Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Rally in Birmingham

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Town Hall, Birmingham
Source: Harvey Thomas MSS: OUP transcript
Editorial comments: The press release (GE601/79) was embargoed until 1915. Transcribed from an audio cassette in the Harvey Thomas MSS.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4094
Themes: Civil liberties, Commonwealth (general), Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Employment, Industry, General Elections, Energy, Taxation, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Race, immigration, nationality, Strikes & other union action

Mr Chairman, fellow candidates, ladies and gentlemen,

We are here to secure the return to Parliament of all our previous Members of Parliament in the seats they hold, with a very much bigger majority, to win a lot of seats that we don't now hold, and even if we don't get them all, to manage to get as many possible Conservative votes out of ever single seat in this country. The things we need to do will need a clear mandate from our people and so every single vote is important, not only seats like those in Reginald PrenticeReg's and Norman Fowler 's but in seats where we may not even quite make it. I'm very loath to admit that there may be any where we may not quite make it, but I want to make it absolutely clear, every single vote counts, because as well as the Members of Parliament, we need a massive number of votes behind the Conservative force.

Now here in Birmingham, we're in the heart of our country in this splendid historic hall at a moment of critical importance for the future of every one of us, and as this general election moves towards its climax, I'm proud to lead a party which stands for one nation. Birmingham's Joseph Chamberlain was one of the pioneers of that great political faith. Birmingham born and bred, he came from one of your proud city families, a family which started with next to nothing, achieved great wealth, which its members then used in the service of their country. Now Chamberlain was a man of liberal views. So, Mr. Chairman, of course he left the Liberal party. A man with a passionate hatred of injustice, he was determined to do everything in his power to improve the lot of working men and to wage war on poverty and squalor. He also believed in the greatness of his country's heritage, and sought for Britain a noble role in the world. These ideals he found could be most powerfully and effectively represented in the Conservative party. He was in the tradition of reformist Conservatism, handed down to us by Disraeli, and it was that tradition that made us into a very popular party, and it's to that tradition that I'm proud to belong.

So here was someone who changed his party but remained passionately true to his beliefs. And I wonder how many dedicated people, who joined the Labour party in the days when it had a moral mission, really feel at home today in the ranks of the modern Labour party, because that is the party of Clay Cross, the party of Grunwick pickets, the party of—what was that stirring phrase?—‘lawful intimidation’. Now some, like Reg Prentice, have had the courage to take Joe Chamberlain's decision and now stand four-square with us. We're proud to have them. They've no patience with the timid men of the Labour right. They feel no warmth toward this Labour Government which, in the name of compassion, gives more and more power to officials, and takes more and more power away from the people they claim to be compassionate about. I think, Mr Chairman, that there are countless men and women who have always voted Labour in the past, but who are deeply troubled today. They're asking themselves where the true centre, the commonsense heart of British politics is to be found, and one thing is certain, it's not to be found half way between the left and the extreme left of the Labour party where its present James Callaghanleader finds himself being remorselessly driven. [end p1]

Now tonight, in this city of engineering and commerce and precision skills I want to start with a few precision facts of my own. I want to talk about the state of industry and the state of Britain, which so largely depends upon it, and where better than Birmingham to do that. In the five years since the present government came to office, Britain has had the worst record on industrial production of any major industrial country. Our industrial growth has been a third of Italy's, a quarter of America's, half of France's and half of Japan's. And what are the excuses? ‘Special difficulties,’ I hear some people say. ‘Long standing problems,’ Labour will mutter. Well, just let's be fair. Over the years we have had our own special difficulties, we were the first nation in the industrial field. We have had to bear the appalling strain of two world wars, and of winning them too, but in the last five years it's been another story.

Labour started, not with handicaps, but with a huge advantage, the advantage of North Sea Oil, and it was put there not, curiously enough, by Mr. Benn [laughter and applause], but by Providence, and brought ashore by the stunning performance of free enterprise [applause]. On that performance we should have built. It was this that should have been the booster, pumping fresh energies through the arteries of our great industries. Here is a golden opportunity to give all the immense skills, the glittering craftsmanship, the restless commercial genius of a great city like yours the chance it had been waiting for.

