Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council ("The Historic Choice")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Norwich, Norfolk
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Press release (317/76) embargoed until 1445.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3617
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Civil liberties, Conservatism, Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Employment, Industry, By-elections, Local elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Social security & welfare

The Historic Choice

Last week, shortly after the Government was defeated in the House of Commons on its central economic strategy, I gave Mr. Wilson a little piece of advice.

It was just a suggestion, but one I felt was in his interests and those of the country he has led to its present pass. [end p1]

“Go” I said “and go now” .

It's always gratifying to be listened to.

Suddenly Harold Wilson has had enough.

Well, looking at the state of the Labour Party, who shall blame him? [end p2]

Papering over a crack is one thing, but how do you paper over a chasm?

It would be ungracious not to wish him well in his retirement—or to complain too much that he is not taking his entire administration with him.

But we'll attend to that. The Conservative Party will send the whole motley crew packing as promptly as possible. The heart lifts at the challenge. It can't come soon enough. [end p3]

Meanwhile the brothers are busy finding a successor.

Along the corridors the cry goes up “I'm James CallaghanJim, fly me” , “I'm Roy JenkinsRoy, fly me” , “I'm Michael FootMichael, fly me” and so on.

Frankly, it matters little whom Labour elects to lead them out of office. [end p4]

What matters is that they go.

For the country's sake.

For freedom's sake—that freedom for which this nation has fought down the centuries.

This, I think, is a good time to remind ourselves that our freedom, which in recent years we have come to take as much for granted as the air we breathe was not gathered in one year, like the harvest, or distributed along with Family Allowance over the Post Office counter. [end p5]

Men and women shed their blood for it, not only to win it for themselves but to hold it in trust for those who came after them. Today it is ours to hold in trust for those who come after us.

How was it won?

It was won by resisting unbridled power. [end p6]

So, justice for all was won. So, freedom of worship and freedom of speech was won. So, the very corner-stone of democracy was laid down: on which is written that every man and every woman, however diverse in ability, or wealth, or learning, shall be free to order their own lives and not be the pawn of those, of whatever persuasion, who claim that they know what is best for others. [end p7]

And so, when someone of the stature of Solzhenitsyn warns that the freedoms we believe in are in danger if we do not stand like granite in their defence, let us not complacently brush him aside, telling each other reassuringly “of course, he's a great writer and a great human being, but he's Russian, he doesn't understand the West” .

Let us listen, while to listen freely and without restraint is still a part of the Western way of life. [end p8]

There are others who warn not only of the threat from without, but of something more insidious, not readily perceived, not always deliberate, something that is happening here at home.

What are they pointing to? They are pointing to the steady and remorseless expansion of the Socialist State. [end p9]

Now none of us would claim that the majority of Socialists are inspired by other than humanitarian and well-meaning ideals.

At the same time few would, I think, deny today that they have made a monster that they can't control. [end p10]

Increasingly, inexorably, the State the Socialists have created is becoming more random in the economic and social justice it seeks to dispense, more suffocating in its effect on human aspirations and initiative, more politically selective in its defence of the rights of its citizens, more gargantuan in its appetite—and more disastrously incompetent in its performance. [end p11]

Above all, it poses a growing threat, however unintentional, to the freedom of this country, for there is no freedom where the State totally controls the economy.

Personal freedom and economic freedom are indivisible. You can't have one without the other. You can't lose one without losing the other. [end p12]

Every step this Socialist Government takes to seize more power over our daily lives diminishes those lives and the freedom which is their essence and their strength. One of our principal and continuing priorities when we are returned to office will be to restore the freedoms which the Socialists have usurped. [end p13]

Let them learn that it is not a function of the State to possess as much as possible.

It is not a function of the State to grab as much as it can get away with.

It is not a function of the State to act as ring-master, to crack the whip, dictate the load which all of us must carry or say how high we may climb. [end p14]

It is not a function of the State to ensure that no-one climbs higher than anyone else.

All that is the philosophy of Socialism. We reject it utterly for, however well-intended, it leads in one direction only: to the erosion and finally the destruction of the democratic way of life. [end p15]

With Socialism there are no half-measures; it's the full draught or nothing.

Let us examine our progress in fighting that philosophy over the last year. We have had, I think, some success.

For example, we have brought three words—freedom, choice opportunity—into the centre of the political debate. [end p16]

And we have exposed the language of Socialism, the gloss they put on words to conceal their true meaning.

