Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at the Pilgrims’ Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: River Room, Savoy Hotel, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1945.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2450
Themes: Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Northern Ireland

Mr. Chairman, Lord HailshamLord Chancellor, my Lord Bishop, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. Mr. Chairman, let me say at the outset, how delighted I am to be speaking to this particular aidience so soon after the inauguration of a new administration in Washington. Of course, let me confess straight away the timing was not entirely coincidental. And as you referred Mr. President, it won't have escaped you either that next month I shall be visiting the United States at the invitation of President Reagan and as the first European Head of Government to visit him. Perhaps, though it's for others to say, that too is not altogether a coincidence. I believe that that visit will underline the closeness of the friendship between our two countries but it will also I am certain mark the opening of a period of particularly close understanding between the two Heads of Government. In his inaugural address which I watched on television and greatly enjoyed, the President promised to strengthen America's historic ties with those allies who share America's ideal of freedom. Mr. Chairman, nowhere is that ideal more fervently shared than here and I can think of no better omen for my visit. An invitation to address the Pilgrims is a very special honour. And judging by the distinguished list which you read out Mr. Chairman everyone who has political ambitions will hasten to address the Pilgrims. Because it seems a sure way to the top of the ladder if you get your foot on the bottom rung or the early rungs of addressing the Pilgrims, my, you're all set.

For almost eighty years, the Pilgrims have played a wonderful role in Anglo/American relations. You have done so both in peace and in war and also on both sides of the Atlantic. I doubt whether there is any statesman in either country who has not addressed the Pilgrims at one time or another. President Reagan and Secretary of State Haig have both done so. Indeed, General Haig (whose appointment I [end p1] welcome—I think we all do) has done so twice in the recent past.

I am delighted to be added to such a distinguished company now. But in fact I have always considered myself to be a Pilgrim. I passed my childhood in a part of England not far from the home of George Washington 's family. I have visited America many times. And, above all, my own political convictions are founded in that love of freedom, that rejection of tyranny and repression, which inspired the Pilgrim Fathers and those who followed them to America.

To any European who loves liberty, America has a very special significance. Nowhere else has freedom been pursued with so much singleness of purpose, and amid such opportunities. De Tocqueville was right to say that “In America I have seen more than just America. I have seen the image of democracy itself” .

But we in Britain also claim a very special concern for democracy and liberty. We have stood together with the United States in the defence of both. Ours is a partnership whose reliability has been tried and tested and which will endure. (We were delighted to have been able to play a part in the successful negotiations for the release of the American hostages detained in Iran. We shared the anguish of America at their imprisonment: we shared the joy over their release. But this evening our thoughts are also with our own four fellow countrymen imprisoned in Iran, and our hope is that they too will soon be free).

Mr. Chairman, the continuing importance of partnership between Britain and America is obvious in every department of contemporary life. How often, for instance, the same Nobel Prize has been shared by our two countries, as happened with the Chemistry Prize this year. Our poets and playwrights, our actors and film-makers are as at home in one country as the other. They dominate the world scene in their professions. And to take a different sphere of activity, the same [end p2] could once have been said of Maynard Keynes and can now be said of Milton Friedman. (Laughter.) I won't comment on the merits of the change, except to say that it was long overdue.

Perhaps more important than our contribution in these fields has been our role in political thought and practice. A speech after dinner is not the occasion to recall in detail our contribution to the development of representative democracy, of economic liberty and of the rule of law. But let me mention one point to which President Reagan, I know, attaches as much significance as I do.

The temptation for governments to extend the scope of their activities and responsibilities grows constantly. The means available to them to constrain the liberty of the citizen become daily more sophisticated. It is a sad but true fact that technology is providing new tools for totalitarian governments who have always wanted to be omniscient and omnipotent.

The great democracies aspire to a different goal. We believe that governments serve the people not the other way round; that governments are instituted to secure the rights of men. We will not allow administrative convenience to be given priority over personal liberty. In his inaugural address the President said that in the present crisis, government is not the solution, it is part of the problem. I warmly agree. The results of the last elections in our two countries have shown that our peoples agree. Now we must give a lead to others.

So we have a common interest in liberty, in culture, in political philosophy and I might add that the economic policies of the new administration and of Her Majesty's Government are also strikingly similar. The President proposes to sweep away the red tape and much of the maze of regulations which so inhibit growth and enterprise. We too are pledged to set free the natural energies of our people. [end p3]

The President intends to increase incentives by reducing tax rates. We have already reduced rates of income tax and this Government believes that we must get Government out of the pockets of our people. The President wants a disciplined monetary policy, a balanced budget and a reliable dollar. Our Government is committed to a substantial reduction in monetary growth, a smaller proportion of public spending and a much lower rate of inflation. And Mr. Chairman, both the President and we put more faith in the sense, honesty and decency of ordinary people than in any economic theory.

Yes, there are and there will be difficult times ahead. Difficult times to get through but we both recognise that we shall only get through them by tackling and not evading the hard issues. It does no service to anyone for Governments to run away from the truth or to refuse to tell it to the people. Mr. Chairman, when your Society was founded in 1902 Britain was then at the zenith of a long period of prosperity and power. We'd held dominion over an empire, we'd brought justice where there had been none, we'd watched over world-wide interests and we'd striven to preserve peace. And we had done it well. But that era came to an end with two terrible World Wars. And the glory and the responsibility of being the leading democracy shifted from Britain's shoulders to those of the United States.

