Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Cheltenham
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1200. The speech was checked against delivery by John Whittingdale. His notes on audience reaction are retained in the text. Sections of the speech have been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 31 March 1990 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4331
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Education, Employment, Local elections, Monetary policy, Environment, Taxation, European Union (general), Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government finance, Community charge ("poll tax"), Leadership, Women, Famous statements by MT


Madam Chairman, it's a very great pleasure to be in Cheltenham once again. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 31 March 1990

To avoid any possible misunderstanding, and at the risk of disappointing a few gallant colonels, let me make one thing absolutely clear: I haven't come to Cheltenham to retire (Laughter and applause.) End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 31 March 1990. [end p1]

This Central Council has assumed a great importance in the life of our Party. And the lively debate you had on the Community Charge showed the Tory Party at its best. It dealt with the anxieties which many people have and which I shall be addressing in a moment. But your debates have also shown that our party is optimistic about the future and loyal to the vision which unites us. (Applause).

That vision is the same which we proclaimed when you, Sir David Davenport-HandleySir David, chaired our Party Conference of 1979 after that first triumphant General Election victory. [end p2]

Those qualities are the ones which Willie Whitelaw, our outgoing President, has represented throughout his whole political life. As Deputy Leader of our Party, your warm friendship, wise counsel and coolness under fire are an example to us all. (Applause).


Madam Chairman, many of the bills for the Community Charge which people are now receiving are far too high. (Applause). I share the outrage they feel.

But let's be clear: it's not the way the money is raised, it's the amount of money that local government is spending. That's the real problem. No scheme, however ingenious, could pay for high spending with low charges. [end p3]

There is no ideal tax which will pay for local spending without raising some objections. But the greatest objections of all were reserved for the rating system. The public protests lasted not months but decades.

It was grossly unfair that of the 37 million people who had a vote for local councils, only 17 million paid rates. —Unfair to the elderly couple in one house who paid the same as four or five adults in good jobs next door. —Unfair to the widow who had to leave her family home because of the burden of rates. [end p4]

That was why all of us fought the last election on a pledge to abolish the rates. The Community Charge means that all adults pay something towards the cost of local services. But those on low incomes or social security benefit get substantial rebates—all paid for by the taxpayer. Indeed, general taxation and business together pay the lion's share of what local councils spend. The Community Charge meets only £30 out of every £100 of local government expenditure.

In spite of that, many of the actual bills are a scandal. Too many councils, most of them Labour, have piled on the spending and all of the extra has gone onto Community Charge. [end p5]

It costs —£96 more for the privilege of living in Labour Warrington than in neighbouring Tory Trafford. —£108 more in Labour Liverpool than in next-door Tory Wirral and —an appalling £339 more in Labour Camden than in adjoining Tory Westminster. Many residents of Camden would be astonished to learn they live in an area that's more expensive than Belgrave Square! (Laughter). [end p6]

We thought that even Labour would have some consideration for local citizens. But not a bit of it. All those speeches about compassion!—Forget them. Labour was cynically using ordinary families as political cannon-fodder hoping people would blame the Government for the high charges Labour imposed. The Labour Association of London Authorities recommended Labour councils to consider setting “the highest (charge) you can get away with” .

Mark those words, “the highest you can get away with” . Well, don't let them get away with it. (Applause). [end p7]

We have put in place some additional help already. For example transitional relief when the change from rates to Community Charge is just too big for people to bear. That will help seven and a half million people. And people in areas who have had to contribute to the safety net this year will be relieved of the burden next year. And in this year's Budget, John Major took the welcome step of doubling the capital limits so that prudent savers would no longer be disqualified from help. But there is more to do.

First where Council budgets are excessive, the Chris PattenEnvironment Secretary has power to cap the Community Charge to bring it down. [end p8] He will soon be announcing which councils will be charge capped this year. But his powers are limited.

Second the Standard Charge, which applies where people live in one house but maintain a second. Some enjoy a country cottage or a holiday home. But others have no choice. They may have had to go to look after a sick relative, or moved house to another job and can't sell their old one, or can't sell a house which has been left to them, or have to live in one home as a condition of their job and have bought another for their retirement. [end p9]

In some of these cases Government has forbidden any charge for a certain length of time. In others it has given local authorities discretion to charge up to two Community Charges in respect of the house which is not the main home.

