Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Rally in Bolton

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Bolton Town Hall, Lancashire
Source: Thatcher Archive: OUP transcript
Editorial comments: The press release (GE800/79) was embargoed until 1900. A tape survives in the Thatcher Archive. Comedian Ken Dodd spoke before MT as a "warm up".
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4841
Themes: Judiciary, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Education, Secondary education, Employment, Industry, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Social security & welfare, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

First, it really is a very great pleasure to be here with Oulton Wade as chairman. He does such a tremendous amount for the North West and always keeps us well in touch with exactly how you are feeling [applause]. He doesn't mince his words to you, and he doesn't mince them to me either when necessary. I also want to thank Ken Dodd very much indeed [applause]. I understand that Knotty Ash now has its own special version of the manifesto and I feel certain that it too will thrive under the coming Conservative Government.

Now it's said that as Bolton East goes, so does the nation. Good. I am delighted to accept that prediction. Roger Baldwin tells me that on all sides he finds former Labour and Liberal supporters coming the commonsense Conservative way. They're deeply worried by the modern Labour party, by the way it's going, and they're determined to see fear and failure replaced by hope and success. And the same goes for Bolton West. Having travelled all over our country, I can tell you that what's happening here is happening everywhere. Even in the deepest former strongholds of Labour, people are demanding change. On Thursday their chance will come. So let Bolton and the North West lead the way [applause].

Now at the first major rally of this campaign I said, ‘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 and turned back. It can be done and it will be done and we shall start on the 3rd May 1979.’

Mr Chairman, May 3rd is just 48 hours away and we are coming to the moment of decision and we are all very much aware of what a momentous decision it is. I know that politicians claim that the choice is crucial in every election, and so it is, but this time I sense a deep understanding of what I have myself long believed that in our nation's story, we have reached the watershed. We can follow the course on which Britain is now set. At first sight it may look to some the safe and familiar way. Labour calls it ‘carrying on as we are’. But it's not safe. Soon the waters grow treacherous. The ‘carrying on as we are’ means carrying on into swirling currents and dangerous tides. It means falling further and further behind friends and neighbours. Already we, Great Britain, have reached the point where Labour leaders accept without protest Britain's label as a poor country of Europe. Well, they may, but we don't [applause].

Or there's the alternative. We needn't go on as we are because there is nothing inevitable about our continued decline. Oulton Wade spoke of the qualities which made this part of the country great, which took it first into the Industrial Revolution. Those qualities are still there. Britain is still a great country though few would guess it from the performance of the past few years. Unless we change our ways and our direction, our greatness as a nation will soon be a footnote in the history books; a distant memory of an offshore island lost in the mists of time, like Camelot, [end p1] remembered kindly for its noble past. Mr Chairman, we want it to have a noble future too [applause].

So this is the choice we have to make. It's not an easy one and I've never pretended that. But you know, the changes required aren't great leaps into the unknown. They're changes which have been tried in other countries, and they work there. They're changes that have been tried in Britain back in the 50's and they worked here. I have a similar task to that which Winston Churchill did in 1951. I am very much aware that he is a superlative example. You remember what he had to do. In 1951 we had to break away from the six drab years of socialism. It was an effort to break through again to freedom. Some wondered whether it could be done. Some were fearful of what would happen. But in fact it laid the foundations for thirteen years of the greatest prosperity this country has known [applause]. And it was prosperity for all. We managed to do so many things at once. We managed in fact to increase the production and output of the nation, we cut taxes, and we also increased the money spent on the social services. We cut through the controls and bureaucracy which socialism had been … had built up. And Winston had one motto. And it's the one that we should follow today. He said, ‘Set the people free and you can trust them to do the right thing with their freedom.’ That must be our motto today [applause].

So this election isn't really about confrontation or co-operation. It's not even really about North Sea Oil or the Common Market. It's about the direction in which the people of this country want to go. It's a choice between the gradual slide towards a state controlled economy where the individual scarcely matters and a calm but resolute return to the politics and economics of the free world and of a free people. And the end of the journey is either one thing or the other. It will be a Conservative Government or a Labour Government, and if you prefer Conservative policies, the only way to make certain you get them is to vote Conservative. There's no other way of ensuring a Conservative Government. There is no halfway house and if you vote any other way you may well put Labour in for another five years [applause]. No, there is no halfway house between a free people and a state-controlled economy. Two or three years ago, people thought I exaggerated when I said this. I don't think many feel that today, because we have got so much further down the road to socialism and they can see it and feel it for themselves. And most of us know that there's a clear choice to be made and that we have to make that choice on Thursday.