Well, what happened under Labour? Five years on, some of our greatest industries are struggling for their lives. Imports have come into our home market more than we could ever have imagined. Who would have believed that today, one car in every two sold in Britain comes from abroad? The new firms, which should be starting up and growing in a vigorous nation, have remained unborn or they've been stifled in infancy, and we here have perished a thousand hopes for new jobs and careers for our young people which are so desperately needed at this time. Worst of all, perhaps, there is the resentment, the feeling that skill's being wasted and hard work sacrificed for political ends. Again and again I hear people say, and you hear just exactly the same thing, ‘What's the use? You work long hours day and night just to acquire extra skills, you're proud of what you can do. But nowadays there's no incentive in it, no reward,’ and then they go on to say, ‘for then we see those who don't work doing just as well’ [applause]. Well, Mr Chairman, tonight I bring this message to the Midlands: the Conservatives are going to put that incentive back [loud applause].

We're not going to stand by and see excellence and effort frittered away by wrong-headed government policies. We're told that Labour's so called industrial strategy will see industry through. Well, it hasn't yet. It's been a strategy for defeat, it's been a strategy for failure. And I say to every worker in the Midlands, and we're all workers now, for every person who goes out to earn a living, the Conservatives are on your side. We're going to let you who know the job, get on with the job.

We want to see our industries rebuilt on the rock hard and well tested foundations of incentive and profit, and we're going to do it [applause]. We're going to do it by cutting tax, or ensuring bigger rewards for skills, for success and for responsibility. We're going to do it by making it pay to work again, by seeing that those who put their back into the job get good wages with fewer of those deductions on the wage slip [end p2] and more for the family to spend as it chooses [applause]. We're going to do it by creating the conditions for real jobs, not artificial ones, so that once again the products stream from our factories and workshops as they used to when Britain was the workshop of the world.

Never forget that we're the people who invented so much. Among other things we invented the computer, the refrigerator, the electric motor, the stethoscope, rayon, the steam turbine, stainless steel, the tank, television, penicillin, radar, the jet engine, hovercraft, [inaudible word and laughter], carbon fibres, and the best half of Concorde [laughter and applause].

On a record like that, who can doubt that Britain can have a great future? Of course we can, but an essential step on the road to recovery is through earning profits, and not attacking them. After all, someone has to earn the profits or the Prime Minister wouldn't have all those subsidies to hand out. For years it's been Labour party philosophy that profits are guilty unless proved innocent. But you know, no profits means no investment, no investment means a dying business making profits for yesterday's world and that means fewer jobs today and still fewer tomorrow. Other nations have learned this truth. That's why they're going ahead much faster than we are, and we have to change our ways. If we don't, if we carry on as we are, we shan't just be in the fourth division, we shall be out of the game altogether.

Now as Conservatives we know that it will take quite a time to turn things round and we don't underestimate the difficulty of the task which lies before us. But without the wind of change the Conservatives offer, there can be no hope of halting Britain's industrial decline and, in the long term, that can only mean one thing. No really substantial drop in unemployment. Now, I want to make this quite clear. We Conservatives hate unemployment. We hate the idea of men and women not being able to use their talents and abilities. What a waste it is and what an affront to people's dignity to be out of work through no fault of their own. We're accused of wanting unemployment to solve our economic problems. Who by? A Government which has itself produced the highest unemployment since the war.

