Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Rally in Cardiff

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: City Hall, Cardiff
Source: Thatcher Archive: OUP transcript
Editorial comments: The press release (GE542/79) was embargoed until 1930. A tape of the speech survives in the Thatcher Archive.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4072
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Economic policy - theory and process, Industry, General Elections, Energy, Public spending & borrowing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Religion & morality, Famous statements by MT

Mr Chairman, Mr Edwards, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been asked, Mr Chairman, if there's any special reason for coming to Wales for the first big Conservative rally of this election. Well, yes, there is just one and maybe another, but let's start with just one first. I mean, where else should we kick off for victory, than where J. P. R . Williams and his team have just won their fourth Triple Crown? [applause]. Yes, I know they beat England in the last match—my Denis Thatcherhusband's a great rugby fan—but tonight we're all on the same side, shoulder to shoulder for a great Tory triumph.

And, of course, the second reason. We have a splendid team in Wales, fighting at Westminster, and we hope that next time they'll be augmented by one or two more, or three or four more, or four or five more [applause]. Nick Edwards and Michael Roberts have been magnificent and Sir Raymond Gower and Ian Grist have played a valiant part, and tonight we have here Michael Clay, Alun Jones, Ralph Tuck and Robert Walter. Now before we go any further, have I left anyone out? No, all right. Well, if we get all of those back, we will be doing splendidly from this first rally in Wales this evening.

Now, Mr Chairman, there comes a point in a nation's story when the old slogans and the old illusions crumble, and every thinking person comes face to face with reality. For more than a generation now, people have been telling us that Socialism was inevitable. We've been told time and time again by experts that the drift is bound to be towards state control, towards the new order, which somehow turns out to be the old order gone sour, in which people come second and the political boss and the party officials come first. Resistance, they say, is hopeless. This is the way the world is going. Appeasement and delay, they say, is the best we can hope for. They claim we can no more hold back the inevitable than corks bobbing on the ocean can turn back the tide. Mr Chairman, for too long those defeatists have polluted the atmosphere of public debate [Hear, hear]. Change is coming. The slither and slide to the socialist state is going to be stopped in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, stopped, halted and turned back [applause]. It can be done, it will be done, and we intend to make a start on the 4th May.

People are rebelling against the bulging Socialist state and its insatiable appetites. Labour, the self proclaimed party of compassion, has betrayed those for whom it promised to care. So in this campaign we'll not only extend and consolidate Conservative support, we'll carry the fight right into what were once the castles and strongholds of Labour, and in many places we'll win [applause], just as you've begun to do here in South Wales.

Today, there's a stronger sense of resentment at the unfairness of the Socialist system than I can ever remember. After five years of Labour Government, our cities and streets are less safe to walk in, our old folk and children more at risk, our faith in the values and beliefs which we used to think held us together more undermined by fashionable theories and official mockery. Of how many things did one used to hear [end p1] it said, ‘Well, at least they'll never touch that! At least they'll never attack the judges,’ people said—but they have. ‘At least they'll never let the schools be closed,’—but they were. ‘At least they won't support mass picketing,’—but they did. ‘At least they won't let militants close hospitals, neglect emergencies, even prevent people giving blood,’—but they did that too. Five years ago, these things would have seemed incredible, yet they have happened in our Britain, our supposedly free and tolerant country, with the Labour Government looking on, supine, paralysed, afraid to do what they knew ought to be done, in case they offended their master's voice. I think these things will be remembered against Labour for a generation, and so they should be.

There used to be in this country, a Socialism which valued people. It had dignity and it had warmth. Its methods were those of the collective, of putting all decisions to the centre, which was why it was not our creed, but its aims to raise the living standards of the people were the same as ours. Well, what a world away that is from the officious jargon filled intolerant Socialism practised by Labour these last few years. What a world away it is. What a world away that sort of brotherhood is from flying pickets, from kangaroo courts, the merciless use of the closed shop power, and all the other ugly apparatus which has been strapped like a harness on our people and our country, turning worker against worker, and society against itself. I'm reminded of Cromwell 's words to another demoralised faction. He said to them, to some of the then Members of Parliament, ‘You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed and are yourselves become the greatest grievance.’ That is what we say of the Labour party today [applause].