The acceptance of that responsibility was accompanied by a great strengthening of the links spanning the Atlantic—symbolised in the close friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. It sometimes seems to me that providence works in strange ways. Not by preventing evil, for none can do that. But by ensuring the presence of men and women of purpose and courage whose destiny is to overcome it. Roosevelt and Churchill were two such men of destiny and we owe such a great deal to them. And to the bonds of history and, in Britain's and the United States' case, of language, were added those forged in the defence of freedom.

Now I am often asked, will Britain's membership of the European Community change things? I believe that it can't and won't lessen the friendship created between the United States and Britain. [end p4]

Indeed, to assert that there is any conflict between our relationship with America and with Europe is to misunderstand America's links with Europe herself. Germany, Italy and Ireland after all have also provided many immigrants to the United States. Indeed, some of the Irish ones won't let us forget it. New York was founded by the Dutch and Washington was planned by a Frenchman, admittedly only after the British had cleared the site. In linking herself with the European Community, Britain has joined a group of nations which themselves have close family ties across the Atlantic.

And nor does closer cooperation within the European Community between the countries itself threaten those links. Because a stronger, more self-confident Europe, pursuing more cohesive policies will produce a greater area of stability for democracy and in a world of turmoil and conflict we need that area of stability. It will benefit the peoples of both Europe and the United States and will give hope to all who would dearly love to live in that state of liberty and democracy that we take for granted.

I do not wish to appear unduly idealistic about this, although I am an idealist. The members of the Community have their differences. There are difficult problems to be resolved and we know that the relationship between Europe and the United States must never be taken for granted. Because when Americans look abroad they see not only Europe's ancient parapets. As well as east across the Atlantic, they have to look south to Latin America and west to the Pacific and to Asia.

But what matters is that the interests and aspirations shared by Europe and America far outweigh the points on which occasionally we differ. Of course, both in the United States and in Europe, we must show concern for each other's particular problems, some arising from history and some from geography. That kind of mutual awareness is far from being a source of weakness. But the Atlantic partnership is and will remain by far the most important bulwark in the worldwide defence of liberty and democracy. [end p5]

Now thanks to that we've enjoyed over thirty years of peace. In those years Europe has grown in strength. But so have our adversaries. The conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact are far more numerous than ours. Their equipment improves year by year and their nuclear armoury is fully comparable with that of the West. And their reach is now world wide.

Faced with this change in the balance of power, the Atlantic Alliance will have to become still more purposeful and still more resolute and still more united. Of course, Mr. Chairman, we remain ready to respond to evidence of a real Soviet interest in genuine detente. But at present, I see none. And meanwhile we must maintain our strength. President Reagan and his Administration have understood the challenge and the need for leadership. They are responding. And we in Europe must also show that we understand the challenge and the need to meet it.

As a first step we must offer greater recognition of the extent of the American effort which daily guarantees our freedom. If we are safe today, it is because America has stood with us. If we are to remain safe tomorrow, it will be because America remains powerful and self-confident. Setbacks for her are setbacks for us. When, therefore, the Americans face difficulties we need to say more clearly: we stand with you.

And secondly, we in Europe must make sure that we are doing all we can to contribute to our own defence. Already of course we do a great deal. To note only one point, made by General Haig in Washington the other day, the Europeans provide 90 per cent of the ground forces immediately available to NATO's commanders. Ideally we should be doing even more. But at the very least we must make sure that Europe's share holds firm and that the money we spend is used effectively. I know that that last point has been made by many: the requirement to act upon it is greater now than ever.

And thirdly, both sides must make certain that the arrangements across the Atlantic for co-ordination on policy and decisions are kept in perfect working order. They didn't work well when Afghanistan was invaded and we must heed that lesson. Especially at a time when when we continue to watch events in and around Poland with great anxiety. [end p6]

Beyond Europe the problems facing the international community are just as pressing. And the need for cooperation between Europe and the United States just as clear. We have an over-riding interest in promoting peaceful evolution in what is called the third world, and in repulsing Soviet efforts to increase their influence there.

Happily there is a growing readiness among the countries of the third world to recognise an affinity with the West. The invasion of Kampuchea by the Soviet Union's main ally in the East, followed by the Soviet Union's own invasion of Afghanistan, have opened many eyes to the dark reality of Soviet ambitions and to the true interests of the non-aligned. The votes last month of 111 members of the United Nations showed that they could see the facts even if three misguided, I'm very charitable, MPs could not.

In this situation, the countries of the European Community, with our trade, aid and our long experience, are uniquely placed to ensure the collaboration between the old industrial democracies and the new nations of the third world develops fruitfully. British military teams are now playing a vital part in the peaceful formation of the army of Zimbabwe. France has responded to requests for help from a number of African states. Britain and France have together joined with the United States to assure freedom of passage for all through the Straits of Hormuz which is so absolutely vital to our supplies of oil. Three European Government have been working together with the American and Canadian Governments in a prolonged effort to help bring Namibia to an internationally recognised independence. And there we must be patient a little longer yet. I believe that increased cooperation outside Europe between we and the United States must figure prominently in our thinking about the years ahead.

Mr. Chairman, Dean Acheson once wrote that “the times in which we live must be painted in the sombre values of Rembrandt” . He went on “the background is dark, the shadows deep … The central point, however, glows with light; and though it often brings out the glint of steel, it touches colours of unimaginable beauty. For us, that central point is the growing unity of free men the world over.” [end p7]

Mr. Chairman, it is the task of our generation to ensure that the light spreads across the globe, growing brighter as it goes. And in this, the partnership of Britain and Europe and America will be the very heart of the matter. Winston Churchill said at a Pilgrims dinner in 1932: “There is one grand, valiant conviction, shared on both sides of the Atlantic, that together there is no problem we cannot solve” . It is a fitting and living message for the British Prime Minister to carry to the President of the United States and I shall bear it with pride.