Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Central Hall, Westminster
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: MT was due to speak at 1500 and to leave the Conference around 1615. MT’s introductory remarks were not included in the press release. BBC Indexes record a few trivial additional remarks to journalists: "not an election speech, looking forward to the challenges of the future".
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4015
Themes: Executive, Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Employment, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Family, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action, Voluntary sector & charity
Opening section marked “NOT FOR PRESS RELEASE”


Madam Chairman, it's marvellous to be back with you at this conference once again.

As I visit different parts of the country, I can see at first hand all the tremendous work you do for our Party.

Today I have the opportunity to give you my thanks and the thanks of all my colleagues in the Government. [end p1]

I want particularly to thank you, Madam Chairman.

I know how warmly regarded you are throughout the party for the leadership you give to young and not so young alike.

Everybody in this hall will, I know, join me in saying “thank you” .

And to Emma Nicholson, always full of energy, always brimming with ideas, we also express our thanks.

You too do a tremendous job. [end p2]

This Women's Conference is one of the most important conferences in the Conservative calendar.

It gives us a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones.

And it allows us to show the country that the Conservative Party draws its strength from people of all ages, in all walks of life and from all parts of Britain. [end p3]

Press release begins here:


Madam Chairman, last Friday I had the privilege of seeing Mrs Yelena Bonner, the wife of the Soviet scientist and courageous human rights campaigner, Andrei Sakharov.

Mrs Bonner, as you know, has been allowed out of the Soviet Union, where her husband is more or less under house arrest, to visit her daughter and two granddaughters in the United States and to receive medical treatment there. [end p4]

What she had to say was fascinating.

You may have read in the papers how her impression of life in America contrasted with life in Soviet Russia.

What struck her most forcibly was the possibility of actually owning a home of your own, as her children do, and what this meant for human and family life.

“I'm sixty-three” , she wrote, “and I've never had a house; not only that, I've never had a corner I could call my own” .

She went on: “My dream, my own house, is unattainable for my husband and myself, as unattainable as heaven on earth” . [end p5]

Madam Chairman, Yelena Bonner is a beacon of the human spirit.

We have no right to take for granted what for her is a dream of heaven on earth, but for us in Britain is an everyday, attainable reality.

We should take stock of what we have been able to achieve for family living standards here at home, with pride and gratitude, but without complacency. [end p6]

So, next time you go canvassing, think of Mrs. Bonner. When you call on your first owner-occupied home, think of Mrs. Bonner.

Remember, in Britain, there are fourteen million homes like that.

And don't be surprised if the householder who answers your knock on the door is young. In the last seven years, a lot more young people have been able to buy their own homes.

That's good news. [end p7]

And you may well see a child in the sitting room using a home computer pretty expertly—probably far better at it than mother or father.

Mind you, I'm not saying that the computer is a substitute for the three Rs—or the five Rs as I called them in Scotland.

And in that same house, the chances are there will be a video and a deep freeze. [end p8]

Moreover, nearly seven out of every ten households now have central heating, an increase of one-fifth since 1979.

Since then, many more homes have telephones—so important to the elderly, especially if they live alone.

And incidentally the family may well have bought some shares in British Telecom when it was privatised. [end p9]

Of course, some commentators think that it is crudely materialistic to describe the everyday things that families want in the way I am doing.

And then they go on to contradict themselves by complaining that not everyone enjoys them!

Well, our aim is to spread these good things, and others, more widely—by leaving people with enough of their own money to afford them. [end p10]

Remarks about our society being debilitated by “consumerism” , so-called, is simply socialist sour grapes.

Look at Eastern Europe: socialist economies have produced hardly anything worth consuming!

Adam Smith, the canniest of economists, pointed out that the object of production is consumption. There's no earthly point in making goods unless someone's going to buy them. [end p11]


Madam Chairman, I have deliberately spoken first about life in the family home.

For in a free society, it is not government which is the centre of people's lives, but the family.

The desire to do better for your family is the strongest driving force in human nature.

And a secure and loving home life is the best start any child can have.

Of course, a good standard of living is not enough.

You also need to be taught good standards for living. [end p12]

So our policy starts with the family, its freedom, and its well-being.

The great health and social services are meant, not to supplant, but to strengthen the family.

This government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to these services, as you heard again today from Norman Fowler.

Perhaps the rest of us don't proclaim our achievements enough. [end p13]

I was interested to see what somebody wrote the other day to the Minister of Health.

This is what it said:

“I cannot speak too highly of the treatment and conditions obtained in this hospital … all in all, the care and facilities could not have been improved upon … Indeed, several of my fellow patients from all walks of life urged me to write to you to place this on record … it is time that someone did something to put the other side of the picture.”

