Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Nicholas Ridley Memorial Lecture

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release
Editorial comments:

Embargoed until 1930. The lecture took place under the auspices of Conservative Way Forward.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5585
Themes: Higher & further education, Social security & welfare, Society, Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Trade unions, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Arts & entertainment, Community charge (“poll tax”), Defence (general), Executive (appointments), Judiciary, Law & order, Race, immigration, nationality, Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Labour Party & socialism

Nicholas Ridley

If Thomas Carlyle was even partly right in suggesting that History is the biography of great men, anyone studying the history of our times should also study the character and career of Nicholas Ridley.

Nick defied every stereotype. He was what used to be called “an original” . His temperament combined in equal measure the opposing elements of the classical and the romantic.

He had a clear, analytical mind, which made him the best technical problem-solver I ever worked with. As he put it after leaving office: “I was educated as a mathematician and engineer. I see a problem and I want to put it right.... This perhaps explains why I am not a good politician. ”

I wish we had more such “bad politicians” today!

Free-market economics was always Nick's passion. And he had a longer, better pedigree in that respect than most Thatcherites–or indeed I may add–than Thatcher herself. His first vote against a Conservative Government baling out nationalised industries was in 1961. To be so right, so early on, is not to have seen the light–it is to have lit it.

Yet the other side of Nick's complex personality was his sensitivity. As befits the grandson of Sir Edwin Lutyens, he was a gifted and prolific painter. His cool, atmospheric watercolours conveyed his sense of wonder for the beauties of nature.

This leads to one further revealing fact about Nick's character. He could not, of course, in any terms be considered “classless “. In fact, like the Labour Leader, Tony Blair he must have had a whole wardrobe of old school ties. But he was also quite convinced that the bourgeois values of enterprise, thrift and effort were what drove our country and society forward, and that government must create the climate for these things to flourish.

And of course there was Nick's integrity. The really honest, honourable man is not always popular. He makes people uneasy because he says what they half-thought –and would rather they hadn't. But whenever you meet such people you come away feeling better for it–and the country feels better too, knowing that it can produce them.

Nick enjoyed high office, but he was usually surprised to be offered it. I think he had rather given up on entering the Cabinet when I appointed him to Transport in 1984. I wish I had brought him in earlier. He would have been a superb Chancellor.

But whether in or out, he had the breadth of insight of the true, Renaissance, universal man. He was as content and proficient painting the sunset, or building his wonderful water-garden, as directing his Department.

All this confirms that Nick was one of a long British line of individualists–a term which is often used disparagingly, but which should be rehabilitated, for it explains much about our country's history, traditions and achievements.

The most persuasive defence of British individualism is contained in John Stuart Mill's little manual for freedom, On Liberty. Mill understood how necessary it was in a mass society, with its inherent trend towards the mediocre and the monochrome, to welcome Genius, even if to the mob it seemed like eccentricity –indeed even if it was eccentricity.

Mill wrote:

“The initiation of all wise or noble things comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one individual.......In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service.”

Nick Ridley never “bent the knee” .

He could never be intimidated into believing that what was fashionable was sound, or what was accepted was true, or what was mediocre was best. He lived by his principles, trusted his judgment and had the measure of his abilities. He was unconcerned by sound-bites, unimpressed by smoothness, unmoved by pleas to fiddle or fudge the facts as he knew them to be. He dressed, smoked, ate and drank as he liked, said what he thought, did what he wanted –or more precisely did what he thought best.

As a result, he was often pilloried for what the critics described as his “gaffes” . But one man's gaffe is another man's home truth. Even pearls begin with grit. And, as in his final interview as a Minister with a certain weekly journal, his blunt language could contain an insight that now seems prophetic. In any case, there was no point in complaining about Nick's undiplomatic openness–and I for one never did. You rarely find a man of Nicholas Ridley's guts, brains and integrity who is also made to be a political mannequin.

Opposition to Socialism

But though all these character traits–above all his rugged and robust refusal to follow the herd –made Nick Ridley a remarkable man, they would not in themselves be sufficient to constitute greatness. It was, rather, the impact which Nick had on events that qualified him for that accolade.

So let us take a step back for a moment, and raise our eyes to the historical horizon.

As we review the experience of this century, we can see that one vast theme encapsulates all the rest: it is that of the struggle between state domination and individual liberty.

