Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Press Association

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Savoy Hotel, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1300 onwards.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3375
Themes: Industry, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Media, Science & technology, Transport, Civil liberties, Religion & morality, Autobiographical comments

James EvansMr. Chairman; Rev. Canon, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen:

First, may I thank you, Mr. Chairman for inviting me, as one of your end users—which I understand is what customers are called these days—to this luncheon party. I did not realise you had your Annual General Meeting afterwards, but may I say to you I read your Annual Report and I would like to congratulate you upon it in every particular.

We could not do without the Press Association's service at No. 10. We value it enormously, and I notice that in your Chairman's Statement you said that you defined editorial policy, responsive to subscribers' needs and the strategy of constant improvement in the quality of service as the foundation on which your role is based. They are qualities which we could all emulate ourselves and they have done rightly done very well for you and for your subscribers. [end p1]

I put all of that in just to show you that I do Annual Reports and I must tell you that this was one of the best-drafted Chairman's Statements that I have seen for a very long time.

For many of us, of course, Mr. Chairman, the Press Association in Chris Moncrieff—the journalist's complete answer to the need for 24-hour policies! You need not write that down, because he is very upset that I have not put out a press release. I must have done last time. I thought it better to do it this way. But we think he is marvellous! Kingdoms, courts and cats may all perish, but Chris will be there to record their devise! (applause) It was he who recorded the demise of Wilberforce, the No. 10 cat, who died peacefully in his sleep a few weeks ago and who made the television news which I do not think I did that day! Indeed, I think Chris Moncrieff is to Press Association as Bernard Ingham is to No. 10—indispensable, totally professional and concerned to retain the very best standards of responsible journalism. We thank both of them for it.

Colin WebbThe Editor-in-Chief of Press Association has always carried an exceptionally heavy burden in seeing that fairness, accuracy and balance are retained, and we would like to say thank you to him too for the way in which he discharges his duties. [end p2]

As you know, it is not for me to talk to you about the media or presentation because when it comes to presentation I am not really very good at it. I reckon my job is to get the policies right and then to put then into action. I tend to leave the packaging to others, because I reckon that packaging is what you often put in the wastepaper basket, the content is what you keep for ever!

But I am the first to know that the best ideas need to be sold through your columns and through your television channels and may I say that I admire greatly the art in particular of the leader-writers—whether of the broadsheets, of the tabloids, or the provincial press—in the way in which they manage to get to the essence of the problem. In particular, I think the tabloids, who seen to have less space to write the leaders, really are most economical. They take their scalpel to every false argument, out it away and really get down to the issues and I sometimes say to my candidates at election times: “You want to know how to put a case? Look at the friendly newspapers!” and the friendly newspapers did us very well last time! As a matter of fact, I think some of the others believed in us too and they were wise—very wise!

You gave us a word about how the media are going. How does the media go? [end p3]

I think that you have never been more prosperous or less constrained in your operations—never—and if I may say so, I would like to take a little credit for that. I say “a little credit” because the way in which the Government which I lead works is this: it is Government's job to get the background right; yes, to get the inflation down; yes, to have sound Government financing; yes, to have the right incentives in taxation; yes, to have the right framework of law to keep competition going; but when we have done all that, it is over to you to take advantage of the opportunities—and you have!

I used to listen in envy to President Reagan during my early days—he came in after I did! (laughter and applause)—but his is a very self-reliant, enterprising society and people seemed to understand better there that it was not Government that created jobs—it was industry and commerce—and therefore years before I could start to boast, he was already saying: “A lot of new jobs have been created, not by Government but by industry, and industry is doing well!”

We emulated that particular enterprise culture of which I spoke and it has now come about, so yes, I can take a little of the credit, together with my Government, for getting the framework right, but you had in fact to take advantage of the opportunities [end p4] and let me say you could not have done it without going through some very difficult foothills on the way, and I think we all owe a great deal to people like Eddy Shah in the early days, to the people who decided to go to Vapping with the new equipment and for a year, against the most appalling intimidation on the picket line, decided to stay there and see it through to success.

Now, I could have got my bit right and you could have started on your bit, but unless you had continued until the job be well and truly finished you would not have reached the prosperity you have now attained, so I think it has not been a bad partnership—and long may it continue!

I think that television and radio have possibly still to go through their greatest period of change. I know that you are very worried about it. I am very worried, because I want us to get the decisions that we have take right. I shall welcome more television channels because I think that the free movement and expression of ideas is guaranteed for better by numbers and variety than it ever can be by charters and specific statutes, and so yes, I shall welcome it.

There are some people who say that it will drive television down-market. Now, I have always believed that there is a market for the best and I do not like the argument and I do not believe it is necessarily true that television goes down-market. I think British [end p5] people can be a lot more discriminating than that, and I think that the opportunity of more channels or subscriber channels—will perhaps enable us also to have some very up-market television, which I am very certain that many many people would welcome.

You know fundamentally that I believe that this debate you are having about journalistic standards and standards in television and radio—and I am delighted to see that it is coming from within as well as from without—I believe basically that you can do far more to uphold, retain and improve your own standards than any outside body can. You are talking about it from within; you have families; you believe in standards. The kind of thing that you would not like to see on your living-room table or the screen in your living room, the kind of thing that you would not like to see, I would hope that you would not put out for others to see.

