Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Leicester
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: The press release (501/78) was embargoed until 1445. The speaking text has an introduction and conclusion omitted from the press release, and there are stylistic variations (as well as brief references to speeches by Conservative spokesmen in earlier sessions of the Central Council). A section of the text has been checked against a BBC Radio News Report 1800 8 April 1978.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3749
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Parliament, Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Economy (general discussions), Education, By-elections, General Elections, Local elections, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Race, immigration, nationality, Religion & morality, Trade unions

By all accounts this has been a momentous Conference. Its message must surely have been this.—

We have the policies for a better Britain and we have the men and women to carry them out and rearing to go.

It isn't just this Conference which has been successful, it's been a pretty good year all round.

For instance, our teams in the bye-election league have had a wonderful season.

They played seven matches against the red shirts—no reflection on Manchester United or Liverpool, of course. Won five of these of which three were away wins in Stechford, Ashfield and Ilford—our teams certainly get around.

I am glad to say that I was able to get to all the matches. [end p1]

The yellow shirts, who sometimes share a dressing room with the reds, had a terrible season despite playing thirteen men. They face certain relegation and there must be doubt as to whether they can manage a full team next year. Some even think they will have to play in the five-a-sides. [end p2]

The local government results too were excellent. I hope that very soon we at Westminster will have the chance to follow the example of those councils who seized control from Labour and put into practice Conservative policies of good housekeeping and commonsense.

It was a good year, too, for Conferences and I was once again particularly impressed by our Trade Union Conference at Bradford.

Conservative Trade Unionists are active throughout industry. More than a third of trades unionists usually vote for us and we look for many more next time. Forty of our parliamentary candidates are members of unions. No one now can say in honesty that we won't be able to get on with trade unionists. They are part of the Conservative Party. They are part of our life. [end p3]

Now, the Budget season is upon us. Press release begins.

As next Tuesday approaches there is frantic activity in the Treasury kitchens.

What does the chief cook plan for our delight as he busily stirs the Budget pot? Not much, I fear but a little thin gruel. [end p4]

But whatever you're given, don't dare to do an Oliver Twist and ask for more. Don't, for example, ask Mr Healey to return to you the £5,000 million pounds in income tax cuts that you'd need to get back to where you were under the last Conservative Government. That's too much to expect from a Labour Chancellor even in the run-up to the showdown.

All that he's going to do is to try to bribe the people with their own money into voting his way.

The purpose is not to put Britain back on the road to recovery. The purpose is to try to save Labour's bacon. [end p5]

We know the Government think there are votes in tax cuts. The James CallaghanPrime Minister said as much the other day (during one of his visits to Britain) [Phrase in brackets omitted from press release.] when he did his best to make Conservative noises. Not, I'm afraid, with much conviction. Because, of course, tax cuts are no part of true Labour doctrine.

How can they be, when Labour Governments believe they know better how to spend our money than you and I?

It was Mr Healey, who rubbed his hands at the prospect of making people howl with anguish at the pain of heavier taxes. Soaking the rich soon turned out to be soaking everybody who worked for a living. It was Mr Healey who piled an average £500 a year in additional income tax on every household in the country; he is the man who has recruited 20,000 more tax collectors. Do we really believe that he is now converted for ever and a day to Conservative arguments? Of course not. His conversion is election deep. [end p6]

But there are, we are told, some genuine tax cutters in the ranks of the Government's supporters. They are known as the Parliamentary Liberal Party.

Well, we've heard all that before. They claim that last year they caused petrol tax to be cut. That was declared a resounding triumph of the Lib-Lab pact.

But the truth is that but for them the tax would never have been put up in the first place, because the Government would not have had a majority. Let me remind you what really happened. [end p7]

In last year's Spring Budget the Chancellor raised petrol duty by 5p. Mr Pardoe certainly denounced the increase as ‘utterly intolerable’; but words were not enough to save the Liberals.

For on the 31st March the electors in Birmingham Stechford gave their verdict on the Budget of the Labour Government and on the Liberals who only a week previously had committed themselves to keeping the Government in power. [end p8]

Labour lost Stechford and the Liberal Candidate lost his deposit.

The electorate were right in seeing through the Liberals. One week after they had denounced the petrol tax increase, as utterly intolerable they refused to vote with the Conservatives to stop it. One month later when the petrol tax came up for further Parliamentary attention, they voted against another Conservative attempt to roll back the 5p rise.

