Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Federation of Conservative Students Annual Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Loughborough University
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: MT spoke 1630-1715.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2217
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Higher & further education, Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Science & technology


Mr. Chairman, this is the first time I have attended your annual conference as Prime Minister and as your President. I was due to speak two years ago but had to cancel because of the Falklands. So I am especially pleased to be here today.

There is another reason. When I met you Mr. Chairman and your officers last year, I agreed to hold a reception for the FCS at No. 10. I did, and very many of you attended. [end p1] Unfortunately, I did not—as I was attending, at rather short notice, a funeral in Moscow.

So—after the Falklands and Moscow—I was determined that nothing was going to stop me coming to speak to you today.

I do want to congratulate the Federation—and in particular you, Mr. Chairman and the officers—for the way you have helped bring the FCS out of a difficult period and returned it to success. [end p2] In colleges, polytechnics and universities, the Federation is recruiting increasing numbers of students. I understand that there are now around 100 affiliated Associations. I congratulate you all on this very considerable achievement. [end p3]

The New Understanding

The 1970s were a period of self-deception and illusion. It was much easier to pretend that things were all right than to put them right. This Government has changed all that.

People accuse us of having broken the old “understanding” that we must all learn to live with creeping Socialism and creeping inflation. [end p4] We had to break it. Because what first creeps, soon crawls and then gallops

So in 1979, we forged a new understanding between Government and people.

On all the key issues of the day, it is we in the Conservative Party who are in tune with the instincts and beliefs of the British people: —on the rule of law —on strong defences —on the need for sound finance and honest money [end p5] —on the recognition that customers not governments create lasting jobs —on giving protection to the weak and incentives to the enterprising —on giving people the chance to buy their own home and acquire a stake in Britain —on advancing the boundaries of freedom.

All that is now the common ground, shared by the Conservative Government and the British people. That is the measure of the achievements of the Conservative Party. [end p6]


Nowhere has the Conservative revolution achieved more than in restoring our economic performance and prospects.

Yesterday in the House of Commons I was asked about the decision by General Motors of America to make a new investment in Britain worth £100 million. The reason they gave—because of the much improved climate in Britain.

That is just one sign of many showing how our fortunes have changed. [end p7]

For many decades in Britain, there had been a gradual erosion of the enterprising spirit. Britain had been steadily pushed out of its traditional markets and had made slow progress in new ones. A paralysis of purpose gave customers little confidence in the promises and products of British business. [end p8] Managements bought an uneasy industrial truce by handing over many of their management functions to shop stewards. Not surprisingly, people asked: was British industry unmanageable?

Now we know the answers. Today we have one of the highest economic growth rates in the European Community. Last month, exports hit an all-time high—over £6,000 million. [end p9]

Our chemical exports are beating the toughest competition—15 per cent higher than in 1982. We are producing almost 10 per cent more motor vehicles and spare parts than just a year ago.

We have the fastest growing electronics industry in Europe. Britain has become a magnet for high technology investment. And we have now overtaken Germany as the largest consumer of microchips in Europe. [end p10]

But although I could go on for quite a long time running through the list of our achievements, I will resist the temptation. What matters is not our past gains, but the policies that ensure that we win, and continue to win in the great industrial competition of the future.

We won't win by cossetting our industries, by protecting them from the realities of competition. We won't win by Government guarantees of wages or jobs or markets or profits. Because Government can give no such guarantees. [end p11] A protective blanket around any firm or industry will not make it thrive. It will only debilitate and smother it.

The only policy for winning is to take on the competition and beat it. And we are doing just that.

But there is still one dark side to this bright industrial renaissance. I refer to unemployment. [end p12]

Our problems in finding enough jobs have been made even more difficult because the baby booms of earlier years are now emerging as school leavers. Indeed, the number of people of working age between 1978 and 1984 will have risen by one million; and will go on rising for a few years yet.

So while the number of jobs available can be increasing so too can the number of job seekers. [end p13]

In the decade ahead, we are going to face new challenges, because the very basis of employment is changing.

In the age of mechanisation now drawing to a close, we saw industrial work as a series of tasks along a production line. Large numbers of semi-skilled workers were needed by large firms to man the production lines. In the age of automation and robotics, all that is gradually fading away. The robots take over. Nor is the robot limited to the production line. [end p14] Information technology and control systems have rendered many jobs obsolete.

But what the most sophisticated machinery can NOT do is to discover new products and new ways of satisfying the myriad consumer needs. This is the role of the entrepreneur, the go-getter, the designer, the innovator, the inventor, the explorer—yes, even the dreamer. [end p15]

Of course, it is not the sure, safe, life of a line operator or an administrator. It is chancy and exciting; but the satisfaction and rewards can be huge. We need this enterprise and enterprising culture—and you can deliver it.

That is the road to new industries and new work. But there are no short cuts. The soft option of a permissive monetary policy brings only inflation, inefficiency and unemployment. Any attempt by government to grab direct control of the economy only stifles enterprise and creates distortion in the economy. [end p16]

So from Day One our policy has been to bring about a long overdue return to sound finance, economic freedom and enterprise. [end p17]


No government for decades has done more than ours to extend and enlarge freedom in Britain.

Where, before, there was control of prices and pay, dividends and foreign exchange, today there is freedom.