Now, you and I know that our policies are common sense. But throughout this campaign our opponents have tried to label them as extreme. Well, let's examine this proposition. Is it extreme to cut taxes on earnings and savings? Is it extreme to encourage those who wish to buy their own home? Is it extreme to want reasonable mortgage rates after the prohibitive levels of Labour years? Is it extreme to sell council houses to those who live in them if they wish to buy? Is it extreme to encourage secret ballots in trade unions? Is it extreme to uphold the rule of law which protects the weak against the strong? Is it extreme to encourage the creation of wealth so that we can raise the standard of living and look after those in need? Mr Chairman, if all these things are extreme, then the great majority of the British people are extreme, for they share these beliefs in the Conservative party [applause]. [end p2]

So too, do many traditional supporters of the Labour party. And the more Labour voters on Thursday who find the courage to vote Conservative, the more decisive will the people's verdict be. So I ask former Labour supporters to think about their country's future and about their children's future. I ask them to look at what we say, at what our people do, at the measures we propose, and make their judgement on that basis, not on the basis of slogans or rhetoric or scares. And in coming to their decision, they might consider that a number of former distinguished Labour cabinet ministers have in fact decided to go the Conservative way, because they find that their ideals are now truly represented by the Conservative party and not by the present day Labour party. Men like Reg Prentice, Richard Marsh and our latest person of whom we are so proud to have Lord Robens.

So to those who still hesitate, may I suggest that they ask these questions. Why should anyone vote Labour after Labour's record on prices? They've doubled prices. Why should anyone vote Labour after Labour's record on jobs? After Labour's record on education?—I'll have a word about that later—After Labour's record on taxes? In the light of their record in the last five years, why should anyone believe that Labour could do better in the next five years? Why should policies which have failed in the past succeed in the future?

Above all, why should we believe that Labour's so-called special relationship with the unions has any meaning at all after last winter? [applause] Never forget how near this nation came to government by picket and strike committee. Never forget—I never will—how we had businessmen having to plead for their goods to go through before nameless committees elected by no-one. Never forget how workers had to beg for the right to work and often didn't get it, patients for the right to be admitted to hospital. Blood donors couldn't give their blood, children were locked out of their schools and mourners couldn't bury their dead. So when our opponents talk about the weakest going to the wall, they should cast the mote out of their own eye first [applause].

It's all there, on the record. And if we turn our back on change, that record could be our future too. In such a future, Mr Wedgwood Benn and his friends would become increasingly powerful in the Labour party. There would be more and more industry sucked into the state sector or controlled by the state. There would be political interference with the money that's supposed to be earning your future pensions in occupational pension schemes, supposed to be insuring your life and providing a lump sum when you're old or left alone. Indeed, that possible direction of savings in pension funds and insurance funds is something on which the Labour party have already officially agreed with the socialist politicians in the TUC. Indeed, it's one of the lesser noted passages already in the Concordat, the agreement between Government and TUC.

In that kind of future, there would be no fresh and determined attempts to tackle crime; the nation's defences would be run down even further, and respect for Britain in the world would dwindle. And it's one of the most heartening things, as I have gone round, how people have said not so much personal problems of their own but have said, ‘Maggie, please restore the pride in Britain’. They do feel very strongly about that [applause.] In that kind of future, no attempt will be made to make trade [end p3] union power and responsibility march together. On the contrary, there have already been attempts by Labour to increase trade union power still further.

Look at the last five years from your own experience. Can you really dismiss these fears as groundless? Of course not. They're a continuation of exactly what has happened already under Labour. And if you believe it would all stop under nice, cosy, Democratic Socialism next week, I must remind you what kind of Labour party it would be next time in Parliament. Gone are most of the older steady men and women who supported Attlee and Gaitskell. In their place come the new sharp doctrine-mongers, the new intolerants. For them Socialism comes first, people afterwards. For them it's more taxes on people, higher rates on people, more power to the state, more power to the politicians. It's all promised. And that's one area where Labour certainly keeps its promises. It always arrogates more power and more money to the state and away from the citizen and the individual.

Now, those are the people who believe that politics comes into everything. Into your job, into your housing, into your choice in children's education. Especially they believe that politics should come into industrial relations. But here, let me just remind you of this. When you hear high trade union officials breathing fire and brimstone at the prospect of a new Conservative administration and alleging that there are battalions of workers out there waiting to challenge a freshly mandated Government, just ask yourself this. How many trade unionists do such people really speak for? Precious few. Hardly more than a handful, even if a noisy handful. The reality is this. At election time, people can say what they like on their own behalf. Our democracy today rests on one man one vote, one woman one vote, one Murray one vote, one Moss one vote, and even one Clive Jenkins one vote [applause].

