Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Rally at Cheltenham

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Cheltenham Racecourse
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 486/82
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1430; extract only. A section has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 3 July 1982 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1509
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Industry, Monetary policy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Health policy, Transport, Strikes & other union action, Famous statements by MT

Today we meet in the aftermath of the Falklands Battle. Our country has won a great victory and we are entitled to be proud. This nation had the resolution to do what it knew had to be done—to do what it knew was right.

We fought to show that aggression does not pay and that the robber cannot be allowed to get away with his swag. We fought with the support of so many throughout the world. The Security Council, the Commonwealth, the European Community, and the United States. Yet we also fought alone—for we fought for our own people and for our own sovereign territory.

Now that it is all over, things cannot be the same again for we have learned something about ourselves—a lesson which we desperately needed to learn.

When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts. The people who thought that Britain could no longer seize the initiative for herself.

The people who thought we could no longer do the great things which we once did. Those who believed that our decline was irreversible—that we could never again be what we were.

There were those who would not admit it—even perhaps some here today—people who would have strenuously denied the suggestion but—in their heart of hearts—they too had their secret fears that it was true: that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world.

Well they were wrong. The lesson of the Falklands is that Britain has not changed and that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history.

This generation can match their fathers and grandfathers in ability, in courage, and in resolution. We have not changed. When the demands of war and the dangers to our own people call us to arms—then we British are as we have always been: [end p1] competent, courageous and resolute.

When called to arms—ah, that's the problem.

It took the battle in the South Atlantic for the shipyards to adapt ships way ahead of time; for dockyards to refit merchantmen and cruise liners, to fix helicopter platforms, to convert hospital ships—all faster than was thought possible; it took the demands of war for every stop to be pulled out and every man and woman to do their best.

British people had to be threatened by foreign soldiers and British territory invaded and then—why then—the response was incomparable. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 3 July 1982:] Yet why does it need a war to bring out our qualities and reassert our pride? Why do we have to be invaded before we throw aside our selfish aims and begin to work together as only we can work and achieve as only we can achieve?

That, ladies and gentlemen, really is the challenge we as a nation face today. We have to see that the spirit of the South Atlantic—the real spirit of Britain—is kindled not only by war but can now be fired by peace. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 3 July 1982.]

We have the first pre-requisite. We know we can do it—we haven't lost the ability. That is the Falklands Factor. We have proved ourselves to ourselves. It is a lesson we must not now forget. Indeed it is a lesson which we must apply to peace just as we have learned it in war. The faltering and the self-doubt has given way to achievement and pride. We have the confidence and we must use it.

Just look at the Task Force as an object lesson. Every man had his own task to do and did it superbly. Officers and men, senior NCO and newest recruit—every one realised that his contribution was essential for the success of the whole. All were equally valuable—each was differently qualified.

By working together—each was able to do more than his best. As a team they raised the average to the level of the best and by each doing his utmost together they achieved the impossible. That's an accurate picture of Britain at war—not yet of Britain at peace. But the spirit has stirred and the nation has begun to assert itself. Things are not going to be the same again.

All over Britain, men and women are asking—why can't we achieve in peace what we can do so well in war?

And they have good reason to ask. [end p2]

Look what British Aerospace workers did when their Nimrod aeroplane needed major modifications. They knew that only by mid-air refuelling could the Task Force be properly protected. They managed those complicated changes from drawing board to airworthy planes in sixteen days—one year faster than would normally have been the case.

Achievements like that, if made in peacetime, could establish us as aeroplane makers to the world.

That record performance was attained not only by superb teamwork, but by brilliant leadership in our factories at home which mirrored our forces overseas. It is one of the abiding elements of our success in the South Atlantic that our troops were superbly led. No praise is too high for the quality and expertise of our commanders in the field.

Their example, too, must be taken to heart. Now is the time for management to lift its sights and to lead with the professionalism and effectiveness it knows is possible.

If the lessons of the South Atlantic are to be learned, then they have to be learned by us all. No one can afford to be left out. Success depends upon all of us—different in qualities, but equally valuable.

During this past week, I have read again a little known speech of Winston Churchill, made just after the last war. This is what he said:-

“We must find the means and the method of working together not only in times of war, and mortal anguish, but in times of peace, with all its bewilderments and clamour and clatter of tongues.”

Thirty-six years on, perhaps we are beginning to re-learn the truth which Churchill so clearly taught us.

We saw the signs when, this week, the NUR came to understand that its strike on the railways and on the Underground just didn't fit—didn't match the spirit of these times. And yet on Tuesday, eight men, the leaders of ASLEF, misunderstanding the new mood of the nation, set out to bring the railways to a halt.

Ignoring the example of the NUR, the travelling public whom they are supposed to serve, and the jobs and future of their own members, this tiny group decided to use its undoubted power for what?—to delay Britain's recovery, which all our people long to see. [end p3]

Yet we can remember that on Monday, nearly a quarter of the members of NUR turned up for work.

Today, we appeal to every train driver to put his family, his comrades, and his country first, by continuing to work tomorrow. That is the true solidarity which can save jobs and which stands in the proud tradition of British railwaymen.

But it is not just on the railways that we need to find the means and the method of working together. It is just as true in the NHS. All who work there are caring, in one way or another for the sick.

To meet their needs we have already offered to the ancillary workers almost exactly what we have given to our Armed Forces and to our teachers, and more than our Civil Servants have accepted. All of us know that there is a limit to what every employer can afford to pay out in wages. The increases proposed for nurses and ancillary workers in the Health Service are the maximum which the Government can afford to pay.

And we can't avoid one unchallengeable truth. The Government has no money of its own. All that it has it takes in taxes or borrows at interest. It's all of you—everyone here—that pays.

Of course, there is another way. Instead of taking money from our people openly, in taxation or loans, we can take it surreptitiously, by subterfuge. We can print money in order to pay out of higher inflation what we dare not tax and cannot borrow.

But that disreputable method is no longer open to us. Rightly this Government has abjured it. Increasingly this nation won't have it. Our people are now confident enough to face the facts of life. There is a new mood of realism in Britain.

That too is part of the Falklands Factor.

The battle of the South Atlantic was not won by ignoring the dangers or denying the risks.

It was achieved by men and women who had no illusions about the difficulties. We faced them squarely and we were determined to overcome. That is increasingly the mood of Britain. And that's why the rail strike won't do.

We are no longer prepared to jeopardise our future just to defend manning practices agreed in 1919 when steam engines plied the tracks of the Grand Central Railway and the motor car had not yet taken over from the horse. [end p4]

What has indeed happened it that now once again Britain is not prepared to be pushed around.

We have ceased to be a nation in retreat.

We have instead a new-found confidence—born in the economic battles at home and tested and found true 8,000 miles away.

That confidence comes from the re-discovery of ourselves, and grows with the recovery of our self-respect.

And so today, we can rejoice at our success in the Falklands and take pride in the achievement of the men and women of our Task Force.

But we do so, not as at some last flickering of a flame which must soon be dead. No—we rejoice that Britain has re-kindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which today has begun to burn as brightly as before.

Britain found herself again in the South Atlantic and will not look back from the victory she has won.