Indeed, I see from a recent poll that the great majority of people who have received treatment under the National Health Service are well satisfied. [end p14]

We have built up the health service so it has more resources and more medical staff to treat more patients than ever before.

Those are the facts.

No wonder the Opposition tries to drown them in a flood of hostile propaganda against the health service.

We must see they do not succeed.

And consider the pensioners of Britain.

What are their concerns? [end p15]

They want the security of stable prices in the shops; and of savings that grow and are not destroyed by rampant inflation.

Only our party offers them that security.

They want to feel safe in their homes and on the streets. We are backing the police with more men than ever in the fight against violent crime.

And having seen her on television, who can forget Lady Tucker, that marvellously plucky eighty-seven year-old British lady in New York, who gave the mugger the fright of his life by beating him off with that indispensable item of equipment, the British umbrella.

I bet that's the last time he'll have a go at a lady from Britain. [end p16]

No-one should ever talk about elderly people as a problem.

Many of them are an example to us all.

We are seeing more and more of them actively involved in the life of their communities.

And that's right.

We need their experience and ideas.

Half of all social security spending goes to help the elderly.

Some manage well by themselves with that support alone.

But many look to other services as well. [end p17]

It matters that district nurses should visit them.

Today we have more district nurses than ever, providing more treatment.

Whether on pensions, help for the disabled, or the health service in general, this Government's record is better than that of any previous government in Britain.

So it should be under a Conservative Government.

So it is. [end p18]


Madam Chairman, in all these different ways, life in Britain is better.

Yes, of course, we still face problems. But we can tackle them with confidence, because of the problems we have already overcome.

How was it done? [end p19]


First, by sound financial management.

Whether you're running a home, or a business or the Government, you've got to budget to live within your means.

Anyone who tries to convince you that you can spend as if there were no tomorrow is leading you up the garden path.

It's the easiest thing in the world to say: “Go on, spend more, borrow more” .

But the question any good housekeeper has to ask is “If the unexpected happens, have I left myself enough in reserve to cope?” [end p20]

Under so many previous governments, the answer has been “no” .

Under this government, the answer has been “yes” . Falklands; a year long coal strike; the collapse of oil prices and oil revenues: we withstood them all.

No economic crisis with this government.

That's good management. [end p21]


And, second, we had to decide on priorities within the total budget—where we needed to spend more and where we could make savings.

Your government has spent more:

— on defence of the realm, because that is the first duty of government.

Nothing is more important than defending Britain and our way of life.

— on the police; because, when we took office, there was an urgent need to increase police numbers and raise police morale.

We have done both. [end p22]

— on pensions; and, as you know, this government has kept faith with the pensioners.

In fact, the pension buys more than it ever did under Labour.

— on health; where we have increased spending from £7¾ billion to £18¾ billion.

At the same time—and here's one of many crucial differences between us and Labour—we've made genuine savings: especially in the nationalised industries, where our aim has been to turn losses into profits.

Take British Steel, which was running at a huge loss: over £600 million a year.

You, the taxpayer, had to find it.

Today, British Steel is in profit and ranks with the most efficient steel industries in Europe. [end p23]

Let's congratulate the management and workforce in nationalised industries who have worked together to bring about success.

We also set to work on making the machinery of Government more efficient and cutting bureaucracy and red-tape.

This efficiency drive has brought forward savings worth over £750 million a year.

And I want to pay tribute to all those civil servants who work with the government, loyally and with dedication, in the pursuit of greater efficiency.

They deserve our thanks. [end p24]

And thirdly, we have looked to see whether the money is used effectively.

It's not just how much you spend, but how you spend it.

Whether we're talking about raising standards in education, improving health care, or creating a better environment and a cleaner Britain, of course, money matters.

But other things matter too:

— how wisely the money is spent

— the quality of the management

— the morale and dedication of each individual. [end p25]

So let us measure public services not just by how much taxpayers' money they take but more by the standards of service they provide. [end p26]


Madam Chairman, today our principal opponents pretend—and, until the votes are counted, will go on pretending—not to be Socialists in order to win power for Socialism.

It won't work.

And if Labour believes it will, they labour under a delusion.

A Party does not become a government by slapping grey paint on the Red Flag and pretending to be what it patently is not. [end p27]

And you don't get rid of thousands of left-wing extremists firmly entrenched in the Labour Party by expelling a handful of councillors in Liverpool—and, to date, they haven't even managed that!

Madam Chairman, Labour has allies.

The Liberals, when they're not being studiously vague, are quietly enlisting in Labour's army.

For they do not have the strength to win themselves.

They've signed up for political control of the police, for giving away our nuclear weapons, for high tax.

They've so often put the rates up massively where they control the councils. [end p28]

And they pledge themselves to every kind of extra spending without telling you how in the world they'll raise the money.