For instance, Socialists say “publicly owned” . What they mean is “State controlled” .

Socialists say “Government aid” . What they mean is “taxpayers' aid” . [end p17]

Socialists say “social justice” . What they mean is “selective justice” .

Socialists say “equality.” What they mean is “levelling down” .

Why do they twist the truth like this? Because they dare not spell out the Socialist reality. [end p18]

One way to destroy capitalism, said Lenin, was to devalue its currency.

Another way is to debase its language. Whenever we can, let us, like Luther, nail the truth to the door—and let us do it in unambiguous English.

These are the opening rounds in the battle of ideas. It is a battle that we are winning. [end p19]

The proof is that today some Labour politicians, who call themselves Social Democrats, are questioning the basic principles they've been blithely foisting on the rest of us for the last twenty years.

Perhaps, they say, the State should not go on grabbing a larger and fatter slice of the nation's resources. Perhaps taxes are too high. Perhaps nationalisation is not an unqualified blessing. [end p20]

Perhaps the pursuit of equality at any price does undermine liberty. Perhaps people do want more choice, do want to own their own homes, do want a greater say in their children's education.

Well, the Road to Damascus is always open but where have these newly doubting Socialists been while all the damage which they now deplore has been done? [end p21]

I will tell you where they have been.

They have been sitting in the Cabinet meekly acquiescing in the onward march of Socialism. [end p22]

They have been trooping through the division lobbies, day in, day out, in support of bigger borrowing, bigger taxes and bigger bureaucracy.

They have been mild but mute, uncomfortable but unprotesting, while Socialist Bill after Socialist Bill has gone through the House, Bills that have chipped and nibbled and whittled away at one fundamental freedom after another. [end p23]

It's not very convincing and it's not very heroic, for them to turn round now and say “Sorry: we didn't really believe what we were doing, but we didn't have the guts to stop it” . But that's the blunt truth. Even when it comes to the safeguard of a conscience clause in a closed shop, the moderates march with the militants. [end p24]

They are invaluable to the Left, these spaniels of the Socialist Party. They look and seem so harmless. They sound so “safe” .

Let me say this. There is no such thing as “safe” Socialism. If it's safe, it's not Socialism. And if it's Socialism, it's not safe. [end p25]

The signposts of Socialism point downhill to less freedom, less prosperity, downhill to more muddle, more failure. If we follow them to their destination, they will lead this nation into bankruptcy.

That was made clear beyond a doubt last month when the Government published their much-heralded White Paper on Public Expenditure. [end p26]

You remember the great build-up.

First, we were told that there was nothing wrong with the level of public expenditure. That to cut it would be sacrilege. That it would be impossible. That Conservatives were being heartless and irresponsible in suggesting that Government spending was out of control, that it threatened to bring the whole economy crashing in ruins. [end p27]

Then the mood changed. Perhaps, Labour ministers conceded, perhaps we couldn't go on like this, borrowing £11 thousand million a year, increasing spending by over twice that figure in two years.

There might, after all, they said, be some connection between Government spending and inflation, between government spending and unemployment, between Government spending and the problems of free enterprise. [end p28]

The old arguments about the sacrosanct nature of Government spending, of subsidies for this and that, of propping up lame ducks and dead ducks, of paying the massive bill for still more nationalisation, all those tired clichés that have been trotted out so often they can trot themselves were apparently to be tossed overboard. [end p29]

Now we were told that Labour ministers, spurred on no doubt by their lengthening queue of creditors, would take a leaf out of Shakespeare and be “bloody, bold and resolute” . They would take an axe to their spending plans. They would cut cut and cut again. They would put the British economy back on course.

Utopia was, if not here, at any rate just round the corner. [end p30]

I am, as you know, a charitable woman. I was prepared to swallow my doubts, encourage the Government now and then when they seemed to be losing their nerve, and judge by results. [end p31]

Then they announced their plans. And what did we discover? Far from a fall in Government spending, it is actually going to increase by over £7 thousand million over the next five years, and that is before any allowance is made for inflation.

So much for the Iron Chancellor—Perhaps the Russians are right; what this country needs is an Iron Lady! [end p32]

When you add it all up, there are not going to be any spending cuts this year or next. But there are, they say, to be cuts in some of the programmes which the Government were planning to carry through, in three or four years' time, with money they won't have. [end p33]

It's like being dangerously overweight, promising that in future you'll only eat one cream cake instead of two—neither of which you've paid for—and calling it slimming.