Some councils are exercising this discretion sympathetically and giving low charges. They are in favour of the citizen. Others are not and people are unexpectedly faced with large bills. If this goes on, we shall have to limit the councils' discretion in time for next year. (Applause). [end p10]

Third some councils are complaining about their standard spending assessments. Chris Patten has agreed to look at any fresh evidence you care to place before him about those assessments. I am sure you will take advantage of this offer in good time for next year's grant settlement.

But the real problem is very high spending and that an increased grant from the taxpayer is not passed on in a lower Community Charge but is used for still higher expenditure.

Madam Chairman, Conservative councils cost you less. Labour costs you more. So the real answer is to get rid of Labour councils. (Applause). [end p11] Many of you will have a chance to do just that in a few weeks time. But everyone has the right to look to Government and Parliament to protect them as Community Charge payers from overpowering taxation. They will not look in vain.


And what is Labour's alternative? A Roof tax. That is a tax on the capital value of your house whether or not you own it. And who would gain from that? [end p12]

Certainly not the Council tenant who had no stake in the increased value of his home—yet saw his Roof Tax going through the roof.

Certainly not those who needed an extension or made any improvements to their home which increased its value. The Council would soon be there, estimating how much more you'd have to pay, questioning whether your improvements were socially useful.

It would bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “Neighbourhood Watch” . (Laughter and applause). You and your neighbours would be the ones being watched. [end p13]

Madam Chairman, however deeply we feel, political disagreement is no excuse for breaking the law. Yet thirty Labour Members of Parliament are supporting those who refuse to pay the Community Charge. In recent weeks, Marxist agitators and militants have organised mob violence. Policemen have been punched, councillors assaulted and shopkeepers have seen their shops looted. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 31 March 1990

Where the hard Left campaigns of law breaking are organised by Labour Party members, and publicly defended by Labour MPs, no weasel words from the Neil KinnockLeader of the Opposition can alter the plain fact that they are inescapably Labour's responsibility. (Applause). End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 31 March 1990. [end p14]


Madam Chairman, you may just possibly have noticed that I seem lately to have been subjected to a certain amount of criticism. (Laughter).

Not, by the way, for the first time. Nor, I dare say, for the last. You might say, Madam Chairman, that being criticised is one of the perks of being Prime Minister. (Laughter). It comes along with the job which may be one reason why the job is never advertised. (Laughter). [end p15]

In fact, I have often wondered what such an advertisement would say. Perhaps something like: Senior Position in Government involving long hours, short holidays and tall orders. (Laughter). Expertise required in the whole range of government policy and especially in carrying cans. (Laughter). Tied cottage …   . makes job ideal for someone used to living above the shop. (Laughter). Experience in this line of work preferred but impossible. Current status: 650 applicants and no vacancy. (Loud applause).

Let me say this to you and to the country, hard choices in the economy are never popular six months later. [end p16]

The war against inflation is an example of what I mean. It has to be fought year in, year out. Today, inflation is too high. And mortgage rates and the high Community Charges of Labour Councils will for a time take it a little higher.

The unavoidable price of beating inflation is a temporary period of high interest rates to slow down spending, cut borrowing and increase saving.

Alas, that price falls heavily on those who have sacrificed so much to buy their own homes and who now see their mortgage payments rising further than they had ever imagined. [end p17]

No one in the Conservative Party takes that lightly. No one in this government takes it lightly. We know that in homes all over the country people are having to cut down on other things in order to meet their monthly payments.

The hard truth is that we faced a choice between a short-term rise in interest rates of a long-term rise in inflation. And that really is no choice at all. Labour tell you, Madam Chairman, that all our problems could be solved by putting up spending, running up the nation's overdraft, slashing interest rates and controlling credit by some means as yet unspecified. [end p18]

If ever that happened, money would pour out of this country so fast, Labour wouldn't be worried about controlling credit, credit would be controlling them. The confidence of the world's markets can be kept only by sound financial policies, by Conservative financial policies.