But just stop and listen for a moment, listen to what people are saying today, listen to the voice deep inside this great and ancient nation. First it was a murmur, then a cry, now it's a great shout of anger and determination, that this nation will be free, we will be strong again, we too can prosper, so long as we have a Government which serves and does not seek to master our people [applause].

In a broadcast just before this campaign began, the James CallaghanLabour leader argued that Labour now stood for continuity. It was the Conservatives who wanted to change things, he said. Carry on as we are, that was his message. Well now, I make no comment on this bizarre transformation of the Labour party which always used to be so proud of its radicalism, and I pass over too, for the time being, the well known fact that the present tenant of the Labour leadership could be evicted any day by forces within the Labour party which were determined to transform our society utterly and, if necessarily, violently, determined to transform it from the free society we know into one which they wouldn't have the freedom to say half the things that they say now. Well, what appals us is Labour's shameless appeal to voters to accept our national decline as inevitable and simply to make the best of it. It seems to us like a summons to apathy, like some clarion call for inertia and indolence. It seems as if their campaign slogan is ‘Carry on downhill with Labour’—carry on wheeling, carry on dealing, carry on declining, carry on down, carry on out.

Well, that's exactly what we've been doing under Labour and the decline is accelerating. What the figures tell in their ominous downwards march, we can now see for ourselves. Travel abroad, and see how much better our neighbours are doing. [end p2]

Travel round our towns and cities and see the shabby scars of Labour Britain, open and unhealing. Look at the ugly truth the record spells out over the last five years of socialism, the record on which they dare not fight this election, so they try to turn people's attention away from it at every single press conference. Labour Britain, the worst rate of growth of any industrial country, with the sole exception of Luxembourg. Labour Britain, the lowest hourly wages of any industrial country with the sole exception of Ireland. Labour Britain, in income per head, not only behind countries like France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, but also behind Finland and Libya and only a whisker above Czechoslovakia. Labour Britain, leading in only one respect, the fastest and highest price increases of any European country save Italy [applause].

What a record! Is this the nation that stood alone in 1940 against the collapse of European civilisation? It is, but it's the country we have become under Labour and try as they may, we will not let them escape the record. Because of their subservience to the unions, there's been no industrial progress under Labour. Because of their commitment to equality, rather than equality of opportunity, there's been no social progress under Labour. Because of the strength of the left, there's been no economic progress under Labour.

Half a dozen world recessions can't absolve Labour from the major responsibility for Britain's decline. Its full magnitude has been concealed by one thing only: North Sea Oil. Now here, Mr Chairman, was the windfall of the century. It should have been husbanded and deployed in long term investment to break out of the spiral of low productivity and low wages. Instead, it's been treated like a win on the pools, like an invitation to spend, spend, spend, and what's happened, the Government's used it to hide the collapse of our industrial performance and as an excuse to postpone the remedies that we all know are urgent. During the lifetime of the coming parliament, oil production is expected to reach its peak, and thereafter lose its power to conceal our predicament. What would happen then, if by any mischance, Labour scraped back to power? What would they do when the spending of taxpayers' money had to stop? Well the answer is to make certain it doesn't happen. The answer is to return a Conservative Government now, before time runs out [applause].