There is nothing inevitable about rising unemployment. The next Conservative Government will reverse the job destroying effects of Labour's measures; heavy income taxes, penal taxes and bad laws like Michael Foot 's misnamed Employment Protection Act [applause]. That Act is the greatest deterrent to taking new staff on board since Noah had just one ark for the whole of the human race [applause]. Now, the reality is this. Less tax means more jobs, for the simple reason you have more money in your own pockets to spend as you choose. You spend it on goods and services which creates more jobs, not artificial jobs, genuine jobs, and in the end they're the only ones worth having. Now what does the record on jobs tell us? What is it that has over and over again created hundreds of thousands of new job opportunities? It isn't government blueprints, it isn't planning agreements, it's not industrial strategies, it's not working parties, it's just that revolutionary idea, private enterprise [applause]. Private enterprise, free to spring up at will and free from all those government overheads, taxes and restrictions which put paid to the prospects of countless school leavers looking for a job. [end p3]

Mr Chairman, cutting taxes and restoring incentives, we shall do these things, make no mistake, but they won't work if they won't let you work, if production is stopped whenever the militants say so. All of you have suffered under the rule of the pickets and the strikers this winter. We all saw at first hand that power and felt our own powerlessness. Well, you're not powerless now. This is a time when the ordinary people of this country in their tens of millions hold the future of our country in their hands. And when you come to decide that future on May 3rd, remember last winter.

A country torn by strikes can't prosper, just as a country without law and order can't prosper. A nation where property is held in contempt, or pride in possession is scoffed at, is a nation paralysed, afraid of today and not daring to think of tomorrow. Now we're told by some that law and order shouldn't be an election issue. But it's not we politicians who make it an election issue. It's you the people. It's millions who are deeply frightened and anxious about what is going on in our streets and cities. It's up to the government to uphold the law in a free society [applause]. And it scarcely helps when Ministers go on the picket line, or when Labour backbenchers attack the police for trying to do their difficult job. Their silence in the face of flying and violent pickets carries a louder and more deadly message to every law-breaker than any speech.

Now we hear the James CallaghanLabour leader's been talking about ‘the quicksands of the law’. Doesn't he realise that for most of the people in this country, the law is a rock, the rock on which their liberties and their security rests? [applause]. ‘The quicksands of the law.’ What an appalling phrase and what a revealing one! The law was no quicksand when the union tried to black advertisements because of its quarrel with a particular newspaper. It was the safeguard against a totally unlawful use of union pressure, as Lord Denning reminded us. The law was no quicksand for the parents of Haringey, when they sought to uphold their rights after their children had been locked out of school. It was their protection when they couldn't get it from governments. The law is the fortress of our freedoms. Unless leading Labour politicians grasp that reality, it is they who will find themselves in the quicksands soon enough [applause].

We live in an age, or perhaps it's the end of an age, when too many people have been taught that if you want something you should grasp it now, no waiting, no effort put in before you draw the benefit out. And in their muddled but different ways, the vandals on the picket lines and the muggers in our streets have got the same confused message. ‘We want our demands met, or else! Get out of our way, give us your handbag, or else!’

Let me tell you what we're going to do. The Conservative Government will enter into a partnership with the law-abiding people of this land [applause]. It will be a partnership to see that courts are respected again, police morale restored, wrongdoers punished, the law upheld, and more help given to the victims of crime [applause]. We will combine these policies with all the moral reinforcement we can give to parents and to teachers to help them in their crucial task of teaching and passing on the good values of this country to the next generation. We will govern by the law and [end p4] under the law, the law which gave us our liberties, long before people spoke of left or right in politics and which will protect those liberties long after those labels have been forgotten [applause].

Last year at the Labour party conference I recall—or, do you know, I saw it on television—a chilling debate on law and order. Speaker after speaker attacked the rule of law. The police were labelled fascists. The path Labour delegates were charting on that occasion was the path to a society where ruthless might rules and the weak go to the wall. Across that path, we will place a barrier of steel. There will be no passing that way once a Conservative Government is again in office [applause]. That I promise not just to you but to everyone who looks for security, especially the elderly, and to everyone who finds in present-day Britain, not the fairer, juster community Labour talks about, but the ugly reality in which responsibility withers, and finally, nobody cares.

