Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Her Majesty’s Government (Opposition Motion) (motion of confidence)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [928/1285-94]
Editorial comments: 1535-1607.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3260
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Education, Employment, Industry, By-elections, General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy - theory and process, Labour Party & socialism
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Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

I beg to move.

That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.

James CallaghanThe Prime Minister made it inevitable that this motion would be moved, first, when he dodged the vote on his own party's proposals last Thursday and secondly, when, unlike Harold Wilsonhis predecessor, he refused to put down a motion in his own name to confirm confidence in his own Government. We have not necessarily thought of his predecessor as having high standards before but we think more highly of them now.

Then, on Friday we watched with great interest the performance of the right hon. Gentleman on television. He came out with a very good polished veneer. He came out with some very interesting phrases. He said that legislating is not necessarily governing and he went on to say:

“We govern as of right” .

By what right? The right of a minority Government; the right of a supposed mandate based on 38 per cent. of the votes cast or 29 per cent. of the electorate? They govern by no right except the arrogant right of Socialism. The fact is that the Government have no credibility left. We know why the Prime Minister would not let his party vote last Thursday. He was afraid that he might be seen to lose, so he feared even to fight. Better to have voted and to have lost than never to have voted at all. But of course there was another reason not only would he have lost, he could not have got all his party in the Lobby with him. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman has the support of the IMF. But having got the support of the IMF, he has lost the support of a large wing of his own party. He cannot have both simultaneously.

I ask hon. Members what the Prime Minister meant last night when he said,

“It is no use being a general of an army which does not follow you, is it?”

Sheep do not usually need generals.

Unless there is a General Election following, we shall go into a period of very great uncertainty. Whatever [column 1286]negotiations the right hon. Gentleman has, he can never be sure that he will get through either his legislation or his economic proposals. He can never be sure that any package would stick, because some of the people below the Gangway would unpack the package. Then it loses its balance, exactly as happened on the IMF bargain and exactly as happened when they tried to get more cuts on the capital side than on the revenue side because that is what suited them better.

The right hon. Gentleman could not even be certain of getting a Budget through because he would have to wheel and deal through the party and some things would be acceptable and others would not. Indeed, be admitted last night that if he carried on it would be a very uncertain Government, and he said, “I think every vote is a cliff-hanger and bound to be as long as you have got this parliamentary situation.”

Some way of governing—and very damaging to the interests of Britain as a whole.

The Prime Minister would go off to international conferences, perhaps held in London, in the morning. We are to have three Summit conferences, soon—the economic conference in May, the Commonwealth Conference and the economic European Council. There might be negotiations on Rhodesia. He would speak for Britain in the morning and then come back in the afternoon to haggle for a few more votes to see whether he could get any of his policies through.

The fact is that this is a broken-backed Government, and that is highly damaging to our foreign relations policy.

Of course, the wheeling and dealing is not unusual for the right hon. Gentleman. That seems to be the way in which the ordinary business of the present Government has been conducted. We remember the resignation speech of the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), when he said, “too often we have made key decisions as a reaction to pressure rather than on the merits of the decisions.” —[Official Report, 21st December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 517.] What an epitaph for the Prime Minister. He never made decisions on merits but only in response to pressure and wheeling and dealing.

Now we find the Prime Minister creeping cravenly around putting both wings [column 1287]of his party up for auction at any price. We ask whether he still believes in the Labour Party manifesto. Let us see what the Labour Party manifesto actually said about negotiations with other parties. It said:

“Why can't we accept the idea of a coalition to meet the nation's crisis? Because what our country needs in this crisis is a government with a clear-cut understanding of the nation's problems and the ability to decide quickly and effectively how to deal with them.”

The Labour Party manifesto went on to say,

“A coalition government, by its very nature, tends to trim its policies and fudge its decisions; and in present circumstances that just won't do. If we believe, as we must, in our own independent political philosophies, there is no meeting point between us and those with quite different philosophies.”

The manifesto went on to say, “

it would be a cruel farce to suggest that the future of the country would be helped by shuffling, compromising administration” .

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

In early March 1974 when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was thinking of forming a coalition Administration, would the right hon. Lady have joined the Cabinet or would she have stayed out of it?

Mrs. Thatcher

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like me to read a little bit of our manifesto on the same subject. [Hon. Members: “Answer.” ] My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who goes against his manifesto, acted exactly in accordance with our manifesto when he said, “After the election we will consult and confer with the leaders of other parties and with the leaders of the great interests in the nation, in order to secure for the government's policies the consent and support of all men and women of good will.”

The difference is that my right hon. Friend was acting in accordance with his manifesto. The right hon. Gentleman has been acting flatly in the face of everything that he said. He has been going around all parties, a sort of Jim of all parties and master of none.

The truth about the present Government is that no make do and mend, no patchwork quilt of bargains, can cover their shabby, devious manipulations.

