Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to American Free Congress Foundation Group

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Between 1230 and 1400.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 734
Themes: Conservatism, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)

Mr. Weyrich, Mr. Coors, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very honoured to receive this Free Congress Governance Medal and Prize;—honoured because it is awarded by the Free Congress Foundation which stands for all the same things that I believe in: strong and effective conservative government, strong defence, the family, traditional values. [end p1]

When we Conservatives took over government in 1979, we faced the most colossal task of turning this country round after years of socialism, with its doctrines of dependence, entitlement and telling people what to do, rather than leaving decisions to them.

We had to rediscover the spirit of enterprise, get government out of running business [end p2] which it should never have tried to do in the first place, and encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and their families rather than look to the Government for everything.

It has not been an easy task, and even after ten years it is not complete, although we have made great progress. Thats why I sympathise with Mr. Gorbachev [end p3] who faces very much greater problems still in trying to turn round the Soviet Union.

These are problems which you have never faced in the United States, because your nation was created by people who went there to escape tyranny in Europe, and search for freedom: and your Constitution is—as I reminded the French when we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution [end p4] last week—your Constitution is the greatest expression of freedom under God and the law which history has known.

We have made great changes in Britain. We have restored government to its proper role, which is to provide a framework and a rule of law, under which people can get on with their lives without interference. [end p5] We have spread ownership—of houses, of shares, of small businesses—so that more and more people have a stake in society. We have reduced the share of government spending, although it is still too high. We have cut back the powers of the Trade Union bosses, and given control back to individual trade union members.

Many years ago that great constitutional [end p6] historian Edmund Burke wrote that: “people never give up their liberties but under some delusion” . Well, Socialism is a delusion. We have shown that and we have given people back their liberties.

But freedom can never be taken for granted. It has to be defended. Britain and the United States experienced [end p7] that in two World Wars. And in the forty years since NATO was founded, we have shown time and again that freedom is safe when Britain and the United States stand together. The Alliance with the United States is at the very heart of everything I believe in, and always will be.

Others may shift and bend, but you will find [end p8] that you can always rely on Britain, particularly in times of crisis or danger—and I am sure that will be the same for the new Administration of President Bush—whom we very much admire—as it was in Ron Reagan 's time.

There is an enormous difference between our sort of society and that which you find on the European Continent. [end p9] You see it in our different legal systems: under the British system of law, you are allowed to do anything so long as it is not specifically forbidden by the law: under the European system, the law tells you what you can do and should so. You see the difference also in the role of government. There is a tradition of much greater state interference in Europe, and it is [end p10] significant for example that there are no English words for étatisme or dirigisme because we just don't have the concept.

It is because our concepts of freedom, of a society based on enterprise and initiative and of the limited role of government are so similar to yours that the Alliance between Britain and the United States has been so successful and endured so long— [end p11] and will endure.

And it is because our Alliance has been so successful that the West is in excellent shape while the Communist system is in deep crisis. It is our democratic values, our free enterprise system which has proved so successful, and our world which others increasingly want to follow. [end p12]

Your Foundation stands for these values which have kept the West strong and secure and I congratulate you on the excellent work you do in spreading and inculcating them more widely.

I thank you again for the honour which you do me with this award and wish you every success.