Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Remarks launching her Collected Speeches

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hatchards Bookshop, Piccadilly
Source: Thatcher MSS
Editorial comments: The text is fragmentary and may not be complete.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1800 words
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (history)


This collection of speeches covers most of my political life. Not all. I started my life-long obsession early, reading books on current topics my father brought back from the library, doing my best for the local Tory candidate, making my way to the top of the Oxford University Conservatives and then fighting the 1950 and 1951 elections as one of the Party's youngest candidates. All this was good fun and good training, but whatever I then declaimed on the hustings doesn't reach the pages of this book.

And that's right, because the first time I really had to develop my thought was for the 1968 Conservative Political Centre Lecture that is included. It was quite clear why I'd been asked by Ted Heath to deliver it : because - you guessed - I am a woman. And doubtless it was intended I should deliver a womanly talk on a womanly topic. But I chose instead a more controversial theme - "What's wrong with politics?". No : I didn't actually come up with the obvious answer - "politicians". But I got near it by asserting that the state was raising too many expectations by trying to do too much. It's not a great speech, though it has a taste of monetarism about it. Anyway, it was the real beginning.

There are 59 speeches here: and the fifty-ninth was delivered only a year ago. They range from party political speeches, to speeches in Parliament, to speeches delivered to polite applause at grand international gatherings, to speeches delivered to barely-disguised fury since leaving office. And just so no-one gets any wrong ideas : be warned - I intend to keep on talking!

Looking back over all these thousands of words, and reading the introductory passages that put them in context, I'm struck above all by their consistency. This is partly because all of us who worked on those speeches - not least the speaker herself - took them seriously. Hours of argument, reams of paper and a steady stream of coffee, wine and Old Malt contributed. They were meant to have a philosophical base; they were designed not just to create an impression, but to convey a meaning; they were, in fact, intended to last. Immodest perhaps - but I judge that they have done so pretty well.

The speeches also strike me by their topicality. That may be, on the face of it, surprising given how much has changed - and some of these speeches were instrumental in making those changes - in the intervening years. Let me give some examples.

It's true, of course, that no-one now seriously argues what my opponents - inside and outside the Conservative Party - argued in the late seventies and early eighties: namely, that high government spending and borrowing were the way to make Britain's economy strong. But you'll still find that there's great reluctance to accept the opposite: namely, that the less the state spends and taxes the better the prospects for prosperity.

Again, you won't find many people arguing that the trade union reforms we introduced, step by step, which were opposed by the Labour Party, the militant union leaders and by some within the Tory Cabinet, should now be reversed. But you don't find either that the arguments these speeches make against restrictive labour markets and high costs as a cause of unemployment have been really understood. If they had been, we wouldn't have signed up to the Social Chapter, be arguing about a minimum wage and be envisaging the importation of bureaucracy and corporatism from mainland Europe.

Similarly, those occasions when I had to warn here and abroad of the dangers of yielding to Soviet black-mail and the weakening of our military - particularly our nuclear - forces now seem light year away. But the end of the Cold War didn't bring with it an end to the dangers: in fact, the world's a still more dangerous place, full of old threats in new guises.

Looking through these speeches, they offer not just a commentary on past events - of interest in itself - but, I believe, some insights into present circumstances.

I. The first continuous series of speeches are those I made in Opposition. [See Part I] And they certainly are topical - to the ConservativeParty at least!

The First Party Conference Speech as Leader in 1975 (No. 5): the need to win over the Constituency activists who barely knew me, to show the adherents of the previous leader that they would have to take me seriously, and to learn the rudiments of Party Conference speech-making : quote "vision" passage on p. 34.

The Cold Warrior Speeches of 1975 and 1976 at Chelsea and Kensington (Nos. 4 and 6): the need to warn against the Soviets winning the Cold War by stealth, to cast cold water on the Helsinki rhetoric, to stamp on the Foreign Office thinking of Reggie Maudling and his advisers. How I came to be called the Iron Lady.

Seizing the Moral High Ground - speech at St Lawrence Jewry in 1978 (and later in 1981) (No. 9): the need to stop apologising for being a Conservative - my conviction that limited government, the rule of law and free enterprise are the morally best option - at the time very shocking.