This is our democracy and it draws its strengths from individuals and their beliefs. Being Conservative, of course we see the process of recovery as the work of individuals, and the policies by which we shall seek to bring about that recovery have been spelt out in this campaign. Reductions in personal tax, simple reforms of trade union law, encouragement to home ownership, creation of conditions in which new enterprise can grow and small business prosper, in which social services are improved, in which new and permanent jobs are established, the frontiers of state control gradually pushed back, thugs and vandals firmly dealt with, immigration controlled, yes, but in the best interests of racial harmony, and our national defences rebuilt.

Two aspects of our policies I think deserve special emphasis here in Bolton, and I would like just to say a special word about them. First, on jobs, and then second, I'll come to education.

The James CallaghanLabour leader has explained his party's approach to unemployment with commendable candour. I must say more candour than I ever got out of him when I questioned him in the House of Commons. He said we need more jobs, but he didn't know the answer. Well, he's perceived the problem when he has said that Labour has no idea what to do about it. [end p4]

Certainly we do face problems of re-adjustment in some critical areas and textiles provide an example which is bound to be in your minds in Bolton. Foreign competition has, I know, bitten deep into our markets so we've supported the new multi-fibre arrangement negotiated by thve European Economic Community and will continue to give the industry the help it needs. And of course we will continue with regional aid. We've always given special help to the regions. Obviously, there is an exceptionally difficult legacy in this particular part of Britain, and we have always accepted that part of the government's role is to relieve the problems which arise from change.

But if it's new jobs we want, and we do for the younger generation, new jobs for those whose jobs vanished, for wives seeking work full or part time to help the household income, and they need to help it under this Government, then this basically defensive approach isn't enough. It's not, as Labour mournfully acknowledges, the answer. What young people need is genuine jobs and not artificial jobs. And where are those new genuine Jobs? [applause] They want genuine jobs with good prospects and good prospects usually means in a company or business making good profits. And Socialism doesn't like good profits. It clobbers them. So in fact it kills of the very thing which can regenerate the next generation of industries.

We must have new businesses and the growth of small firms into larger ones. That's the only thing that produces more jobs and genuine jobs, and if we are to have the bigger companies of tomorrow, we must start the smaller businesses of today. Now, new business comes neither from white papers nor politicians' speeches. It comes from the recognition of customers' demands and the incentive to meet the demands with speed and energy. And I've been very interested how Bolton is tackling this problem because it contains one example after another of new jobs, some of them growing out of the shells of past endeavour. And so the mills turn to mail order businesses, and part-time jobs emerge which suit the family timetable. What it opened up—which no government official predicted, no Whitehall planner dreamed about—that's how the North West prospered in the past and that's the way prosperity and employment can be secure in the future.

Now, what's the politician's job? You will say that I am saying the whole thing rests in the hands of small business become bigger business. Yes, it does. but the politician does have a job. It's the politician's job to create the sort of climate in which small business can start and then it can thrive and prosper and it's just that climate that we will never have under socialism [applause]. It's no good talking the jargon about stimulating economies. You don't stimulate economies, you stimulate people. And how do you stimulate people? You give them incentives to work and in a free country a large number of them will take that incentive to work and to work hard. So you've got to lift the tax burdens. It's got to be made to pay to work. It's got to be made to pay less to sit back. And we've got to unwind the cat's cradle of restrictions on employment and business activity which hamper enterprise at every turn. How often do I go to a small company or small business and they complain bitterly about the amount of time they have to spend on form filling, on answer enquiries, on regulations when they said our job in fact is to be looking after our business and our customers' needs? You know we really do put shackles on some of those who create [end p5] our wealth and we've got to take them off [applause]. I've no doubt at all that if we take this course, then small business will flourish where before none grew.

But, you know, in taking on new young people, employers rightly expect our schools to play their full part in seeing that school leavers are properly equipped to earn their living in the industrial and commercial world. But, as well as employers, parents are worried, and very deeply worried, about the standards of education in our schools. That's a concern that we Conservatives share, because it is the task of the education system to get the best out of every child that is within every child whatever that best may be.

