Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Pavilion Gardens, Buxton
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1200-1245.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3981
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Industry, Taxation, European Union (general), European Union Budget, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, NHS reforms 1987-90, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Media, Religion & morality, Society


We are here to talk about the future—its problems, and opportunities. But I must say it is easy to be distracted from both in such an attractive and relaxing spa as this where I gather even the directors of Perrier come to take the Buxton waters.

I would congratulate you, Mr Chairman, on your election as Chairman of the National Union. I know that you will supervise our deliberations with fairness and a light hand. [end p1] It is also a great pleasure to welcome Dame Shelagh Roberts as your President. Shelagh does tremendous work for us in the European Parliament and it will be a great help that she will be President during the time when we are working on our campaign for the European elections next year.

Lastly, Mr Chairman, I am delighted to welcome Peter Brooke at his first major gathering as Chairman of the Party organisation Peter 's family has given great service to our Party. [end p2] He is continuing that tradition with distinction.

We meet today, the representatives of a great national Party—indeed the only truly national Party. The last election showed that it is we Conservatives alone who have deep roots in every section of the community, in every region of the country. We embrace the broad aspirations of the British people, the ambitions of ordinary men and women for their families, the pride of people in their country and what it can achieve. [end p3] As long as we remain faithful to these principles, as long as we are in tune with the feelings of our fellow countrymen, we shall continue to enjoy broad national support.

We are now well into our third term of Government. And it is a measure of the vigour of our party, and the intellectual creativity of Conservatism, that, having restored the British economy in our first term, and having spread ownership and property more widely than ever before in our second term, we are now embarking on some of the biggest and most exciting reforms of this century. [end p4]

We are leading Britain into the 1990s, building on a decade of Conservative achievement in the 1980s.

Gone are the days when commentators made a living by lecturing our people on “Britain's decline—can it be reversed” . Now they make a better living by lecturing the world on “Britain's miracle—can it be reproduced” . [end p5]

With enterprise revived, with management inspired to succeed and with firm and fair Government, there is a new confidence in our country, and a better life for all our people.

Of course there will always be problems, but they are a challenge and we now have the spirit to tackle them. [end p6]


Mr Chairman, this week, the Nigel LawsonChancellor was able to give us his own version of “Super Tuesday” —one of the boldest reforming budgets of our time. After our electoral hat-trick, Nigel gave us an economic hat-trick.

One, tax reform to give us the fairest and simplest tax system in the Western world.

Two, a good budget surplus—the British Government paying its way, paying its debts and paying in honest money. [end p7]

And three, lower tax on all levels of income. No wonder the Labour Party howled “shame” .

Nigel's budget was the obituary for the doctrine of high taxation. It represented the defeat of everything Labour thought was permanent and irreversible in political life. It was the epitaph for Socialism. [end p8]

Labour is not only horrified; it is mystified. They simply can't work out how it's done.

How could we increase spending—which we did, while cutting taxes—which we did, and cutting borrowing—which we did, and then having the temerity to finish up with a surplus—which we did.

I will tell them how. You start with the personal hopes and dreams of every young man and woman. [end p9]

You give them something to go for. Whereas Labour levels down, we say the sky is the limit. There is the ladder, climb as high as you can—and the best of British luck. It is called effort It is called incentives. It is called Conservative policy. It works.

People earn more; They do better, the country does better and so the Treasury does better. [end p10] It's simple really. Wealth has to be created before it can be taxed. That's what puts more into health, puts more into education, puts more into pensions, and still leaves enough to reduce the national debt. That's how it's done. But you have to be a Conservative to do it. [end p11]

Yes, Mr Chairman, this week's budget was a Humdinger. It had something for everyone. —All 25 million taxpayers benefited from the double indexation of personal allowances and from the cut in the basic rate to 25 per cent—a manifesto pledge honoured in the first year of our third term. —750,000 people on modest incomes were taken out of income tax altogether. [end p12] —the tax penalties on marriage removed —the age allowance for pensioners is now at its highest real level, since it was introduced in 1975. —six rates of income tax cut to two, making our top rate one of the lowest in the world.

The Labour leader described this as a gift. Socialists think that your money belongs to the Government. [end p13]

They think that the way to increase public spending is to increase the rate of tax. But it does not work like that.

Just look what happened the last time the Socialists tried it. Up went tax on earnings to 83 per cent. Up went tax on savings to 98 per cent. And off went some of our most talented people—our scientists, designers, engineers, doctors, musicians and authors—to where they were able to keep more of what they earned. [end p14]

The socialists wanted them to pay more tax. But they ended up paying no tax at all—in this country. It was our competitors in Europe and America who gained from their skills, abilities and hard work.

Those who where unable to escape abroad found themselves caught in Labour's tax net. Higher wages and salaries were soon wiped out by high inflation and higher taxation. [end p15] We became a “Why Bother” society.