The two totalitarian systems which we in Britain had to fight–Nazism and Communism–two socialist tyrannies, let's remember–represented one single model. The other was represented by our Anglo-American liberal political culture–our parliamentary institutions, our law, our notions of human rights and our free enterprise system based on private property.

The conflict also occurred within as well as between our societies. Within the command economy and the controlled society of the Evil Empire, captive nations and courageous dissidents staged their own resistance. Within our open society and free polity, left wing parties sought–and sometimes obtained–mandates to make our countries more like the socialist model. But in doing this, the Left had, of course, one large advantage. For while, the rulers of the socialist dictatorships employed the full panoply of repression against their democratic opponents, we in the West had in free debate to demonstrate that our system was superior. So, while for the dictators, ideas represented a danger: for us, they represented hope. It is Nick Ridley's claim to greatness that no-one in our times fought this battle of ideas more heroically, persistently and effectively than he.

He began when a very young man. And he quickly grasped that socialism was more than a matter of labels and parties, but rather in essence the extension of state control at the expense of individual freedom. This insight, so obvious to us now, was not at all so to most Conservatives then.

For there was a strong paternalistic streak in the Conservative Party when Nick and I entered politics; and it was something both of us disliked. The Tory paternalists were well-intentioned, of course; but because economics was below them–and philosophy beyond them–the main impact of Tory Governments was to legitimise and consolidate socialism.

Nick never hesitated to oppose the statism of post-War Conservatives as consistently as that of the Labour Party. From the back-benches after 1972 he aimed his barbs of unwelcome–because unanswerable–criticism at those who had fallen away from the verities of Selsdon Man (and Woman). For Nick it must have seemed a thankless, hopeless, sojourn in a wilderness populated by prowling whips and sharp-toothed party managers. But had he and others not then stayed true to their beliefs, I am not sure that we could have later turned the Party round.

With Nick's help in the Opposition years that followed we set out the philosophy which would direct the party's policies for all the subsequent years of government–a philosophy which is no less relevant to Britain's circumstances now. Let me draw attention to just three of its features.

Re-stating Conservative Principles

The first and perhaps the most important insight which we Conservatives have is that government can do little that is good and much that is harmful, and so the scope of government must be kept to a minimum. Contrary to myth, most government intervention at most times in most countries is not the result of wise conclusions by enlightened men pursuing noble objectives. True, the general stated objectives may indeed seem elevated enough. And just recently we have heard proclaimed such spiritually refined objectives that it seems almost bad form to question them. But the actual intervention (or perhaps coercion would be a more accurate description) is generally the result of the ambitions of politicians, the self-interest of bureaucracies and the pressure of vested interests. And these–not the theological virtues or even the deadly sins–are what democracies must keep in mind.

When Dr Johnson remarked that patriotism was the refuge of the scoundrel, he was not, of course, attacking patriotism, only noting how easily base motives and shoddy arguments could be concealed in the trappings of high-mindedness. So too, though morality and religion are fine things, we should recall–to adapt Adam Smith–that in a democracy it is “not from the benevolence” of the politician, but from the clash of his views and interests with those of his opponents that the electors are empowered to choose their country's path. As Britain should have learned, the proper reaction to any excesses of professed idealism on the Left ........ is to count the spoons.

This is not, of course, an argument for weak government, it is an argument for limited government. But the vital point is that the claims made for government as a force for general improvement always turn out to be bogus.

Yet it is amazing what claims have been made in the past. For instance, after the War, the nationalisation of our industries was justified as a means of safeguarding employment. It did nothing of the sort and, in spite of subsidies extracted from successful firms, the dole queues remorselessly lengthened.

Or take another example. The state effectively squeezed out private healthcare, it suppressed educational choice, it introduced welfare from the cradle to the grave and it decanted whole communities into monotonous acres of municipal housing. The planners did all this to build a utopian society of free and fair shares for all. But, on the contrary, a centralised bureaucratic system forced much of the population into a new dependency. It took a Conservative Government, with policies to which Nick Ridley made a vital contribution, to enfranchise those who had been trudging the Road to Serfdom by offering them choice and opportunities for ownership.

Or take employment laws devised to bring “social justice” to the labour market. Trade unions were strengthened with special privileges. Employers' rights to hire and fire, or indeed to manage, were subject to a tangle of regulations. And, of course, the effect was quite the opposite of that intended–or at least of that proclaimed. Trade union leaders bullied firms into bankruptcy and workers into the closed shop, and insisted on self-defeating restrictive practices. New firms shut down. Large firms wouldn't expand. So again, slowly and painfully and against the outright opposition of those who now, it seems, welcome the reforms we made, we Conservatives withdrew the state from dominating the work place. In doing so, we set Britain on course for economic success, bringing more firms, more wealth and more jobs.