Now, here in Bolton I know you've for so long been so proud of your schools, and when I was Secretary of State for Education I did everything to keep the good schools going. You've got a first hand experience of the destructive impact of Socialist educational policy, founded not on what brings the best out of our children but on narrow theory, dogmatically applied. It's time we stopped destroying good schools which have served generations of pupils well [loud applause]. They were the ladder from the bottom to the top. To those who, like myself, came up that ladder, let us see that it is left there for future generations to climb [applause]. And let every parent know that every child that goes to school will have an opportunity, an opportunity to have his best talents developed within the school and that every child should leave school having the requisite skills to make an industry in business and commerce. You know, after eleven years of compulsory education in each and every child's life, there really is no excuse if they don't, none at all.

So to those areas like Bolton who have fought to keep their grammar schools, I gladly repeat this pledge today. The next Conservative Government will put decisions on schools organisation back where they belong [applause] with locally elected councillors and with parents, and we will change the law to make that so [applause]. Well, your Churchill said the difference between Conservatism and Socialism was the difference between the ladder and the queue. Well, the ladder must be put back in place. Bolton's several magnificent schools which used to receive direct grants, let us bring those back within the reach of children from every background [applause].

The trouble is that Socialism prevents achievement. Somehow it distrusts distinction. Somehow the idea's got around that there's something undemocratic about brains. Something anti-social in trying and something rather shameful in success. All are grouped together under the code-name ‘elitism’. When I was at the Ministry of Education, they used to say I was an elitist. They then used to call me a meritocrat, because I believed in children from whatever background getting on. I said. ‘Yes, I am. What's wrong with that? That's the way our nation became great.’ And that idea that we should not applaud success, that idea was not a mistake we ever made in the days of our greatness and it's not a mistake our competitors are making now. It's time for Britain to catch up with the rest of the free world. It's time we in Great Britain became a leader and not a straggler, and it's time that we began earning enough to look after the weak in our society in the way that they are looked after in more successful countries [applause]. [end p6]

Only by becoming prosperous again, can we become a caring society. Competition isn't the enemy of compassion, it is its ally. Here we have the skills; we have the dexterity, we have the judgement and we have the natural resources to do these things. What we've not had for the last five years is a Government willing to set free those skills and to let economic freedom work, and if we choose, we can have such a Government. The people can elect one the day after tomorrow by simply putting a cross beside the name of every Conservative candidate in every constituency in the land [applause].

Now, to those of no special party allegiance who have occasionally voted Labour but this time have their doubts, considerable doubts about the Labour party, let me say this: If you have the slightest doubt, Vote Conservative, Labour out. Voting for anyone else to win Could mean letting Labour in. Remember, it has happened before And twice in 1974 [applause].

I can't do it as well as Ken Dodd or Cyril Fletcher, but never mind. I did try. You got the point: Voting for anyone else to win Could mean letting Labour in. Remember, it has happened before And twice in 1974.

And we don't want it to happen in 1979, the day after tomorrow. So long as you've got the message all right [applause]. And to the people of Bolton and to all the British people who are longing for a new beginning, my message is: Give us the biggest majority you have given any party since the war and I give you my word, what must be done to bring about the recovery of our country we will do [applause].

I spoke just now of achievement in education and success in life, but we'll achieve nothing in our nation unless our citizens are protected from lawlessness within as well as from attack without [applause]. There'll be no achievement of which to be proud if our old people cannot walk from their homes without fear. Steadier prices, more jobs and good family life, all are vital, but all are at risk without the rule of law in our nation and without strong defences in a dangerous world.

The freedom in which Conservatives believe is freedom under the law [applause]. And it's when the law itself is attacked and belittled that the freedom turns to license and greed. The frightening fact is that throughout this campaign and for a long time past the law has been a constant target of Labour derision and contempt, together with those who administer it. For the James CallaghanLabour leader, the law is ‘quicksand’. I tell them that for most of us it is the rock on which our liberties and our security rest. For the [end p7] deputy Labour leader, Michael Foot, the judges who preside over our law are the target. He asserts that one of our greatest judges is an ass. It's a pretty terrible thing, you know, for a permanent … for a deputy leader, prominent in the Labour party to say. For some Labour back-benchers, the police are fascists. For some the law, the judges, the police are obstacles in the path to party dogma and party rule. No wonder violence and vandalism are at record levels and still increasing. There can be no more direct threat to the welfare and peace of mind of the nation's elderly than widespread lawlessness and that is why we, the Conservative party, give law and order special stress and emphasis in our manifesto. We must support the police and uphold the judges in everything they do [applause].

