Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1981 May 20 We
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Central Hall, Westminster
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: The press release (445/81) was embargoed utnil 1530; it excluded all but MT’s comments on terrorism and defence (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3115
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Economy (general discussions), Employment, Industry, Local elections, Monetary policy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government finance, Media, Northern Ireland, Religion & morality, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Trade unions

Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,The Womens' Conference is one of those fixed dates in my diary that give me real pleasure—and not least because it is held near the anniversary of a particular event in 1979.

Every political debate these days contains a lot about economic policies. So much so that sometimes I think people get a little tired of hearing about them. Naturally there is a cry that Government must put people before economics. Who could disagree? That is the very reason why we in our Party have constantly fought Marxism and Communism. Fought Marxism because of —its compulsory society —its nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. —its attempt to snuff out individual conscience. —the absence of the great voluntary societies which are so much a part of our way of life. —its denial of freedom to choose —its elevation of the values of the State above those of religion. [end p1] —its denial of the right to educate children outside the state system. —its extinction of private property because property rights support human rights.

And never forget that the Marxist societies call themselves, and indeed are, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Some of the aims of socialism, are the aims of a Marxist society, and they result in the subjugation of the rights of people to political theory.

Because the Marxist system has become morally and materially bankrupt, citizens who live beneath its yoke see hope in our ideals. [end p2]

Ideals which limit the power of the State so that the varied talents and abilities of each person may flourish giving dignity and meaning to life. Ideals which respect the family, its loyalties, affections and responsibilities. Ideals where the rule of law is just and impartially administered.

Those who live under the heel of Marxist tyranny look with envy at the very things we take for granted. They know that politics is about more than economics in a free society.

So do we—we belong to the oldest and most enduring democratic Party in the world. [end p3]

But that does not mean that we can ignore the laws of economics any more than we can ignore the laws of arithmetic. It means that we have to use them in a way that makes them work for us rather than we for them. But the truth is they work better for us if we ourselves honour the best individual values.

Thus—we should not have half the difficulties we have now with industrial production if people matched their increased demands for pay with a greater willingness to increase output. And, we should have far less unemployment too. [end p4]

Unemployment is tragically high and it is a tragedy for those who suffer the loss of self-respect it entails. Everyone in this Hall will understand how a person must feel if he is not able, by his own efforts, to earn the means to support his own family. I detest unemployment. None of us came into politics to increase unemployment. But rather to pursue steadily policies which will give us a chance of solving it. And I observe that those countries which are pursuing the policies I am promoting are those which have the lowest levels of unemployment. [end p5]

But the truth is that marches and demonstrations and more public expenditure just don't solve the problem. We should have greater wealth and more jobs as a nation if all those who work in great companies and businesses pulled together to win the customer. For it is customers who by their every purchase in the market place, decide where the jobs shall be and customers compare value, design, reliability.

Government's job is not to manage factories or industries, or design goods, or settle every strike. It is to try to keep an honest currency, a tax system that gives incentives to success and hard work, to cushion the harsh corners of change; to relieve hardship and to stimulate and help inventors and innovators to venture to commercial and industrial success.

That is why we do have to consider economics and inflation and take stock of where we are now. [end p6]

This Government was elected in 1979, not least because people had decided that they must finally put a stop to the long years of decline. I believe that there were few popular illusions either about the difficulties of the task or the time it would take. Inflation had damaged our manufacturing industries to the point where we needed to repair their very foundations before we could begin to rebuild. Worse than that the constant erosion of the value of money was destroying our ability to work together. It was setting one group against another, unions against employers and consumers, the State sector against the private sector, until it threatened our national life with a heavy burden of resentment, envy and fear. [end p7]

Such divisions cannot be healed swiftly. They call for a delicate chicken-and-egg process. First a change in economic direction, which begins to restore confidence, and then the nourishing of that confidence until it creates the will to take the next economic step, and so on. We were entrusted with that task and to persevere until it be thoroughly finished. We were not elected to turn aside at the first difficulty or even at the second.

As a nation we are sometimes slow to move but, once we have made up our minds, we are resolute. We don't go in for mock heroics, we're inclined to grumble, but we do not waver. And those who think they can whip up any real support for a policy of cut-and-run misjudge the people. [end p8]

That was precisely the policy of the discredited politicians of yester year.

Is it too early, then, to ask the Government to present a balance sheet? In one sense, yes. No-one seriously expects twenty years of decline to be reversed in two. But in another respect it's important to take stock. Have we kept faith—with ourselves and with those who put their trust in us? After all, it took the last Government a similar period of two short years to call in the bailiffs of the International Monetary Fund. This Government, in its first two years, has repaid the International Monetary Fund nearly all the money which the last Government borrowed. And our balance of payments is now strong. Indeed, we are the only country in the whole of the Community which has a positive balance of payments. [end p9]

Our first priority has been to reduce inflation. Last May prices were rising at an annual rate of 22%;—mainly the result of the pre-Election spending spree and the massive public-sector pay commitments we inherited. Now it's down to 12.6%;. It's still too high but you know what it was in 1976, two years after the Labour Government took office, 23%;

Yet there are those who look for something to criticise in our very success. ‘Yes, you are beating inflation’, they say, ‘but your methods are divisive, your policies are hard-hearted, the price is too high’. Then they point to the effects of inflation itself and blame them on the cure. [end p10]

Madam Chairman, we shall not cure unemployment by a policy of creating more inflation at a time when inflation is already too high.