Well, we Conservatives care, and not just through the state. That is the easy impersonal way. We care as individuals, and caring begins and ends in the behaviour of each one of us, in the manners, the understanding, the tolerance, the gentleness which people show to one another. Nowhere is this truer than in the matter of race relations. How easy it is to talk big about good race relations, to pass resolutions in committees, to cry racialism at anyone who questions the immigration policies of the past and the social problems that have arisen from them. It's easy to talk big, but how difficult, but how vital it is to see people, first and foremost, not as immigrants or communities, but as British citizens, equal before the law whatever their race, creed, or colour [applause]. And that is why we are right to insist on firmer immigration control, right to warn that persistent fears about levels of immigration are bound to poison the racial harmony we are determined to keep in our towns and cities.

Now, I've spoken of the defences within our country, and they are vital if our nation is to prosper. They are vital if the weakest are to be cared for and if true and decent values are to prevail. But our defences without are just as vital. A defenceless nation which thinks itself free is living in a bubble of illusion, and any day at the will of others, that bubble can be pricked.

Now, it's often said that foreign affairs are of no interest to the ordinary man and certainly play no part in a British general election. Even if that were true, and I don't believe it is, the fact remains that the conduct of our foreign affairs affects every man and woman in the country. If, together with our allies, we maintain the security and peace of the world, we have succeeded in making perhaps the most important contribution to the welfare of our people, and if we fail, catastrophe for all of us is unavoidable. It seems to me that time and again, we've been faced by some menacing threat to our national survival. Time and again, we've reacted in just the same way, by trying to convince ourselves that it wasn't really there, that our enemies couldn't possibly mean what they said, and so time and again, the menace has grown.

Now one thing's certain. Those politicians who sound the danger warning first expose themselves and their supporters to a serious risk. We took that risk in 1976 when we warned the nation of the growing dangers of Soviet expansion. And what happened? [end p5] The Russians said that I was an Iron Lady [applause]. They were right [applause]. Britain needs an Iron Lady [applause].

And what has occurred in the three years since I gave that warning? The Soviet Union, through the agency of its Cuban allies, has completed a Marxist take-over of Angola. Ethiopia has been turned into a Communist bastion in the strategically vital Horn of Africa. There are now between forty and fifty thousand Cubans in Africa. There's been a Communist coup in Afghanistan. Iran is in turmoil.

Certainly there's no easy party capital to be made out of drawing attention to these dangers. Why then have I chosen to speak about them? For one reason only. Because we think that a political party that fought this election without striking a strong and clear note of warning about the military peril in which the West now stands would be utterly lacking in political judgement and political honour [applause].

The peril has grown and it's grown and the response of the Labour Government can be described in only one way, that of dedicated negligence. Now NATO can only do its job if all its members are prepared to contribute a proper share to the common pool. Over these last few years Britain's contribution has been declining. Our resolve is being queried by our partners, and no wonder, because our forces are steadily becoming worse equipped than those of our allies, and what sort of a nation puts its soldiers at risk without the proper and best equipment? [applause] Well, one moment, at one of their summits, Labour accepts President Carter 's request for a three per cent increase in NATO defence spending. The next moment, in their manifesto, they've promised further cuts.

Now these are dangerous and irresponsible ambiguities. The Conservative Government has pledged unambiguously to spend more on defence as on law and order [applause]. So I give you this promise. The first charge on our national resources under a Conservative Government will be to bring our armed forces up to a minimum threshold for safety, and to this I add another promise. As soon as possible after the election, a Conservative Government will restore service pay to the full amount recommended by the Armed Services Pay Review Board [applause]. I know this will increase expenditure, I don't deny it. But there'll be no home policy at all unless we are properly defended because there'll be no home. You can't prosper unless you survive. We'll provide a big enough budget to equip and support our armed forces in their vital task of defending our country and defending our freedom. You know, Labour's defence cuts have led directly to the loss of 200,000 jobs or job opportunities. That's a strange kind of job creation. What can one say of a government so frightened of its supporters on the left that it would rather have jobs lost on this enormous scale than run a proper defence programme?

