Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Beeston Conservatives

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: College House School, Cator Lane, Chilwell, Nottingham
Source: Harvey Thomas MSS: OUP transcript
Editorial comments: The press release (GE588/79) was embargoed until 1900. The transcript has been made from an audio cassette tape in the Harvey Thomas MSS. No speaking text has been found.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3157
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Economy (general discussions), General Elections, Monetary policy, Taxation, European Union (general), Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Social security & welfare

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

One of the first reasons why I am delighted to be here is to support Jim Lester in his campaign to be returned as Member of Parliament for the Beeston constituency [applause]. And a marvellous Member you've had and will have for many years to come, and I know what tremendous workers and supporters he's got. I've hawked Jim round as an example of how to win a constituency by hard work and by wonderfully organised helpers. I know exactly how you got victory last time. You've got 121 polling districts and Jim had a majority of 121. That means he had 121 groups of people who weren't going to stop until they got the last Conservative vote to the poll to vote Lester, and because they did that, he was returned with a good majority, 121, good majority. Well it'll increase by 20 or 30 or 40 times that this time and he'll deserve every single one of it.

And I'm also very pleased to be here to support a number of the other candidates whom I hope that we shall welcome to Westminster in three or four weeks time. Martin Brandon-Bravo is here. Come on, where are you? (Here!) Right, well, get up and bow! [applause] Peter Waine, now where are you hiding yourself? [applause] Right, fine! David Harris? Oh dear, out canvassing! Now, is Michael Clark out canvassing or is he with us? Out canvassing. And Margaret Stoneman who is with us [applause]. We look forward to greeting a number of you at Westminster on about May 4th or just a few days after that.

Now, we've had quite a lot of debate in this election campaign already, but I think there are two subjects about which we won't be hearing much from Labour at this election. The way they've governed Britain over the last five years and the way they would govern Britain in the future if they got the chance. And that's why Labour Ministers are launching desperate attacks on the Conservative party, to distract people's attention. They daren't fight it on their own record, they daren't fight it on their own programme, so they're just trying to distract people's attention by an attack a news bulletin on us.

Now these attacks have two things in common. They're untrue and they're designed to frighten the most vulnerable members of society, especially the old and the sick. So tonight I want to make one or two things clear. The Conservative party has no plans for new National Health Service charges, no plans to make people pay to visit their doctor, no plans to introduce hotel charges for those in hospital, and we shall not reduce the resources devoted to the Health Service. So lay those lies here and now [applause].

Moreover, the Conservative party is totally committed to preserving and improving pensioners' living standards. At the very least, we'll make absolutely certain that pensioners are protected against future price increases. In the past, Conservative Governments have always been able to do better than that, and we shall hope to do so in the future. Further, we are committed in our manifesto to paying pensioners' [end p1] Christmas bonus. After all, it was we Conservatives who introduced the pensioners' Christmas bonus.

Now, of course, we all want a better health service and we all want higher pensions. But we Conservatives aren't going to make endless promises, because what Britain can afford will depend on the prosperity we create in the future, and that's why we give priority to getting the economy right. The more successful we are, the better our social services will become.

You know, there's been a great tendency on the part of this Government to spend money before people have earned it. That's the way you get inflation, because then they've spent more than they've got, so they borrow it and that has to be paid in the future, and once they do that we get into all kinds of difficulties. Now we know that you cannot in fact build up a stronger country unless we concentrate on getting more output, and you're not likely to get more output unless people see that their families can benefit from their extra work, and that's why we are putting so much emphasis on cuts in personal tax.

When I go round with Jim Lester sometimes, and people show you their payslips, they'll show you the beginning and they'll show you the end and they don't seem to bear much relationship one to another. Not very much, do they Jim, you remember? I went down a coal mine with him. We had a marvellous time with the coal miners. They're all going to support you, aren't they Jim? [applause] They don't like paying too much in tax either, and they would say to you, ‘Look what they've taken away in tax!’ And I agree. They're taking away too much in tax from people who are working hard, from all sorts of people who are working hard. And that's why we shall cut tax to give people more incentive. After all, you can't create extra production, extra output, unless you give people the incentive to do it, and that seems to me the fundamental lesson that we have to put across in this country.

Now, I want to have a word about another very important subject, prices. The Labour party's been giving me some advice on prices. But they're the last people to take advice from on that vital question. Prices have more than doubled since Labour took office. Who would have believed that such a disaster could happen in this country in five short years? Just suppose they'd fought the last election, just suppose they'd gone to the last election and fought it on ‘Brothers, we're going to double prices in five years’. Do you think they'd have been returned? But that's exactly what's happened. And prices are still soaring upwards, as every family and every pensioner knows. Those families know inflation traps every parent bringing up children, as the family has the weekly struggle to make ends meet. It does something else too. It frightens the family breadwinner into a frantic rush to keep pace with the shrinking pound by demanding extra wage increases. He knows that the pound is shrinking, he knows a lot's taken in tax, and so he demands extra wage increases to make up the difference.