Now, I think that one of the strengths of Conservatism is that we are not mesmerised by the present, we honour the past and what it has to teach and we look to the future and we prepare for it and we see history in human terms. Indeed, if I had to sum up Conservatism in a phrase, I would say this: it means a sense of personal responsibility, responsibility for one's own family and responsibility towards others. And it's precisely that sense of responsibility which leads us to reject the supine ‘Let's go on as we are’ invitation. How could I, Mr Chairman and ladies and gentlemen, how could I in good conscience say to retired people, ‘I've no plans to change an economy which every single year reduces the value of your savings by at least a tenth’? That's what the Labour Government is saying. How could I say to the young man or woman wanting to start up a business and to employ a few others, ‘We plan to go on with tax rates which will make every risk financially foolish, which will dog your efforts to expand at every turn’? Because that's what Labour's saying. How could I say to my [end p3] children and grandchildren, ‘Our society may not be much good but it's the best we can do. Be thankful it isn't worse’?

We're the people that in the past made Great Britain the workshop of the world, the people who persuaded others to buy British, not by begging them to do so, but because British was best. We're a people who have received more Nobel prizes than any other nation save America. With achievements like that, who can doubt that Britain can have a great future. But not under Labour. That great future won't happen under Labour. Only if we have a change, and we must have a change. The way to put Britain back into the international race is by giving new life and strength to principles which made our country the great and successful trading nation it used to be [applause]. They're good Conservative principles. That's the way to restore security to the old and hope to the young. We can go on as we've been going and continue down or two weeks on Thursday, we can stop and with a decisive act of will say, ‘Enough!’

But as Conservatives we believe that recovery can only come through the work of individuals. We mustn't forever take refuge behind collective decisions. Each of us must assume our own responsibilities. What we get and what we become depends essentially on our own efforts. For what is the real driving force in society? It's the desire for the individual to do the best for himself and his family. People don't go out to work for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They go out to work for their family, for their children, to help look after their parents. That's what they work for, and it's a very … [words drowned by applause]. That's the way society is improved, by millions of people resolving that they'll give their children a better life than they've had themselves. And there's just no substitute for this elemental human instinct, and the worst possible thing a Government can do is to try to smother it completely with a sort of collective alternative. They won't work, they can't work. They crush and destroy something precious and vital in the nation and in the individual spirit.

The proper role of government is to set free the natural energy of the people, and that means real rewards for effort and skill. It means restoring a wide degree of freedom to the forces that make up human society. Now Mr Chairman, we're starting to relearn one of the oldest lessons of history, and it is this; that freedom can't be divided into compartments. What use is freedom of speech and of the press in a closed-shop world? What value has a vote if all the real decisions in our lives are going to be taken for us by the state? And if economic freedom is denied, political freedom would soon perish. That's why they so often go to take everything over by the state so that you have to go to them for everything, for your house, for your job. They take your money in tax so you haven't got anything left to save for your old age, and if you do they carry on with inflation so that it is soon worthless. That's the objective of the Socialist society, of people dependent for everything upon the state.

Now our Socialist opponents lecture us about ‘the acquisitive society’. I must say such lectures come ill from some of them. They preach that individual ambition must be replaced by communal benevolence. But what's more heartless than the all powerful state, and don't the industrious and the far-sighted, who start small businesses, who create new jobs, benefit society just as much as themselves? And aren't the urge to [end p4] save and to invest powerful engines of wealth creation which work efficiently and silently for every one of us if only we'll let them? The truth is that individually, man is thrifty; collectively he tends to be spendthrift, and Governments in general, and Labour Governments in particular, simply love spending other people's money [applause]. When they talk about government giving subsidies to this, that, and the other it really sticks in my gullet. Government hasn't got any subsidies to give! [applause] They can only get their subsidies by taxing the chap who works hard, by taxing the chap who has acquired extra skill, by taxing the manager, by taxing the professional person, by taxing the small businessman, by taxing even some of the pensioners if they've got a bit of savings of their own. That's where the subsidies come from and if they hand out far too many of them, we shall soon have everyone on subsidies and too few people providing them [applause].