Where, before, Labour stopped council tenants from buying their own home, today there is freedom. [end p18]

Where, before, the State took a bigger and bigger slice of Britain's industry, today we have the biggest programme of de-nationalisation ever undertaken by any government. And wherever possible the work force have the chance to become shareholders.

Where, before, we had State or indeed private monopoly, today we are introducing greater competition. [end p19]

Where, before, rates of income tax were up, today they are down—leaving people with greater freedom on how to spend the money they have earned.

Above all, this Government stands full square behind the defenders of our freedom: the crime fighters, the upholders of the rule of law and the defence forces. They are the ultimate guarantors of our freedoms. [end p20]

In 1979, under the last Labour Government, the State and its agencies had more power and exercised more control over the British people than at any time since the aftermath of the Second World War. Thanks to the Conservative revolution we have restored freedoms where before there were none. [end p21]


Mr Chairman, the future of Britain lies in the european Community. This is why Geoffrey Howe and I are working so hard in our negotiations with our European partners. We are determined to achieve a fair and just settlement. We will then be able to devote our energies to developing the Community's full potential. [end p22]

That is what our Party's commitment to the Community means. We want it to be:- —a driving force for freer trade, both in Europe and across the world —the centre of tomorrow's industries and the very latest technologies —the home of creative endeavour and invention—qualities which were the very essence of Europe's past and which are waiting to be released in our peoples today. [end p23]

And that's only the beginning. This Continent is a vital area of stability and democracy. Imagine how different the world would look if Europe were under the heel of authoritarian governments; worse, if it were still wracked by the upheavals and wars of the past. All that must be behind us for ever. [end p24]

The countries of Europe must co-operate, not just to preserve our own democracy and stability but to sustain and strengthen democracy across the world.

All our history tells us that the world needs Europe, needs its accumulated experience and wisdom to make the world a safer and a better place. I want a Europe which takes the initiative on world problems, not which reacts wearily to them; which forges links across the European divide and builds a more hopeful relationship between East and West; [end p25] which works in partnership with the United States, that great guarantor of Europe's liberty—works to defend and promote the values and beliefs which lie at the heart of Western civilisation.

No-one will be happier than I when we are all working for that kind of Europe.

And let no-one tell you that we in this country lack the credentials for that enterprise. [end p26]

Who has done more for Europe than Britain?

Without us in 1939 and throughout those long and terrible years till 1945, Europe would have been lost—lost to the forces of Evil. British men and women fought and died for a Europe free and at peace. Without them the European Community would not exist. [end p27]

No European country has done more than us to defend Europe since. Could there possibly be better evidence of our commitment to Europe than those 65,000 British soldiers and airmen stationed on the Central Front, or our role in guaranteeing Berlin, or our contribution to NATO's naval strength—the largest apart from the United States. [end p28]

Our people have always looked beyond these islands. They saw seas and crossed them; found new lands and explored them; spread our institutions and laws, our knowledge and culture over the face of the earth.

When we entered the Community we did so for more than a common agricultural policy. We went in with a vision. We still have that vision. And we shall not rest until it is realised. [end p29]


Mr. Chairman, the first duty of government is to make our future, and our way of life, secure.

This was brought home all too vividly only a few days ago. Last week, the Soviet Union conducted a major naval exercise in the North Atlantic—in the very week that saw the 35th anniversary of the founding of NATO. [end p30]

The so-called peace movement may claim to be campaigning for peace. But peace is not brought about by protesting against war. Peace comes, not by chanting the word like an incantation, but from that ceaseless vigilance which the Western Allies have sustained for nearly two generations. The nuclear deterrent is not just a phrase without meaning: It has deterred. It has preserved the peace in Europe for almost forty years. [end p31]

The alternative would be to leave the most powerful weapons the world has ever known exclusively in the hands of potential aggressors. We totally and utterly reject that policy.

We must remain strong in the face of all challenges. But we must also take every opportunity to make the world a safer place. That is why we are working for arms control, to reduce the number of weapons and the money spent on them. [end p32]

We want agreements on the limitation of conventional forces and a total ban on chemical weapons.

Above all we want genuine agreements on the reduction of nuclear arms which do not hand an advantage to the other side, but which preserve our security and which can be properly verified. [end p33]

We have no illusions about the time scale. It will take time. The prospects for progress would be enhanced if we established a better East/West relationship in general, if we can reduce some existing tensions and remove some of the scope for misunderstandings.

Peace is our aim. But not a pretence of a peace; not a peace which is nothing more than a slow surrender to a political creed that is alien to everything our nation has stood for down the centuries. [end p34] But a genuine, true and lasting peace based on freedom and justice. [end p35]


Mr. Chairman, it's some time ago that I became involved in my university's Conservative Association, and then went on to fight my first Parliamentary seat. But I came into politics for the same reasons that I suspect many of you have. We enjoy controversy and debate, certainly. But, above all, we have ideals—ideals shared, I believe, by the British people. [end p36] A love of freedom and democracy. An abhorrence of over-government. A deep sense of national pride. And a yearning for the revival of Britain.

Mr. Chairman, I believe we are now on the brink of a British revival. Because we have a government which has gone for the tough decisions rather than the easy options. Because we have kept our nerve, even under the most intense pressure. [end p37]

Because people know that we believe what we say and say what we believe. And because the British are now showing, once again, just how much they can achieve.

The Conservative revolution—which has restored the nation's fortunes—is well under way. Long may it continue.