The last Opposition speech in the volume - the Party Conference Speech of 1978 (No. 10) shows just how quickly events can change. That October we were still struggling to gain acceptance for a programme of radical change as the only way of reversing Britain's decline: the economy was looking much better as the IMF package forced on the Labour Government in 1975/6 worked its temporary cure. Suddenly the winter of trade union strife changed all that. I seized the opportunity to toughen up our stance on trade union reform and went on television to offer support if Jim Callaghan endorsed our proposals. He refused - and the rest is history.

William Hague, take note and take heart: Fortune usually does (in the end) favour the brave.

II. Then there are the speeches of my first term as Prime Minister, from 1979 to 1983.

There were two great crises - each posing a huge strain on me personally, on Cabinet unity and on the country as a whole.

The first was the economic crisis. Only a minority of the Cabinet agreed with the monetarist approach that Keith Joseph, Geoffrey Howe and I were intent on pursuing. The political challenge was to maintain the political struggle till the recovery came through. That was the purpose of the Party Conference Speech of 1980 ("Not for Turning"), the Central Council Speech of 1981 (see p. 135), and Party Conference Speech of 1981 (answering Ted Heath and others) - all of which are here.(Nos. 13, 15, 16).

The second was the Falklands crisis. (Discuss key moments - learning of the invasion; Sir Henry Leach's words; the Haig negotiations; losses; the surrender etc). It was necessary to explain and justify the government's decisions to the House of Commons, in which the early enthusiasm for a military solution waned in proportion as the final battle seemed more likely.

III. The speeches during my second term as Prime Minister, between 1983 and 1987, have less of the air of crisis about them. It was generally a time of prosperity and privatisation, which helped us achieve a third successive election vistory. But there were three major challenges early in the parliament. The first was the Brighton bomb of 1984; the second was the year-long miners' strike, which was in its way almost as determined a threat to the constitutional and democratic order. So the circumstances of the Party Conference speech on that occasion were like no other. (Describe). (Speech No. 25.)

The third challenge of a quite different sort was the need to defend in the face of a hostile House of Commons my agreement to support the American Raid on Libya in 1986. (Speeches 28 and 29) (Describe the preparation.)

IV. There are more speeches included for the period 1987-1990 covering the last part-term I served as Prime Minister than for the previous sections. That's because so many of the themes still have contemporary resonance.

The period was stormy: it saw the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it also saw the re-unification of Germany which fundamentally altered the balance in Europe. It saw a great diminution in the threat from the Soviet Union. But it saw a rise in threats from other tyrants - notably from Saddam Hussein where I was in the right place at the right time to have the maximum impact. (Discuss the Aspen speech and the circumstances, your previous relations with Bush, how the crisis cemented once more UK-US relations. (Speech No. 43))

It also saw the issue of Europe dominate our lives as never before - and dominate my own and the Conservative Party's fortunes for years to come. Discuss the Bruges speech of 1988 (No. 35). Also the passage in the final censure debate speech (No. 46, page 451 - on the single currency).

V. The final section of the book contains the more significant speeches since I left office - 1991-1996. They're mostly international - partly because it's difficult to avoid trouble if you speak about domestic matters when you're Party's in power; partly also because the great issues today are ultimately international. There are three I must mention:

i:What do we do about the emerging European super-state that's seeking to drag us into its clutches? Discuss the Hague Speech of May 1992 (No. 51). Also the CNN speech of September 1992, delivered just after we'd dropped out of the ERM (No. 53).

ii:How do we create a free and orderly world out of the disorderly chaos left behind by the communism we defeated? The vital importance of defence technology and ballistic missiles : Fulton Speech of March 1996 (No. 56).

iii:How do we cope with the huge economic changes driven by new technology and global markets, which are also bringing with them unwelcome political changes - such as the rise of a future super-power in still communist China? The need to get China to develop its democracy, not just its economy : Beijing Speech of November 1996 (No. 58)


I'm not unhappy that among the final speeches there are those that pay special tribute to two of my greatest friends - Keith Joseph and Nick Ridley. Each of these speeches - like each of these self-deprecating intellectual giants - sets out a vision of conservatism based on beliefs and convictions. The more I travel the world, the more persuaded I am that it's a vision that counts for millions of people there as well. But it's specially right for this country - because, like me, it's home-grown and its roots lie deep in British soil. (Quote the Norman and the Saxon : see page 124)