Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Centre for Policy Studies (AGM)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Institute of Civil Engineers, St. George Street, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: CPS? transcript
Editorial comments: 1830 onwards. The speech was not released to the press, although brief accounts of it were published (e.g., The Times, 7 May 1988).
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3007
Themes: Parliament, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Education, Taxation, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy - theory and process, NHS reforms 1987-90, Housing, Community charge (“poll tax”), Media, Religion & morality, Society, Social security & welfare, Transport, Voluntary sector & charity

My Hugh Thomaslord Chairman, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, there were three things I wanted to say to you by way of introduction. First, on this particular evening I feel like coming and saying to you, “That was the week that was and I do not want another like it” . You will understand what I mean. Nevertheless, we finished up with a majority of ninety-seven and if it never falls below that again this Parliament I will be very pleased. It turned out all right.

Secondly, since we last met at this same meeting last year we have won a historic victory, and I hope that between now and the year 2000 we will meet together on many such other occasions like this at the Annual General Meeting.

Thirdly, also by way of introduction, I want to say a very big thank you to you, Hugh ThomasHugh, to Keith JosephKeith, to David WolfsonDavid, to Sir Ronald HalsteadRon and to everyone who has financially supported us through the publications and also, in particular, because I am not able to do it as often as I would like, I thank those among you who write articles in the press and appear on television and radio, to see that others who do not hold our views do not get an easy ride. It means a tremendous lot to us and we could not possibly do it without you. Thank you all for your support. That is the end of the introduction.

May I then go on to the immense task that I still think needs to be done? It is interesting now that people obviously, fortunately, are trying to point out the fruits of what we have done. What I still think needs to be done is to go back once again to propound the fundamental beliefs [end p1] that led us along that path in the first place, because we are all here not merely because we believe in a miscellaneous collection of policies but because we believe that those policies are founded upon certain principles.

When I first came to politics I know that I believed passionately in three things. First, I believed passionately that if the British character was allowed more free play it had marvellous characteristics which had served this nation very well in the past and would do so in the future. Among those characteristics were the enterprise and initiative which initially built not only our industry but built our prowess as a nation. There is something in the British people which means that they still retain that initiative and do not always have to be told what to do. Equally, alongside that enterprise and initiative, there is a great generosity in the British character, and that is why we have always had tremendous voluntary organisations. Equally, if you look at the rise of public spiritedness in this country as we got the great increase in industrial power in the last century, alongside that came a great burgeoning in public spiritedness. All of this is fundamental in the British character, but somehow it had all been pushed down and overlaid by years of Socialism which had not let it show itself to the greatest advantage. Therefore, our task in fact was to release that to work for us again.

The second thing I believed passionately was that the Government should never have too much power because if you [end p2] give them too much power they meddle in everything, make a mess of it and make wrong judgments. That is absolutely fundamental. It is always amazing to me that any great doctrine could have been erected on the idea that although ordinary people are not fit to have freedom because they would not know what to do with it, there exist some superhumans amongst us who are so terrific that they can tell us what to do better than we know how to do it, because that is really what Communism is. “You, the ordinary people, are not fit to have freedom, but we are so superhuman that we can have freedom not only to decide our own lives but to tell you what to do with yours” . Every time the Government tries to plan too much it is physically unable to make the decisions, and if it were physically able to make them its judgment would sadly be wrong. It would meddle and stop the people who are capable of regenerating the future from doing so. Always, it is very good to have a good healthy suspicion of over-weaning power in governments, and that I think has been shown by what has been happening over the world in the last eight, nine or ten years. That, of course, is one of the reasons that led us to cut the power of government in order to release more power back to the people believing in the British character.

The third thing I believed in passionately was the human being's fundamental right to liberty, and that liberty would only work under a rule of law because it is the order of the law which enables freedom to work. That really is [end p3] what we fundamentally believe. We believe that each individual has that right to liberty but you can only accept that liberty if you accept the rule of law. Those are the three beliefs with which we started the Centre and from which we gradually spread out to make the principles and policies which have been successful.

My worry now is that sometimes we are talking about policies without talking about the underlying principles and beliefs which are absolutely vital to their continuation. So just as Keith JosephKeith and I and many of you went out into the universities in the earlier years, we once again have to re-win that battle of ideas, because even in the universities where you expect liberty to flourish in the first place, it does not always flourish today. Some people do not want to hear or to allow others to hear views which are unacceptable to them. Freedom of speech is freedom to say what other people disagree with, not merely things which are anodyne. We still have to revive and identify these things.

