Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Torquay
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1200-1240. The press release (193/87) was embargoed until 1200. Sections of the text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 21 March 1987 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3214
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Employment, General Elections, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Strikes & other union action


Madam Chairman, may I begin with a public service announcement. I don't know the date of the next election and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that whenever that election is declared, this government and this Party will enter the lists with a greater record of achievement and success than any government for many a long year. And that record of success is all the more impressive when set against the miserable inheritance that the last Labour Government bequeathed to us: [end p1] —an economy bedevilled by inflation which decimated people's savings, —a society dictated to, and dominated by, a handful of trade union leaders, —defence forces starved of resources and equipment, —living standards further and further behind our European competitors, —and, pervading all, a sense of hopelessness and national decline. [end p2]

Socialism had failed the British people. But in its long years of power, the socialist dogma—of dependence on the State, of a comfortable subservience to the bureaucrat in town-hall and Whitehall—had bitten deep into the national spirit. And no wonder: —if you were a trade unionist, you were subject to the rule of militants by an undemocratic rule book. —if you were building up a business or saving for the future, you were hit by red tape and high taxes. [end p3] —And if, like so many of our people, you lived in a council house, you had no right to buy your own home—and many Labour local authorities made jolly sure you didn't.

Socialists, in effect, offered the British people a deal. If you were content not to strive, not to seek a better chance for your children, not to provide for your own future, not to question the diktat of your trade union boss, you were patted on the head. [end p4] But if you struggled, against all the odds, to improve your own and your family's prospects, you were burdened with taxes, pettifogging regulations, and egalitarian envy.

Is it altogether surprising that, in the last years of the seventies, Britain sank into a slough of despond and dependency? This Britain which, only forty years before, had rescued Europe from tyranny. [end p5]

Fresh Start

Well, eight years ago, we made a fresh start.

Today, eight years later, Britain is back in the first division. In economic growth and productivity, we are top of the league of major European countries. We have created the wealth to bring about a big improvement in our social services. And our people enjoy the highest standard of living in our history. [end p6] What's more, this country is listened to abroad with a new respect.

The Opposition parties—and not a few pundits—predicted that, after winning through to success, we would throw it all away and try to buy votes with an irresponsible Budget. Well, not for the first time, they were wrong. We don't buy votes—we earn them. We've earned them this week by sticking to the policies of honest money and personal incentives we've pursued from the beginning. [end p7]

This has made it possible in one and the same financial year: —to increase spending by £4¾ billion on education, health and other public services. —to cut borrowing by £3 billion. —and to reduce income tax by £2½ billion.

Madam Chairman, that's a hat-trick. [end p8]

Electioneering? No!

Listen to the newspapers. The Daily telegraph: a “cautious Budget” ; The Independent: the “Budget goes for caution” ; The Financial Times: “Lawson opts for prudence” . And the Sun, with glorious abandon: “What a lot you got” .

In politics, a budget that is both responsible and popular is something of a curiosity. It was possible only because, slowly but surely, Britain has built its strongest economy for a generation. [end p9]

Don't imagine that this was achieved easily. And don't get the idea that we received much help from the Opposition parties. Quite the reverse.

While this government was steadily reducing inflation by restoring sound finance, Labour, Liberals and the Social Democrats carped and criticised all the way. In 1981 they had a supporting chorus of 364 economists. This week, it's down to a quintet. And they weren't exactly in tune with the times. [end p10]


Labour's opposition is predictable enough. It has declined from a great party to a band of zealots which is instinctively hostile to the hopes and dreams of ordinary people. If you want to own your council house; or buy shares in British Telecom or British Gas or British Airways; or oppose the closed shop, Labour is against you. More and more people are waking up to Labour's new extremism. [end p11]

And what of the Labour Party in exile? By which, of course, I mean the Liberals and the SDP.

In the last year or so, in the House of commons, they have voted eight times more often with Labour than with us. Not much doubt where their sympathies lie.

Mind you, they haven't changed. Ten years ago, at the peak of trade union power, the Liberals formed the Lib-Lab pact to keep Labour in power. [end p12] And when this was going on, where were the founders of the SDP? Sitting round Labour's Cabinet table: Mrs. Shirley Williams beside Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. William Rodgers next to Mr. Denis Healey and Dr. David Owen ?—alongside Mr. Tony Benn.

For the British people that was the Winter of Discontent, for David Steel, David Owen, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers, not to mention Roy Jenkins in Brussels, it was the Good Old Days.

I gather at the next election, they are hoping to be asked to give us an encore—the two Davids in that ever-popular musical delight: “Don't tell my mother I'm half of a horse in a Panto” . [end p13]

I'm told Mr. Steel has been rehearsing for it this very week.

The Liberals have always put Labour in. They did it in 1924, in 1929, in 1974 and in 1977. And given half a chance they'd do it again. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 21 March 1987:

This week, once again, Labour, Liberal and SDP have united against income tax cuts for factory workers, teachers, policemen and nurses, among others And don't forget many many pensioners pay income tax too. [end p14]

The message of all this is clear. There are three types of socialism on offer —the full-blooded Labour variety —the half-hearted Social Democrat variety —and the half-baked Liberal variety. End of section checked against BBC Radio News. [end p15]


We've heard other siren voices in recent weeks.

