Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Party Conference ("Confrontation with reality")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Winter Gardens, Blackpool
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1130-1210. Sections of the speech have been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977 (see editorial notes in text); it appears also that the speech was checked against delivery and audience reaction pencilled in (laughter/applause). When the speech was reprinted by the CPC it acquired the title "We shall not fail our country".
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4706
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Secondary education, Industry, By-elections, General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Taxation, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Leadership, Northern Ireland, Trade unions

I want to begin with a confession. I don't greatly care for being in Opposition (Applause). We have certain plans to deal with that situation. (Applause).

I believe that the essence of politics is not what you say; it's what you do. So I look to the day when we put Conservative principles into practice—in Government (Applause). I look to the day when we throw off the Socialist yoke and together turn to the task of setting our country on the road to a real and lasting recovery. [end p1]

That day can be postponed. It can't be put off for ever. One Thursday, a day like any other Thursday and yet, I believe, a day that will prove the turning-point of our time, the Labour Party will have to keep their appointment with the voters. It is a prospect I relish (Applause).

Either back us or sack us, says Mr. Callaghan. Just give the people the chance, Jim, give 'em the chance. (Laughter and applause.)

He won't, of course, until he must. He daren't. Which is why, instead of a government with steel in its backbone, we've got one with David SteelSteel in its pocket. (Laughter and applause). [end p2]

Last week at Brighton we were accused of “an insatiable lust for power” . It's not the Tories who have wheeled and dealed and manoeuvered and manipulated to avoid one thing at all costs—facing the voters. It's Labour's Limpet Government. (Applause).

Hence the Lib-Lab Pact.

So much for Labour's political principle. So much for the Liberals' genuine conviction. And so much for the courage to stand by what you believe in, even if by standing by it you lose your seat. Better to lose your seat than your self-respect. [end p3]

Just what is it the Liberals have kept in office? A government that for 2½ years overspent overtaxed, interfered, nationalised, debased our currency and all but bankrupted Britain. (Applause). In short, that acted like a Labour Government.

Mr. Healey blandly refers to “the horrors of 1974/75” . But who was Chancellor of the Exchequer then? You've guessed it. They were Healey's horrors. After him the deluge? No. Because of him. (Laughter and applause.)

“The financial position has been reversed 180 degrees” says the Chancellor with a flourish. Quite so. Because his policies have been reversed 180 degrees—by order of the International Monetary Fund. (Applause.) [end p4]

Twelve months ago the 4-Budget-A-Year man all but took the country over the cliff with him—until at the eleventh hour he turned back from Heathrow in a panic and headed for home—to take out the most massive mortgage in our history. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977

The prescription the IMF forced his government to swallow is the prescription we have long been advocating. A good, sound, sensible, Conservative prescription. So my message to Moses is this; keep taking the tablets. (Laughter and applause). End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977

And if Labour wants an Election slogan, I suggest—it's just a thought but one likes to be helpful— “You know IMF Government works” . (Laughter and applause). [end p5]

Some of the commentators are saying that the James CallaghanPrime Minister is stealing our clothes. Well, it's true that he's lost his own, but he's going to look pretty ridiculous walking around in mine. (Laughter and applause).

Of course all of us are deeply thankful that the wealth of the North Sea has started to flow.

But the North Sea is not a Socialist sea. Its oil is not Socialist oil. It was found by private enterprise, it was drilled by private enterprise, and it is being brought ashore by private enterprise. (Applause.)

Let's put the picture in perspective. [end p6]

As the oil comes on stream, our balance of payments is going to look healthier. That's good news for Britain.

Sterling should be safe from another Socialist slide. That's good news for Britain.

The standard of living of our people might rise again, if only a little, after its catastrophic fall. That would be good news for Britain too.

And, as I've said before, good news for Britain is good news for the Conservative Party. (Applause.) [end p7]

But look closer. The truth is we are still grinding along in bottom gear, with our factories producing less than they were when Labour came to power; that real profits, and therefore investment, are still abysmally low, and that the number of men and women without a job is the highest since the war. And that's bad news for Britain.

Now take prices—if you can catch them. The Government boasts of its success in bringing the rate of inflation down. But even if it falls as far as Mr. Healey predicts—and today not even his own Joel Barnettnumber two believes him—prices in Britain will still be going up faster than in other countries. [end p8]

If Labour survives into next year, prices will have doubled while they have been in power. Doubled. That's not an economic miracle. It's an economic and personal disaster.

At Brighton last week we saw Socialism wearing its pre-election face.