I started that way because I have been very perturbed in some of the feelings and views which have been either expressed or manifest recently in some of the great political things we are doing. The first one, and I will take three again, is that we have had recently the great Budget, and it was a very great Budget, and alongside that the result of a great social reform package. What we found has been people saying, “Did you have to have them together?” , “Do you think it was wise to have those cuts in taxation from the top level [end p4] of 60 per cent to 40 per cent and from the basic level of 27 per cent to 25 per cent at the same time as you were in fact having social reforms?” Was I worried? Yes, of course I was worried, because it betrayed the fact that people do not understand that it is only because we have had this enterprise, encouraged by tax incentives, that we have created the wealth to enable us to have social reform and a social standard of public service on a level which this country has never known before. They have not yet understood that unless you have the release of enterprise—the thing I first spoke of—the incentives to effort, you do not create the wealth which enables you to have the biggest package of Social Welfare and the Health Service that we have ever known. Yes, we were doing some social reforms in the Welfare, but what has gone unnoticed is that more is being spent this year than ever before, but we are targeting it to those in need. We are saying more to other people: “You are not entitled to a living from the State unless you are truly unfortunate and you really need to have help because you genuinely cannot find work, you are genuinely sick or genuinely disabled or you are too old to work.” Why sometimes do British people feel a guilt complex about success without realising that it is the individual enterprise and the individual effort which is the engine of success which has enabled us to do so many other things? Now you will find us putting tremendous emphasis on this. Governments do not create the wealth. They consume it. It [end p5] is the people who create the wealth and they need the incentive of tax cuts to do it.

The second thing that I have seen developing as an argument is this: “Your individualism, Mrs. Thatcher, is selfish, materialistic and all out for profit and therefore it is not good. It is against the community” . That is a ridiculous argument. Look at it. It is selfish? I wish to goodness more people would in fact take responsibility for looking after their own families instead of expecting others to look after them. It is not selfish. It is not selfish to have an ambition, to want to do more for your own family so that they have a better way of life than you had. It is not selfish to want to have enough over to help your own parents. It is not selfish to wish to benefit from your own efforts so that you may then have money over to give to causes which you choose or to choose a lifestyle and a way of life which you wish to choose. There is nothing selfish about that. Indeed, when I hear people talking about materialism, I say that it is not making the money that counts but it is what you do with it. It is there in which you demonstrate the human spirit and demonstrate the things which made this country great. However, they go on then to say that it is against the community. It always makes me very cross when they go on to talk about profit. I think we have to get one thing straight. Everyone works for profit. Nurses wanted more money because they want to do better. Doctors want more money because they want to do better. [end p6] People working in industry want more money because they want to do better. Most people want to relieve the world of poverty, enabling the world to do better. An awful lot has gone wrong by talking too much and trying to say that trying to do better by your own efforts is materialistic. Sometimes I say to those distinguished gentlemen who say these things, some of whom sit in the House of Lords: “To whom will you come when you want your church cleaned or preserved? To whom will you come when you want things to do good to other people? To whom will you come when you want a great deal of money raised for hospitals or for great charitable causes?” Let us be absolutely clear. Those who do well by their own efforts are the actual bricks of the community. They are the actual bricks of the edifice. You only get a good community when you get people who are willing to put in their own efforts with that spirit of generosity and public spiritedness of which I spoke earlier.

The third fact that I have noticed developing very much is that people are not out of the way of expecting governments to do things for them. They are not out of the way of saying, “The government must increase the amount it gives me. The government must do this or that” . However frequently we say, “Look, it is not the government. It is the taxpayer. I do not give you extra. I do not give you extra for social services” . Every tax-paying individual in this country now pays about £40 a week to Social Security alone. You are not asking the Government to put up your [end p7] Social Security. You are asking your neighbour. You are not asking the Government to put up housing benefit; you are asking your neighbour. Two out of every three households in this country keep not only themselves but they have to help to keep a third. Do not retreat into thinking that you can ask the Government because you are asking your neighbour. Life is a reciprocal business. If you expect your neighbour to help you when you are in difficulties, you must in return expect to keep yourself when you are able to do so. There has still been this feeling that the Government must do it. We really must get people out of it. What it does is to create a society quite happy to be dependent upon the Government, and having a vested interest in having higher taxation and more coming to them by protests and great lobbying of Government. I have been really rather horrified by the fact—that is why I said, “That was the week that was” —that people have begun to think that perhaps succeeding in politics is a matter of putting your hand deeply into the taxpayers' pockets and redistributing wealth. It is not. Succeeding in politics is, as I said when I started, enlarging-up liberty, enlarging-up the people, giving the incentives to success, giving the framework for that success and keeping the task of Government strictly limited. That is how we have succeeded over these nine years. That is what we have managed to do, but let us understand the reason. It is because we are encouraging enterprise and encouraging freedom but it is restrained under [end p8] the rule of law and under a right framework of law.