These alleged cuts which have split the Labour Party as under are of course a mirage. [end p34]

One wonders why the Labour left is so incensed. For whatever is saved will not be saved. It will be more than wiped out by the interest on what has been borrowed.

So Labour's orgy, the appalling price of just two years of Socialism, comes home to roost. [end p35]

Mr. Healey 's debt mountain has mortgaged our future. He has saddled us and our children with a monstrous burden for years to come.

He will go down in history as the hire purchase Chancellor, whose slogan was, “this year, next year, sometime—never-never.” [end p36]

Reason enough, you may think, reason ten times over, for sending this pitiful Administration packing.

The Government defend what they are doing—or what they are failing to do—by attacking us on three fronts. [end p37]

First, they say to us “Public spending is an absolute good in itself. It's better than private spending; it must be, because the Government spend on everyone's behalf, whereas individuals spend on their own behalf, and that, if you're a Socialist, must be selfish” . [end p38]

That is precisely the sort of armchair assumption, that has brought this country to the money-lenders, to the pawn shop, almost to its knees.

Why does Government know better than individuals? [end p39]

Where is the evidence of its superior wisdom?

In the housing market, where Socialism has made the country's problems more intractable than ever? by expanding council housing and burying the private land lord.

In the takeover by Whitehall and Westminster of more and more of British industry? [end p40]

Since when have Government Departments won medals as entrepreneurs?

What is the Labour Party trying to prove? That Messrs. Varley and Benn are the G.K.N. of tomorrow?

And how disinterested are Government decisions? [end p41]

As one Professor said after the Chrysler deal, the Supply Estimates should contain a new heading— “The cost of purchasing votes” . Well, they weren't to be brought in Carshalton and they were not for sale in the Wirral.

The idea that this Government have spent your money more wisely than you would have done yourself is awesome in its arrogance.

No drunken sailor, no shrunken Socialist fleet of drunken sailors, could have spent more money less wisely or less well. [end p42]

Secondly, Labour say to us, “If you are against more public spending, then it must follow as the night the day you are against better schools and better hospitals, and the creation of a more caring and more civilised community” .

The answer to that is, to go bankrupt helps no one.

But does our criticism of the Government mean, in fact, that we are against schools and hospitals, against improving our social services? Of course it doesn't. [end p43]

But it's a mad, mad world when, in spite of the nation being up to its eyebrows in debt, our social and educational programmes are rapidly deteriorating.

Who believes that the massive increase in State spending has been matched by a massive improvement in the standard of State services?

The reverse has happened. The avalanche of public money has helped to stoke inflation and inflation in turn has savaged our social services. [end p44]

The State has sucked industry dry to finance its own schemes. But only thriving and profitable industry will give us the money to make real improvements in health, education and pensions.

The only chance of better services for the young, the old, the sick and the needy is for Government to get off industry's back and stay off it.

The final shot in Labour's locker is that our determination to cut back the growth in Government spending, would increase unemployment. [end p45]

With the number of people out of work standing at a record post-war level, we are not going to take any self-righteous lectures from the natural party of unemployment.

Some of the cuts we would make, far from increasing the numbers out of work, would actually increase the number in work. [end p46]

Just think of the revival of confidence and investment—and therefore of employment—if we were to scrap Labour's plans for nationalising North Sea Oil—as we will; if we were to throw out their land nationalisation proposals—as we will, if we were to bury once and for all their Bill to take over the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.

We must change direction—we must provide industry with the incentive to invest and grow and develop new products—and to develop them here, not in other countries where so many of our best ideas have been developed and marketed. [end p47]

It will take time, patience—and leadership. It will need a Government that promises little—but does a lot; that looks ahead instead of being endlessly preoccupied with tomorrow morning's papers. It will need a Government with the single-mindedness to keep all its economic policies moving in the same direction; with the honesty to say exactly what needs to be done—and do it. [end p48]

A Government with no special allegiance to one section of the people, but a total allegiance to all the people.

It will need, in short, a Conservative Government.

The other road, the Socialist road, leads [end p49] to continuing high levels of unemployment,

—to renewed bouts of hyper-inflation,

—to a chronic weakness in our balance of payments,

—to an ever-growing dependence of industry on State hand-outs,

—to a lower standard of living.

—to less and less freedom. [end p50]

It leads all the way to the total transformation of our society into the Transport House State: bleak, arid, envious and depressed.

We must not, we will not take that road.