Yet when the combined numbers of all Opposition parties, led by 281 Conservative MPs, forced the Government to back down and repeal the tax increase on 5th August, the 13 Liberals claimed a great victory.

The victory cry must have sounded a little hollow to the motorists who, thanks to the Liberals, paid an extra 5 pence a gallon for nearly six months longer than they should have done. [end p9]

Even if the Liberals refuse to vote this discredited Government out of office, we must, sooner or later, have an Election.

Indeed, there are signs in the air.

Watch what the James CallaghanPrime Minister is up to. Alarmed by failure at home, he is resorting to the classic behaviour of Leaders over the years.

If you can't succeed with the people at home, then try to impress them with overseas adventures.

So we find him here and there in a whirl of ‘summitry’. I only wish that each meeting was not accompanied by so much artificial optimism. [end p10]

All of the summits attended by the present Prime Minister and his Harold Wilsonpredecessor—if you think carefully, you may recall his name—all those summits, we have been told, have been the prelude to success. At Rambouillet in 1975, the communiqué expressed confidence in the future. At Puerto Rico, the following year, ‘renewed confidence’ was the order of the day. And last year at the Downing St. summit, we were told and this may not entirely surprise you, ‘the message was …   . one of confidence’.

The next summit too is about to say the same thing, and the Prime Minister and the Denis HealeyChancellor, with characteristic modesty, will once more tell us how much the rest of the free world admires their efforts. [end p11]

The Prime Minister's report following that summit might read something like this.

“During our recent meeting about the world economy” , it would begin, “we have had full and frank discussions with our colleagues. We have been full of proposals and they have been frank in rejecting them.”

“We have considered in particular the major contribution which the British economy under our stewardship is about to make to international recovery. Under our policies we are confident we can provide a growing market for other countries' exports without troubling them too much with our own. [end p12]

“But our most valuable contribution” , the report continues, “has been to show our partners how to create an economic miracle. They have been particularly intrigued by the miraculous way we have managed nearly to double prices and more than double unemployment, both at the same time.

“They have also been fascinated by our success in ensuring that British industry now produces in five days a week what, four years ago, it managed to produce in three.

“Our colleagues” , the report goes on, “have been as bewildered as we are by the fact that, without our resources of oil and gas, they have managed to cope with difficult world conditions so much better than we have. [end p13]

“They have taken to heart the lesson of what happens to an economy run by a Labour Government, and the effects of high taxation and high Government spending. The results of our policies of more nationalisation and more State interference have made a profound impact on them.

“Indeed they made it clear that they attribute a large part of their own success to studying carefully what we have done; and then doing the opposite. Their vote of thanks to us for this cautionary tale was as warm-hearted as it was unexpected.”

Here ends the report. [end p14]

The trouble with these sort of discussions with world leaders is that Labour ministers, by chronically weakening us at home, have greatly reduced our influence abroad. Labour's Britain is all too often little more than an impoverished by-stander on the world's stage.

That is why, for all his jetting about the world, Dr Owen cuts so little ice.

Even when he belatedly follows our lead—as he did this week on Soviet imperialism in Africa—his words ring hollow. After all, it was Dr Owen who went to Moscow last year to explain to Soviet leaders that his intentions towards a Rhodesian settlement were exactly the same as theirs. [end p15]

Well, his may be but ours aren't!

But the trouble is that some of the things he has done over Rhodesia make one suspect that he may sometimes really believe what he said in Moscow.

Whatever statements the Foreign Secretary may make we will certainly not regain lasting and substantial influence with other countries until we put our own house in order. [end p16]

Other countries have succeeded against worse odds than we have faced.

Think of the state of Germany in 1945—defeated, divided, civil life disrupted, her industries largely destroyed. And think of Germany today.

Think of the French twenty years ago, on the eve of the 5th Republic. And look at France today.

Those nations, and others like them, pulled themselves up by their own efforts. They pulled themselves up from far worse circumstances than we face now, with far fewer advantages. They have succeeded where we have failed.

What they have done, we can do—provided that we give our people the freedom to do it. [end p17]

No Government can put everything right itself.

Prosperity does not come from Government bureaucracy and controls.

Government can only create the opportunity and conditions which enable the people to get things right. [Manuscript addition by MT] You remember Geoffrey Howe said yesterday: “But it is not the economy that needs to be stimulated so much as the millions of people who make it up.” [Typescript resumes]

There lies the difference in approach between ourselves and the Labour Party. [end p18]

This difference is exposed in everything Labour say and everything Labour do. But nowhere can you see it better than in Labour's plans for the future, as spelled out in detail in “Labour's Programme” . 147 pages crammed full of Socialist demands.