Beware the leopard when it's quiet. It hasn't changed its spots. It just doesn't want its victim to know it's there. (Applause.)

Why was it so quiet last week at Brighton? Because it wants the people to believe that it's a gentle, well-behaved, Social Democratic pussy-cat. (Laughter and applause.) [end p9]

We all know the drill. In the run-up to each Election the claws of Labour's extremists aren't drawn, they are just withdrawn. The front men are paraded to talk quietly, moderately almost sensibly.

The left-wing allow them their little outing, until the voters are once more in the trap.

Now suppose the Election is over. Make a supreme effort and imagine Labour has won. What then? The trap is sprung. And Labour's extremists resume the drive towards a Britain modelled on Eastern Europe.

“It can't happen here,” you say. [end p10]

At Brighton the annual election to Labour's National Executive produced the same line-up as before. Not a single left-winger lost out. It's the same Executive which produced “Labour's Programme for Britain 1976” . That programme remains official Labour Party policy 1977.

Mr. Benn was frank enough to say so, perhaps hoping the public wasn't listening.

Nationalise the banks and insurance companies. That's Labour policy. Do you like the idea of their hands on your savings? How do you fancy Mr. Healey—or Mr. Benn—as your friendly neighbourhood bank manager? [end p11]

And they want to nationalise all the land. Not just some of it, all of it.

They demand a free hand to take over almost any firm—big or small, the building industry, the food industry, fishing, forestry, ports and many more. That's their policy too.

They want the power to make every business obey them. They want to cut tax relief for home buyers. They want higher income tax to pay for their plans. They want an immediate wealth tax, on top of Capital Gains Tax, on top of Capital Transfer Tax. What's the point of building up your savings or your own business if they're going to take it all away from you? But it's all there in their little red book. It's all official Labour Party policy. [end p12]

And to make it easier to ram through this frightening Socialist programme, they've just voted to abolish the House of Lords. There, behind the cosy, Brighton front, you have the reality of Labour. (Applause.) [end p13]

But, you may ask, when the Election comes will this actually appear in their Manifesto? Some of it will, and if they were to win, sooner or later they'll do it all.

Because, whenever Labour win an Election, the Tribune Group grow stronger and stronger and stronger. From one Election to the next, Labour's programme gets meaner, more narrow, more Marxist.

Britain, beware! The signpost reads “This way to the “total Socialist state” . [end p14]

Destroying freedoms we have cherished and defended down the centuries won't worry the far Left. They like everything about Eastern Europe—except, alas, going to live there—because after all the living standards there are very low.

So let no-one say today there is no true difference between the parties, no real choice before the nation.

This is not what the people think. Many men and women who had voted Labour all their lives turned to us in Ashfield, Stechford, Workington and Walsall. They know the Labour Party they used to vote for is not the Labour Party of today. The party of Hugh Gaitskell has become a Party fit for Andy Bevan and Peter Hain. (Applause.) [end p15]

The disillusioned, the disenchanted, the courageous, the converted, we welcome them, one and all, to our cause.

But the job of cleaning up Labour, the job of ditching the extremists, is not in our hands. It's in the hands of the people on that special Thursday for which we watch and wait and work.

If just 5 or 6 out of every 100 voters switch from Labour to Conservative at the election, they will slash the size of the Tribune Group by about a third. On a swing of that size 25 Tribunites will lose their seats. [end p16]

And Britain will have a Conservative Government—a truly moderate government, moderate not by order of our foreign creditors, but by genuine conviction, in touch and in tune with the people, carrying out the sort of sensible, prudent, policies that work so well in other countries.

Of course, that's not the picture our opponents will paint.

And here let me make a personal prophecy. In the coming months you will see a carefully orchestrated campaign by the Labour Party and Labour Government to portray me as “extremely this” and “extremely that” —not to mention “extremely the other” . A whole battery of extremist labels will be bandied about. Indeed they are being bandied already. The closer the Election looms, the faster and more furious will the bandying become. [end p17]

So let me tell you a little about my “extremism” .

I am extremely careful never to be extreme.

I am extremely aware of the dangerous duplicity of Socialism, and extremely determined to turn back the tide before it destroys everything we hold dear. (Applause.)

I am extremely disinclined to be deceived by the mask of moderation that Labour adopts whenever an Election is in the offing, a mask now being worn, as we saw last week, by all who would “keep the red flag flying here” . [end p18]

Not if I can help it.

The Conservative Party now and always flies the flag of one nation—and that flag is the Union Jack. (Applause.)