Why Bother to work overtime—the taxman took it all.

Why Bother to save—inflation ate it away

Why Bother to start a business—you could only leave it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Well, goodbye to all that.

No longer are taxes a punishment for success. Enterprise has been restored to Britain. [end p16]

After nine tax-cutting budgets, Britain's top talent no longer flows abroad. Once more enterprise flourishes in Britain. And last year saw the biggest return of British citizens to the UK since records were kept.

We have turned “Why Bother Britain” into dynamic Britain.

Mr Chairman, it's the only turning we've done. [end p17]

No wonder our policies are now being copied all over the world—and not only under Conservative Government. Other Socialists recognise a good thing when they see one. They are coming our way in socialist Australia, in socialist New Zealand and socialist Spain. And if Perestroika keeps on rolling along, we might be able to point to even more surprising converts. [end p18]


But here, the Labour Party—like one of those prehistoric mammoths we sometimes discover trapped in the Siberian ice, the Labour Party still clings to the tenets of primeval socialism; still strives for the kind of rigid and controlled society from which even Mr Gorbachev is still struggling to escape. All around them is the evidence of Socialism's failure. The success, the variety, the superiority of free enterprise is there for them to see. [end p19] So what do they do? They listen! “Labour Listens” ! Their Neil KinnockLeader … listens. Well it makes a change.

But who is the Labour Leader listening to? To more than 100 CND Labour MPs? They might worry the Opposition Leader—If he weren't one of them. To the Militant Labour Councillors, like those of Liverpool, Haringey and Brent, who instruct their colleagues “do as you are told, or else” . [end p20] Perhaps that's what the Labour Leader is listening to.

Or to those union bosses who encourage strikes and drive away investment and jobs. He may be, for when was the last time Mr Kinnock opposed a strike—while it was on?

But whoever it is that Mr Kinnock is listening to, in today's Labour Party, he is listening to the Left. For everyone else has been deselected, or threatened with deselection, or simply driven out. [end p21]

Some formed a brief Alliance with the Liberals. “The Alliance is … different,” their manifesto began. “We are keen to work together to achieve shared goals.” Well, that didn't last long.

The election safely lost, new leaders came and went. New policies came and went even more quickly. A small world was turned upside down. [end p22]

The result: A party without a leader and a leader without a party. They finally broke the mould. [end p23]


But let me return to serious politics. Earlier this week our opponents told us to make Budget Day NHS Day. Mr. Chairman, under this Government every day is NHS day. Because every day we are spending £60 million on the health service. The Opposition describes this as destroying the Health Service. So what was it like under Labour? [end p24] Well, to recreate the Health Service as it was in 1979 under the last Labour Government, we would have to: —demolish 250 hospitals or extensions which have been opened since 1979 —sack 13,000 doctors and 64,000 nurses —cut the pay of the remaining nurses by 30 per cent [end p25] —increase the waiting list for operations by 60,000 —perform 1,000 fewer operations every day —and return to an infant mortality rate a good deal worse than now—although you might not think so from some of the television reports, but the Health Service is now saving the lives of 3,000 more babies who would not have survived in 1979.

Here, in Derbyshire, you can see clear evidence of what we have achieved. A new hospital opened in Chesterfield in 1985 costing nearly £30 million. Many more patients are being treated and the waiting list is coming down. [end p26]

You don't hear much about that in the House of commons. The local labour MPs whose constituents it serves, are surprisingly silent on the subject. And who are these reticent gentlemen not normally at a loss for words? None other than Mr. Dennis Skinner and Mr. Tony Benn.

Mr. Chairman, more patients are receiving more treatments from more doctors and more nurses in more modern hospitals than ever before. That's the reality. [end p27]

But, new treatments bring new demands. So, of course, we are never satisfied. We have planned the taxpayer will spend at least another £1,100 million on the health service next year. But just spending more money won't solve the health service's problems. If spending money alone were the answer, why hasn't the £14,000 million more we have put in since 1979 solved the problems. We need a deeper diagnosis and prescription to be sure that money will deliver the best service and the highest standard of care. [end p28]

We need to know: —why is it that heart operations in one hospital cost three times as much as in another hospital. —why is it that waiting lists vary so much between districts, irrespective of the amount of money they get? —why is it that in some hospitals beds stay empty for three days between patients, and in others only one day? [end p29]

The real test of caring is not how much money is spent but how much treatment is provided. The problems of the National Health Service will never be solved by using them as a political tool. You have to think things through. And that is exactly what we're doing in our review.

Obviously, we do not yet know what its detailed conclusions will be. But they will be founded on the principle that a high standard of medical care should be available to all, regardless of means. [end p30]


Mr Chairman, our people want high standards not just in health care but in all the necessities of life.