It demands the extension of nationalisation so widely that more than half of all British workers would be working for the State. All land, the major banks and insurance companies, and massive chunks of industry would be taken. For those that remained outside the net, a new Industry Act would be introduced with the explicit aim of “bringing into line those which refuse to co-operate” with the Government. [end p19]

Sounds just like George Orwell 's “1984” .

It further demands massive increases in public spending over and above the cost of nationalisation. At current prices the bill would be about £6,500 million, equivalent to an extra 13p. on the basic rate of income tax. Just in case you still had anything left from the savings of past years, they demand “the immediate introduction of a progressive wealth tax” .

One thing they will not be spending more money on, however, is defence. While they will find money—your money—to squander on the defence of Socialism, this will be directly at the expense of the Defence of the Realm. For Labour's Programme demands “a major cutback in the defence programme … in the order of £1000 m.” a year. [end p20]

And so that all these proposals can be pushed through with maximum speed and minimum opposition, they demand the abolition of the House of Lords—because they of course may have the temerity to stand up for the liberties of the people, and so stand in the way of the Socialist State.

Little wonder, then, that the James CallaghanPrime Minister maintains a deathly silence on his Party's Policy Document, for Labour's Programme is even more extreme than the Common Programme on which the French Left fought, and lost, the recent election. [end p21]

But don't be fooled by the Prime Minister's silence. Labour's Programme was prepared by the Party's National Executive Committee, of which he is a member. It was endorsed overwhelmingly by the Labour Party Conference.

It is, in the Prime Minister's own words, “a Programme which extends well into the 1980s” . It is, no more and no less, the official policy of the Party which he leads. [end p22] The following paragraph appears in the press release though deleted from the speaking text.

Labour's programme spells disaster for Britain. All our earnings, our savings, profits, pension funds, North Sea Oil, the lot, would be squandered on building Mr Benn 's Britain.

If a Labour Government were to be re-elected, the Left Wing would make certain that that programme found its way, page by page, on to the Statute Book—and this time it would be irreversible.

We intend to see that they don't get the chance! [end p23]

A swing of 4 or 5 per cent to us at the next Election would not only give us victory but get rid of a third of the present Members of the left-wing Tribune Group.

So a Conservative victory at the next Election will do more to clean up the Labour Party than the so-called moderate comrades have managed in the last decade and more.

Winston Churchill, like his father Lord Randolph ChurchillRandolph before him, encouraged us politicians to ‘trust the people’. He realised that popular instincts can often be a surer guide to action than government opinions. [end p24]

Today, in every area of our national life—whether it be home ownership, taxation, incentives to work, standards in education, the rule of law, crime in our cities, support for our national institutions—popular opinion is set against Socialist dogma. Socialism is out of touch with the people. Manuscript addition by MT

It talks in terms of industrial strategies, plans, scenarios, the real economy, the public interest, but not about things which affect the lives of the people, so many of whom have already become casualties of Socialism. Typescript resumes:

When politics ceases to be about people, then it is solely about power. So power has become Labour's guiding light. Power before principle. Power before all else.

The need to hold office has become the moral imperative of the new Labour ruling class. The desire to cling on to it is overwhelming. Hence, the Lib-Lab pact. Hence, the ‘manoeuving’ and ‘intrigue’ which is the characteristic of the Wilson/Callaghan era. [end p25]

In this process political power becomes unresponsive to public needs.

The leaders of Government become cocooned in a world of their own. Such isolation leads to arbitrary government, to insensitivity, to an arrogance of power.

They become oblivious to the needs and daily anxieties of the people. [end p26]

Immigration and Race Relations

Labour's attitude to immigration is one example of their apparent disregard for what so many people feel and for what is really happening in our towns and cities.

But politicians can't turn a blind eye to what is going on, or arrogantly refuse to heed people's worries and anxieties.

Willie Whitelaw spoke to you yesterday afternoon about what we propose, and I do not intend to repeat all he said. However, let me say clearly once again, as he did, that we hold steadfastly to the principle that every citizen of this country who has his permanent home here is equal before the law and has the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. [end p27]

That is not in dispute.

What is in dispute is the number of extra people wanting to settle here. And Mr Whitelaw set out our policies and their purpose. They are constructive, they are tough, but they are fair.