So much for my so-called “extremism” . There's another word our opponents like.

The word is “reactionary” .

They say that a Thatcher Government—and I must say that I like the sound of that a little more each time I hear it (Laughter and applause.)—would be reactionary. [end p19]

If to react against the politics of the last few years, which undermined our way of life and devastated our economy—if that's reactionary then we are reactionary—and so are the vast majority of the British people. (Applause.)

They believe, as we do, that Government is far too big; that it does not know all the answers; that it has downgraded the individual and upgraded the State.

We do not believe that if you cut back what Government does, you diminish its authority. On the contrary, a Government that did less, and therefore did it better, would strengthen its authority. [end p20]

Our approach was put very simply by a Chinese philosopher centuries ago. “Govern a great nation” , he counselled, “as you would cook a small fish. Don't overdo it” . (Applause.)

So if you ask whether the next Conservative Government will cut controls and regulations and keep interference in people's lives to a minimum, my answer is “Yes, that is exactly what we shall do” . The best reply to full-blooded Socialism is not milk and water Socialism, it is genuine Conservatism. (Applause.)

For 13 years from 1951 we curbed the powers of the State. [end p21]

Ask those who remember which they preferred: the steady increase in prosperity of the 13 Tory years, or the white-hot Socialist stagnation of Messrs Wilson and Callaghan.

By their fruits shall ye know them. What are the fruits of Socialism?

Where is the prosperity? Where are the new jobs? The stable prices? The low taxes? Where is the money created by a thriving economy, to spend on our schools and hospitals, on the pensioners, on the sick and disabled? [end p22]

Today we know Socialism by its broken promises—above all by the broken promise of a fairer and more prosperous Society.

Socialism has not made society fairer, it has made it less fair. It has not made Britain richer, it has made it poorer. It has not distributed the rewards of achievement more widely, it has decimated them. (Applause.)

Let us ask and keep on asking the question Labour can never answer. “If your policies are right, why do they never work? And why is it only when you start doing some of the things we have told you to do, that you ever take a few steps forward?” [end p23]

But a few steps are not enough.

If I have one message above all else it is this: I am not prepared to settle for second, third or fourth best for Britain. (Applause.) I do not believe that our decline was inevitable any more than I believe that an accident of nature off our coasts has made our recovery automatic.

But I believe that if we confront—yes, confront reality, if we pin our trust on the skill, resource and courage of our people, then this country can work out its salvation and regain its prosperity—the respect of others and its own self-respect. [end p24]

Some people regard this as dangerous talk. “The Tories” they say “want change; they want to challenge the rules and ideas and policies that govern Socialist Society. Risky” they murmur “Right, of course, but risky—might upset Arthur Scargill, or Jack Jones—better not … better not” .

There you have the root and heart of the choice facing our nation.

What worries Jack Jones is that the Leaders of his Party are living too well. What worries us is that ordinary people aren't living well enough. (Applause.) [end p25]

That's why the next Election will be so crucial. All elections are crucial; this time the choice could be decisive for a generation.

Because this time how the country votes will settle which party is entrusted with the immense benefits of North Sea Oil.

If it is the Socialists, then the profits of free enterprise will be used to purchase socialism, to take more power for the state.

If it's the Conservatives, they'll be used to give power back to the people. (Applause.) [end p26]

The choice is the classic choice. Labour would do what it has been doing for the last three years, only more so. We shall do what we have said we will do.

“Set the people free.”

The key question I am asked over and over again is, but will a Conservative Government be free? How will you get on with the Trade Unions? And will the Trade Unions allow a Conservative Government to govern? [end p27]

Yes, the word is “allow” .

People who ask the question are already half way into Labour's trap. They've swallowed the bait and are ripe for the catch.

Here is the position.

The Government dare not fight on its record or on any manifesto that would be acceptable both to its Marxist Left and the people of Britain.

So, like an unimaginative parrot, they keep repeating: “The Tories won't be able to work with the Unions” . [end p28]

And when the time comes Jack Jones will be expected to mutter it, Hugh Scanlon to go along with it, David Basnett may actually say it—and Clive Jenkins will almost certainly shout it. (Laughter.)

And it won't be true—unless the Union leaders are determined to make it true.

Now take a hypothetical situation. [end p29]

Suppose they are so determined. Suppose they've already made up their minds to make the task of an elected Conservative Government impossible. Then we would face a situation in which an unelected minority was intent on getting rid of a Government that it couldn't control, and replacing it with one that it could.