Our new shareholders, our new home owners, our new capitalists are not just more comfortable, more prosperous or more secure. They are more independent. They want to be able to take the decisions affecting their own lives—and now they can.

But there are still people in Britain who are trapped trapped in poor schools, bad housing and crumbling inner cities. [end p31] They are the parents who see their children leave school lacking the basic educational skills. The elderly in council flats they cannot exchange. The businessmen crippled by penal rates and Labour's spendthrift town halls. We are extending to them the same choice and standards that most of us now enjoy. Our legislation, now before Parliament, dramatically increases parent power in education, tenant power in housing and voter power in local Government.

In transforming the incentives however, private sector leadership and investment will also be a crucial factor. [end p32]

If the leaders of our great companies, benefiting from our new national prosperity and our new low taxes, were to invest in the difficult areas, forge links with schools and training schemes, buy goods and services there, hire and train those who live there, I believe we can win that battle.

And we are enormously grateful to organisations like Business in the Community, Investors in Industry and British Urban Development who are making a growing impact.

I saw a remarkable example of business enterprise in Halifax recently. [end p33] When the old Victorian Crossley Carpet Mill which dominates the centre of the town closed in 1982 it seemed like the end of an era. In a sense it was. Those very same buildings are now alive again with activity and enterprise under the leadership of an outstanding entrepreneur, Ernest Hall, Dean Clough, as it is now called, now has some 1,700 people working in it, virtually all of them in new small businesses.

And let me tell you something else about it. When the first small business moved in, hundreds of windows had to be replaced monthly and anti-vandal grills had to be fitted. [end p34] Today, as confidence returns to the community, the vandal grills have been taken off the windows. [end p35]


But still, too many of our fellow citizens, live in the shadow of the burglar and the violent Criminal.

We are steadily strengthening our capacity to meet this challenge. We already have a larger police service, and better trained. We have increased the maximum sentences for violent criminals and drug pedlars.

But the police and the courts can't do it all by themselves. Our crime prevention campaign is designed to show how we can all help to crack crime. [end p36]

We must also restore a clear ethic of personal responsibility. We need to establish that the main person to blame for each crime is the criminal himself. But if anyone else is to blame, it is the professional progressives among broadcasters, social workers, and politicians who have created a fog of excuses in which the mugger and the burglar operate.

In the past, potential criminals were firmly told from all sides: you will be held to blame for any crime you may commit. But today when someone assaults a passer-by, it is the attacked who becomes, by some perverse twist of logic, a victim of society. [end p37]

Most people don't manufacture their own morality. They take it from the culture in which they live. If the cultural messages they receive from people in authority tell them that they are guilty when they steal, burgle, riot or attack others—then they are less likely to commit these crimes. But if a culture of excuses has been created for them, they can evade their own consciences and the bad opinions of others. And they are more likely to rob and burgle as a result. [end p38]

The threat of crime will only recede when we re-establish a code of conduct that condemns crime plainly and without exception.

It we are to succeed in this, all those in positions of influence must speak with a strong, emphatic and single voice on the side of law and civilised behaviour.

When left-wing councils obstruct and criticise the police they undermine not just the police but the rule of law itself. When broadcasters ignore their own standards on violent television programmes, they risk a brutalising effect on impressionable young people. [end p39] And when Labour MPs disrupt the proceedings of Parliament in an unprecedented way as they did this week, they flout the standards of civilised debate which people expect from members of the house of commons.

Councillors, broadcasters, politicians, the general public. Surely, we should all speak up for the civilised values which underpin the law. For the rule of law is the cement which holds society together. We must never allow it to be replaced by the rule of fear. [end p40]


Mr. Chairman, the success of our policies at home is enabling Britain—Great Britain, because thanks to these policies that is indisputably what we are once more—to give a lead in shaping the future of our world as we move into the 1990's.

You see it in defence. It was Britain's initiative which brought together the leaders of the West at the recent NATO Summit, to chart a course for the NATO Alliance until the end of the century. [end p41]

We were the first to welcome and encourage Mr. Gorbachev 's bold reforms in the Soviet Union. We welcome too the Soviet Union's decision to end its occupation of Afghanistan. That has been our objective ever since their troops entered that country. But let's remember that it has been the heroic resistance of the Afghan people themselves, with help and support from their friends in this country and elsewhere in the West, that is the reason for the Soviet withdrawal. And let us not forget the generosity of spirit of Pakistan in giving refuge to 3 million Afghans until their country becomes free. [end p42]

We are ready for further arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union, provided that at each and every stage our defence is sure.