I would like to make one additional point about the Labour Party's attitude. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 8 April 1978

Every time a Conservative government has brought in tighter controls over immigration, Labour politicians have attacked us. They've fought our proposals root and branch. They've accused us of every sin in the book. And they've been joined in that outward show of indignation by the leaders of the Liberal Party. [end p28]

But they don't repeal the laws we introduced when they come to office. Indeed I recall that the present James CallaghanPrime Minister brought in more controls when he was Home Secretary.

So let's have no more humbug. Let Ministers listen to the people for a change, instead of preaching at them. Let Ministers accept that good race relations in Britain depend on ending immigration as we have known it in the last two decades.

The next Conservative Government will implement our proposals and thus establish the foundations of lasting racial harmony and tolerance. (Applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 8 April 1978. [end p29]

Protection of the Citizen

Then there's Labour's deaf ear to the very real worry about crime, particularly among those who live in our cities.

What people want, what they have a right to expect, is greater protection in their daily lives, which means more policemen on the streets and tougher penalties for thugs and hooligans. [Manuscript addition by MT] David Howell set this out admirably in a very full statement on our policies this morning. [Typescript resumes]

In making sure that these very real anxieties are met, the next Conservative Government will be recognising one of the first duties of the State—the protection of its citizens. Press release ends. [end p30]

In education, people are worried about standards. They rightly expect their children to be fully and properly equipped for the business of life when they leave school.

They do want their children taught about right and wrong, and the moral code upon which truth, justice, duty and conscience are based. They are more interested in bringing out the best in every child rather than having an educational policy of levelling down.

They are not prepared to pay through the nose in taxes and rates, and then simply be told that they must take what they are given because the state decides how and where their children should be educated. [end p31]

In a democracy—a western democracy, not a so-called people's democracy—governments should be accountable to the people, nationally and locally.

Government must not expect parents to accept the unacceptable. They must be sensitive to their views and their children's requirements in this modern world.

And the greater the problems and changes the children will face, the greater the need to conserve tried and trusted values. [end p32]

Leicester is the city of Simon de Montfort, who called together the First Parliament in 1265—although no one would have called him a democrat. [end p33]

Throughout the years,

Role of Parliament —limit the power of Government —to extend the liberties of the people

‘You must remember,’

Disraeli told the House of Commons,

‘that this peculiar country is not governed by force. It is not governed by standing armies, it is governed by a most singular series of traditionary influences, which generation after generation cherishes because it knows that they enshrine custom and represent law.’ [end p34]

Our custom is to regard liberty as an end in itself, every person unique and entitled to work out his own salvation in his own way by personal choice and decision.

Our law is designed to protect the weak, to ensure that the freedom of one is not exercised to the detriment of another.

All subject to a moral code, greater than the law, greater than the state, greater than Parliament, but recognised as true by people and politicians alike. [end p35]

Personal liberty. Rule of law—a moral code.

It was these which led to that initiative, independence, integrity and duty which have become the hallmark of the British character the world over.

It is these things that we wish to conserve.

Great Britain wasn't made great by centralised plans of bureaucratic Governments, but by the talent of her people freely exercised in their own and their country's interest.

You can't make people good, kind, generous, thoughtful or dutiful by compulsion. True harmony comes from the willing cooperation of free men. It is not served by an over-regulated society. [end p36]

Socialists, on the other hand, believe in increasing the power of government, in reducing the choices left to the people, and hence in diminishing their liberties.

Their methods are high taxation, regimentation, compulsion, closed shops and blacklists.

I agree with the lady who wrote in a letter:

‘I may be wrong but I think it weakens character when little by little our freedom of choice is taken from us.’

She was right, of course. [end p37]

Over a century before the French critic Bastiat had written, and I quote his own words:

‘Since the natural inclinations of mankind are so evil that its liberty must be taken away, how is it that the inclinations of the socialists are good? Are not the legislators and their agents part of the human race? Do they believe themselves moulded from another clay than the rest of mankind? …   .

‘If they have received from heaven intelligence and virtues that place them beyond and above mankind, let them show their credentials.

‘They want to be shepherds, and they want us to be their sheep.’ [end p38]

A free economy in a free society can function and survive only on the basis of a moral commitment to liberty, justice and duty to others.

That is the heritage of our people.

Upon it—we created the greatest empire of all time and brought it to indepedence. — we led the world into the industrial age. — we fashioned the Mother of Parliaments

All these mighty achievements were out of all proportion to the limited material resources of our country. They came from the spirit of a free people.

If you destroy that heritage, remember this England cannot begin again.

Revive it, nourish it, and our country will be reborn.