Well, what happens? Give the state control of 60%; of what we produce, as we have been doing, and wealth melts away like the winter snow. Tilt the balance back again, towards freedom of choice, towards less tax, and the wealth producing process will begin once again. The trouble is, when they come into power, they always assume that other people have created the wealth that they then set about to distribute, and by the time they've finished distributing it, there isn't any more left to distribute. And that's the stage we've got to now [applause].

But you can't do it unless you have a free society. You can't do it unless people are freer to start up their own businesses, free to carry on with their farms and hand them from father to son, free to pass small business and keep it into the family, free to build up a little bit of capital out of earnings. That's what we ought to be able to do, each and every person in this country.

Well, freedom we must have if this nation is to prosper, but freedom to make economic progress isn't absolutely everything. There must be freedom under a rule of law as well [applause]. Indeed the greatest gift any government can bestow ovn its citizens is the rule of law. No government can ensure equality. The road to the Communist state is paved with such fallacies, but what government can provide is equality before the law and thereby justice.

Now, Mr Chairman, because I hold some of these views, I'm dubbed as a reactionary. ‘Maggie Thatcher, reactionary.’ Well, Mr Chairman, there's a lot to react against! [applause] What housewife doesn't react against a government that's doubled prices? What young school leaver doesn't react against a government that's more than doubled unemployment? What retired person doesn't react against a government that's halved the value of their savings in five years? What hard working person, what skilled person, manager, professional person, farmer, small businessman, doesn't react against a government that takes away their fruits of their labour in tax? Who doesn't react against a government that fails to put the protection of the law-abiding citizen as its top priority? Who doesn't react against a government that cuts the defence of our country to the bone? [applause] Of course we react against that! We react against all of those things! [end p5]

And if we want to know how to keep prices down, we won't go to the champion of putting them up. We'll go to look at some of the other countries who in the same world recession have managed to increase prices only a fraction of the way in which they have increased in this country. And if we want to know how to create wealth, we will practice the true Conservative principles which have been so successful in our European neighbours and in countries like Singapore, Korea, Japan, and the United States of America. We won't go to this lot, who in fact have flattened and levelled down Britain.

You know, there is an old Chinese proverb. Let's see if I can remember it aright. It says, ‘The hammer that stands highest …’—the nail, I'm sorry! Got it wrong. Let's start it again, right? ‘The nail that stands highest gets the hammer.’ Well, do you know, that's what's happened in this country. If you stand a bit higher because you've got a bit more skill, you get the hammer. If you start up a small business benefiting yourselves and others, you get the hammer. If you're a very good manager, and heaven knows we need them, it seems as if you get the hammer. It seems as if they level us down. If you earn more, they take it away from you in tax, and that's why we don't create more wealth. So, of course we're reacting against these things. That's why we're offering change. No melodramatic overnight change, but a fresh and invigorating approach to our affairs.

Now I must say that as Conservatives, we're under no illusions about the ability of government to transform the moral climate of society, let alone bring about that change quickly. But what human folly can destroy, human wisdom can surely restore. Quite modest changes in the law, and still more the conduct and example of government can tilt the balance back towards the creative and away from the destructive elements in our midst. The first, the creative, we shall encourage and reward. The second, the destructive, we shall pursue with relentless and unremitting hostility. We know that our country is rich in natural resources, in imagination, in talent, but regulation and taxation have blunted the initiative, and poverty of incentive has diminished enterprise. Government's done too much and done it badly and it's squandered resources that could have been used to halt the downward trend. Production in our factories has fallen under Labour. Business has lacked the confidence to expand under Labour. Prices have more than doubled under Labour. Labour's dragged our country down and Labour must go! [applause]

Now, no easy prospect lies ahead. When we arrive in office, we shall find the place littered with post-dated cheques [laughter], unpaid invoices and final demands left behind by Labour. Yet with a new parliament and a new government, with a clear mandate for a change of direction, I see signs of hope, provided we face up to those who make free with the taxpayers money, practising inefficiency and waste, provided we enable those who work more to earn more and keep more of what they earn, and provided we have no truck with the bogus democrats who glibly demand that political power and influence should decide everything, from who gets a house to the price of beer and what's printed in your daily paper. That's not a free society.

