Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Young Conservative Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Winter Gardens, Bournemouth
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 79/85 with additional section from THCR 5/1/5/301 f31
Editorial comments: A section was not released to the press; it has been added here from the speaking text. MT spoke at 1245.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2615
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (USA), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Social security & welfare, Strikes & other union action

Mr. Chairman, it's two years since I last attended the Young Conservative Conference. And it's marvellous to be back. You bring to our Party vigour and enthusiasm. And I want to thank you for everything you are doing in the YC branches up and down the country. It's a tribute to you that at this Conference there is a record number of Young Conservatives.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, I came to the Young Conservative Conference—and I shared with you my beliefs about personal responsibility, and my hopes for Britain. That was when we were in Opposition. Now, we are in office—and, like President Reagan, into our second term. And, Mr. Chairman, this Government has remained true to our beliefs.


At the heart of our philosophy lies this fundamental truth: that the success of a nation depends on the efforts and enterprise of its citizens. For us, it doesn't matter who you are, or who your family is. It's what you are, and what you can be, that counts. [end p1]

Of course, the State has an important role to play—in defence, in law and order, in sound management of the Nation's finances, and in proper provision of health and social welfare. But we also believe, profoundly believe, in the principle that the State “must not burden the individual so that he loses his initiative and enterprise.”

That's not some new principle dreamt up in 1979. It comes straight from the “One Nation” pamphlet of 1950, written, amongst others, by Ted Heath, Iain Macleod Robert Carr and Enoch Powell.

And it was the Beveridge Report on the Welfare State for the Post-War period, written in 1942, which said: “The state in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility: in establishing a national minimum it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than the minimum for himself and his family.”

These principles are just as true today as they were then. Look round the world. Those countries where enterprise flourishes are the most successful at creating new jobs, and achieving a higher standard of living. So how are we, in Britain today, putting into practice the “One Nation” principle? Our first priority has been and remains to bring down inflation.

Under the last Labour Government money last half its purchasing power. If in 1974 your family had had £10,000, saved throughout a working life by 1979 those savings would have been worth less than £5,000. [end p2]

No wonder that Lenin said that if one wished to destroy a nation one should first debauch its currency. And he spoke as a revolutionary, not as a monetarist—because of course inflation undermines the very independence of people who have created their own security through savings.

When I spoke to you ten years ago, the rate of inflation was 20 per cent and rising. Now inflation is below 5 per cent. But it's still not as low as in Japan and Germany. So there can be no let up in the battle against inflation. We have also cut personal taxation so that people can keep more of the money they earn. If we had left Labour's rates and structure of income tax untouched, each taxpayer would today be paying, on average, an extra £165 a year.

To do all of these things we have had to take some firm decisions on public spending. Nevertheless, we have kept faith with our pledge to the retirement pensioners. We have devoted more resources to the National Health Service. And we have strengthened our overseas defences and police forces.

I receive many letters asking for higher public spending. But they always want the burden passed on to other people. They don't ask for higher income tax. Industrialists don't ask for the reimposition of the National Insurance Surcharge. Nobody writes asking for VAT to be levied on a lot more things. I haven't had many letters in the last few days asking for higher water charges to finance infrastructure. My letters ask for the very opposite—keep taxes down and don't put a penny on anything.

Of course everyone has their special cause for which they want more money. I know I do. [end p3]

But someone has to add up the sum total and then speak for the majority. In politics, it's no good pretending that difficult decisions don't exist. They do, and I believe people understand that. Pennies don't come from heaven. They come from purses and pockets. Every party in power knows it.

Let me ask you, which Government in the last fifteen years made the biggest ever cuts in public spending? Just think for a moment. Mr. Heath 's, Mr Wilson 's, Mr Callaghan 's or mine? Well, it was a Labour government under Mr Callaghan. Of course, you wouldn't think it from what they say now. And it was the Labour Government which actually cut real resources for the Health Service in two of their years in office; and which failed to pay the Christmas bonus to pensioners two years running.

Oh yes, our opponents try to conceal all that now; just as they try to forget the winter of discontent when it seemed as if the nation was being run by the militant left in the Trade Unions. Now—yes—we do have problems.

But did you know that national output in Britain was at a record level?

Did you know that total investment has never been higher; and that the same is true of people's standard of living?