We do owe duties to our young people, very considerable duties. When I was young—which was a long time ago but a lot of you were there at around that time too! (laughter)—we were immensely protected by force of circumstances. We did not have the money, we did not have the opportunities. Thank goodness there were certain customs and conventions and there were certain fundamental things which were accepted throughout society. [end p6]

Now come of that “force of circumstance” has gone and there is only one thing to replace it with—and that is the force or plateau or attainment of self-discipline and self-regulation, and that is what I am asking you to exert. If you do not succeed then we, as a matter of public policy—a phrase I rarely use, because I am constrained in what Government does; that is my belief; to constrain the powers of Government and to increase the powers of the people—that we simply must protect our young people from some of the violence and pornography that they would otherwise see and I will strain everything to do that!

Let me say I cannot conceive of a free society without a free media, nor can I think of a free society without mistakes, excesses and warts on all sides, including politics, but together, we have the responsibility for the well being of this great and vital news industry and I hope that you will re-assert the basic values of journalism—and I am delighted with the debate that is now going on about it.

That is really all I am going to say about the media. I cannot yet say: “We have been together now for forty years and it hasn't been a day too much!” but I must say I have been in Parliament thirty years next year and I hope there will be a time when I will be able to come to you and say: “We have been together now for forty years and we have got on very well together throughout that entire time!” [end p7]

Now I come to the real thing—what I call my side of the thing—that I wanted to say to you, and I wondered really what my fundamental political message should be when I was reflecting on what I should say to you, and I think it is this:

We are now—have done for a few years now—living through momentous and deeply exciting times and those are going to go on, I think, at least for the next twenty years and as we come up to that time we shall be able to see new peaks—exciting, momentous—in three particular spheres: the United Kingdom, Europe, East-West relations.

First, the United Kingdom. Britain is humming. The enterprise that we have now was unthought of seven or eight years ago, the things that we have started in the last four or five years. We started on a Channel tunnel—it is privately financed. The new Canary Wharf—a superb architectural development—starting up. There are new things beginning on Teesside. I went up to an Urban Development Corporation less than a year ago, was photographed on a derelict site and my staff said: “Why did you allow yourself to do that?” I said: “Because in about three years I shall be photographed on that site with a lot of buildings going up and a lot of jobs!” and only just twenty-four hours ago I was able to announce a £100-million development on that very site. They are booming in Glasgow, they are booming in Newcastle, they are booming in the North-West. They are booming because enterprise has come alive once again and so has venture capital. [end p8]

This morning, it was an enormous privilege and delight to go down to Battersea power station. There is an awful lot I did not know about Battersea power station. You know what happened? The bricks and mortar were the packaging to the generators and turbines. The generators and turbines have gone and there is this great big building. It would house five hundred Jumboes—it is quite big. It is quite large. Eight million bricks went into it. It is a superb thing.

It required someone with the true spirit of enterprise to see what he could do with it. All right, that person has come. The whole place now is being put into shape. It is going to cost about £230 million to turn it into a massive leisure—information—entertainment centre, rather like the Alton Towers which you know. Now who would have thought, eight years, seven years, six years, five years—even four years ago—that someone could have had that boldness, he could have persuaded bankers to back it and that it should be on schedule to open—and I went up just this morning to have a look at it—in two years, and they are expecting four million visitors in two years' time, this massive, biggest leisure centre in Europe. Now, it did not happen because of us except in part, but that spirit of enterprise really has returned to Britain together with venture capital. [end p9]

I would not like you to think that it is only in economics that we have done well because, you see, you do not do well in economics, you do not do well in standard of living, unless the spirit of a people has revived.

You know, Adam Smith was not a professor of economics—he was a professor of moral philosophy. That is why he was so good. He knew what motivated people, and that is why he got the answers right and mercifully, he came three or four generations before I did, so I could pick up his work (laughter). But really, why it is so exciting in Britain is not only because of what we are achieving now, but because the spirit has returned to Britain, and other people are looking at us not only as a highly successful economy—and lot me say this: you do not have any influence abroad unless you are strong at home; if you are strong at home, you are strong abroad, they will listen to you because you have done something.

But they also respect us for other things. They respect us because we are pretty stable politically, far more stable than other countries. They respect us for the independence of the British character. They respect us also for what we are doing in trying to spread opportunity and capital right throughout our society—and may I say that I think that they respect us for something fundamental to the British character, which is a great sense of [end p10] fairness and over the years a habit and custom of looking outward from our shores. In the time of Elizabeth I, the shores of this country were not big enough to contain the spirit of the British people, so yes, they are exciting. They are exciting in enterprise; they are exciting in fairness; they are exciting in influence; they are exciting in the enlarged opportunities and believe you me, Mr. Chairman, we have only just started, because new opportunities will open up and we shall see them all over the place; and they are opening up now not only in the big bold things but in the number of people all over the country who are taking up things like the Enterprise Allowance. So yes, it is exciting here! It is momentous here!