Time after time, the disasters could have been foreseen. But ideology and vested interests obscured clear thought. So powerful is the temptation of politicians to step in–and so manifold are the excuses offered for their doing so–that fighting big government is the hardest task on earth.

The second principle we promoted in those days of Opposition was the fundamental importance of the rule of law. The rule of law, I should add as a barrister, is something other than the rule of lawyers. And, may I say with the greatest of respect, nor is it the rule of judges. Our great judges have certainly at times proved wise and heroic guardians of our rights. But it is for Parliament to make the laws which shape our lives.

What distinguishes our understanding of law is that it should be made by the competent, sovereign authority, that it should apply to all, including government, and that it should be administered impartially by an independent judiciary. In the 1970s it was the manipulation of law to appease the unions and left wing interests that was so shocking. In the eighties it was the contrast with the Soviet and East European totalitarian systems, based on state diktat and nomenklatura privilege, which made us appreciate anew the importance of a true rule of law. Now, in the nineties, it is the encroachment of an alien system of Community law that gives most cause for anxiety. Authority is being drained away from our national democratic and judicial institutions towards a bureaucratic entity that increasingly speaks in the tones of a new imperial power. This must be halted–indeed reversed.

The third argument we advanced back in the 1970s was about the role of private property. Of all the rights which constitute what we call “liberty” , the right to own property, though one of the more prosaic, is arguably that of greatest practical importance. Owning property gives a man independence against over-weening government. Property-ownership has also a more mysterious, but no less real, psychological effect: looking after what one owns provides a training in responsible citizenship. The saints of old often renounced their property, so as to break all attachments and rise above the world. But for most of us, the ties of property lock us into duties we might otherwise shirk: to continue the metaphor, they stop us dropping out.

So encouraging people to acquire property and savings was much more than an economic programme. It was a programme to end what I termed a “one generation society” , and to put in its place a capital-owning democracy.

Britain in the 1980s

What then happened is history–but since history sometimes under-goes a little re-writing, perhaps I'd better remind you of how it turned out.

In the 1980s we cut back the government deficit and we repaid debt. We sharply cut income tax at both the basic and the higher rates. And to do these things, we steadily reduced public spending as a share of the national income. We reformed trade union law, and removed controls and unnecessary regulations. We created a virtuous circle: by reining back government we allowed more room for the private sector, and so the private sector generated more growth, which again allowed sound finances and low taxes.

Productivity increased. New firms started up. New jobs were created. Living standards rose. And with privatised firms making contributions to the Exchequer in place of nationalised ones draining it, there was more available to improve public services. In 1979 nationalised industries were losing £50 million a week; now privatised companies contribute £60 million a week to the Exchequer in Corporation Tax.

Yes: there were mistakes. Inflation started up again in the last years. And interest rates had to rise to beat it–which they did–with all the unpleasant consequences that brought. And the community charge–I still call it that because I like the Poles very much and have never dreamt of taxing them–the community charge, in its first year led to high bills which discredited an excellent system.

But the important point is that the over-all strategy we pursued in the 1980s worked precisely as it was meant to. And it transformed the reality and the reputation of Britain. Moreover, it was a strategy. It was not a set of policies cobbled together from minute to minute, begged, borrowed or stolen from other people. It was successful because it was based on clear, firmly held principles which were themselves based on a right understanding of politics, economics and above all human nature.

This strategy has continued in the 1990s. Our Prime Minister has shown persistence, imagination and skill in taking it forward.

Facts never do–of course– “speak for themselves” . We politicians have to perform this service for them. So let me again remind you:

that unemployment in Britain is lower than in any other major European country;

that real take-home pay has increased at all levels of earnings since 1979;

that there are a million more small firms than when we took office;

that sixteen of the twenty-five most profitable companies in Europe are British;

and that foreign investment in this country has never been higher.

Don't Let Labour Ruin It

As Prime Minister, I was never much interested in “feel good” or even feel bad factors. I believed that if the reality was sound the reaction would ultimately be favourable. So we just got on with the job. But if the British people do not “feel good” about the economy today, I can only warn them that they will feel distinctly “worse” if they wake up after polling day to discover they've put in a Labour Government. Some slogans run and run : so let me repeat–Don't Let Labour Ruin It!