I hope you will agree with me, on the independence theme, that we want people independent of Government and not dependent on them. Perhaps I should say that they have not yet realised it even though the spread of the capital earning democracy has been greater than under any other Government. We have been talking about it for years. When I first came into politics we were talking about a property owning democracy and a capital owning democracy. The actual spread of capital, which I want ever-more widely, has not gone only in houses but in savings accounts and shares. It is extremely good. With it comes a new sense of responsibility and a new understanding that if people are to respect your property, you must respect the property of other people. That must go on. It has brought other things, again which people have not quite understood. Now, when it comes to retirement the new people retiring are quite different in terms of their capital and income from those who retired many years ago. Half the people who now retire own their homes. Seventy per cent of them have two pensions—a basic pension and an occupational pension—and they are very much better off. They have created far more of their own security than ever before. We simply must not talk about old-aged pensioners as if they were one monolithic body of people who constantly need help. In the new Thatcher democracy as people come up towards retirement and go on many years after retirement, when their lives are finished pretty nearly all of them will [end p9] have something to pass on to their children, and that should make an enormous difference to the kind of society in which we live. From a few people having expectations, many people will have them. Again, it creates an interest in the future and it gives to pretty nearly all of our people a duty to the future and also opportunities for those who did not have them before.

Against this background, we still have a lot more to do. Keith JosephKeith, Hugh ThomasHugh, David and I, and I think everyone on this platform and most other people know that we still have to go on with the fundamental message. We still have to go on spreading opportunity to those who have not yet had it. Hence our educational reforms, which are absolutely key. We still have to go on watching the spending of the local authorities, which is the reason for our community charge and enabling people to be better to judge the spending of local authorities. The community charge, which will only meet one quarter of local authority expenditure, is for this reason: it is geared, because we are changing the way in which money goes to central government from the taxpayer, so that if you receive in your local authorities the same level of services delivered at the same level of efficiency you should pay the same community charge. The same level of services, the same efficiency, the same community charge. The same level of services, the same efficiency, the same community charge. That will be the position when the transition period is over. Everyone knows if they are paying more it is either because of extravagance or because there is inefficiency. There will be very much [end p10] greater accountability to the electorate.

As to education, our task to spread opportunity more widely and to see that the eleven compulsory years of education are not wasted and that young people are taught what they need to know. I must confess, it is an absolute mystery to me how it is possible to do eleven years at school with teachers who are graduates, who are responsible people, and still come out without knowing properly the English language, literature, mathematics, a certain amount of science, a good general knowledge, and proper history and geography. Most people want young people to be taught the best things about our country. We have a great deal to do there.

We also have to look at, as you are aware, the reform of the Health Service. I stress “reform” , not abolition. It has been going a long time. It is a lot, lot better than our opponents and the media give us credit for. When people go into hospital, they are very grateful for what is done. We have a great deal to do on that. We have a great deal to do in Europe, as Sir Ronald mentioned. The years 1992 and 1993 will be quite historic for Europe; 1992 because one of the reasons why we joined Europe will come about. It should become a single market, so that we can sell as easily into Europe the goods and services which we can at home and we have to be aware that they can sell just as easily to us as they can at home. We have to be very efficient. It will be followed by the Channel Tunnel in 1993, which will be the [end p11] first time in our history that we have had a land border with another country that speaks a different language. We shall have a land border with France through the Tunnel. That will be the first time in our history that we have had a land border with a country which speaks another language. It should do wonders for our language.

The third thing that we will continue to do is that we have set the agenda and the standard for countries far bigger than ourselves for steadfastness in defence. We have set the standard in East/West relations by saying quite clearly, “Yes, we believe that Mr. Gorbachev 's reforms are bold. We hope they will succeed” . The reason we can say that is because we in this country, and we will see that NATO holds to the same, will never let down our defences so that whatever happens the defence of liberty is sure. (Applause).

One starts off with the belief of liberty under the law. This is what really started Keith JosephKeith and I off: a limitation of government, a belief in the British character. All of this has come from then. When we tackle it on the international sphere it is precisely those same things together with a certain persistence and perseverence which in fact has commanded respect and has led us to having achieved a pretty good reputation for honesty, integrity and success abroad.

Finally, may I thank you for your loyalty and your support. You are an example to many others. (Applause).