Now, I just want for a moment to look at our Conservative record of care for the elderly, because in fact it's a very fine one. Under five years of Labour, pensioners have seen the value of their savings halved. That's a pretty terrible thing in five years. If you'd saved for a long period and over five years the value of your saving's been halved. The price of their food's more than doubled and the cost of keeping warm by electricity or coal has increased by about 150%;. And now they suffer the cruellest of Labour's smears. Trying to frighten old people about Conservative policies on the Health Service and pensions is the most callous of Labour's many desperate acts in this election [applause].

So let me set the record straight. We shall do five things in the next Conservative Government. First, if prices go up, pensions will go up. And we shall hope to do even better than that, as we did last time, when pensions increased in line with average earnings. And we shall carry through the increases already announced for November, so let's lay that scare. Second, we shall abolish the earnings rule which penalises so many pensioners who want to earn some extra money. Third, we shall continue the annual Christmas bonus, which was introduced by a Conservative government. Fourth, we shall exempt war widows pension from tax entirely. That is the least they deserve [applause]. We shall reduce income tax on pensioners' income and cut the surcharge on savings.

That is our policy for the pensioners for the next Conservative Government. But I must say, Mr Chairman, we see nothing to boast about in this country, when we compare the provision for the old in Labour Britain with the very much better conditions for the old in freer, neighbouring countries, but until we get our economy going again and build the increased prosperity we shall not be able to do as much for them as we wish. The first step: to increase the prosperity. But those five pledges I've given to you are the very, very minimum and we shall hope to do better than that.

Now, just as I have spoken about law and order within, so whether old or young, for all of us, we depend strongly on our national defences. Some may say that defence is not a bread and butter issue, that it is of no interest to the British electorate. I don't believe that. As I said at the outset of this campaign, a party that fought the 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]. [end p8]

The Labour attitude to our defences I've described as dedicated negligence. Perhaps that was too kind. Because the only thing we have heard from that quarter in the last three weeks is a pledge to cut our defence efforts still further. And yet every report from expert sources stresses the growing danger, the balance tilting further against the West. This is the moment when our armed forces should have every possible support, when the morale should be high, their equipment the best we can possibly afford.

So I tell you that the first charge on our national resources, when we take office, will be to bring our armed forces up to a minimum threshold for safety, and I pledge that as soon as possible after the election, we will restore service pay to the full and fair levels recommended by the Armed Services Pay Review Board [applause].

Cut our defences and you cut into the safety of each one of us, of every family, of every child. Cut our defences, you add still more unemployment to the 200,000 jobs or job opportunities already lost by Labour's defence reductions. What are we supposed to think of a Government and a party so dominated by its left, that it would rather lose jobs on this enormous scale than run a proper defence programme for the defence of the freedom of this country?

I've said there must be a vote for change. It is time for a change. But the changes we propose are securely rooted in the old and trusted values that have held a great nation together in the past and served her well. Tennyson said ‘Demands of true conservative who locks the mouldered branch away’. For us the Socialism of recent years in Britain with its terrible emphasis on state power, with its class prejudice, with its facile Marxist labels which have no connection with our real world, for us all that is the mouldered branch which should be locked away [applause].

There's a world-wide revolt against big government, excessive taxation and bureaucracy, and large scale state organisation, a revolt against all Labour's favourite causes. It's been our Conservative view for some time that an era is drawing to a close. We take the view that power has slipped too much into the hands of too few, in the name of the state and of the unions. But by no means in the interest of the state, or of the unions. We take the view that it's government under the rule of law which matters, not government under the rule of official and party wisdom.

At first this view was criticised. People said, ‘Ooh, you've moved away from the centre!’ But then opinion began to move too. As the heresies of one period became, as they always do, the orthodoxies of the next. Throughout this campaign, I've heard no-one seriously question the Conservative case, not even James Callaghanthe Prime Minister. He's trying to get on the bandwagon! I've heard a lot of wild and false accusations about we would do. I've heard timid voices saying, ‘Oh, it can't be done’. I've heard selfproclaimed leaders of opinion saying our plans are not wanted, only to be contradicted by that very opinion vigorously expressed. But I've heard no-one deny that we are right to try and redress the balance. A new age is indeed beginning.

It's said that there is one thing stronger than armies, and that is an idea whose time has come. Our idea is this—that there exists for Britain and its people, a better and a freer future than anything offered by Socialism; that Britain's own strength and endurance [end p9] skills and enterprise can secure that future. The government must recognise this possibility, work with it, encourage it, serve it. This is our hope. This is the inspiration of all our beliefs and policies. Tonight, its time has come, and I believe that on Thursday our great nation will say the same [prolonged applause].