Yet would “Labour ruin it” ? Apparently not, if you believe some people. If you'll forgive the medley of metaphors, the light has dawned, the ground has shifted and whole lexicons of indigestible words–like socialism, equality and public ownership–have been eaten. I warmly welcome the fact that the Labour Party professes, after losing four elections, to have come to terms with the 1980s. If true that is a good start. And I wouldn't rule out, after four more lost elections, the Labour Party coming to terms with the nineties either. Indeed, I hope they gain the opportunity to do so.

It is, of course, flattering to learn that we are all Thatcherites now. In fact, the Road to Damascus has never been more congested. But it's not really very important whether New Labour is sincere in seeing the errors of Old Labour. What is important is that they don't–indeed they can't–understand why the policies of the 1980s worked. And because they don't understand the philosophy behind them, they could not in the hurly-burly of government put the right policies into practice. They would be blown off course. And the reefs of interventionism are no less dangerous, and the sirens of financial profligacy no less alluring, than they were in the past.

Of course, the ways in which this would happen are different now–but happen it surely would. And to understand–and explain–why that is so we have to appreciate the fact that socialism is not dead; it is not even asleep; it is visibly stirring. In fact, we may well be fast approaching one of those rare occasions in our affairs when a small deviation to right or left brings huge rewards or the gravest dangers.

Socialism Now–and why it is still a threat

Communism and socialism were always beset by fundamental, inherent weaknesses, which became more evident as time went by. Their system failed to mobilise talent and create wealth, failed to conform to the basic human impulses to provide for one's family and to express one's nationhood, and so ultimately failed to engage the loyalties of the system's subjects. From quite early on, communism could only be sustained in power by force and by the vested interests of the elite. And when faced with a resurgent capitalist West it crumbled. All that is true. But it is not the whole truth.

Socialism in the broader sense–that is, not as defined by Clause 4 of the old Labour Party Constitution or the dogma of Marx, but as a system of pervasive state control and influence over people's lives–that socialism, corresponds to an ever-present weakness in human nature.

Idleness, selfishness, fecklessness, envy, and irresponsibility are the vices upon which socialism in any form flourishes and which it in turn encourages. But socialism's devilishly clever tactic is to play up to all these human failings, while making those who practise them feel good about it.

It is still happening. Whenever, as now, Britain enjoys the benefits of a booming economy, the Left begins complaining about the social perils of individualism and greed, attributing any number of crimes and moral deficiencies to the same capitalism they ultimately expect to pay for all their social planning.

The Leader of the Labour Party Tony Blair decries (I quote) “rampant individualism, the atomisation and division of society, the narrow self-interest that characterised the 1980s and helped to fracture our society” –and all sorts of empty heads nod in acquiescence.

But if people thought a little more about it they would become very angry indeed. For the implication is that because someone exercises his talents to improve his position, sends his children to the best school he can afford, provides for his old age from savings and leaves something worthwhile for the next generation, he is a party to “rampant individualism” , and so in some unspecified way responsible for how someone-else mis-uses his time or abuses his neighbours. Only, it is implied, a combination of a nanny state and preaching politicians will keep the majority on the straight and narrow paths of the “decent society” .

This is not just arrogant. It is absurd.

Do these left wing politicians really live in the same world as the rest of us? Crime and violence are not the result of the great majority of people being free: they are the result of a small minority of wicked men and women abusing their freedom.

Do they seriously believe that it is “rampant individualism” that led to the growth of the dependency culture, of a class of people who never work, and whose children may never work, who are habituated to a life on welfare, and whose poverty is not material but behavioural? No: welfare dependence is the classic manifestation of a still-too-socialist society.

And do these New Labour politicians understand nothing of the communist system whose legacy continues to blight Eastern Europe and Russia? In that socialist system there was plenty of individualism of a sort; and “rampant” at that: for people's whole lives were taken up in attempts to cheat the system, and indeed each other. There will always be individualism as long as there are individuals: but in a free society and a free economy individualism works to the general good–in a socialist society and a controlled economy it works against it.

But we Conservatives must never forget that for large numbers of people real freedom is an intimidating prospect. The apparent security of state provision is particularly attractive for those doubtful of their own abilities. This is not just a material but a cultural and indeed a moral problem. And it is one that only conservative believers in the system of liberty for its own sake, are truly able to confront.