They've decided the best way to help labour is to softpeddle Labour policies whilst smiling to capture anti-Labour votes.

We must make sure they don't let the Labour fox slip in through the hedge.

It's no good saying after the event:

“I didn't mean that to happen” . [end p29]


Madam Chairman, you will have seen reports of yesterday's economic debate in the House of Commons.

Some people talk as if there were a simple choice: are you on the side of more public spending or are you on the side of tax cuts.

People who put it that way assume that the national cake is always the same size, and that a bigger slice here means a smaller slice there.

But that's just not true if the national cake is getting bigger. [end p30]

Indeed, this year, the penny off income tax appeared in pay packets the same week as the government announced more manpower for the police and a further £60 million for the health service. Of course we had set aside reserves for contingencies, so the extra was well within the total we had planned. That is only prudent.

But caring in its true sense is also about not overtaxing those who have to live on modest incomes.

My concern is those people who are still paying too much income tax.

Yes, I am proud of this government's record on, for example, increasing the pay of nurses. [end p31]

But did you know that a nurse earning £150 a week has £41.60 deducted from her pay packet in tax and contributions?

A single person on £100 a week has £25 taken out of his or her paypacket.

A widow, trying to keep a family home going on a weekly income of £153 can find that £42 is taken away.

Madam Chairman, there are eighteen million people in this country whose earnings are at or below average male earnings.

These people look to the Conservative Government so that they can keep more of what they themselves have earned and saved. [end p32]

They can't look to anyone else and we have to keep faith with them.

Moreover, by cutting income tax, people's take-home pay goes up without adding to industrial costs.

That's vital when we have to compete against countries whose costs are rising more slowly than ours.

And what do people do with their extra take-home pay? It gives them an opportunity to improve their home.

Do up the kitchen, spend something on the children.

And that in turn creates jobs. [end p33]

It means people can spend their money on what they want, not on what somebody else thinks they should want.

And if people decide to put their money into savings, well, that can help provide the finance for somebody else to borrow money to start up in business.

That's good for jobs too.

It's no coincidence that those countries—like the United States, Japan and Switzerland—which have lower personal taxes, also have more jobs and lower unemployment. [end p34]

So tax cuts help the economy.

They create the wealth to sustain our social services.

And they help the family:

— to build up savings,

— to own some property,

— to have a bit of independence.

That brings a sense of security; and the satisfaction of being able to pass something on to your children, to give them a start in life.

That's the kind of society we want to create. [end p35]


And which is the better country for its citizens? One which trusts its people to be free, diverse, self-reliant, where the State is the servant of the people; or the one, of which Mrs Bonner spoke, where the people are subservient to the State?

John Betjeman caught the whiff of State Domination in his memorable lines: …

“Cut down the timber …

Remove those cottages, a huddled throng! …

I have a Vision of the Future, chum,

The workers flats in fields of soya beans

Tower up like silver pencils, score on score:

And surging millions hear the challenge come [end p36]

From microphones in communal canteens “No right! No wrong! All's perfect evermore” .

I saw it, I heard those microphones, as I stood and looked over the border at North Korea. [end p37]

A few days ago one staunch headmistress, the President of the National Association of Head Teachers, spoke up about the responsibility of individuals and of parents.

She said this:

“I firmly believe that the greatest crisis facing British education in 1986 is not the question of our budgets, the curriculum or the quality of our teachers.
It is much more basic than that.
In the 1980s it is all too easy for parents to abdicate their responsibilities.
So many children enter school barely able to speak because parents haven't made time to talk to them. [end p38]
It is a generation of children who haven't been taught a single nursery rhyme” .

It's too easy trying to lay off your conscience with more and more public spending.

But compassion can't be nationalised.

It's individuals that count. [end p39]

A responsible society is one in which people do not leave it to the person next door to do the job.

It is one in which people help each other.

Where parents put their children first.

Friends look out for the neighbours, families for their elderly members.

That is the starting point for care and support—the unsung efforts of millions of individuals, the selfless work of thousands upon thousands of volunteers.

It is their spirit that helps to bind our society together.

They've made Britain envied the world over for the strength of its voluntary contribution. [end p40]

Caring isn't measured by what you say:

It's expressed by what you do.

It was Conservatives who cared enough about the problem of pensioners and others on fixed incomes to take on inflation and win.

It was Conservative love of country that fought off those who would disarm us, and leave us empty-handed at the bargaining tables of the world. [end p41]

It was Conservative respect for families and their freedoms, which has led us to return houses and shares to the people, broadening ownership beyond our fathers' wildest dreams.