Did you know that under this Government Britain's overseas assets have been built up and are now worth far more than at any time since the Second World War?

And I wonder if you also know that since this Government came to office, 1.8 million more people now own their own home? That is the first step to making every man and woman a capitalist. That's the way we will become one nation. [end p4] Property—whether a house, or shares, or savings—brings independence and respect for the property of others. It enables you to pass something on to future generations to give them a better start.

This Party is proud of the fact that 13 million people are now home-owners. And not only that. We have carried out the biggest de-nationalisation programme of all time. Did you know that the sale of British Telecom shares a few months ago was the largest ever made in the World? Four times larger than anything in the United States. At one fell swoop, two million people in Britain bought shares. What a triumph for the City of London, a creator of income, and provider of jobs. Indeed, it's worth remembering that between 1979 and 1984 finance and insurance between them created over 150,000 new jobs.

When the Labour Party talk about “A fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth” they mean more power to the State. We mean more power to the citizen.

The Market Economy

The Socialists hate all this, just as they hate the freedom of the market economy. In last week's Censure Debate called by the Opposition—and there was a boomerang if ever there was one—the Socialists decided [words missing?] the market-place.

Do they really think they could compel the rest of the world to buy our goods? Do they really want to restrict the choice of the housewife in the High Street? Can't they see that the greatest market economy of them all, the United States, has created more prosperity and well-being for its own people and, yes, for people across the world, than the Socialist countries of Eastern Europe could ever do? [end p5] of course there has to be a framework of rules laid down by Government, to ensure fair competition and safeguard the consumer.

But once that framework has been established, then it is the customers who choose. And what they buy decides how fast a company grows and how many people it employs.

Bringing New Jobs

Unemployment is a blight, and not only an economic blight. It leaves individuals without the sense of purpose and the respect that having a job can bring. Those who are unemployed are not only deprived of their jobs but also of part of their sense of identity.

The Government has clear responsibilities. —to get inflation lower still; —to ease the burden on employers of taxation, rates and yes government red tape —to provide, in partnership with industry, training and retraining; to provide incentives to stimulate business. —in short, to create the conditions for enterprise.

But that requires a response. And people ask “What can we do? Those who work in industry and commerce can produce with the design, quality and reliability demanded. They can go out and sell with enthusiasm and deliver on time.

And we can all help to keep down costs. It's not only what you're paid. It's how much you produce for it that counts. And in that respect some of our competitors are still more efficient. We can do better. [end p6]

Above all, we can reject strikes. Strikes destroy jobs and give our country a bad name. Orders lost may be lost for ever. One reason why Cammell Laird won a naval order was because the greater part of the workforce bravely and totally rejected the militant tactics of a minority.

And there is something else we can all do. If a British-made product is as good as the foreign-made one, buy British. Very often, it can be “Better Made In Britain”—and Basil Feldman, here on the platform has done much to prove just that.

Let's give every encouragement to those who want to set up a new business. They can be the biggest job creators of them all.

[Following section marked “Not for press release ”: see THCR 5/1/5/301 f28]

There’s a lot of new enterprise, especially on the part of young people.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Helen had been made redundant by a firm of tarpaulin manufacturers.

Now, at the age of 18, she has set up a business making tarpaulins and boat covers.

When Yvonne and Catherine lost their jobs as design tufting assistants in the carpet trade, Yvonne said “We were redundant, on the dole, depressed”.

But the depression didn’t last long.

Ten months later they’d set up a textile design company in Leeds;

And won £500 in a national competition for young people setting up their own businesses.

There are many others, including one who said his motto was: “Rise early, work late, and strike oil”.

That, I may say, is the only of strike we want.

[end of section not included in press release]


Unfortunately there is one strike which is still going on—the coal strike. There is an excellent future for the coal industry. But it depends on modernising the mines. The demand that no pit should ever close on economic grounds is an impossible one. It has never been accepted by any Labour Government. The last two Labour Governments took powers in Acts of Parliament to give grants to assist the elimination—yes, elimination, not reduction—of uneconomic colliery capacity.