Yesterday's socialism characterised by militant trade-unionism and burdensome state-owned industries has, in our Western countries at least, almost certainly gone for good. But in the form of a continuing tendency to intervene in people's lives for ends which are quite extraneous to the state's proper functions it is very much present.

Socialism and Political Correctness

It has, for example, re-surfaced in the language and programmes of “group rights” . The process has gone furthest in the United States: though I suspect that if Britain were so foolish as to elect a Labour Government we could quickly catch up.

In America, such affirmative action programmes have not only become a heavy burden on employers of all kinds: by increasing the resentment of the majority against minorities they have precisely the opposite effect to that intended.

Closely linked to this approach is the obsessive political correctness that imperils serious scholarship in so many American universities and colleges. Concepts like truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness, civilization and barbarism have been de-constructed to give way to judgements based on ideology. The results would be funny, if the consequences were not so serious.

Whole shelf-loads of classics written by what they call “DWEMs” –dead white European males–are nowadays consigned to “the dustbin of [whatever these people now call] history” .

The great Milton is now, in the words of a Stanford University English Professor, regarded as “an ass [and]...a sexist pig” . Shakespeare is still on the syllabus of Duke University–but only, in the words of a professor: “to illuminate the way 17th century society mistreated women, the working class, and minorities” .

All this can be called many things–collectivism, relativism, multi-culturalism–or just good old fashioned stupidity. But it also provides a new ideological basis for socialism. For the up-side down world of political correctness is one in which strategies of social control–the enduring objective of the Left –are given free rein. Ordinary, established individual rights–rights of property, or free speech, or the right to choose one's child's education–are crushed by the imposition of collective rights. And the ultimate adjudicator is always the state.


“It couldn't happen here” , you may say. But if the Labour Party have their way, it could. For it is precisely this assertion of artificial group rights at the expense of individual freedom that lies at the heart of the Labour Leader's Tony Blair idea of “stake-holding” .

Because the politics of overt confiscation and control are out of fashion, Left-wing intellectuals, whose verbal facility has always matched their practical ineptitude, have devised this new way of undermining capitalism. Shareholders–those who own a business–and managers–those the owners appoint to run it–would be subject to pressure from an array of politically correct pressure groups and trade unions which would be given a “stake” in the business. Businesses would thus be transformed from maximisers of profit into agents of socialism.

Labour's stake-holding economy may sound comfortingly similar to the Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy. In fact, the two are diametrically opposed. For those wielding power under Labour's plans would not be individual men and women as owners and customers: they would be all those busy-body representatives of Left-wing causes and special interests that now enjoy in New-Labour-speak the vague but venerable title of “the community” .

Shackling British businesses in this way–and imposing a minimum wage to boot–is precisely what our thriving economy does not need. And those tycoons who earned their millions in Tory Britain, but are currently attracted to New Labour, may become rapidly less cheerful if they experience stake-holding in practice.

Socialism and Europe

These trends towards more intervention would, of course, rapidly accelerate if Britain were to move closer to the European model of the corporate state. Again, as with socialism, there is a problem of definition: it is not of course fascist corporatism any more than Marxist socialism which is the threat. Rather, it is a creeping but persistent, and possibly irreversible, shift towards a planned economy and a controlled society.

The Social Chapter, from which our Prime Minister wisely gained us an exemption, but which the Opposition Leader would accept, is the most obvious example. We know already–not least from the saga of the 48-hour working week directive–how the European Commission and the European Court regard their mandate of achieving closer European integration by undermining national sovereignty. Accepting the Social Chapter would give them one more major opportunity to tie up our successful businesses with regulation in order to prevent them competing successfully with the over-regulated firms of Continental Europe. And have no doubt: if they succeed in imposing their higher cost industrial system here, we will experience their high unemployment.

Attention has recently focused upon the huge and quite possibly unsustainable burden of pensions which countries like France and Germany face because of past imprudence worsened by present demography–burdens which doubtless under any single currency regime they would generously seek to share with us. But we should really not be surprised as each new day seems to bring with it some new scandal or gross injustice or absurd folly for which Europe is responsible.

Instead of gazing into the crystal ball to learn about the new European politics, we only need consider Belgium–where proportional representation ensures constant coalitions of the same political class, where parliamentary democracy has been effectively suspended, where confidence in the integrity of honest government and justice has collapsed, and where separate national groups squabble endlessly within a single state that no-one respects.