And who better to retain that confidence than John Major (Applause). His savers' Budget, Madam Chairman, was the right Budget for 1990. And the more the people save, the less the Government needs to tax. Only by encouraging high levels of saving, can we sustain the high level of investment needed for growth without inflation. [end p19]

But savings are good not only for the economy. The habit of thrift provides the security for a comfortable retirement and an inheritance for children and grand-children.

Here there is a great divide of principle between us and Labour: Socialists borrow and pass on debts; Conservatives save and pass on assets. (Applause). For years, it was not possible for people to build up capital out of earnings. Now they can. And millions more are doing so, under our Government.

Last week's Budget marked a milestone for women. The earnings and savings of a married woman will no longer be treated as though they were here husband's. [end p20] Tax penalties on marriage will disappear and millions of woman will be better off. I'm proud to be a member of a government which has brought in this measure—this overdue measure of justice for women. (Applause).

Madam Chairman, the British economy is strong. Of course, to hear the left-wing talk, you wouldn't think: — that British industry has never invested to heavil; — that British companies have never exported so much; — that British businesses have never multiplied so fast and — that there have never been so many jobs in Britain. Those are the facts. All of those things are signs of a strong economy. [end p21]


Madam Chairman, in the next election there will be over three million first time voters too young to remember what socialism was like. I would be hard put to describe to someone whose entire adult experience is to Tory freedom and prosperity, that grey socialist world of strikes and union control. Inflation at 27 per cent, punitive levels of income tax and then that gravediggers strike which finally dug Labour's grave—it all sounds as remote as ration books and petrol coupons.

But I don't have to explain it to them. They can see Socialism for themselves in the Eastern European countries which are now struggling to free themselves from its depressing legacy; the shortages and [end p22] shabbiness of everyday goods, the tyranny of petty bureaucrats, and the survivor's maxim there: “If you see a queue, join it.”

To young people, I say: “when you visit Eastern Europe, learn from them about the socialist past that didn't work, and tell them about the Conservative future that will. (Applause). And then, come home and tell your friends of the excitement of people who are tasting freedom for the first time.”

It's no surprise to us when conservative parties win elections in Hungary and East Germany. The people of those countries have learned not to take freedom for granted. And under the sheep's clothing of social democracy they recognise the wolf's face of socialism. [end p23]

Madam Chairman, I don't think Labour's intervention in the Hungarian elections has altogether received the attention it deserves. Labour decided to back the Hungarian social democrats and Mr Hattersley, doubtless fortified by the goulash at the Gay Hussar, (laughter) went out to Budapest to throw his full weight behind them. With devastating effect.

Alerted by Mr Hattersley 's presence to the fact that the Social Democrats had something to do with socialism, the electorate gave them three and a half per cent of the votes. (Laughter and applause). They didn't even qualify for a seat in the parliament.

We must hope, Madam Chairman, that the Deputy Leaders of the Labour Party Party doesn't rest on these laurels. [end p24] Let him campaign in every constituency in the country (laughter) and alert the British voters also to the fact that the Labour Party has a lot to do with socialism. (Applause). For the problem we Conservatives face is that the lure of socialism today is strongest in countries which haven't recently experienced it. People who have never lost their freedom don't always realise how precious it is. We must do everything we can to remind them. [end p25]


But we must do more than that. We must make sure that wider opportunities are available to all our young people. Each of them endowed with unique talents and abilities. Each with his own dreams and ambitions. Education opens new doors to a fuller life. And each generation must open those doors to give the next a better start.

Madam Chairman, no one gave his children a better start in life than my Alfred Robertsfather gave me—because he took the view that what was good enough for him wasn't good enough for me. And he encouraged me to keep on learning. [end p26]

For opportunity must not stop short at the age of sixteen. Yet too often it does. We are seeing to it that children leave school with the right basic education. That's what the National Curriculum is all about.

But for some children it's hard to find the right opening or get the right advice. Many feel they want to leave school and train—though they don't quite know what to train for. [end p27]

We're getting industry interesting in young people during their school life.

