Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Christian Democratic Union Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hanover, West Germany
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 544/76
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1130 (British time). No speaking text survives in the Thatcher Archive. A section of the text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1976. The BBC also reported that "She ended her speech in carefully rehearsed German and got a standing ovation for her efforts".
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2285
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Higher & further education, European elections, Family, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism


It is a great pleasure to me to be with you in Hanover today at the Conference of our German friends in the Christian Democratic Union.

Friendship between the CDU and the Conservative Party

Since I became Leader of the Conservative Party last year, I have emphasised the need to build the closest possible friendship between our two parties.

We were delighted to welcome Professor Carstens to London last year, and we are looking forward to Dr. Kohl 's visit in July. He and I are in the same position. We are both hoping for promotion soon.

This is an election year for you in Germany and your Conference therefore has a special significance. Like you, we are at present in opposition. We know the impatience you must feel. You carry with you our best wishes for future success in all your endeavours. [end p1]

West Berlin—an island of freedom

I am happy that we are strengthening our friendship, for there are many links of sentiment and belief between us. You as Christian Democrats and we as Conservatives came into politics for the same reason. Like you, we believe that the enlargement of individual freedom must be the first objective of our societies. Like you, we see that freedom threatened everywhere, and often undermined.

Not far to the east of Hanover lies the Iron Curtain dividing two Germanies, one free, one under totalitarian rule. Further East lies an island of freedom, the city of West Berlin. Berlin has become the symbol of the determination of individual men and women to defend their freedom. Like them, and like you, we are determined that freedom, and the ideals and beliefs which are fundamental to the western way of life, will prosper and endure.

Only two political philosophies

My country, like yours, has several political parties but though there may be many party labels, there are only two political philosophies, only two ways of governing a country.

One is the Socialist-Marxist way in which what matters is not the people but the State. In which decisions affecting people's lives are taken from them, instead of being taken by them. In which property and savings are taken from the people instead of being more widely held among them. In which directives replace incentives. In which the State is the master of the individual, instead of the servant.

Mr. Chairman, in my country as in some others in Western Europe, Socialism has gone too far. Each year more of the decisions are made by the State, and fewer by the individual. Each year therefore the State takes more in tax and leaves less for the individual. This is Socialism in practice. [end p2]

If we go on like this we shall become a pocket-money society. A society in which the fruits of our work belong mainly to the State, but where we are handed back a little each week for our personal use.

Truly, a pocket-money society.

It is time to turn about, time to begin the march back to freedom. The road will be long and difficult. I trust that we will sustain and encourage each other on the way.

For there is also our way of life; the philosophy of the Christian Democrats and the Conservatives. In which each individual is equally important but different in ability; equally entitled to rights, but equally free to rise to the heights of his talents.

In which the family is the foundation of society and the desire of parents to give their children a better start in life is honoured as one of the most powerful influences for good. In which freedom to choose goods, services, education and housing is steadily extended. In which savings and thrift are encouraged so that citizens become independent of the State rather than perpetually dependent on it. In which practical care and concern for others is not confined to demanding State benefits, but is a common purpose of daily life. In which the freedom of all is protected by a just and impartial rule of law.

These are the principles upon which the Western way of life was built. If we are to preserve that heritage we need to earn it anew every day,

A free economy

Mr. Chairman, my country faces severe economic difficulties. But I sometimes feel that the political debate in Britain, as in Europe as a whole, is too much dominated by economic argument. [end p3] It is too easy to be trapped in a web of economic statistics. If we keep our eyes fixed too long on the balance sheet, we may lose the habit of looking up the “broad sunlit uplands” of freedom.

But the way a society arranges its economic affairs is one of the guides to its character. It is the clearest indicator of the direction it is taking.

A free economic system not only guarantees the freedom of each individual citizen, it is the surest way to increase the prosperity of the nation as a whole.

The contrast between the United States and the Soviet Union is proof of the argument. After more than half a century of the most vigorous Marxism, the Russians are still unable to feed their own people. The Americans, on the other hand, produce not just food in plenty for their own citizens, but a surplus for export to the rest of the world, even to Russia.

We in Britain have seen that every advance to Socialism reduces the individual, exalts the State, exacerbates our economic problems and drains away our wealth. The bait which the Socialists use to gain the support of the people is the promise of increased personal gain without increased effort. But the result is the impoverishment both of the individual and of society.

For fifty years or more now we have lived in an intellectual climate in which we have been led to believe that decisions made by the State on behalf of the people are in some way both more moral and more efficient than decisions taken by the individual himself.

There is no evidence in the history of our century that that is true. On the contrary, all the evidence is that the more you take away from the individual his own powers of decision, the more you increase the risks of tyranny. The more, too, you help to create a shoddy and second-rate society. That must be our message, in Britain, in Germany, and in all the other countries of Europe. [end p4] Freedom will be our battle cry; and the individual will be our watchword.

Deterrence and defence

But the values we stand for are threatened not only from within our societies, but from without.

It was very understandable that, once the tensions of the so-called Cold War were relaxed, the peoples of the West greeted the idea of detente with relief. [end p5]

But detente should be a two-way business, and I fear that so far too many of the concessions have been made by the West. Few of the undertakings given by the Soviet Union at Helsinki have been observed. But Western countries have almost fallen over themselves in their eagerness to keep their side of the bargain.