We all know the effects of rising prices on the family budget. We can all see that if the price of British goods goes up faster than that of our competitors, people at home, as well as overseas, will simply buy foreign. And we're a trading nation.

And if we aren't competitive, we cannot prosper. If British industrial costs continue to rise by over 10%;, while those in Germany go up by only 5%;, then orders and jobs increase there, not here. That's the visible part of inflation. few would argue that we are wrong to tackle it, if we really believe, and we do, in creating more real jobs here in Britain.

But inflation creates other problems, even more damaging, because less immediately obvious. It's the part of [end p11] the iceberg you don't see, the submerged two-thirds you must watch out for.

Inflation means personal insecurity.

There are some who can protect themselves in the short-term, through a strong union or access to a State subsidy. But inflation hits first the old, the sick, the poor, those living on fixed incomes or savings, for whom every price rise means immediate additional anxiety.

It ends by forcing every man into a conflict with himself. Too many people have already found that this year's pay rise can mean next year's redundancy notice.

Or someone may use a particular public service. At first he sees any economy as a threat to his personal interests. [end p12] Yet he knows that, in the long run, the community's resources will only stretch so far.

The problem is not new.

Nearly 150 years ago, one of my predecessors, Sir Robert Peel, said this:-

“Of all vulgar arts of Government, that of solving every difficulty which might arise by thrusting his hand into the public purse is the most delusory and contemptible” .

He also believed in discipline in money—as well as discipline within the law.

Conflicts like this make insecurity worse. They've eaten away at the shared values which are the foundation of national endeavour. [end p13]

In a period of uncertainty it is right that Government should make clear what its priorities are, and be prepared to back them. First and it makes no sense to talk of healing divisions in society, if you ignore the basic protection of life and property. People need security if they are to [end p14] build anything. Press release begins here:

Yesterday, in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, five of our soldiers, three of them under the age of 21, were murdered by the Provisional I.R.A.

They were doing their duty, faithfully, responsibly, loyally. They were there to protect the lives and the property of the law-abiding people of Ulster—and they gave that protection, impartially, to every citizen alike.

I hope that when their murderers have been tried and convicted, no one will claim that they are entitled to special privileges—which is what political status means—when they serve their prison sentences.

But it is not just in Northern Ireland that the terrorist casts his cruel shadow. The international scene is disfigured by violence. [end p15] The attacks on President Reagan and the Pope; terrorist outrages in Spain, Italy and Germany. The world is daily assaulted by those who seek to impose their views upon us through violence and fear.

Terrorism is an attack upon the whole community. It undermines everyone's confidence in the security of their families and the stability of their society. Where will the gunman strike? Whom will the bomber choose? This is the tension that induces cold fear—the atmosphere which the terrorist seeks to create. If he can destroy our trust in a well-ordered society, if he can spread consternation and provoke relatiation—then he is on the way to achieving his ends.

Even more—if he can gain some recognition for his cause and some sympathy for his aim—then he can strike a bodyblow at society's efforts to defeat him. [end p16]

That is why TV and Press have so great a responsibility. They must, of course, report the facts. Nothing would be more damaging than misinformation and lack of balance. Yet the line is hard to draw for terrorism needs publicity. Newspaper and television coverage can provoke the very reaction the terrorist seeks. [end p17]

It can give the convicted criminals on hunger strike the myth of martyrdom they crave. But the true martyrs are the victims of terrorism.

Government, too, has a great responsibility. Terrorism can only be beaten if terrorists know they can never win. If the bomber is seen to succeed then he has beaten the ballot box. In a democracy our determination to defeat the terrorists is based on our commitment to freedom. It is the Government's first duty to protect its people from attack. To that duty, this Government is wholly committed.

That is why we have concentrated on strengthening the Police. I am glad to be able to tell you that numbers are the best ever for the United Kingdom as a whole. In England and Wales, up by 6,000 since 1979; in Scotland up by 525; in Ulster up by 1,300. What a wonderful job they do on our behalf in the dangerous and uncertain world in which we live. To their illustrious name may I add the Royal Ulster Defence Regiment? Final sentence in paragraph a handwritten addition by MT, not present in press release version. Press release ends here.

But our concern for security stretches beyond our [end p18] shores. Our freedom is threatened not only by the terrorist and the criminal, but also by the growing military might of the Soviet Union.

In the past few days you will doubtless have read a good deal about defence and what are referred to as defence cuts. Let me get the record straight.