Is this what the Union Leaders seriously intend? To use their industrial muscle for political ends? I don't believe it.

But, people are asking, if it were so, what would happen? Could a handful of men with great power hold the nation to ransom? [end p30]

The answer is, it's possible.

Should such a situation arise, for example in a vital nationalised industry, it would be presented as a conflict between Government and Trade Union.

This would be false. The real conflict would be between Union and people. (Applause.) Because it would be the people that would suffer. It always is.

In that case the duty of the Government, any Government would be to act, through Parliament, on behalf of the nation as a whole. [end p31]

In a vital issue such as this, in which the Government had to take decisive action on a single specific matter, it would be important for the government to know that it had the support of the majority of the people. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977

And it's in this context—and in this context only—that I have suggested a Referendum, to test public opinion. In those circumstances, in those special circumstances, I say “Let the people speak” . (Applause.) I hope and believe the situation will never arise. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977.

I would like to make two final points about the Unions. [end p32]

One: a strong and responsible trade union movement is essential to this country and its rights must be respected.

Two: the belief that those rights take precedence over all other rights, and even over the law itself could be fatal to this country.

Happily, the great majority of trade unionists know this as well as, if not better than, some of their leaders. They know that while their leaders represent them at work, we represent them in Parliament.

We in the Conservative Party look forward to a long and fruitful association with the Unions. [end p33]

A Conservative Britain will be as much in the interest of Union members as of the rest of the community. They know that taxes today are too high, that they torpedo talent, that they must be cut.

And that is what we Conservatives will do.

We shall cut income tax so that once again it is worthwhile to work harder and to learn a skill. (Applause.)

We want to keep our best brains in Britain and bring home some of those who have been driven abroad. [end p34]

We want to hold out to the enterprising businessman a reward which matches the risks of building up a firm.

We want to renew the spark of incentive in our economy because without that new jobs cannot and will not be created.

We want to leave everyone with more of his own money in his own pocket to spend as he pleases. (Applause.)

Our aim is to make tax collecting a declining industry. There are more Civil Servants in the Inland Revenue than there are sailors in the British Navy. (Laughter.) [end p35]

If Governments don't cut what they spend we have to cut what we spend.

There's one hand out that people really want today. That's the Government's hand out of their pocket. (Laughter and applause.)

This is the positive approach and it's the key to getting industry going again.

We don't believe that Government can run industry better than the people who work there. It can't. [end p36]

Countries that are more successful than we are owe their economic achievements above all to free enterprise. And the benefits are not confined to a few of their citizens. They are spread among the many. The whole community benefits. “When the tide comes in, all the boats rise” .

Of course, no Government in a modern industrial society—and certainly no sensible Conservative Government—can wholly withdraw from the market place. [end p37]

But Government support for ailing industry will only produce an ailing economy unless it is selective, unless the circumstances are exceptional, and unless that support is directed to two overriding aims: moving the firm out of the red into the black and then back to independence as quickly as possible.

A sure recipe for industrial blight is a Government that gives what amounts to a blanket guarantee that virtually any firm will be saved from the consequences of its own mistakes. No firm and no nation can behave indefinitely as though there is little difference between profit and loss, high production and low, success and failure. [end p38]

In this as in so much else, Churchill put his finger on it:

“It is a Socialist idea” he said “that making profits is a vice …   . the real vice is making losses” . [end p39]

We would like to see the workers who help create the profits sharing them. The Labour Party want Union leaders on boards of directors. We want more employees voting as share-holders, at company meetings. (Applause.)

Under a Conservative Government we hope that more of them will own a stake in industry and that more of them will own their own homes.

Conservatives are a family party. We believe that in a healthy society more and more people should be able to buy the roof over their heads. [end p40]

That is why we will give Council tenants the right in law to buy their homes. (Applause.) That legislation, I promise you, will be announced in the first Queen's speech of the next Conservative Government. (Applause.)

Let the Labour Party go on offering newly-weds a place on the waiting list for a house on a Council estate which they can never call their own. We offer them a place that belongs to them, their own home in which to start life together and later to bring up their children. (Applause.)

And then what happens when the children go to school? [end p41]

We have got to stop destroying good schools in the name of equality. The main victims of Labour's recent attack on the direct grant schools have been able children from the less well off families. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977:

People from my sort of background needed Grammar schools to compete with children from privileged homes like Shirley Williams and Anthony Wedgwood Benn. (Applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977:

Our aim in education is simple: it is to raise standards for all our children. [end p42]

That means fighting far more vigorously against that small minority which believes the principal purpose of education is to instil contempt for democratic institutions. That's not education, it's political propaganda. I see no reason why you and I and every other tax payer should pay for it. (Applause.)