It was Conservative courage which met the Trade Union leaders and by appealing to their members brought in new rights for the working man. [end p42]


Yes, this government has fought many battles and won much ground, ground which others feared to take.

Our first duty is to defend and hold that ground against all-comers.

That we shall do.

But that is not enough to secure the Britain of the future.

Yes, let us hold on to, and cherish, all that is dear to us.

But the needs of a country are always changing and new occasions teach new duties.

Some say the time has come to relax.

But success does not come to those who just want [end p43] a bit of peace and quiet.

That is not the way of this government, or of any responsible government.

For Britain can never prosper through dodged decisions, fudged choices or lost direction.

Our young people have all the drive and all the initiative required to meet new challenges now and in the years to come.

The first challenge is the challenge of jobs.

In the last three years nearly a million extra jobs have been created.

But how do we generate more? [end p44]

— Get bureaucracy out of the way of those who create jobs—and allow enterprise to flourish.

— Reform tax and benefits—and make it worthwhile to work.

— Harness the energies of private enterprise with government—and revive our inner cities.

— Train and retrain our people—and equip them with the skills of tomorrow.

— Get ahead in technology—and build the new science based industries.

— Fight for Britain in the tough markets of the world—and win the orders that bring the jobs. [end p45]

It's successful business enterprise that creates new and lasting jobs; and only a government which puts enterprise first offers real hope to those without work.

Then, there is the challenge of education.

The pursuit of excellence in education has never been more vital: to get the best out of each and every pupil, all different, all equally important. [end p46]

That means:

— helping teachers and parents to work together;

— giving children a good general education so that when, in their working life, one skill becomes obsolete, they can quickly learn another;

— sorting out teachers' pay so that the better teachers are better paid;

— backing teachers who believe in maintaining discipline.

— rejecting political indoctrination in favour or true learning. [end p47]

Third is the challenge to our society from violence and intimidation.

Madam Chairman, if order is not maintained, then all rights of the citizen are threatened.

We deplore the humbug of some of our political opponents who, though they condemn violence, condone the tactics, the demonstrations, the picket lines which inevitably lead to violence, as they have done in Wapping. [end p48]

Having watched those terrible scenes on television, in which so many police were injured, what I can't stand are those detached discussions between armchair commentators as to who started it.

Do they think we can't see the injuries to the police and the missiles thrown at them and their horses?

Don't those who organise these demonstrations ever think of those who live nearby?

Our message is clear.

In the fight against crime, lawlessness, intimidation, we must give unswering support to the police and the courts as they carry out their exacting duties. [end p49]

And in our Party, we stand rock firm in the fight against terrorism at home and abroad.

Yet the Labour Party votes regularly against the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Worse still, an official Prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate goes abroad to attack the British Army and British courts and to defend convicted IRA terrorists.

Is he being expelled by Labour?

No-one dares. [end p50]

The fourth challenge is of East West relations.

— I hope that a second summit will take place this year between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev.

— I believe there is still time before that Summit to make progress on arms control agreements; particularly on chemical weapons where Britain has the chair in the current negotiations.

— I believe that in a world where there is no power to enforce international law, it is vital that treaties negotiated between the United States and the Soviet Union—like the ABM Treaty and the Salt Agreement—should be upheld. [end p51]

But for a treaty to be valid both sides have to comply with it.

The United States has just decided to dismantle two nuclear weapon submarines as required under SALT 2.

The Soviet Union has a case to answer that she has not complied with the treaties as regards new missiles, new radars and by concealing information on new missile tests.

So far she has failed to answer the case against her on these matters.

— I hope that both governments will comply with the treaty and will take steps to be seen to comply with it, and that the treaty will continue. [end p52]

Madam Chairman, we shall tackle these four challenges with the same vigour as we tackled the challenges of seven years ago.

Indeed, Conservative government alone can manage the changes required to bring Britain free, prosperous and secure into the 21st Century.

I began by referring to a single courageous woman, Yelena Bonner; and I conclude with Mrs. Bonner.

She symbolizes in an arresting, heart-warming way the indomitable spirit of the human individual even when confronted with the awesome power of a totalitarian state. [end p53]

As I look round this hall today, at the many hundreds of Conservative women gathered together here, how can I be other than profoundly hopeful about the prospects for our country?

For that same spirit, which inspires the defiance of Mrs. Bonner, which yearns in her for the happiness and security of her husband Andrei Sakharov and family, would no less inspire us here—each one of us—if ever Britain were to slip into the thraldom of state domination. [end p54]

You are the best guardians of our liberties.

Continue with the Conservative Party to build on the great open site of human freedom:

— the homes,

— the families,

— the values,

— the enterprises.

In a word, the good society.

For it's that which can bring, as Yelena Bonner herself has testified, a little bit of heaven on earth.