These Continental European countries' ideas, traditions and history are fundamentally different from our own. The kind of liberal individualism which J.S. Mill's On Liberty describes, let alone the free economy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, never took root there. The battles between the European left and right were essentially between different brands of collectivism, and they largely remain so. Moreover, in many cases there are deep-rooted tendencies toward bureaucracy, authoritarianism and corrupt abuse of power. Indeed, European politicians, dividing their time between courts, jails and debating chambers, have recently managed to give a whole new meaning to the expression “conviction politics” .

But the European Union is not the only forum in which socialism in new, drab guises is evident. And here again we need to stand back a little and reflect on the significance of that titanic global clash of systems we call the Cold War.

Socialism in the post-Cold War world

On this subject the revisionists have been much at work. Those who once warned of the dire consequences of daring to stand up to the Soviets can now be found explaining that the Kremlin was never in any case more than a zoo for paper tigers.

The significant worry for us now, however, is that because the revisionists minimise the importance of the struggle between freedom and socialism, they fail to grasp the fact that so much of the defeated system is still in place.

The diplomats and the members of that nebulous but ubiquitous “international community” never cease to warn against nationalism as a threat to peace and security. But one man's nationalism is another man's patriotism. And oddly, the new internationalists rarely consider that without British patriotism or French patriotism or American patriotism there would be no national armies to enforce international justice in the first place. Far better if the commentators worried instead about what the unstable and dangerous regimes of the world have most in common, which is not nationalism but various guises of socialism.

Our victory in the Cold War, unlike our victory in the Second World War, was not followed by occupation of enemy territory and the purging of those who had been the ideological opponents of freedom. In fact, only the Czechs practised this process of lustration against senior Party members; and perhaps it is significant that the Czechs have since gone furthest in creating the structures of liberty.

Generally, though, yesterday's communists have crept back into power, or never even left it; and not just political power either–the old nomenklatura has exploited its connections to grow rich under the new pseudo-capitalism. As a result, the world is full of seedy regimes and unsettled disputes that the socialist elites have a powerful interest in continuing.

We delude ourselves if we imagine that most of the former communist countries are steadily moving in the direction of our Western system. Rather they are, particularly in the former Soviet Union, locked into conditions that resemble more closely rule by robber barons than liberal democracy. Whether in Russia or in China or in the former Yugoslavia the one thing that most of the problem states of the world have in common is that they are largely in the hands of ex- and not always “ex-” communists.

Thankfully in recent months there is some movement in the other direction, as the socialist regimes find their failures catching up with them: in the Baltics and Balkans, non-socialist governments have been or should soon be installed in Lithuania, Rumania and Bulgaria. But what a rich and terrible irony that, forty years on from the crushing of Hungary by Russian tanks, the present Prime Minister of that country is a communist who sided with the invader against his own people. And Hungary itself is still excluded from NATO because of Western feebleness in face of Russian threats. There could be no greater symbolic demonstration of how we in the West failed to carry through to its conclusion our crusade for freedom. We now need Western leaders untainted with socialism who will raise the standard for liberty –because they actually believe in it.

The Watershed

Mr Chairman, the beginning of the next millennium may coincide with a real historical watershed–and socialism remains the real obstacle to crossing it successfully. Britain needs, more than ever before, a government which understands, believes in and practises the politics and economics of liberty.

For three great choices face us.

First, we have to choose whether we in Britain are prepared to go further in reducing public spending and taxation so as to join the most successful world economies–or accept that half or more of our national income be taken by a paternalist state.

Secondly, we have to choose whether we are going to enjoy our freedom to trade as and where our interests demand, maximising the advantages which the economic reforms of the 1980s have given us–or whether we accept a new model of socialism, imposed by the bureaucratic super-state towards which the core countries of the European Union now seem irrevocably headed.

Thirdly, we have to choose whether we are going to strive for a truly free–which means a socialist-free–international order–or surrender the future of the post-Cold War world to socialist regimes that discredit democracy by battening on the corruption and disorder which communism left behind.

Three choices–but all adding up to one choice–the age-old choice–between the rugged grandeur of liberty and the ignoble ease of dependence. And, yes, that is a moral choice.

Let it be said of us–as we with pride and gratitude can say of Nick Ridley–that we too kept faith with freedom.