Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Wellington Parliamentary lunch

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Wellington, New Zealand
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 832/76
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 0130 London time. Marked as "extracts" from the speech; no speaking text survives.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2427
Themes: Parliament, Civil liberties, Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Industry, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Law & order, Society, Women

I am very glad to have this opportunity of meeting Members of the New Zealand Parliament and Judiciary, and of sharing with you some of our mutual concerns in that spirit of friendship and partnership which characterises the close, enduring, and precious relationship between our two countries.

As a lawyer who became a parliamentarian, I feel particularly at home in this company.

It is a great pleasure for me to visit New Zealand again, and I am profoundly grateful for the kindness and warm hospitality which I have received here. More than a century ago, Macaulay, in one of his gloomier moods, forecast the downfall and destruction of Britain, and pictures “some traveller from New Zealand” surveying the wreckage of London.

In selecting your country he was clearly thinking of the most remote place from Britain that he could imagine. Today that physical separation is virtually irrelevant. Bound together as we are by the closest ties of history, heritage, mutual interests, and our sacrifices in war for a great cause, the advances of modern communications and transport have brought us closer than ever.

And, if you will permit a quiet promotion for British goods, a regular Concorde service would bring us even closer! I should like to say at the outset that we in Britain entirely understand why New Zealand's emphasis and interest have developed over the years into that sense of identity as a Pacific nation with a Pacific destiny which has become so strong and important to you. [end p1]

New Zealand's active involvement in ANZUS, the Pacific Forum, and with the Association of South East Asian Nations, seem to us to be very much in New Zealand's national interests. But we are very glad that at the same time, your links with us have remained solid, whilst you have also established the foundations of a valuable relationship with the European Economic Community.

I warmly welcome all these developments, and assure you that a future Conservative Government will give high priority to maintaining and strengthening these ties.

I should like to emphasise that, while the dominant factor in our minds has been the urgent need to draw the countries of Western Europe closer into a real and durable partnership, in this our own economic self-interest was not the only element. We were—and still are—determined to secure the best possible terms for our friends, and we very much have in mind the particular concerns and interests of New Zealand. As Prime Minister Muldoon said on his recent visit to London, difficulties remain, but the general relationship between New Zealand, Britain and the EEC is good and is improving.

A strong, united, prosperous, and politically cohesive Western Europe is clearly in the vital interests of the Western Alliance. But if the price of entry had been our abandonment of our old and valued Commonwealth friends, I, for one, would never have supported it. Nor, I am convinced, would the Conservative Party.

Thus, while I would not claim that we have yet achieved the ideal solution, nor would pretend that we have not several difficult problems to resolve, I am convinced that we are on the right track.

It is crucial that we maintain the momentum, work closely together, and talk to each other constantly, with the openness, confidence and frankness that are the great features of a true friendship. As has been truly said “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one” . [end p2]

If “a traveller” from New Zealand visited Britain today, he would not find it in wreckage but he would be, I am sure, struck by several startling contradictions in our society. Britain, in common with most advanced nations, has, over the last few decades, passed through a quite extraordinary social revolution which, because it took place gradually, has not received the full attention it deserves.

It is remarkable, for example, to reflect upon the fact that every adult did not have a vote in Britain until 1928, and I personally regret that my here, Winston Churchill, was one of the most implacable opponents of the granting of the vote to women. But I do rejoice in the fact that, on this occasion, Lady Churchill did not share his views. She doubtless considered that the women of Britain had as much to contribute to the future of their nation as she had to the wonderful Churchill partnership.

I have no doubt that she was right! But, wherever you look at British society, and compare it with the situation even after the Second World War, the extent of change is remarkable. In almost all areas, it is very much for the better. We have virtually eliminated the kind of grinding poverty and human misery that haunted Harold Macmillan in the 1920s and 1930s when he represented a poor working-class constituency, and which scarred and dominated the lives of so many.

Compared with the 1930s, the people of Britain, as in all Western Societies, are better fed, and better housed. They are in better health, have better education, and are more prosperous. We have no yearnings at all to return to the so-called “good old days” .

Our society is no longer divided into Disraeli's “Two Nations” —the rich and the poor. But we must face the fact that there are still a number of conflicts between different groups that we have yet to resolve. My purpose in politics is to reach towards the reconciliation of these interests, and the creation of One Nation. [end p3]

Unlike the Marxists, I believe in the virtues—and indeed, the necessity—of peaceful change, in the gradual advance of the Civilised Society. The great features of our way of life—tolerance, kindness, compassion, good neighbourliness, and the rule of law—survive. In spite of our serious current economic difficulties I urge you not to believe any accounts of our imminent demise.

But, this having been said, I would not be honest if I concealed from you certain features of our society that trouble me profoundly. As we have learned, material prosperity does not automatically bring with it the solution of all ills. Indeed, the elimination of the worst scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance leaves us with some really difficult problems. And not least of these is that of unfulfilled rising expectations. Materialism by itself, is not the answer to the fundamental problems of human nature.

I see in Britain today—and not only in Britain—a remorseless and often malignant assault on many of the principles which I am convinced are essential to the future of our nation as a viable, effective, and happy society.

Something called “the State” encroaches upon our every activity. The Socialist insistence on more and more nationalisation, regardless of the practical arguments, is assuming manic proportions. We are taxed right, left and centre, and our taxation system—if such it can be called—has become so bewilderingly complex that even the experts are baffled. The self-employed man or woman, and particularly the small businessman, is the most savagely victimised of all, and private industry is regularly assailed with new burdens while at the same time being exhorted by Whitehall to invest more.

Increasingly, people are asking “Why make the effort?” “Why work at all?” “Why should I break my back for nothing?” “Why bother?” . Confidence is being eroded, and it is not surprising that many of the best of our people are beginning to wonder whether they should take their talents and labour elsewhere.