But Mr. Chairman, the Soviet Union continues to modernise all their weapons. They have the world's only nuclear missiles that can be moved about by rail. They launched over 90 space satellites last year for military purposes. They put a brand new submarine into operation every 37 days. And remember what their Defence Minister had to say after signature of the agreement to get rid of all medium-range nuclear weapons: “We shall exert all efforts to make the military alliance of socialist countries even more powerful” . [end p43]

So it is only by keeping our own forces and weapons up to date at all levels, including nuclear, that we can afford to welcome the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union. For we will know that whatever happens there our own defence is sure.

That is what the NATO Summit achieved. We agreed that an effective defence meant keeping the American presence in Europe.

We agreed that conventional weapons alone cannot deter war. You must have a credible nuclear deterrent, not only in America but in Europe too. And that means keeping it up-to-date—for obsolete weapons to not deter. [end p44]

We all agreed that, Mr. Chairman, conservative and continental socialist governments alike. All committed to strong defence. All accepting the need for nuclear weapons.

Nothing could underline more clearly the complete isolation of the Labour Party here, with its CND policies and its rejection of nuclear weapons. What place would there ever be for them at such a meeting? Where would a policy of taking to the hills fit into NATO's agreed strategy? [end p45]

In the European Community too, we have successfully set a framework for five years to carry us into the 1990s.

At the recent European Council, we won a real enforceable agreement to curb farm surpluses. We brought extravagant spending under control and we kept the special arrangements which reduce the cost of our EC membership.

That agreement has cleared the way for completing Europe's most important task: to create at last the real common market without trade barriers which was the original goal of the European Community's founders. [end p46]

Mr. Chairman, what a fantastic prospect for our industry and commerce! A single market of over 320 million people, larger even than the United States. Complete freedom for our manufacturers, our road hauliers, our banks, our insurance firms, our professions to compete.

And thanks to the great reforming legislation which this government has carried through, Britain is strong and competitive again. It's an unrivalled incentive to invest for the future and David Young has launched. A major campaign to make sure that all our firms are aware of the opportunities. [end p47] That—and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1993, fully financed by private enterprise—will indeed make the next decade one of new opportunity for European culture and prosperity.

Mr. Chairman, our people have never been content to be confined within our shores. They have always looked to distant horizons and far off lands. [end p48]

That is why our armed forces are present in over thirty countries round the world. It is why Britain has taken the initiative in proposing special measures to wipe the debts of the poorest African countries. It is why we are present in the Gulf and wherever there are great challenges to be met and great responsibilities to be borne.

It is also why the British people will never accept Labour's blinkered and inward-looking vision of Britain: —of ragged marches —of tattered banners —of tired slogans proclaiming “Ban The Bomb” , “Support Nicaragua” or “U.S. Out” of here, there and everywhere. —Never accept their automatic assumption that our enemies must be right and our friends wrong.

None of this represents the true spirit of the British people.

Our people are loyal to their friends and allies. They know that our very liberty depends on a strong alliance. [end p49]

But, they also want to see Britain give a lead, as we move into the 1990s: a lead in working for a safer and more peaceful world, a world in which our country is prosperous and secure as never before. [end p50]


Mr Chairman, the ideal society is one in which the correct balance is struck between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community.

The individual has a right to freedom to realise his full potential. The community needs the resources to look after the weak, the sick and the vulnerable. [end p51]

If you lean too far towards the individual, you get an insensitive society. If you lean too far towards the community, you get a suffocating one. Until 1979, we were in danger of being suffocated.

Over the last eight years we have let in the fresh air of freedom. We have had our own “Perestroika” . We have pushed the balance back in favour of the individual. [end p52] So the individual has been breathing, growing, realising potential. As a result the economy has been growing too, making more resources available to the community's needs.

This is not a case of either/or. You don't have to choose, as the Socialists say, between the individual and the community. If you suppress the individual, you diminish not only the wealth but the spirit on which the community depends. [end p53] Release the individual, and the community benefits as well. We saw the proof in Tuesday's Budget.

The question now is—has the balance in favour of the individual been pushed back far enough? I do not think so.

The Socialists speak of a classless society. But their every action betrays their class consciousness. [end p54]

They talk of mass movements, block votes, class struggle, mass marches, mass this and mass that.

People should not be seen as masses, or as members of a class, but rather as individuals, as neighbours, as families.

In the world in which we now live, divisions into class are outmoded and meaningless. —We are all working people who basically want the same things. —We all share the desire for higher standards of living, of health, of education, of leisure. [end p55] —We all value our dignity, our independence, our self-respect. —We all look to a land free from fear and intimidation, in the street and in the home.

The policies we set out in our manifesto, on which we fought and won the last election, were and are dedicated to that end—not for some of us, but for all of us. We are not quite there yet—but as we move together into the nineties, that is our purpose.

For it is a worthy, a splendid banner that we conservatives hold high: to turn Britain into one nation, at peace with herself.