The Government has honoured, and will continue to honour its commitment to NATO to increase defence spending, in real terms, by an average of about 3%; a year; and, as you know, we have just fulfilled our promise to the Armed Forces to pay them the increase which their Review Body recommended. And that at a time of financial difficulty. I hope this will make clear the importance we attach both to their role, and to the defence of the realm.

Second, we re-affirm our commitment to a reasonable [end p19] level of welfare. If there is hardship, there must be help. There can be no compromise with that principle. But help means spending money on the people who need it, not on administrative empires.

We've concentrated on specific measures like increasing fuel allowances to the elderly, doubling tax allowances for the blind, abolishing tax on war widows' pensions and not before time.

Budgets for Health and Social Services have gone up in real terms. Despite our cash limits, we have recruited 1,000 more doctors and dentists and 8,000 more nurses and midwives. Hospital waiting lists are down by 110,000. [end p20]

Third, our spending on industry must follow the same guidelines—a balance between help during times of hardship and resistance to any new round of inflationary spending.

We must ease the problems of change, without preventing change.

We are particularly concerned about the prospects for our young people.

That's why we have a programme called Youth Opportunities which will provide work experience for 450,000 young people this year.

And please don't think that the employment [end p21] situation is static. It isn't. Did you know that last year between 6 and 7 million jobs were filled—some by people entering employment, some by people changing employer?

That, on average, 280,000 people come off the Unemployment Register each month?

Fourth, the Budget Strategy.

I am the first to agree that the total burden of taxes is high, although we have cut the basic rate of tax from 33%; to 30%; and cut the higher rates to the average of our European competitors, so as to restore incentives.

Public spending is still high—but a great deal lower than [end p22] Labour had planned. But we are determined to finance that spending honestly and not through the printing press. That is why there was some increase in taxation in Geoffrey Howe 's last Budget.

When we met together last year, Minimum Lending Rate was 17%;. Now it is 5 points down—though I note, in passing, that interest rates in the United States are now 19 or 20%;.

Because of the importance which we attach to industry, we have given aid and incentives for small businesses. Indeed, help for small businesses is more generous than it has ever been.

We're beginning to see renewed co-operation in many areas.

And our exporters are doing magnificently. Did you know that for every pound per head of goods that [end p23] the Japanese—yes the Japanese—export, the British export two pounds?

That in 1980, we exported nearly one thousand million pounds worth of goods each week and that, in addition, overseas customers paid nearly five hundred million pounds each week for services provided by U.K. companies?

That the Americans export 9%; of all that they produce, the Japanese 12%;, the French 20%;, and the British 30%;?

And all this at a time when sterling has been strong, and we are not yet as efficient as we should be.

Just think what Britain will be able to do when we really have got rid of restrictive practices, overmanning and unreal wage settlements! [end p24]

Earlier this month, we saw, notably in London, the true face of socialism, red in tooth and claw. [end p25] Londoners—and others—now face a supplementary rate which many will simply not be able to afford. High rates mean lost jobs.

Many businesses in the private sector, already hard pressed, and often without a vote in Local Elections, will face the stark choice of laying off staff in order to pay the rates or moving their businesses elsewhere.

Those authorities which are adding to high rates should remember that although they may create a few more public sector jobs, they may also be adding to unemployment; and they will be doing so at the expense of jobs in private businesses, jobs which do not have to be financed out of rates and taxes.

I have spoken today of the progress we are making towards recovery. But economic problems raise moral issues as well. It is certainly important to control the money supply. But it is even more important to realise that we can't solve our problems without self-restraint, generosity and co-operation. [end p26]

So I am saddened by those who would encourage strife for political ends. There are those on the Left whose first aim isn't to relieve unemployment, but to exploit it and try to turn it into a political weapon. You can't mistake them. They use the rhetoric of the barricades. They talk of defying decisions, ratified by Parliament and of fighting battles on the streets of Britain. Their methods will increase our problems, not help to solve them. Their emphasis is on strikes, ‘demos’ and non-cooperation.

But I believe they misjudge the majority. The tide is turning against them. And so far they've had to rely for practice on fighting each other. [end p27]

There is now, in Britain, a desire for harmony. But harmony can't be handed down from above. Those who pretend that it can are either offering policies with which no one could quarrel—which are no policies at all—or are moving towards coercion. [end p28]

It's the nature of free men to hold differing opinions. So Government must create a society which can accommodate them. It's only when too many aspects of life are politicised that healthy differences turn into unhealthy divisions.

True harmony is the outcome of co-operation freely given. It cannot be imposed, though Government must create the conditions that make it possible. Government, therefore, must be self-denying. It cannot promise Utopia. It can encourage each to work towards his own destiny. For it is only when a man feels a sense of personal responsibility that he stretches out his hand to his fellow.

Lasting success never comes easily to a nation.

It takes struggles in life to make strength.

It takes fights for principles to make fortitude.

It takes crises to give courage

And singleness of purpose to reach an objective. [end p29]

We have the strength. We have the fortitude. We have the courage. And we shall reach our objective.