Originally the series of talks which culminated in the Helsinki declaration were to proceed at the same pace as the exchanges on mutual and balanced force reductions on either side of the Iron Curtain. That was the understanding on which the last Conservative Foreign Secretary in Britain, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, proceeded.

Now MBFR has almost been forgotten, and the might of the USSR increases every year. We must not confuse hope with attainment. Because we earnestly want peace and co-operation, we must not assume that it is permanently assured. We must add deterrence and defence to detente.

Unless we do, we in the West will find ourselves constantly accommodating ourselves to Marxist values, instead of making the world safe for our own. We should not be timid or uncertain in proclaiming our values.

We must build a world in which freedom is on the offensive. It has to be remembered, too, that no single Western state—not even the United States of America—can stand alone against the power of Russia, nor alone can stem the spread of Communist influence around the world.

In this great endeavour we must all stand together. Our alliance, not only military but intellectual and spiritual, is our indispensable shield. [end p6]

The intellectual battle

Of all the provisions in the Helsinki agreement, none has been more blatantly ignored than that providing for freer traffic in ideas between East and West. The most minimal effort has been made by the Soviet Union to fulfil its part of the bargain. It is easy to understand why this is so. The Soviet Union dare not allow its society to be invaded by our beliefs and values.

How sad it is, then, that in the last generation the West has so often been lax in fighting the intellectual battle with extreme Socialism. We have all been distressed, in recent years, by the extent to which the ideas of the Left, and often the very extreme Left, have been gaining ground in the minds of youth.

It is not many years since in Germany, France, Britain and elsewhere universities were brought to a halt by the agitations of Marxist students.

It is not many years since in some universities the ideas and traditions of free intellectual expression were openly derided in the very institutions which gave them birth. Now, however, I sense that the tide of opinion is on the turn. In British universities we find a clear understanding that a civilised society depends on freedom.

Our Conservative societies and clubs in the universities now have more members than those of other political parties.

This is a development of the utmost importance. Those of us who believe passionately in a free society know that we must fire the imagination and enthusiasm of young minds today if we are to safeguard freedom tomorrow. [end p7]

But there is still much to do. In some European countries, we now see Communist parties dressed in democratic clothes and speaking with soft voices.[Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1976] Of course we hope that their oft-proclaimed change of heart is genuine. But every child in Europe knows the story of little Red Riding Hood and what happened to her in her grandmother's cottage in the forest. (Applause.) Despite the new look of these Communist parties, despite the softness of their voices, we should be on the watch for the teeth and the appetite of the wolf. (Applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1976.

A working alliance of the Christian Democratic, Conservative and Centre parties

Each of us, in our own countries, have our different problems. But many problems—of maintaining free economies, of combating threats to our way of life both from within and from without—we hold in common. It is to solve those problems and meet those threats that we should bring ourselves closer together. I am convinced that the Christian Democratic, Conservative and Centre parties in Europe should now join together in an effective working alliance.

I believe that this is a task of historic importance, and one in which we should all invest our energies.

I have been very glad to hear of the good progress made in discussion between various European parties including the CDU and the Conservative Party, leading towards the formation of such an alliance to be called the European Democratic Union.

We are not aiming at a single monolithic party, but at an alliance of autonomous parties co-operating for a common purpose.

For many years there has been a Socialist International. We do not need to copy their barren doctrines or ideological arguments. [end p8]

But we must match them in organisational strength if we are serious in our purpose, and determined to achieve our victory. We have like-minded friends not only in the EEC countries but in Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. All of them have much to contribute. In Portugal and in Spain we can see democracy beginning to grow, and we must realise how important it is for us to give encouragement and help to emerging political parties which share our ideals.

I do not underestimate the difficulties of creating a working alliance of the kind I have described but I believe it to be very important. In the past, myth and misunderstanding alike have hampered co-operation. But the more we talk together the more we find we have in common. So the misunderstandings can—and must—be swept away.

Direct elections to the European Parliament

We must remember, too, that some time in the next few years we will probably have direct elections to the European Parliament. We Conservatives support the holding of these elections as soon as orderly and generally acceptable procedures have been worked out.

We are now beginning to make the necessary preparations in Britain. But the prospect of direct elections makes the creation of the alliance I have described all the more urgent. There has, of course, already been useful and effective co-operation between our members at Strasbourg. But this co-operation needs to be improved and strengthened if our different parties are to be able to fight a co-ordinated campaign across the whole of Western Europe, and then foro a cohesive alliance within the new directly elected European Parliament.

It is our clear duty to organise ourselves so that freedom can be protected and enlarged. [end p9]

The Torch of Freedom

This year you will have a General Election. We hope that we, too, can have one soon. The struggle ahead will be arduous, but we will win by going on to the offensive. Our task is to champion freedom in a world in which freedom is increasingly threatened.

If I may say so, your own campaign slogan: “Out of love for Germany, freedom instead of Socialism” is very apt.

The torch of freedom does not die with each generation. It is forever passed from hand to hand. Sometimes the flame may flicker but it never dies. Our task is to kindle it anew so that the light burns brighter the world over. In the words of Goethe: “that which thy forefathers bequeathed thee, earn it anew if thou would'st possess it” .

Let us fight for freedom with all our might, and build a Europe worthy of freedom.

Let us hand on to our children an inheritance for which they in turn will work with gladness and pride.

Let us bequeathe a free Europe.