Inflation brings unimagined hardships to the old, the widowed, the poor and the disabled. You know, so many of these people got into the habit, which my parents, perhaps the last generation to do so, got into the habit of many years ago. You expected to put a bit by for a rainy day and you often kept it in things like Savings [end p2] Certificates or in the Post Office Savings Bank. Now just supposing those pensioners, some of the widows, some of our older folk, had had £100 in Post Office savings at the beginning of this Labour Government. The value of that £100 in the Post Office five years ago has now fallen to £48 in terms of what it will buy, and that is a fraud on our old folk, but that's what inflation does, and that in fact is what Labour has done to the value of the pound in this country.

But the astonishing thing is, that Labour ministers are patting themselves on the back about it all. But the facts say otherwise. Labour's done worse in the inflation stakes than any other major country except crisis torn Italy and Spain. Now, I'm going to go through some of those countries. Many of them are European countries, others are like Japan and the United States. You can't turn round and say, ‘Well we fought a war and they didn't’. They suffered from the same war, in some ways even more devastated than we were. How have they managed to do, in the same five years under the same world conditions but without a Labour Government of a kind that we have here? Let's just look, and let's just take as our yardstick, what's happened in Britain. If I take it from the five years to January 1979, we find these figures—I won't bombard you with many figures, but these really are worth looking at. Prices have risen in this country in the five years to January this year, under Labour, by 107%;, an enormous amount. You know it, you feel it in your pockets. In France, they've only risen by 65%;, in Belgium 52%;, in Japan 51%;, and the United States 46%;, in Holland 42%;, in West Germany 23%;. The same world conditions, but without a Labour Government. The fact is, Britain's done worst. Britain's prices up 107%; while West Germany's up 23%;.

And there's a very interesting factor. None of these countries have a price commission like ours. Nor do they have the mass of rigid price controls that go with it. Now Jim and I, and you on television and radio, we've heard Labour ministers talk as though they've no responsibility for that record. They argue as though inflation is like some plague from outer space or the fault of their heritage. How much have we heard about that heritage? And yet the last election they fought they said they'd got inflation down to 8.4%; already. The fact is that Labour's policies have been creating inflation. On every side they've stoked up the inflation furnace with government spending and borrowing, and don't forget, when they spend more, there's only one place it can come from, that's the citizens of this country, unless they borrow overseas. So every extra pound they take to spend means a pound less in the pocket of the housewife to look after the children, or in the pocket of the family to help their parents or to buy food, fuel, or to run a car. It doesn't just come from nowhere, it comes from the citizens. But they've been stoking up the inflation furnace with government spending and borrowing, and they shouldn't be surprised when it overheats. Now, they'll say, and they do, that they've had a lot of deals and contracts with union leaders, but in fact, you know, it all ended in inflationary promises of one sort or another. So no wonder we've done worse than most of our neighbours and no wonder prices are now pushing up faster again.

But, Mr Chairman, where on earth is the case for self congratulation in all that, let alone the qualification for preaching to others? If I want to learn more about keeping prices down, I don't go to the champion who's kept them up. I go to someone else in a [end p3] different country who's learned how to keep them down, and I say, ‘And how've you done it?’ And it seems to me that what our opponents can't grasp is that the money they spend so freely has to be earned by someone. The State's got no money of its own. It only has what it can take in tax, one way or another, from the wages and salaries of those who work, from the income of pensioners and the profits of companies, or what it can borrow.

Borrow! This Denis HealeyChancellor of the Exchequer has borrowed more than all the other Chancellors in our country's history put together. Borrowings that our children will have to repay. Now how are we going to tackle rising prices? Of course you will ask me, everyone does. How are we going to tackle it? We have to go to the root of the problem and there are certain things that governments and only governments can do, and the first thing is, the government borrowing and state spending must be curbed and we've got to keep proper control of the money supply.

It all seems a great deal of jargon. It isn't really. In days when we only had a barter society and you bartered goods for goods, there was no such thing as inflation. Then you got coinage coming in and then various governments used to debase the coinage by clipping it. Then it got easier because you could print the stuff, and they did print it, and what happened is the amount they printed bears little relation to the amount of goods and services that we produce in this country. So what you have to do is to see that the amount of money being supplied to the nation does not in fact exceed the goods and services that we produce. And one of the easiest ways to put that delicate mechanism out of balance is for government to borrow and to borrow and to borrow, because its even easier than printing now. Most trading is done by credits in banks and that's why it is so much more difficult now to get the balance right. But we used not to talk about money supply or inflation, we used to talk about debasing the coinage, and that's what it is, and that's what in fact has gone on. So the first thing we've got to do to stop that is that government borrowing and state spending must be curbed and we must keep proper control of the money supply.

Now, second, and this is where this government has failed so lamentably, output must be expanded by letting enterprise and incentives produce the extra goods we need, and that, as I explained earlier, does mean tax cuts. Now as Jim and a number of other candidates and myself go round, people really do complain that those who work jolly hard seem to get a raw deal, and those who sit back and take it a bit easy seem to get a lot that wouldn't otherwise come to them. They complain bitterly, and of course if you run the law or the tax system in such a way that it doesn't pay people to be responsible, then very soon you'll find fewer and fewer responsible people, more and more needing help and subsidies, and fewer and fewer people to provide those subsidies.