“Prime Minister” , they sing, “whatever you do, don't cut taxes because most people don't need a boost to their standard of living: increase public spending instead because that creates jobs” .

Madam Chairman, I'm sure you've identified the two fallacies in that argument. First, we've already increased public spending this year—by £4¾ billion. [end p16]

We announced it last autumn. Now the Opposition parties want to spend that same money a second, and maybe a third time.

The second mistake is to ignore the fact that cutting taxes itself creates jobs.

The truth is that, unlike increased public spending, income tax cuts reward hard work; they develop enterprise; and they stimulate wealth creation.

That is why taxes are being cut around the world —especially in Europe, and the United States. [end p17]

It is with these policies, Madam Chairman, that a million new jobs have been created here in Britain since 1983. And this week, the Nation's confidence has been boosted by the news that unemployment has been falling steadily for the past seven months. This month, we saw the biggest seasonally adjusted fall on record—a fall in unemployment in every region of the country.

And prospects for the coming months are good. [end p18]

But we haven't forgotten those still without a job. Since 1979, this government has spent £10,000 million on employment and training measures.

The fact is, we have done more than any other country in Europe. And David Young has a succession of visitors asking how we do it. [end p19]


Despite our economic success, there are still problems to be solved.

Look for instance at the inner cities. We have been asked to have Faith in our Cities. We do have Faith in our Cities. But not always in some of the people who run them: [end p20] —those who talk more about social engineering than about tackling the problems. —those who care more about sexual propaganda than helping children read and write. —those who seem more concerned with fighting the police than with fighting crime.

How can such people claim to build prosperous cities? —when they need more jobs, but drive out small businesses. [end p21] —when they fail to collect rents, but leave houses in disrepair. —when they send rates soaring, but spend vast sums on ridiculous projects.

No wonder Robert Kilroy-Silk, who was Labour MP for Knowsley, Liverpool until last year, has said: “The militants and their ilk in Liverpool are the biggest deterrents to job creation on Merseyside that there have ever been. Dozens of times in the last few years I have tried fruitlessly to persuade companies that I knew were looking for sites for new plants, to locate on Merseyside and in Knowsley. But each time the decision went against us, [end p22] because of their perception of our militancy.”

Of course, money is needed to solve some of the inner city problems. If, in 1979, we'd said we were going to provide an extra £1 billion for inner cities, people would have thought it would go a long way to solving the problem. In fact, we've provided not £1 billion but over £2 billion. But the problems are still there. [end p23]

More public money is powerless in the face of destructive local authorities. If inner cities are once again to be centres of commerce and enterprise, rivalling the vitality of our great cities of the last century, they need more than public spending: —they need local leadership committed to enterprise, —they need lower rates, —they need quicker disposal of surplus land, —they need schools of excellence and opportunity open to people of all backgrounds. [end p24]

But without local leadership dedicated to enterprise and renewal, money can do little. [end p25]


The same is true of education. Ideally, education should give us both the vision of a better life, and the workaday skills to attain it. This Government has a fine record in providing the resources to achieve this goal. —more money is being spent per pupil than ever before; —more money is being spent on teachers, who are better qualified than ever before; —there are more teachers in proportion to pupils than ever before; [end p26] —and more young people are entering higher education than ever before.

And in many schools, children are receiving an excellent education. But elsewhere, despite all the extra resources, some pupils still leave school, unable to read or write properly or do simple mathematics.

Our task is to ensure that every child is taught certain basic subjects, and is tested on them so that we not only know what pupils should learn, but whether they're learning it. [end p27]

Of course, this still leaves ample room for the more creative side of teaching. But how can a child really profit from that unless he has mastered the basic skills?

Madam Chairman, no-one has a greater incentive than parents to see that the school is meeting the needs of their child. That's why our recent legislation involves parents more and more in the life and running of schools.

Parents don't want their children banned from taking part in competitive games. [end p28]

Parents don't want what is called “positive images for gays” being forced on innocent children.

Parents don't want their children indoctrinated by Labour's so-called “peace studies” .

They send them to school for what school is all about: a good education.

We must revive that commitment in all state schools. Excellence, not just for the few, but for all. [end p29]

As regards the teachers' dispute, let me say just this. The Government's pay offer to teachers—a 25 per cent increase over eighteen months—is more than generous. We hope that, in response, the teachers will adhere to high standards of professionalism. Above all, it is the children who should and must come first. [end p30]


Madam Chairman, people have long regarded Conservatives as the Party of law and order.

They are right.

This Government has: —increased the forces of law and order; —increased police manpower by 16,300 since 1979; —increased maximum sentences to life imprisonment for crimes like attempted rape and drug trafficking; [end p31] —encouraged crime prevention; —helped set up more than 18,000 neighbourhood watch schemes—upholding the law cannot be left just to the police and courts.

