Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Article for Newsweek (“Don’t undo my work”) [no such thing as Majorism]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 2,030

Don't Undo My Work

By Margaret Thatcher

People are asking, is John Major free to go his own way? He is – within the constraints of the principles set out in the Conservative manifesto. Don't forget, I set out our principles before we came into power so that people knew exactly what we stood for. Let me just try briefly to sum them up. It is the sanctity of the individual and his accountability for the awe of his talents and abilities: the belief that liberty is a moral quality based on the Old and New Testament. But liberty can only exist in a civilized society with a rule of law – and with the right to private property. If everything belongs to the state, you will not have the liberty to stand up against the state.

I don't accept the idea that all of a sudden Major is his own man. He has been prime minister for 17 months, and he inherited all these great achievements of the past 11½ years which have fundamentally changed Britain, ridding it of the debilitating, negative aspect of socialism. I always said and believed that the British character is quite different from the characters of people of the Continent – quite different. There is a great sense of fairness and equity in the British people, a great sense of individuality and of initiative. They don't like being pushed around. How else did this really rather small people, from the times of Elizabeth on, go out in the larger world and have such an influence on it?

All this was submerged by the terrible creed of socialism which the Labour Party embraced: that you can plan an economy and everyone must conform; that even though you don't take over people's property, you can control what they do by laws and regulations. Our task as Conservatives was to uncover the enterprise, uncover this remarkable character. We didn't discover it. We knew it was there: we had great faith that although it had been smothered and strangled, if we got the laws right again, the spirit of enterprise would re-emerge. It took time. People had become accustomed to having no responsibility. A manager couldn't manage. Why? Because so much was controlled by what had almost become a corporate state. Those controls had to go.

I set out to destroy socialism because I felt it was at odds with the character of the people. We were the first country in the world to roll back the frontiers of socialism, then roll forward the frontiers of freedom. We reclaimed our heritage; we are renewing it and carrying it forward. John Major and almost all the government know that.

In the last week of the campaign, when I was saying, “Be positive,” because they had everything to be positive about, they turned and looked at our remarkable heritage. The thing that people said to me as I visited 30 constituencies during the campaign – all kinds of people, all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of age groups – was, “Thank you for what you have done for our country.” Britain's good name mattered to them.

I cut back the powers of government. Now they've got to be jolly careful they don't give government too many extra powers and undo what I've done.

For example, they think they would do more for the public services than I did. Some think that implies taking a bigger proportion of growth, leaving less to the people. That concerns me. You must pursue policies of wealth creation. The more you pursue those, the more resources you will have left over, with reasonable levels of taxation, to do more for the health service. Heaven knows, we did far more for the health service than ever the Labour Party had been able to do, because they assumed that wealth creation would go on no matter how high the taxation. Their policies started with wealth distribution. And the economy declined. The government's share of the national income has gone up again in a recession. The last Conservative government got it down below 40 percent. That is the point from which John Major's pledge to cut taxes further will be judged. I shall try to keep him to this!

Love it: There are one or two straws in the wind that we must watch. If new ministers pursue a policy of intervening in industry, thinking that two or three of them know better than the infinite variety of men and women who run an infinite variety of industries, then the economy will go downhill again. Yes, there are many industrialists who love to have subsidies. Love it! Delighted! They don't understand that if they start to take the money, they start to take all the government constraints that go with it.

The task of government is to have sound finance: keep public expenditure and borrowing down. Otherwise, government is taking away the very resources that industry needs to invest and grow. Investment can only come from savings. Alas, savings in the United States and Britain have gone down too far. The United States was built up on a high savings ratio: that is when you built your great industries. Since then, this ratio has tumbled rapidly.

There are many new, young Conservative members of Parliament who are as orthodox on finance as I am. They know they must start to get government borrowing down, and therefore constrain public spending. There is an Italian saying, [end p1] “Public spending is like holy water: everyone helps himself.” The greatest danger to government in Britain – and the United States – is having too many elected representatives who think they make their reputation or keep their seats by securing an extra chunk of public spending for their own constituency or cause. You don't judge morality in politics by how deeply you can put your hand into the taxpayer's pocket.