Next month Mr. Healey presents his Budget.

None of us can have very much hope that it will be any better than his previous efforts. Though I think that everyone would be concerned if he did not help some of those lower paid families and elderly who have been dragged into the tax net by Socialist inflation. [end p51]

But let us consider what Mr Healey might say if he came clean. His speech might go something like this:

“Mr Speaker, this is my 4th Budget since I was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, and each time I have got my figures wrong. For example, in my first Budget, I estimated that we would have to borrow under £3,000 million; the real figure turned out to be about £7,500 million I don't believe in doing things by halves.” [end p52]

“You remember that at the last election I, Denis Healey, told people that prices were only going up by 8.4%;. Looking back, I can see that this may not have been entirely accurate, but we did win the election, so it must have been worth it.

What has actually happened is that prices have gone up by 45%; since I took office.” [end p53]

“On unemployment,” Mr Healey might go on, “my record is equally remarkable. I spent the last election saying that the Tories would create unemployment, but if I had acted then on inflation—as they wanted me to—there would be fewer people out of work today. Since I became Chancellor, the number of unemployed has grown by over 600,000. It has not been higher for a generation. [end p54]

“Mr Speaker, at the last election I handed out a large number of political bribes, and increased Government spending by £25 thousand million in my first two years.

“What I haven't said until now” Mr Healey might truthfully add, “is who pays for all this. In fact, the average family is paying £335 more income tax this year than when I got this job, and their total extra bill for all taxes works out at almost £700 a year. [end p55]

But if you think that present taxes are high” , continues the Chancellor, “just you wait. They are going higher. I had to admit that the other day, when I announced that despite all the huffing and puffing I'm not actually cutting public spending at all, I'm just not increasing it as much as I was going to, which is not the same thing. But in the economic asylum over which I preside, if you look earnest and talk sincere, anything goes. Except, of course, me. [end p56]

“And so Mr Speaker, I, Denis Healey, stand on my record. No Chancellor has raised taxes so high. No Chancellor has borrowed so much. No Chancellor has presided over such a large increase in prices. And no Chancellor since the war has seen such a high level of unemployment. In other words, you know Labour Government doesn't work.

“Despite all this, I would still like to be Leader of the Labour Party, and that day may come because, if the Labour Party is foolish enough to have me as Chancellor, they are fool enough for anything. Anyone who thinks they're not must be out of their tiny Anglo-Saxon minds” .

So much for Mr. Healey. [end p57]

Turning to Mr. Crosland it was the “Times” which said that Mr Crosland's housing policies had done more to promote homelessness than anything since the blitz.

Despite his failures, he won't budge. Unaware of what people actually want, he continues to pursue his well-heeled crusade to municipalise more homes and to nationalise more land. [end p58]

He doesn't seem to understand the desire to own one's own home; except in the case of Labour ministers (who are naturally entitled to at least two).

Conservatives know what people want. And it's also cheaper for the taxpayer to help people become home owners than to build new council houses. So helping home-owners makes sense on both counts. [end p59]

When we are returned to office, we will give council tenants the right to buy the home they live in.

If Labour oppose that, let them make their views clear, good and loud, before the local elections in May.

Let's see them stumping the country telling council tenants that the very idea of them being able to buy the homes they've lived in for years is outrageous. Let them have the courage of such convictions as they have—and then let's count the number of fallen Labour councillors after polling day. [end p60]

In saying what we believe about housing, about economic policy, about freedom, we are saying things that strike a chord with the people of this country. In view of our history it would be surprising if it were otherwise.

For what more dignifies a man than the freedom to choose for himself, to provide for his family, to thrive, to excel to help others?

It is that freedom on which the advance of civilised societies is based, a freedom that for us goes back to Runnymede. [end p61]

Mr. Chairman, for the Conservative Party this is a time of very special responsibility.

Socialism has been tried and found wanting. Socialism has failed. [end p62]

If we, too, let the lamps of freedom flicker and go out, who will light them again?

We must not fail. We will not fail. Those great Conservative beliefs to trust people and to set them free remain today as deeply and as passionately our concern as they have ever been. The choice before our people is the historic choice; between state domination and personal freedom. Between suffocating, and breathing free. [end p63]

I believe that they will make the right choice. I do not believe that this nation has travelled these centuries of history to fail its future now.

Over 300 years ago the blind Milton, whose inner eye saw so much that those with sight were blind to wrote: “I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks” .