Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Mar 16 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Bow Group (25th Anniversary)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Cafe Royal, Regent Street, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 2000. Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath and Lord Home also spoke. The four were photographed together (The Times, 17 March 1976).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3005
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Economy (general discussions), Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Twenty-five years is indeed a long time in politics.

And the fact that, at the end of its first quarter century of life the Bow Group is not only alive but flourishing rightly calls for celebration.

It cannot, alas, be said that the country has enjoyed as happy, as successful a time. [end p1]

But there is a curious similarity between the situation in which the Conservative Party finds itself—and in which Britain finds herself—on your twenty-fifth anniversary and that of 1951.

Now, as then, we are getting ready for a Conservative renaissance, following a Socialist decline.

I hope that after the next election we will be as successful as our great predecessors; and be able to make that renaissance last for at least thirteen years. [end p2]

It is amazing, looking back, to see how similar is the task we face now to the task which faced Winston Churchill 's post-war government.

But it would not be unfair to say that we are much weaker now than we were then.

And if we are honest with ourselves we will wonder whether the nation any longer has the strength and the confidence to throw off a Socialist inheritance as determinedly and as quickly as it did in 1951. [end p3]

It is part of the Conservative job to rebuild that confidence.

In 1951, as now, the Socialists were well on their way to making of a once free and prosperous Britain a grey, uniform and increasingly unsuccessful state.

I would not pretend, of course, that Attlee and his colleagues were as successful in achieving that most Socialist of all aims as are Harold Wilson and his. [end p4]

Who, after all, has been able to stage-manage decline as effectively as the present Prime Minister?

There is little else at which he is successful.

In 1951 as now the Conservative Party had set itself the aim of national rejuvenation through freedom. [end p5]

Churchill and Butler and all the men and women who had worked so hard to restore our party after the defeat of 1945 looked at what was happening under the Socialists and proclaimed that they would set the people free.

As that was their aim in 1951, so it is mine in 1976.

The renaissance that we need can take place only after we have fully realised the essential difference between Conservatism and Socialism. [end p6]

To realise that difference is to appreciate the moral and intellectual superiority of the Conservative creed, as demonstrated by our history.

Since the rise of the Labour Party this century, it has become almost a habit of the Conservative Party to restore to the people of Britain the birthright which Labour has set out to steal.

They are expert political thieves, these Socialists. [end p7]

To adapt Emerson, the louder they talk of their promises the faster we count our rights.

Every time, in every generation, the task of the Conservative Party is the same.

Every time, whatever the particular policies we adopt, our fundamental object is the same. [end p8]

It is to support and to sustain a society which is free; to give our people the scope and the opportunity to make that society prosperous; to provide care and comfort for the needy; and to make our country secure.

We do not simply try to provide an answer to Socialism.

Nor is our philosophy merely the reverse of that dismal creed. [end p9]

Rather, it expresses, it gives tongue, to the values by which our nation has lived through the ages.

A sense of the nature and worth of British history is not, of course, something a Socialist would understand.

Harold Macmillan and Alec Home were already at work on such tasks when Ted Heath and I were merely beginning our political careers. [end p10]

It is that application to serving the interests and needs of the nation which has distinguished our party throughout its long and illustrious history.

And it is the success with which our party has discharged that task, not over generations only, but even over centuries, that sets it apart from all other known political parties. [end p11]

The longevity and vitality of Conservatism is the wonder of anybody who studies politics.

Neither our longevity nor our success can be explained by any recourse to pragmatic argument.

To be sure, Conservative politicians throughout the ages have been good at the day to day business of Government. [end p12]

But we could not have survived for so long unless we had been steadfast in our devotion to certain fundamental and underlying beliefs and principles.

It is particularly the business of such organisations as the Bow Group to address themselves again and again to the restatement of these fundamental principles. [end p13] [Manuscript addition by MT]

In Herbert Agar 's book, ‘A Time for Greatness’, he refers to a quotation of George Fox [illegible words] “What shall we fight for. Let's not fight for money … markets … for a higher standard of living. Let's fight for an idea … It alone can last.” Typescript resumes

Our task today, as it was in the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen fifties is to fight for our ideas, and to win.

And today the battle takes place on two levels.

The first level was admirably described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his recent powerful BBC broadcast. [end p14]

It is the level at which there is dispute about the essential purpose of government and politics.

Through bitter experience Solzhenitsyn has realised the dangers posed by an over-mighty state.

The more power that accrues to the state—the less freedom; freedom to make decisions, freedom to make one's own choices, freedom of ideas—remains for the individual citizen. [end p15]

The second level is that of economic management.