I think that many traditional Labour supporters want the same things we want, believe the same things that we believe, but they're just somehow held back by old loyalties [end p6] and prejudices. To them I would say this. We understand these things. After all, we too are conservative with a small ‘c’. You know in your hearts that Britain must take a different road. Let's take that road together. We need your help. The more we can gain your co-operation and draw on your knowledge and experience, the more we shall be able to achieve. We understand the deep rooted loyalties and affections that make you hesitate to cross the Rubicon. We know that it's not easy to forsake the habit of a lifetime, but the modern Labour party is no longer the party of Clement Attlee, of Huge Gaitskell and of Roy Jenkins. Labour today is like a pub where the mild is running out. Soon all that's left will be bitter, and all that's bitter will be Left [applause].

Some of the present Labour leadership may not relish or approve the way the wind is blowing. Indeed I'm sure they don't. But last week's events in Newham North East show yet again the growing size and power of the extreme left wing of the Labour party. The many similarities between the Labour and Communist manifestoes further underline what is happening. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, said Burke, is that good men do nothing. So let us say, may I say to Labour's traditional supporters, all that is necessary for the triumph of Marxist Socialism in this country is that a majority of you, who normally vote Labour, should believe that the Labour party of today and tomorrow is the same as the Labour party of yesterday. It isn't. If you care deeply for our country, and you do not care for the way your present day Labour party is going, come with us. We offer you a political home where you can honourably realise the ideals which took you into the Labour party in the first place.

When Paul Johnson resigned from the Labour party, he wrote this. It's one of the most telling pieces I've seen. ‘I've come to appreciate,’ he said, ‘perhaps for the first time in my life, the overwhelming strength of my own attachment to the individual spirit. The paramount need to keep it alive is so great as to over-ride any other principle whatever.’ That's what he said.

Today, Labour in office stands for the ever growing dominance of the state, with all its despotism and frustration of human happiness. That will never be the Conservative way. The Britain we want is a country where Parliament remains supreme, but acts in the spirit of British law and custom. The Britain we want is a country where the individual, however weak, still has definite rights which can never be taken from him, and where the minority, however small, can't be crushed out of existence by the majority power. The Britain we want is one where the rule of law is upheld impartially, even against the most powerful bodies in our community, and where those entrusted with upholding the law, whether policemen or judges, are given respect, support, and encouragement [applause].

We want a Britain where children are taught that there is a real and absolute difference between right and wrong, and there are certain acts which by their very nature are wrong and which must be outlawed by society. In our Britain, those who pursue violence as a way of life, whether armed professional thieves, or backstreet muggers, or terrorists or thugs, will be treated solely for what they are: dangerous criminals to be resisted by civilised society with all its power [applause]. [end p7]

Our Britain is a country where the honest, peaceful and hardworking citizen is valued and prized, above all, defended and supported by all the institutions in the land. The spirit of our Britain will be one of hope and endeavour, where all are equal in votes before the law, but where this equality is a springboard for those who wish to strive for a better life.

These are the values which endure, which will bind together again a wounded nation. These are the values that will inspire the Conservative Britain that lies ahead, that will guarantee our liberties through dangerous and difficult times and ensure that once again we become a powerful partner, rather than a weak and lagging passenger, among the free nations of the earth.

Mr Chairman, in politics I've learnt something that you in Wales are born knowing. It's this: if you've got a message, preach it! [applause]. The Old Testament prophets didn't go out into the highways saying, ‘Brothers, I want consensus.’ They said, ‘This is my faith and my vision! This is what I passionately believe!’ And they preached it. We have a message. Go out, preach it, practice it, fight for it—and the day will be ours! [prolonged applause]