I am not painting the picture deliberately black for political effect. [end p4]

As well as Leader of the Conservative Party, I am a Member of Parliament with constituents—many of whom vote against me but nevertheless for whom I am responsible.

I see these things in my own constituency, among my own people, regardless of their politics. I see their concern, which I fully share, that a great nation and a fine society might, if we are not vigilant, be destroyed by evil and ignorant forces.

And I can assure you that my constituency is not unique.

The tragedy of all this is that it is totally unnecessary.

The British have the ability, the resources, the experience, the education and the toughness to solve all their problems and to embark upon a new period of economic prosperity, social progress, revived strength and authority in world affairs, with a renewed and mouhting self-confidence.

What we have to do, to use an admirable American phrase, is “to get it together” . Nihilism is not the solution. Our approach—the approach of every individual in a free society—must be decisively positive and resolute.

We are going to succeed. We are going to work for that success. We are on the march again. Cynicism and scepticism must be seen for what they are—debilitating, demeaning, and perilous to our future.

In the process, I am convinced that we should start with the individual, and give him our help to help himself.

What the people of Britain need, and are entitled to, is a fair chance to show what they can do. At present, they are not getting that chance. My purpose in politics is to do all I can to ensure that they do. [end p5]

Individual achievement is not “anti-social” . It is the key to our prosperity and our future. It is the key to a decent society. It is the key to the survival of our people living in liberty under the law.

I also believe that we need to support without qualification the principle of the rule of law which is essential for the protection of the individual.

For the first time in my life, I see that principle at hazard in Britain.

It is, to be frank, at least partly the fault of the politicians.

The citizen is now assailed with the Statutes of frightening complexity.

The ancient dictum that ignorance of the law is no excuse falls to the ground if the laws themselves are beyond the comprehension of the citizen.

There is another factor.

As Burke has said, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny” . When laws are unfair and vindictive—or are seen as such—the faith of the law-abiding citizen is shaken, and this represents a particularly grave threat to our society.

Certainly anything that erodes the basic verities of the Common Law is not in the interests of the citizen or the State.

Make it simple. Make it clear. Make it fair. These seem to me to be good rules for good legislation, but they are too often forgotten or ignored.

We are seeing in many parts of Western society—and, again, not only in Britain—increasing disregard for even the basics of a lawful society. [end p6]

The spread of violence and vandalism; contempt for human life and for property; callousness towards innocent bystanders; brutal terrorism and intimidation; lack of support for the police. These are signs that we ignore at our peril. We are told that they are signs of the breakdown of our society. I do not believe this.

But I am convinced that all free societies have to recognise the need for self-discipline, the acceptance of personal responsibility, and the fact that liberty is not only a precious but also a precarious privilege.

We must also realise that our societies are vulnerable to attack from inside as well as from outside. In particular, Parliamentary democracy depends upon the acceptance by all of certain conventions of action and behaviour.

Politics is not simply a struggle for power—or should not be. At root, the purpose of Parliamentary democracy is the service of all the nation, and not to serve the sectional interests of any single group, class or faction.

When such conventions are ignored or swept aside, then indeed our societies are in peril. [end p7]

Although we live in a world of change, turmoil, violence and danger, certain fundamental verities have endured the storms …   .

To us in Britain, as to you in New Zealand, individual freedom and choice, Parliamentary democracy, the right to worship freely, to vote in free elections, to follow what profession one desires, and to have the protection of fair, sensible and humane laws, are so taken for granted that we often forget how rare and precious these benefits are, and how relatively few of our fellow citizens of our planet enjoy them.

What to us are everyday accepted rights—our birthright—as free men and women, are to the great majority of mankind, unimaginable privileges. It is essential for us to proclaim once again our faith in these fundamental and imperishable human rights as the cornerstone of our societies and the basis of our attitude to all humanity.

There was a time and not so very long ago, when our faith in these ideals was such that we were convinced that they would triumph everywhere. But we have seen that in large areas of the world, other and sinister philosophies and ideologies have been victorious. But I wonder how long such triumphs can endure. I wonder how long even the most oppresive regime can trample on and suppress aspirations which are common to all humanity.

We believe in the invincibility of the human spirit. Why should mankind descend again into a new version of the Dark Ages? Our faith is contained in the words of Lord Randolph Churchill— “Trust the People” . The opposing philosophy is— “Crush the People” .

We not only believe in our creed. We know that it works better. We can see that it produces a far happier, healthier, and more fruitful society than tyranny. Man was not made to be a robot, or a slave. [end p8]

Materialism is not enough. Majority rule that tramples upon the minority is not true Parliamentary democracy. Legal statutes do not by themselves produce a rule of law. The essential factors are fundamental principles of behaviour, morality, acceptance of the rights of others and the conventions whereby each of us respects our individual responsibilities to ourselves, to our societies, and to all its other members.

I would like to quote Edmund Burke once more: “The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them” .

Thus as we proclaim our faith in freedom and democracy and in the vitality of our nations; as we make clear to any who wish us ill that we intend to defend that faith with all our strength and determination; let us not forget that we have a duty to others as well as to ourselves. Just as in 1940, once again the Western Nations keep alight the beacon of hope for all who are oppressed, for all who are suffering, for all who are deprived, for all who are exploited. Let us so conduct ourselves that, in their darkness, they may see from afar that that beacon is still ablaze and will not be extinguished. We have external enemies, but the greatest enemies we face are in ourselves.

They are called Apathy, Indifference, Wishful-Thinking and Fear.

They can, and must, be vanquished. Freedom, that most priceless of all benefits bestowed upon mankind, will triumph if each of us is actively and personally involved in the cause of Western Democracy.