To give in to that new demand would have meant all the money going to keep old pits open, and no money for investment in new pits. The result would be dearer electricity higher taxes, an ever-bigger burden on the industry, and jobs would be lost not saved. Yes, it is the leadership of the NUM who have stood out against the coal industry of the future. It is they who have brought Luddism back to Britain. [end p7]

Their strike is wrecking some of the very machines and coalfaces that are the livelihoods of their members. By their actions, they have deliberately stopped the investment they say the industry needs. How can you keep your markets if your sole purpose is to drive up the costs? And how do you keep your customers if you try to cut off their supplies?

The Labour leadership must know this. It was the Neil KinnockLabour leader who said that the NUM Arthur ScargillPresident was—and I quote—“Destroying the coal industry single-handed”. That was in 1983. But that didn't stop the Labour Party from backing the strike They call for more jobs, but back a strike that has led to the loss of over thirty coal faces, and put many suppliers to the industry out of work. They say they support British Industry, but back NUM demands that would put up its fuel bills. They claim to speak for the old and the sick, but they back to the hilt a strike specifically designed to cut off their heat and light—and in the deep mid-winter.

This strike would have finished long ago had it not been kept going by violence and intimidation. We have witnessed an ugly chapter in trade union history. And the majority of trade unionists know it and are sickened by it.

This strike presented the Labour Party with a real test of leadership. They ducked it. It was the working miners who showed true grit. Out of this strike there is emerging a new generation of moderate and responsible trade union leaders, determined to protect their industry for the benefit of their families and their country. Most miners know that they have on the table the best offer since nationalisation: [end p8] The best ever pay, the best every investment, the best guarantee against compulsory redundancy, the best early retirement terms and the best colliery review procedure.

Even this week after eleven months, the leadership of the NUM are still boasting that they haven't budged an inch. That is why seven rounds of negotiations have failed. That is why the Coal Board is right to insist that, before an eighth round, the NUM should indicate clearly its willingness to discuss the central issue in this dispute. If the NUM accept that economic factors must be taken into account in deciding the future of pits;

If they accept the right of the Board to take the final decision after all the procedures have been completed;—then a settlement is ready and waiting.

If they truly want a settlement, if they truly want a prosperous coal industry for the future,—then it's there for the taking.

Britain and the World

Whenever I travel overseas or receive foreign visitors in Britain, it is clear to me that Britain still stands for something rather special in the world. Just before Christmas, having first had talks with Mr Gorbachev at Chequers I flew to China, then Hong Kong and finally on to the United States. It was an exhausting trip—for the press who accompanied me! But it was exhilarating! In Peking, we signed with the Chinese a truly historic agreement. It is a major diplomatic achievement for Geoffrey Howe and all those who worked with him: [end p9]

It safeguards for fifty years the future and way of life of the people of Hong Kong. And it opens a new chapter in relations between the United Kingdom and China.

In the United States, I was able to discuss with President Reagan our approach to the re-opening of arms talks between the United States and the Soviet Union. Those talks, soon to start, offer the hope of peace to the world.

They also teach us two lessons:-

First—that it was not one-sided disarmament which has brought the Russians to the negotiating table. It was our strength. And our determination was seen only a few days ago at Molesworth in a highly efficient and successful operation. This Government will carry out to the full its NATO responsibilities.

Secondly—any attempts to drive a wedge between Britain and the United States will fail. America is our greatest ally. And in this Party we are pro-American. We have so much in common.

We are custodians of a great heritage that every individual counts and that each of us has a responsibility to help others. We also know that before you can distribute wealth, you must first create it. Indeed wealth creation is the most fundamental social service. Nowhere are these truths seen more starkly than in the terrible famine which has afflicted the people of Africa. Since last October Britain alone has provided over £28 million together with the use of two Hercules planes, which have done such valiant work. The help provided by the West, dwarfs anything provided by the communist bloc. And it was not only the gifts of money but the self-giving of many individual volunteers with their total dedication, which has brought hope to people in despair. [end p10] And across the world, in Britain especially, people have responded to the tragedy magnificently moved by a deep sense of humanity which transcends national borders


Mr Chairman I am proud of Britain's contribution to the world—proud of the rule of law and the freedom of democracy which we gave to countries of Empire who would never have known it otherwise, —proud of the way we gave independence to those countries, on a scale without precedent in the history of the world, —proud of what Britain has done and continues to do for peace liberty and justice.

We have a great history.

Mr. Chairman, we can have a great future. “By mutual confidence and mutual aid great deeds are done and great discoveries made.” It is in that spirit that we Conservatives confidently face the future.