Most people should know by now that unless you pursue the policies of wealth creation, you will not in fact get the improvement of social services that you desire. And just because you speak softly and talk more about welfare and social services doesn't mean that you do more for them. If a man gets up and says, “Look, really, I'm a very modest man,” could you believe him? What about the person who says, “I care far more about people than she did”? Look at the record, and make a judgment.

Policies must be in line with principles. Freedom is undermined when it is taken away little by little. In my time, we ran a very firm policy; people knew I would say no. They didn't necessarily like it, but they respected it. Far better to command respect for doing the right thing long-term than to pursue short-term popularity. Just look at the many people who voted for me who we were in danger of losing this time. In the end, we didn't lose them.

Just don't call them “new members of the middle class.” Class is a Communist concept. It groups people as bundles and sets them against one another. I remember practically exploding when I heard some Americans talking about “the underclass,” as if they weren't individuals with feelings. Each one is entitled to his own dignity, to develop his talents and abilities. Underclass? Socialist claptrap! That's why I began by talking about liberty. The more you talk about class – or even about “classlessness” – the more you fix the idea in people's minds.

There isn't such a thing as Majorism. There couldn't be, at the moment. My colleagues and I turned round the whole philosophy of government. We restored the strength and reputation of Britain. We did it on fundamental principles. They bear my name, but they are far older than I am. Mr Major has accepted these principles, written them in his manifesto, held it up and said, “It's all me.” What he means is that the things put in there were his choice. So I believe he will take that legacy forward.

There is a line of analysis that says Mr Major synthesizes the best of the “wet” with the best of the “dry” and forges a new consensus for Conservative Britain. But consensus is the absence of principle and the presence of expediency. Suppose the great prophets and philosophers had said: “Brothers, I believe in consensus!” There'd have been no great religions, no great principles. There is no such thing as synthesis, if you really have a passion for politics, if you really have a passion for liberty.

Labour was defeated because of what that party was, and still is. The fact is, the Labour Party started life as the political wing of the trade-union movement. It then embraced socialism. It is still financed largely by the trade unions, which have a major say. Voters didn't believe that Labour politicians had been converted to most of our policies. People who can do the U-turns which they said they'd done can just as smartly U-turn back. When you have a campaign which makes the veneer look good, you should always say, “Hmm, and what's underneath it?”

Changing the name of the Labour Party won't help. People won't be taken in by the name over the shop. It's what's inside the shop that matters. No, if Labour wants to get power again, they must do things in keeping with the British people's character. Look at the millions of people who voted Labour, who fought for Britain, who helped to build the reputation of this country. They are sturdy and independent. It's clear that the socialist streak of the Labour Party doesn't live up to the very best character of their supporters.

At the moment, socialism is being rejected the world over. There will always be people who don't want to accept responsibility, who don't want to exercise initiative. And to them a doctrine of carving up other people's wealth and giving more to those who do not use their own talents is attractive. You are seeing now, in the former Soviet Union, the difficulty of a people made passive by 70 years of Marxism. There are a few people in America, and in Britain, who have got used to living on welfare and want to go on living on welfare. In other words, you've got people who don't wish to do the very thing on which America is founded – a life of effort on the premise that if you accept freedom you accept the duties that go with it.

Siren voices: You find some of that in some Third World propaganda: “All that's wrong is the distribution of wealth, and if you vote for me, I will see that more is taken away from those who have it, even if they have it by their own effort, and given to you.” Those are siren voices. Siren voices are older than socialism. They don't necessarily appeal to the positive things in human nature – duty, enterprise, the joy of building. Siren voices will never build a great country.

Thatcherism will live. It will live long after Thatcher has died, because we had the courage to restore the great principles and put them into practice, in keeping with the character of the people and the place of this country in the world.

There is a message in this for President Bush, who was vice president to President Reagan and who, together with him, restored the pride, enterprise and reputation of America. Yes, you're going through a difficult period now. But I don't believe people will be any more prepared in America to give up their newfound confidence in their country than they were in Britain. It's not for me to say, but I believe that there is a parallel, that Americans will be looking at the opposition presidential candidates to see if they would genuinely carry on the Reagan/Bush heritage.

You always have people who take the soft option. The apparently easy way out is the way that gets you into deepest trouble. The lesson is, you don't soften fundamental principles. You positively push them forward into the future.