We're also creating new Training and Enterprise Councils under business leadership. They know the jobs of the future.

But our approach isn't limited to providing young people with training and a job. It's more than that. It is to motivate, enthuse and involve each of them by offering a real choice. [end p28]

So we intend to offer sixteen and seventeen year olds a credit worth at least a thousand pounds—an experiment to start with—to enable them to train with a local company of their choice.

The skills they'll get won't be those of a narrow time serving apprenticeship: these can trap people in a dying trade. They must be skill which can be adapted to new techniques and new industries as they arise, skill to which young people can add as they go through life.

For many young people this will offer a chance they never had before. They need the training and we need them. (Applause).


I don't think I need say much about Labour's policies. They're mostly under wraps—understandably—but one or two slipped out of the bag.

For example, shareholders in privatised companies could kiss goodbye to their dividends. Labour's credit controls could stop you buying a bigger home as your family grew. And Labour want an extra tax on your savings. [end p29]

With polices like these, Madam Chairman, small wonder that the Neil KinnockLabour leader tries to drown them in verbiage. What did Shakespeare say: “He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument” . (Laughter).

And that came from “Love's Labour's Lost” . (Laughter and applause).

Madam Chairman, socialism simply does not work. Its adherents have fellow-travelled the world to find just one successful variety. And come away empty-handed.

In the 1930s it was off to Moscow where Stalin had attained the promised land. But the promised land turned out to be the Gulag. [end p30]

In the 1960s it was Cuba's turn. “At last” , they cried, “a happy Revolution.” Then Fidel Castro spoke for seven hours. (Laughter).

And finally Nicaragua. The results of the election were confidently awaited. A Sandinista victory was assured: after all, half Hampstead was on their side. (Laughter). What could go wrong? Everything it seems. The order of Lenin was replaced by the order of the boot. And now there's a Violeta Chamorrowoman in charge. Madam Chairman, there is nothing like a dame. (Laughter). [end p31]


Conservatives are not only friends of the earth, we are its trustees. But concern for the environment is not, and never has been, a first priority for Socialist governments. As we peel back the moral squalor of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe, we discover the natural and physical squalor underneath. They exploited nature every bit as ruthlessly as they exploited the people. In their departure, they have left her chocking amidst effluent, acid rain and industrial waste. [end p32]

Marxist governments sacrificed every other value to industrial production. But they weren't very good at that. So they created both poverty and pollution, muck without brass—the Yorkshireman's nightmare. (Laughter).

Let me give you one particularly horrific example, drawn entirely from Soviet sources. The Aral Sea shrank by half in the last thirty years. On the mud-flats left by the retreating waters, millions of tons of salt, chemicals and fertiliser waste were spread by the winds to people and crops hundreds of miles away. On one coast, a majority of children have serious illnesses, most men called up by conscription are rejected as unfit; [end p33] more than half the population suffer from hepatitis, typhoid or throat cancer; and infant mortality has reached one in ten in the first year. That was Socialism and the environment.

Capitalism is not he enemy of the environment, but its friend and guardian. As more people own property, so more people have an incentive to protect it from pollution.

This we have learned from experience and no more so than in the last ten years in Britain. So much of the wealth created by a flourishing economy has been ployghed back directly into measures to protect and enhance our environment. [end p34]

In the last five years, we have cut the level of lead in our air by half. In last week's Budget, John Major widened the differential in the price of petrol still further. And from October this year, all new cars will have to be able to run on unleaded fuel.

This is not the record of a Government with no time for the environment. We stand for clean streets, clean rivers clear seas, fresh air, green acres. These are the values of a Government green in policy but not in judgement. (Applause). [end p35]


Madam Chairman, it is a privilege to be alive at a time when freedom is advancing and tyranny retreating throughout the world.

And who would have guessed that our actions here would have helped bring about such vast historical changes? For these events would never have happened if the West had succumbed to the sleeping sickness of socialism.

Nor would the Soviet grip have been released if the anti-nuclear appeasement advocated by Labour had won the day. (Applause). It was the unwitting ally of communism's Old Guard. [end p36]

It was not the spiritual attractions of freedom which converted Communist rulers to reform and democracy. It was sheer necessity—the blunt hard fact that they could not compete with free capitalist countries on their own chosen ground of material prosperity and social advance.