Now nobody wants to spend vast sums of money on arms. No-one wants to keep large numbers of young and active men in the armed forces. No-one in his senses is against a relaxation of tension, or detente if you prefer the fashionable word, between East and West. The real problem is, do the Soviet Union and its allies mean what they say? In a matter of life and death, words are not enough, and before we disarm, before we accept at face value, some of the things that have been said at Helsinki and [end p6] elsewhere by the Soviet Union, we want to see the reality of detente in the actions of the Soviet Union [applause].

How can we be reassured when since the signing of the pact the state of Helsinki has been ignored by the Russians? President Carter's taken a stand on human rights and I applaud that. But where are the human rights in Russia today? If you were a Soviet citizen, you wouldn't have the opportunities you have here on 3rd May to choose between the Conservative and Labour party. You wouldn't have the freedom of choice that you enjoy in this country. You wouldn't have a free press or freedom of expression. The real difference between the Soviet system and the systems of the free world is not that we are materially more prosperous, and our standard of living is higher, though it is, the essential difference is that in the West we believe in the liberty of the individual. Freedom of expression and the right of every man and woman to help to choose for himself the system under which he is governed [applause].

For five years, hesitancy and lack of spirit has been the distinguishing mark of what has passed under Dr Owen for British foreign policy. And nowhere has this been more self-evident than in our attitude to the European Economic Community. Once the nation had made the decision to join, we should boldly have accepted the consequences of our new role. Of course we must reform the Common Agricultural Policy, we've said so on many occasions, and I don't believe there are many in Europe who disagree with us. Of course we must make sure that Britain doesn't pay more than its fair share of the Community budget. The over-large British contribution is a reflection of the failure of Labour's economic policies. Five years ago, we were in a much stronger economic position than we are today. Of course we must have regard to British interests. All the other countries of Europe look after their own interests, but the other countries of Europe also want to ensure the future of the EEC. They're prepared to give as well as to take, to work for the success of the Community. It's one thing to fight one's corner by being doggedly British, we all do that, it's quite another to exasperate our EEC fellow members by sheer inadequacy, to irritate them by constant failure to come up to their standards of performance by always demanding for Britain to be the special case, the invalid, the less prosperous country. There's a story told in Europe of how its possible to recognise the Labour Government's delegation when it arrives in Brussels. Theirs, it is said, is the only aircraft which goes on whining after the engines have been turned off [applause].

Churchill, Macmillan, Monnet and other statesmen, with their broad and generous vision of a united Europe, believed in a free Europe, but not a standardised Europe. They were concerned with democracy, they were concerned with peace. And let us never forget that the generation after us has never had to go and fight for freedom in Europe as the last generation did. Isn't that of itself worth believing in Europe for? [applause]

Peace and democracy, that is to be our inspiration and our purpose, to safeguard democracy in the cradle of a civilised world. Nowhere have the values of that world been more treasured, more jealously guarded, more subtly protected than on this island of ours. That was our glory, not our wealth, although that was great, not our [end p7] Empire, although that was the greatest ever seen, but our constant insistent commitment to the fundamental liberties which alone allow the human spirit to grow and which alone allow a free nation to be governed with tolerance, decency and compassion. Is all that a thing of the past? Are we really a nation on the familiar post-imperial path, having, in that oft quoted phrase of Dean Acheson's, lost an empire but not yet found a role?

I believe that those who read our destiny this way are utterly and profoundly wrong. They understand neither why we acquired our Empire, nor why we disengaged from our Imperial responsibilities with a skill and a readiness which no Empire in history ever showed before. We remain as we always have been, a force for freedom, muted, even weakened these last few years, but still with the fires burning deep within us, ready to be kindled and go forward again. This is the difference between us and the other imperial powers in our history books. Our vitality comes not from our possessions but from our unquenchable belief in freedom, and that is why, whatever lies ahead, we shall be there. We shall always be there in the forefront of the struggle to resist tyranny and to hold freedom high. This is our heritage and our destiny. For that heritage and for that destiny we Conservatives have always stood. Let us not forsake it now [prolonged and enthusiastic applause].