Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Message to the people of Britain ("Now is the time to choose")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Conservative Central Office, Smith Square, Westminster
Source: Conservative Party Archive
Editorial comments: A press release summary of the message (GE538/79) was embargoed until 0001 16 April 1979 (Easter Monday). It was intended that copies of the message - a foldover pamphlet - should be delivered to 250,000 homes over the following fortnight (Daily Mail, 16 April 1979).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1128
Themes: Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, General Elections, Taxation, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action

A time to choose

Now is the time to choose. I don't pretend that the choice will be easy for many of our people. Political habits are deeply ingrained. But at least the choice is a clear one.

We can go on as we are. In a way that is the easy option. But we could not do that for long. Year after year we have been falling further behind friends and neighbours. And the British people will not indefinitely tolerate our country becoming the poor relation of Western Europe. If we go on declining, we shall sooner or later fall; and we shall become a quite different kind of country.

Already we have seen signs of a change for the worse. Things have happened this winter which would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Our political democracy and freedom are endangered by continued economic failure. People are becoming embittered as they see their efforts and ambitions for a better and more prosperous future constantly frustrated.

But we needn't go on as we are. There is nothing inevitable about our continued decline. Britain was once a great country. She still is a great country, though few would have known it from the way we have behaved this winter. Yet our greatness will soon disappear altogether unless we change our ways.

That is the challenge we face and the choice we have to make. Change is often difficult and sometimes frightening. The changes that are necessary now, however, should not be too difficult; and they should certainly not be frightening.

The changes which we all know in our hearts we have to make are not great leaps into the unknown. They are merely changes to bring back what we all regret having lost. Surely we all want to keep more of our earnings to spend as we wish. Surely we all want the law to be [end p1] respected and obeyed. Surely we all want better education for our children. Surely we all want Britain and the Western world to be properly defended.

I make no extravagant promises. For one thing, people are rightly fed up with too many promises too seldom kept. For another, governments have very limited power on their own. They can only succeed if they are backed by the people of this country. But I believe the British people are now looking for a lead. They know the country has lost its way, and they know, I believe, what needs to be done.

Over-taxation is transparently foolish. Most of us are willing to work for our families and neighbours but not for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a free country people will work hard if it pays them to do so. At present taxes are so high that for many it is not worthwhile working hard, and for some it is not worthwhile working at all. The first step to recovery, therefore, is to lower taxes on earnings.

What is true of taxation is true elsewhere. Just as the Government's plundering of the wage packet discourages work, so its interference throughout the economy thwarts initiative and effort. We have to let people get on with their life and work free from government meddling. Unless our economy works better and we earn more, we cannot help those in our society who are in need and we cannot make those social improvements that we all want.

The Government interferes here much more than it did in the past and much more than it does in other free countries. That interference has hindered us from achieving greater prosperity. So the second step to recovery is to stop the individual being stifled by the State.

The trade unions are an important part of our country—but they are only a part of it; they are not the whole of it. Although they should certainly be consulted by the [end p2] Government, they should not run it. They have both rights and duties. In recent years, unfortunately, they have concentrated too much on extending their rights and paid too little attention to their duties. A strong trade union movement is an integral part of modern industrial society, but it must not ride roughshod over the rest of that society. Hence, to strike a fair balance between the rights and the duties of the trade unions is the third step to recovery.

Just as men and women should be able to go about their lawful business without being molested by powerful groups, so the Government must do all it can to see that the individual is not in perpetual fear of losing life, limb and property. Of course we cannot stamp out crime. But we can restore the magistrates to their proper place in the legal system. We can reform the law to increase deterrence against violence and vandalism. We can see that there are enough policemen. We can also set an example; we can ensure that the law is not bent to suit the convenience of government and that no Minister abuses the judges for party-political reasons. Greater respect for law and order is a fourth step to recovery.

Respect for law and order begins at home and at school. In the name of dogma, the Labour Government has destroyed many good schools and has lowered academic standards. Those who have suffered most are the brighter children from less well-off families. Improved education is the fifth step to recovery.

No country is worth much if it is not prepared to defend itself. The world is becoming an ever more dangerous place to live in. We all want peace and security. But the right answer to Soviet Russia's greatly increased strength is not greatly increased British weakness. Neither the West nor this country can safeguard itself by unilateral disarmament. Every sensible person insures his house. The Armed [end p3] Services are Britain's insurance policy; and they must be treated accordingly. The sixth but not the least important step to recovery is therefore the strengthening of our defences.

The objectives of the Conservative Party that I have just outlined are shared, I am sure, by the great majority of the British people. Indeed they are shared by many traditional supporters of the Labour Party. The trouble is that Socialism prevents their achievement.

A free society is inseparable from a free economy. It is impossible to have the first without the second. Yet Socialists do not believe in a free economy. They believe instead in state control. They believe, too, in the Government spending money before it has been earned. They exalt the State and belittle the individual. This is politically dangerous and economically disastrous.

That is why Britain needs a new start and a new government. It is high time that Britain caught up with the rest of the free world. It is high time that we became a leader and not a straggler. We have the human skills and the natural resources. What we have lacked is a government willing to set free those skills. In recent years Britain has had less economic freedom and in consequence less prosperity.

So we shall unite the country by the politics of common sense. And we shall restore the economy by the economics of common sense. That is the way to break out of the depressing cycle of division, strife and economic failure. I am sure that we can do it.

Margaret Thatcher