Not only are the Government in a minority. I am told that the Prime [column 1288]Minister admits that they are in a minority and that he no longer has a majority to govern. We all know that the Labour Party itself is a meaningless coalition in which the deeply divided and mutually distrustful factions prevent each other from governing. We read in the newspapers great big dissertations from the two wings of the Labour Party, one in favour of Marxism as the basis for Socialism and one rejecting it completely, Therefore, we ask the Prime Minister where he stands. As usual, he does not stand anywhere.

The fact is that one of the wings, as the right hon. Gentleman and the whole House know, believes in the mixed economy and tries to make it work, albeit there might be some arguments about the mix. The other of the wings wants to destroy the capitalist system completely. Therefore, we do not know, and nor does anyone else, whether the basis of the Government's strategy is to restore capitalism to health or whether the basis of their economic and industrial strategy is an irreversible shift to the Marxist society by way of Clause 4. The two wings do not agree.

If one really cannot agree about one's economic objective, it is not surprising that one has a completely inconsistent and incompatible economic policy. If the objective is to restore capitalism to health, the right hon. Gentleman must have a policy to restore profits and profitability, because one cannot plough back into investment if one has not got the profits. Not only must the right hon. Gentleman have profits in order to plough back—he wants investment without the investors being able to get the benefit—he must also have profits able to be distributed. However, he put that policy to his party conference and it did not meet with overwhelming excitement or success.

If the policy is to restore capitalism, then the right hon. Gentleman must have a policy that restores incentives. But every time he tries to reduce taxation, someone will get up from his own Back Benches and say “Would it not be better if instead of cutting public expenditure and cutting taxes, the Government kept taxes up and increased or kept up the level of public expenditure?”

If the right hon. Gentleman is to have a policy of restoring capitalism to health, [column 1289]he must cut away many regulations and restrictions beloved of Socialism. But none of these things will suit the Left wing of his party. The Prime Minister knows it and everyone else knows it.

The Tribune Group may be quiet today. It may have gone on its annual holiday because the Government have gone for a survival strategy for the time being. But the problems are still there and they are unlikely to go away. The Tribune Group wants the Labour Party programme for 1976 and the Manifesto Group wants something as totally different from that as a free society is from a Marxist society. It is not surprising, when the Government cannot agree on their objectives, that their economic strategy makes very little sense and that their industrial strategy is full of contradictions and has never worked from the day that it was enunciated.

We cannot get a policy to back success—of course, success mostly backs itself and does rather better without Government than it ever does with it—by just switching from grandiose plans, by just switching off differentials and by disconnecting reward from effort. The right hon. Gentleman knows the trouble that one gets when one does, because he is having it now. One cannot ignore the morale of management if one is to get a successful industrial strategy and one cannot ignore the market.

But the right hon. Gentleman's strategy is a strategy in name only and it is failing in every particular. The economic indictment against the Government goes very far indeed. After three years—[Interruption.] The Government have hardly speeded up production, which is exactly what I was coming to. After three years of Labour we are nearly back to where we started. After three years the level of production is nearly back to where it was in February 1974, and that in spite of having nearly doubled public expenditure and in spite of having increased direct taxation to try to finance the level of public expenditure.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like me to go on with the catalogue? Perhaps he would like me to remind him—[Interruption.] I do not think hon. Members would. Perhaps they would like me to remind them that prices [column 1290]are up 70 per cent. although they claimed at the time that the social contract would beat inflation. Unemployment has rather more than doubled. One economic factor after another has testified to the total failure of Socialist economic policy in practice.

I know that the Prime Minister will read out a whole series of statistics, but I shall not do so. [Hon. Members: “Why no?” ] I would have plenty to read out. Any hack lawyer or statistician on either side can cook up a whole lot just depending on the premises on which he started. I would make it quite clear that every improvement is welcome but that every setback is a cause for concern. Whatever statistics we read out, they will not mean very much to the ordinary people because they have already felt the effect in their pocket and in their daily lives.

We know that the Prime Minister will be full of easy and comforting phrases rather like “Steady as she goes” . But the soothing syrup will inevitably come out rather like the family doctor whose reputation miraculously survives the death of whichever patient he is in charge of. But apart from the economic indictment of the Government, we have not been all that impressed with the Prime Minister's respect for the small print of democracy. We remember the way in which he deferred the Boundary Commission's proposals in 1969 for party advantage. We remember the devices on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. We remember the refusal on the Scotland and Wales Bill to consider an agenda for the Speaker's conference to include under-representation of Members of Parliament in England and grievous under-representation in Ulster. [Hon. Members: “Ah!” ] We anticipate with no sympathy the manipulations to get some Socialists elected to the European Parliament. What will the excuse be? Too late for the Boundary Commission to start to work?

Nor would we fall into the trap of judging the Prime Minister's policy by what he says about them. We remember vividly his speech in the education debate, but equally I remember, having been at the Department of Education for quite some time—that there was very little concern on the opposite side of the House for keeping up standards then. Even while [column 1291]the right hon. Gentleman talks of the debate to raise educational standards, we remember that he never provided parliamentary time to debate the report on “A Language for Life” , the first Bullock Report, which was directly connected with educational standards.

