delaying the decision. [end p19]

They know they will have to make some decision about Chrysler. So far it has been delayed and delayed.

Promises have been made that there will be a statement about Import Control.

Then when you look at Greater London, there is one thing where they really could have made a decision on. One place you would have thought would have been an absolute planner's paradise.

All the area of dockland—the 5,500 acres which could be developed so well. It is a chance in so many different aspects.

Its a chance for housing. Its a chance for building houses to sell to private people, again increasing choice.

Its a chance of providing housing for people near their work, because while there are many people who have gone to live outside the Inner London area, because the rates beyond are cheaper, I know that transport is expensive and people would like to live nearer to their work. [end p20]

But to provide houses near to work would revivify that part of the whole city.

Its a chance for commerce because in a city like London which depends on commerce for creating the wealth, you do want more buildings for commerce. You never get a shortage of buildings for commercial purposes; if you do you force up the rents. And also then eventually the rates.

You have got an opportunity to develop commerce, to develop your housing near the commerce.

You have got an opportunity to give an architectural heritage to the next generation. We are rich in architectural heritage.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we made a major contribution to it as our addition, so that we had something extra to pass on to the next generation?

Dockland could become the Garden City of the 1980s. [end p21]

And yet, there is a Crisis of Decision.

The socialism is more important than the constructive work.

In the meantime we find people of London tending to move out and, again as we look across the Atlantic, it would be possible for us to encounter the same problems—that those who are of working age and highly skilled, move out of the city, leaving more and more social and welfare problems in the city.

And therefore you get two things happening.

Revenue and resources going down just as your need for them increases—all coming about through a Crisis of Decision, and sometimes, lets face it, the wrong decision. [end p22]

And the last point of crisis is the Crisis in respect of the Law and the right of others to Liberty.

I have always thought that if only we could get our police up to full establishment in London, what a difference it would make both to the capital and also to the hours which they have to put in.

Let us make certain the Conservative authorities always uphold the Law and always uphold the police in the very difficult task they have.

Let us make certain that we always try to increase the liberty of people.

Again many things are happening at national level which are steadily reducing our liberty, which are steadily reducing the respect in which the law is held. Clay Cross is the most famous, as you know. [end p23]

And it is frequently said when we talk about liberty the word is frequently confused with licence.

Let me make it quite clear that if you expect to have liberty yourself, you must expect other people to have that same liberty.

That is both the limiting factor on liberty, and the enlarging factor.

You cannot have it for yourself without giving other people the same amount.

Now these are what I would call the four crises in London.

For us every single crisis is a challenge, and it is a chance. [end p24]

And our chance will come in 1977.

And today with Horace Cutler—I must say I think he does a wonderful job, and his team who are regularly helping him—they are upholding the Conservative philosophy in London and trying to put it into practice.

We have got a little time for preparation—a little time in which to make our objectives clear.

A little time to translate those objectives into practical policies.

A little time to prepare people to see the link between what we believe and what we shall put into action.

And a little time to prepare also for the victory which I believe will come. [end p25]

The final thing I want to say is this.

Victory is not an end.

It is a beginning.

When you've got it, its what you do with it that counts.

We are met here today to see that when we achieve that victory, the philosophies and policies we put forward are those of truly democratic Conservatives.