We have begun to realise that economic freedom is an essential element in a free society.

We have begun to understand that, if the State appropriates the better part—or even a very large part—of the national wealth and the national income for its own purposes, however admirable, [end p16] then the light of individual freedom will begin to flicker; and will in time be snuffed out.

Yet such appropriation—or such expropriation—is the very essence of the Socialist creed. [end p17]

We have just celebrated the bi-centenary of Adam Smith 's “The Wealth of Nations.”

In his day there was no generally understood concept of Socialism.

Those who believed that the business of government was to manage people's lives, to dominate the citizenry, Smith called “men of system” . [end p18]

“The man of system” , he wrote “… seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces on a chessboard.

“He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion beside that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might wish to impress upon it. [end p19]

“If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful.

“If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and human society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”

And Smith, you will recall, was not an economist merely, but a moral philosopher. [end p20]

With the kind of disorder he feared goes declining confidence, declining prosperity, loss of faith and loss of vision.

With the kind of disorder he feared—disorder imposed from above by the men of system—goes the dislocation of moral order that Solzhenitsyn diagnosed.

The strength of the Conservative Party—our hopes for a renaissance not only for ourselves but for the country—lies in the unity and strength with which we pursue our vision of freedom. [end p21]

Socialism is alien to Britain because it has no roots here.

It is only in the last half century that it has gained any ground in our politics.

But in that very rootlessness lies a large part of its danger.

Lacking any understanding of the great traditions of British freedom—seeming, often, to be deliberately hostile to it—the Socialists in office are natural wreckers. [end p22]

What they do not understand they do not love.

What they do not love they have no compunction about destroying.

In every generation the perennial and continuing problems of the nation present themselves in a new light.

It has been one of our chief successes that, throughout the generations and without losing sight of our fundamental principles, we have been able to overcome new challenges and new problems. [end p23]

If a divided party is to your taste, look to the Socialists.

There, truly, as Mrs. Judith Hart said the other day, the struggle “is between the Labour Government and the Labour Party” .

Contemplate, for a moment, the dozen or so moderate Labour M.P.s under serious threat from the left in the constituencies. [end p24]

They are miserable, beleagured creatures who, unlike Lord George Brown, cannot bring themselves to make a dash for freedom.

How can a party so divided against itself apply itself to the problems of Britain in a tightening and often frightening world, when even some of its senior members must continually look over their shoulders in frightened suspicion of the followers marching behind them with daggers in their hands? [end p25]

That is not, of course, to say that there are no differences of emphasis within the Conservative Party.

Only that they are minor; and that they are far, far less important than the animating and united spirit that impels us forward in our national task.

It is in the illumination of honest differences, and in the charting of new directions, that the Bow Group finds its task; and discharges it so brilliantly. [end p26]

For all the similarity between the problems of 1951 and 1976 there are of course considerable differences.

And I have little doubt that the approach and attitude and recommendations of the Bow Group of 1976 differ in many ways from those of 1951.

But the object is the same. [end p27]

After the war it was necessary to take a long and hard look at Conservative policies, to re-examine what the party was saying, to re-fit it for the great tasks ahead.

Out of that intellectual ferment came the Bow Group.

Again in the nineteen-sixties, under Ted Heath 's leadership, re-examination was the order of the day. [end p28]

Today again, and within a continuous tradition, we have to undertake a rigorous preparation.

To that preparation all the particular groups within the party must and will contribute; and I am sure that no contribution will be more distinguished than that of the Bow Group and its members.

Indeed, from its recent publications and the debates which it has conducted I venture to say that the Group is going through one of its most distinguished and vital periods. [end p29]

Long may the work continue.

Permanent and unchanging though the fundamental interests of Britain may be, the problems which face us at any particular time assume shifting and changing shapes.

In one year the balance of payments, in another inflation, in another the crushing burden of taxation and public expenditure, may assume the dominant role among the legion of demons which beset us. [end p30]

The great task for any government is not merely to tackle individual problems—for there is a considerable danger in concentrating on the part at the expense of the whole—but to see the total context steadily and in proportion.

But on one thing we must be clear.

It will be the aim of the next Conservative government to reduce the nation's present huge burden of Government interference and activity. [end p31]

Not all of this by any means is financial.

But our guiding principle in both spending and taxation policies will be to restore to the people the right and the power to spend their own money.

I see from the recent Bow Group publication, A Chancellor's Primer, that, while in 1976 public expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product is 60 per cent, in 1960 it was only 41.5 per cent. [end p32]

Wasn't it about that time that somebody said we had never had it so good; and that Harold Macmillanhe was afraid we would lose it?