Thank goodness we have a Conservative Government to give support to the police and the courts. [end p32] Take a look at a whole batch of Labour authorities which have gone out of their way to undermine the police. In some of these areas, Labour councils are engaged not in crime prevention, but in police prevention.

Labour's leadership does little to restrain these hard-left councils. [end p33] *****

And indeed, the Labour Party at Westminster is hardly an example. In one day last month, Labour: —voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, an Act designed to help the police catch terrorists; —voted against our proposal to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal; —voted against life imprisonment for possession of a firearm with intent to commit a crime.

Scarcely the way to win the war against crime and terrorism. [end p34]

Madam Chairman, this Government has shown its determination to defeat the criminal. A great deal has been done. But, as the crime figures reminded us, the battle is far from won—and who can forget the horrific murder case before the courts this week?

The Government has already planned for further increases in police manpower for this coming year. We shall fight on relentlessly until safety is restored to our streets and security to our homes and families. [end p35]


Madam Chairman, a week today I leave on my visit to the Soviet Union. The first official visit by a British Prime Minister for twelve years.

It takes place at an interesting time. We have seen in Mr Gorbachev 's speeches a clear admission that the Communist system is not working. Far from enabling the Soviet Union to catch up with the West, it is falling further behind. [end p36]

We hear new language being used by their Leaders.

Words which we recognise like “open-ness” and “democratisation” . But do they have the same meaning for them as they do for us?

Some of those who have been imprisoned for their political and religious beliefs have been released. We welcome that. But many more remain in prison or are refused permission to emigrate. [end p37] We want to see them free, or reunited with their families abroad, if that is what they choose.

We shall welcome any movement towards a more humane society in the Soviet Union. Towards a society which respects basic human rights. [end p38]

With the signs that the Soviet Union are at last prepared to negotiate seriously on the reduction of nuclear weapons, we see the strength and resolve of the West beginning to reap its reward.

It was the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles which brought the Russians back to the negotiating table. The lesson is clear; firmness pays. Strength is the surest foundation on which to work for peace. [end p39]

The people who have not learned that lesson are the Labour Party.

They—and the Liberals and the SDP—voted in the House of commons against the deployment of Cruise. The Leader of the OppositionNeil Kinnock went trotting off to Moscow to lay our independent nuclear deterrent like a bone at Mr. Gorbachev 's feet. [end p40]

And what did his party do to Mr. Callaghan, when he dared to disagree? One of his closest former colleagues dismissed him as “old” . Nothing could show more clearly that to be acceptable in today's Labour Party, you have to be wholeheartedly committed to the CND approach of one-sided disarmament.

The Conservative Party is not prepared to take risks with Britain's security. Nuclear weapons are vital to our defence. [end p41] Conventional weapons have not succeeded in deterring war. Nuclear weapons have prevented not only nuclear war, but conventional war as well. They have kept the peace in Europe for over forty years.

Peace with freedom and justice is our dearest wish. Peace which provides security for both East and West. Which will ensure that the younger generation are not called up to fight as their parents and grandparents were. [end p42] section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 21 March 1987:

When I go to Moscow to meet Mr Gorbachev next week, my goal will be a peace based not on illusion or surrender. But on realism and strength. (Applause) section checked against BBC Radio News ends.

But, you can't have peace by a declaration of intent. Peace needs confidence and trust between countries and peoples. Peace means an end to the killing in Cambodia, an end to the slaughter in Afghanistan. [end p43]

It means honouring the obligations which the Soviet Union freely accepted in the Helsinki Final act in 1975 to allow free movement of people and ideas and other basic human rights.

If we could have that, it would be the best news the world has known for a long time.

So, Madam Chairman, We shall reach our judgements not on words, not on intentions, not on promises; but on actions and on results. [end p44]

That is the only sure way. And I would not expect Mr Gorbachev to take any different attitude in dealing with us. [end p45]


Of course, when I go to Moscow, I shall be representing a very different kind of country from that of Mr Gorbachev—and indeed, Britain is now a very different country from that represented by Harold Wilson in 1975.

Not so long ago, Millions of families thought that they would never be able to own their own home. Not so long ago, most people thought that they would never have the chance to own shares. What seemed impossible then is happening now. [end p46] today more families have a personal stake in the property of Britain than ever before in our history.

We believe that given opportunity, offered the chance, the human spirit will find a better path than the State could ever devise. You cannot build a successful country without believing that the majority of people will use their talents wisely. [end p47] One of the gulfs between the Socialists and ourselves is this essential faith in the individual.

Conservatives are not in the business of Government to forge a standardised society. In States where that is the aim, political liberty is lost. The task of Government is to provide a framework within which everyone is free to pursue a better life. [end p48]

Labour points down one road. We follow another—the creation of wealth, the spread of ownership, the freeing of the human spirit.

That is the vision which we Conservatives have long held. It is a vision which has served Britain well. It is a vision which, when the time comes, we shall once again offer confidently to the British people.