Can I go on to the second thing? It is really exciting in Europe and the Community.

Of course, we are making for 1992, when we are going to get rid of a lot of the ordinary customs barriers; of course, it is going to be exciting in 1993 when the Channel Tunnel is opened and for the first time in our history this country will have a land border with people who speak a foreign language, as the tunnel goes through and has the land border with France. Of course, those things are very very exciting. [end p11]

I believe in Europe as a strong, cohesive group of sovereign nations who have come together to do those things that we can better do together than we can do separately. I have never believed in the United States of Europe. It will not happen, it goes against the grain—we are each of us rather proud sovereign peoples with our own history, with our own language, but we do come together to do those things which we can do the better together and there is a great deal we can do.

340 million! It is a massive number of people, but I do not come to the spirit of Europe in any way to say that there could be a kind of third super-power. I believe that we are part of the freedom-loving countries and therefore we are part of the free countries based on the Atlantic Basin, the United States and Europe. Do not forget that in a way the United States is really, as I tell them sometimes, Europe the other side of the Atlantic and all the things which they took and developed there came from us. Yes they did! Yes they did! They were self-selected, self-reliant. That is why they got the enterprise quicker than we did. They did not go there for subsidies or help from someone else. Oh no, they did not! No, they went there to pioneer—and my goodness, weren't they successful? But what they got, they got from Europe, and just as I said to you about Britain—it is not only the economics—so I say to you about Europe. [end p12]

There has been something very special about Europe through the ages. It was in Europe that developed the great philosophy, indeed religion—both—of the fundamental significance of the individual. It did not develop in any other religion. It did not develop elsewhere. This fundamental belief in the significance, talent, dignity of the individual developed in Europe and got its greatest flowering in Europe. The fundamental capacity to turn science to the advantage of all citizens came in Europe. Oh yes, other nations discovered things, other nations discovered the compass, the turbine, the prayer wheel, fireworks, the use of mathematics. It was in Europe that we turned these things to the advantage of people and it is in Europe that we have had the great flowering of freedom under not only just laws, but what we call a “rule of law” because a rule of law is more important than law. A rule of law is true justice and independently administered. Now if Europe could do all of those things in the past, just as we restored the British character in the United Kingdom, so we can restore in Europe those tremendously great things. That is what is special about Europe and that is what we must gain back. [end p13]

And thirdly, East-West relations. Very very important indeed.

These are going to be momentous. They are already embarked upon a different path. It is not going to be an easy path for the Soviet Union and the satellite countries. Those who embark on great endeavours never find the path easy. That in fact—the endeavour they have embarked upon—makes the adventure the bolder.

But history has not equipped the Russians with the capacity to escape without difficulty from the incubus of state socialism. They do not know about the individual as we do. They do not know about the importance. They have never had freedom. They have not owned land personally on a great scale. You know, if only one thinks back to some of the mistakes of history, if only when the Tsar Alexander IITsar gave freedom to the people who were serfs he had given them a little bit more land each for them to farm, we would never have heard of communism—but he did not, and so there is not this tradition of individual importance.

There is not the tradition of discussing decisions among yourselves and you know, to try to come to it without having years of education about it, without having years of teaching about the importance of the individual, without having years of the experience of tolerance—how far you go with tolerating and when you must not tolerate things because they are fundamentally wrong—you need all [end p14] of these things to come to the sort of free society which we are used to.

We do not know how far it will go. We do know that it is extremely bold; we do know that it will have far-reaching effects on all of the satellite countries, but what NATO is determined to do is to encourage this, to have a relationship with the Soviet Union which is no longer just based on arms control but on something much bigger, because we have embarked in the Free World on something we have not embarked on for years: hitherto, we have defended our freedom and we will continue to do so and our defence will be sure because it is only behind that safeguard that we can welcome things, but we have never had freedom on the offensive to other peoples; never tried to see what we could do to take to them the things which we take for granted. That is what is happening now and that is why it is really so very very exciting and why I know there will be difficulties, but I hope there will be constancy of purpose there, because I have a belief that once the genie of freedom gets out of the bottle you will never get it back in and there will be a very great enlargement of liberty. So we are not euphoric about it, but we are behind a sure defence.

Those are three enormous areas which indicate that we are fortunate to live in such exciting, challenging times. We are lucky that it has come to this stage and that we can in fact take it [end p15] on, and I perhaps am very very fortunate indeed that we have such a good relationship between No. 10 and the media so that we can get across the big messages. Yes, sometimes I know newspapers deal with the trivia, but I am eternally grateful to so many of you from all sort of backgrounds for never forgetting the big things for which we stand, for freedom includes not only freedom to criticise and to dissent, but freedom to uphold all that has made the British character and our country as great as it is.

That is a little bit longer than I had intended. It is not in the script, but Bernard InghamBernard will see that what I have said is in fact transcribed so that if you are kind enough to invite me again in another eight years I can thank and congratulate you once again. We will know what has happened to television, we know that these things will have taken (place?) and gone a little further and made more progress because of the partnership we have together.

May I ask you now to rise and drink a toast to the Press Association and congratulate them for their wonderful record of service to journalism and people. (Applause)