Even while he said that, he was busy trying to demolish grammar schools based on selection by ability—wholly free schools open to all regardless of background. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of our constituents have left support of the Socialist Government was put very well in an article called “Maligning Merit” in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine a few weeks ago by Mrs. J. B. Priestley, the author Jacquitta Hawkes. when she said: “for me Labour showed that it had gone astray when it used meritocracy as a dirty word. My utter conviction that egalitarianism is wrong in theory and positively evil in practice has grown mainly from observing what is being done in its name today.” Her views are shared by many people.

But whether we regard Socialism by its economic record or by its other record, we find that in practice it has totally failed. It has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The only thing is that the Prime Minister now refuses to put it openly to the verdict of the people. If the right hon. Gentleman is now to say openly and publicly that he has abandoned his Socialism and his manifesto, what possible point can there be in a Socialist Government? If he does not say that Socialism is in a minority and has no authority whatever to govern. But then the Prime Minister's next ploy is to start to attack the next Conservative Government. He represents it as something to be feared and with a notion almost akin to fear. How we would get in if we were feared is something of a mystery. We would get in only if we were wanted.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

You would not.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we would not get in, why does his Prime Minister not put it to the test? The reason he will not put it to the test is that he thinks that we would get in and, with a big majority. He knows from the opinion poll published in the Daily Mirror this morning that the majority of people want an election. It is because they want [column 1292]it and because he might lose it that he is unwilling to put it to the test.

It is not surprising that the Prime Minister takes months to screw up courage to have a by-election—even on the Socialist record. Or perhaps it is very nearly possible.

The choice next time will be on the published documents between the Labour Party's programme published in 1976 and “The Right Approach” to which the Prime Minister seems to be thoroughly addicted. Both documents have been to party conferences.

Perhaps I might spell out a few points from “The Right Approach” as approved by the people of Workington and Walsall. [Interruption.] We shall wait for one or two other examples, and we shall be delighted when the Prime Minister moves the issue of the writs for some of the other outstanding by-elections, unless he is to move the writs for the whole of the 635. That would be the greatest test of all.

“The Right Approach” , approved by the people of Workington and Walsall, spelt out our basic philosophy. If we are allowed to have a manifesto in time for an election, hon. Members could read it in even greater detail. In the meantime—we Conservatives believe in capitalism and democracy. There cannot be democracy, and there will not be democracy, unless there is a capitalist system. Hon. Members below the Gangway do not approve of it. They disagree with it. They would like to do away with capitalism.

However, we are very pleased that we have in fact got some support from hon. Members opposite who are not below the Gangway and who believe that, if individual freedom is to be safeguarded, economic as well as political power must be dispersed. They say: “The only practicable alternative to a mixed economy of the Western kind” — the capitalist system; that is my interpolation— “is a command economy on the Soviet or Eastern European model.” [Hon. Members: “Read on.” ] I am quite happy to quote the lot; it is nearly all on my side.

We would also, unlike right hon. Members opposite, believe in maximum choice [column 1293]because with no choice there will never be a responsible society, and choice is being progressively diminished.

We would of course reduce the burden of direct tax. It would be too much to expect this Government to reduce it to where we left it. That would mean reducing direct taxation by some £4,000 million if people were to be left in the same position as they were when my right hon. Friend Lord Barber was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We would of course expect hard work to be rewarded. This is what the people want. We would of course give more people a chance to own their own homes. This is what the people want. We would of course uphold standards and values, and the rule of law. That is what the people want. We would of course not carry out further schemes of nationalisation. People do not want those either. We of course would want the reduction of inflation to be our first economic priority, unlike in particular the first year of this Government which did so much damage to the economy as a whole.

We would reject utterly the divisive nonsense of class division upon which Marxism thrives. We have no class enemies. We do not think in those vindictive or outmoded terms. One of the commentaries when “The Right Approach” was published was very interesting. We had not quite expected the comment at the time. It was just automatic that we did not put anything in “The Right Approach” which is against anyone. Our philosophy is not against anyone. Our philosophy thrives on success, on improving housing, on raising the standard of living and on having it more widely distributed. Our philosophy thrives on believing that Governments are the servants of the people and not their masters.

Whether it be in factories, on farms or in offices, there is a widespread desire to see this Government go. The Prime Minister intends to try to cling to office by political cunning. Of course, I know that he likes power. He would hardly have put his name to a political ballot of he had not wanted the job, if he had not got an ambition for the job. There would be something very strange about any political leader who did not want to be leader or Prime Minister. [column 1294]

The Prime Minister is an expert—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ]—in political wheeling and dealing, I was about to say. It is no substitute for political courage. Perhaps he should face the people's verdict and like a statesman face it now.