And these destroyers would also destroy respect for our laws and the order on which a civilised society is based.

People have asked me whether I'm going to make the fight against crime an issue at the next election. No, I am not going to make it an issue, it's the people of Britain who are going to make it an issue. (Applause.) [end p43]

The old people in our city centres who are terrified to go out at night are going to make it an issue. The tax payers and rate payers who have to meet the bills for mindless vandalism are going to make it an issue. The parents worried sick when their children go out on their own are going to make it an issue. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977:

Yes, law and order will be an issue, and it will be a vital issue at the election. And if anyone thinks that's right wing, they should talk to the workers in the factory and the women in the supermarkets. (Applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977.

The next Conservative Government will give more resources to the police. (Applause.) They are undermanned and poorly paid. We will bring them up to strength. We will give them the money to do the job. (Applause.) [end p44] Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977:

I do not intend to sit on the sidelines, wringing my hands, while London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and the rest of our cities go the way of New York. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 14 October 1977.

If the violence in Britain is deeply disturbing, it is nothing to what has been endured by the people of Northern Ireland for nearly ten years. [end p45]

What happens in Ulster touches us all; it is a part of our country, our United Kingdom. Let the people of Ulster be assured of this—the Conservative Party stands rock-firm for the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Today we express our deep and lasting admiration for Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, the Belfast Peace Women who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Applause.) Their courage symbolises to us, and to the whole Western world, the yearning of the people of Ulster for peace.

And we honour with them the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and our servicemen in Northern Ireland. (Applause.) [end p46]

I only wish that all the members of our armed forces who defend freedom, there, and in other parts of the world, had a higher place in Socialist priorities. The Labour Party have cut present and future spending on defence, by the staggering figure of £8½ billion.

What sort of Government is it that so neglects the welfare of our servicemen?

What sort of Government forces front-line soldiers into claiming rent rebates, and makes many of them worse off than people who don't even try to work at all? [end p47]

Our armed forces are poorly paid. They are denied the equipment, the stores, the back-up and the training that they know are vital to the job they do. Worse, they see the anti-western wing of the Labour Party calling for still more gigantic cuts in defence, which a former Roy MasonLabour Defence Secretary said would mean at best “neutrality” , at worst “surrender” .

We have a government that neglects our defences. A Government that lets down NATO so badly that our allies have rebuked it publicly.

A Government which spends money on nationalisation while cutting spending on the defence of the realm. [end p48]

As I promised President Carter last month, the next Conservative Government will give defence the high priority that it demands. (Applause.)

The Conservative Government will see that our troops are properly paid, increase defence spending so that we meet our obligations to our allies, and by strengthening the defence of the West, restore the morale of our fighting services.

Let us not forget—our first duty to freedom is to defend our own. (Applause.) [end p49]

It was to that end and purpose that I entered politics, and two years ago, in this hall, from this platform, I spoke to you for the first time as Leader of our Party.

I remember well my nervousness, and pride, as I tried to tell you something of my personal vision and my hopes for our country and our people.

I felt deeply my responsibility then. Today I feel it even more deeply. [end p50]

For much has happened between those two Octobers. Two years ago I spoke of a man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property to have the State as servant and not as master. Today the threat to those democratic values has doubled and redoubled.

I know only too well, as I go about the country, the fears felt for our British way of life. I know it from the letters I receive. And I know how many hopes ride with us today. The hopes of millions who are Conservative and millions who are not. But who look to us because they feel instinctively that what is happening to their country threatens not only their freedom but everything that made it materially and morally great. [end p51]

Paul Johnson expressed it movingly and with a writer's clarity the other day, when he resigned from the Labour Party.

“I have come to appreciate, perhaps for the first time in my life” he wrote “the overwhelming strength of my attachment to the individual spirit. The paramount need to keep it alive, I now see, is so great as to override any other principle whatever” .

These are deeply anxious and disturbing days for those whose eyes are open and who value freedom. But provided we are alert and alive to the danger, then the human will of the growing and quietly determined majority must prevail. [end p52]

The responsibility that rests upon the Conservative Party is huge and humbling. But as Autumn moves towards Winter and we brace ourselves for the great task that lies ahead, let us make this promise to the British people.

We will discharge that task with all our strength and all our faith.

We shall not fail our country.