What is liberating those under Communism, Madam Chairman, is the spectre of capitalist competition.

Our struggle is their struggle; our success is their inspiration; their victory our vindication. Let us not falter at the very moment when the walls of their prison are collapsing. [end p37]

Let me tell you how I see the way ahead for Britain. I see a Britain of enterprise: — a Britain in which new industries, small businesses, the self-employed and the latest technologies flourish, — in which British goods beat the competition in markets throughout the world, — in which companies support the local community, give to local charities, foster local arts and improved the local environment, — and in which industry combines with science to overcome disease, poverty and disaster.

I see a Britain of choice and responsibility: — a Britain in which schools, run by teachers and parents, not bureaucrats, achieve new standards of excellence, [end p38] — in which self-governing hospitals compete to provide patients with a higher quality of care, — in which tenants run their own estates or choose between a range of landlords.

I see a Britain of wider ownership: — a Britain in which not two in three, but four in five families own their own homes, — in which more state industries are transferred to profit and success in the private sector, — in which more employees have a stake in their companies—and in other people's companies, — in which each generation can save out of its income the capital to give the next generation a better start, — in which ownership is not a privilege but a matter of course. [end p39]

And I see a Europe of free nations. A Europe united in its belief in democracy, in the power of free enterprise and in the diversity of its national cultures. A Europe: — where national frontiers are respected by all European countries, — where free trade extends from the Atlantic to the Soviet border, — where countries freely cooperate to advance the prosperity of their peoples, — where an open, single market broadens our children's horizons and widens their opportunities. [end p40]

Just eighteen months ago in Bruges, when I recalled that the European Community was not synonymous with Europe and that Warsaw, Prague and Budapest were European cities, it may have seemed to some a fanciful excursion into history. Yet today, their countries have rejoined European democracy.

So I see also a wider world of freedom—a family of independent nations in close alliance with the United States, standing together in defence of liberty and democracy and raising anew the torch of Western civilisation. (Applause). [end p41] Flourishing enterprise. Choice and responsibility. A democracy of ownership. Freedom with security. These are the goals we set for Britain in the years and in the century which lie ahead.


And that's why, Madam Chairman, our struggle with the Labour Party has never been a matter just of economics. It concerns the way of life we believe is right for Britain now and in the future. It concerns the values by which we live. [end p42]

Socialism is a creed of the state. It regards ordinary human beings as the raw material for its schemes of social change. But we put our faith in people—in the millions of people who spend what they earn—not what other people earn. Who make sacrifices for their young family or their elderly parents. Who help their neighbours and take care of their neighbourhoods. The sort of people I grew up with. These are the people whom I became Leader of this Party to defend. The people who gave us their trust. (Applause). [end p43]

To them I say, of course I understand your worries. They are part of the fabric of my life too, and I share the aspirations which you hold.

You don't expect the moon. But you do want the opportunity to succeed for yourselves and for your children. A decently paid job to go to. A home which you can call your own, improve and furnish and make pride in. Savings you can invest for a rainy day. A modest stake in the business for which you work. Schools which will give your children a chance to get on in life. [end p44] A Health Service to fall back on when you or your family are sick. A neighbourhood free of litter, vandalism and fear. And a country which is strong and proud and free.

These are the things I want too. And they are the things for which this Party stands.

Being loyal to our Conservative vision has never been more vital.

Around us, the values for which we stand are becoming established as the ethos of the new decade. [end p45] And, for all its raucous protest and its arrogant, assumed self-confidence, Socialism in Britain quakes before a future which it sought to kill at birth and whose triumph it still dreads. (Applause). Our economy is strong. Our defences are sure. Our policies are right.

Let the storm clouds swirl. Before us, a shining future is within our reach. Let us have the spirit—and yes, the sheer guts to press on and grasp it. (Applause). [end p46] Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 31 March 1990:

I have the stomach for that fight. So do you. And so, I believe, does Britain. (Applause). End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 31 March 1990 and end of speech.