We are perilously close to losing it now.

What applies to the individual citizen also applies to the individual company.

Unless our political renaissance can produce an industrial renaissance there will be no new creation of wealth in Britain. [end p33]

And if there is no creation of wealth there will be no resources for the implementation of the social policies to which we are committed.

But a political philosophy, and the political philosophy of the Conservative Party in particular, can never be just a collection whether ragbag or highly detailed, of individual measures and promises. [end p34]

We will need all the help and advice we can get—and especially advice and help from groups within the party—to devise particular measures to be applied to this or that problem.

But above all we must be able to express with full understanding the animating general idea which moves such people as us forward in politics. [end p35]

As economic policy is not just a collection of dissociated measures, so defence and security policy is not just a matter of how many guns or aeroplanes or ships you have.

Numbers are important; but the difficulties the Western alliance now finds itself facing results from an unsatisfactory balance between numbers and quality.

If we look, for example at the naval rivalry between the East and the West we can see a steady improvement in the quality of the Soviet fleet, ship by ship. [end p36]

And it is this qualitative improvement on their side—while our quality remains at best stable—that is giving them an increasing strategic advantage.

A have, as you know, said a word or two on defence matters recently.

And my words attracted a gratifying amount of attention, not only at home but abroad as well. [end p37]

Indeed, as I said at the time, I was fortified in my conviction that my emphasis was correct by the virulence of the criticism I received—strikingly similar as were the expressions of it in Moscow and from the ranks of our own Socialist government.

What the national interest requires, of course, is the ability to make a dispassionate assessment of an opponent's strength and intentions, combined with a strength to defend what you believe in—a strength to counter and defeat those who would destroy the things you believe in. [end p38]

I remember well—I will never forget—the statement of that theme in Alec Home 's first speech as Foreign Secretary, in the House of Lords.

It has been his preoccupation ever since; and it is mine.

But the broad philosophical context within which I spoke was best described in the B.B.C. broadcast by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which I have already mentioned. [end p39]

Solzhenitsyn is an artist and a philosopher, not a politician.

But it is part of the business of the artist and the philosopher to light up the politician's path.

And it is part of the politician's business to make the world safe for artists and philosophers like Solzhenitsyn. [end p40]

The excellence which his life and work express—the deep insight, the unshakeable courage, the undefeated and invulnerable intelligence—can be achieved by very few indeed.

Perhaps they can be achieved no more than once in a generation; or even a century.

But it is a guide and an inspiration to everybody touched by it, old and young, rich and poor, weak and strong. [end p41]

Few of us will ever read Solzhenitsyn in Russian.

Perhaps not all that many will read him even in translation.

But he is a force in all our lives.

And as his persecution in Russia was a warning to us, so indifference to him on our part now diminishes us. [end p42]

But these are things the cramped Socialist mind finds it difficult—even impossible—to grasp.

They promise our people a bright future—and by their actions condemn them to live in a perpetual twilight.

Their days of hope become days of hopelessness.

And while the rest of us try to learn from our mistakes, the Socialists revel in theirs. [end p43]

Without a regard and even a reverence for excellence no society can prosper.

For the greatest advances of the ordinary person are the products of the achievements of the extraordinary person.

This is true in art: it is true in science and law, it is true in every sphere of human activity.

The general freedom which is available to all may be used to the full only by a few. [end p44]

But the many nonetheless benefit to an incalculable extent from the activities of the few.

It will be the first task of the next Conservative government to cultivate excellence, to create an equality of opportunity, to make Britain stand for freedom as she so often did before.

A time in opposition is, of course, a frustrating time. [end p45]

More than most, members of the Bow Group will be able to point to periods of immense creativity in opposition—from 1945 to 1951; or from 1965 to 1970.

But however restorative a rest from the cares of office is; however creative a period of reflection may be, there is no substitute for power.

But we must not underestimate the magnitude of our task; nor the difficulties we will face in discharging it. [end p46]

When we come back the Socialists will have had two periods of office in only a little more than a decade.

Two periods in which to work their mischief.

The relative international position of Britain will be weaker by far than when Ted Heath left office.

And the domestic economic and industrial position of the country will be weaker, too. [end p47]

There comes a point when national debilitation, national loss of self-confidence, and national decline are difficult to reverse.

It would be disastrous—but it would be understandable—if our people now sank into despair.

As government statement succeeds government statement, as more and more rules and regulations are imposed, as the tax burden climbs ever upwards, the Britain of earlier years—free, prosperous, secure—must seem ever more like a dim and fading memory. End of speech missing.