Every time I hear of an extra subsidy being handed out, I think, my goodness, that means fewer and fewer people left to create the money and to earn it to provide those subsidies. And it was so refreshing this afternoon as we came into the airport, the airport here where we landed, and I just spotted someone in the crowd wearing a tie with a very famous construction company's emblem on it—I'm not giving anyone a plug—and I just stopped and spoke to him. He was a young person and I said, ‘I [end p4] notice you work for Bloggs and Co.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and we're making a good profit so we've got a good future.’ Very refreshing indeed! [applause]

And it's been very interesting as we've gone around. We've had more young people with us than I've ever seen before, because I think that they realise the prospects and opportunities for their future lies by getting a Conservative Government returned to power—yes, do clap, come on! [applause] They know that if we carry on as we are, we shall be carrying on in further decline, and as they've got longer to live than most of us, they don't want to live in a country that's declining compared with our European neighbours and competitors. So point number two, output must be expanded by letting enterprise and incentives produce the extra goods we need, and that means some tax cuts.

Now thirdly, competition is the way to keep prices down, and every housewife knows it. Now, you know, the government doesn't need a Price Commission to reduce prices of things like, well, let's take an example, British Airways flights. The government could do that themselves, but was it British Airways that led the way in reducing the cost of air travel? No, it was Freddy Laker. It was private enterprise [applause]. Private enterprise and competition. It was most certainly not the Price Commission, which costs money to run, taxpayers' money. And every housewife will remember the price war which swept through Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencers, British Home Stores and many others last year. That stopped prices rising more than anything the Price Commission has ever done. It was competition, healthy competition, and it's competition which we shall encourage by lowering the tax shackles which discourage risk and effort. That's the way to keep prices down.

So let's have no more lectures from these Labour politicians. Let's not listen to their lectures. Let's look again at what they did. Since records began in Britain, there's never been a period when prices have risen faster than in the last five years under Labour. That's what they did. It wasn't ‘lovely’! Who said ‘lovely’? Someone doing the television thing! Do you know, this audience is listening to two speeches, one made by me and one made by the commentators over there! Now, come on, I'm going to do that bit again! [applause] Since records began in Britain, there's never been a period when prices have risen faster than they did in the last five years under Labour. Have you got it? Yes! [applause]

Well, that's what they did. Now let's look at what they said in the last election, because that helps you to judge the truth or otherwise of what they're saying now. In October 1974—and you'll remember we had two elections very quickly, February '74 and October '74—so by the time we fought in October '74 they'd been in nearly seven months. They'd had time to look at the books, make all their assessments, know all the facts and figures, every single one. As a matter of fact, the heritage of this Government, they growl about it, but it was a heritage from Harold Wilson, so maybe there was quite a lot to growl about. That's what their heritage was. It was a heritage from that Government. So let's look and see what they said in October '74 when they'd seen all the books, really examined them, and were fighting the next election on them. In October '74, Mr Healey said that inflation was 8.4%;. The then Prices Secretary, who was Shirley Williams, added that there were no more price increases [end p5] stored up in the pipeline. That's the fantasy on which they fought the last election: 8.4%;, no price increases in the pipeline. That's what they said. What happened? Ten months later, inflation stood at 27%; under Labour. So when they try to fob that off onto the Tories, and when they say they've halved inflation, just remember, it was them that put it up in the first place [applause]. With a record like that, why believe them now?

Now, let me give you a few promises. We won't double prices in five years like Labour. We won't double unemployment in five years like Labour. We won't double borrowing and debt in five years like Labour. We won't double the income tax payments of the average household in five years as Labour has done, because that is their record, the record that I have to bring to your attention, because they won't and daren't fight upon it.

Now, if I were asked to sum up in a phrase, what the Conservative party stands for at this election, I would say just this. It stands for a restoring reality and common sense to Britain, both of which have been lacking in the last five years. It doesn't make sense to stifle the production of wealth by heavy taxation. That way, we get neither more output nor more money to run good social services. It doesn't make sense to try to build a responsible society by transferring decisions from the individual to the state. It isn't realistic to expect people to invest in industry and commerce if you deny them a reasonable return on their savings. Further, it doesn't make sense to divide people into classes and talk about class warfare, as they do, if you want a united country [applause]. It isn't realistic to fight crime without sufficient experienced police. It doesn't make sense to run your defences down at a time of international crisis. It doesn't make sense to join a group like the Common Market and expect to promote your interests by constantly attacking it. It isn't realistic to believe that free industrial bargaining will work under laws which place too many obligations on one side and too few on the other.

What people passionately want is a Britain in which the government is resolved to maintain law, resolved to protect the weak and aid those in distress, and in which the people are free to build national prosperity by their own efforts and initiative. This used to be our national ideal, and it is still the path which most of our Western European neighbours are successfully following. Mr Chairman, Britain needs a fresh start. It's time for a change. We will have that fresh start with the new and next Conservative Government [applause].