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Leader's speech, Brighton 1984

Margaret Thatcher (Conservative)

Location: Brighton

Commentary:

On the morning of Thatcher’s speech, the IRA had detonated a bomb at Brighton’s Grand Hotel, where members of the Cabinet had been staying during the conference. Another major concern was unemployment, which by that time had exceeded three million. Thatcher claimed the government was following policies designed to encourage the spirit of enterprise, which in turn would create new jobs. It was also enacting policies to cut taxes, reduce inflation and reduce red tape for small businesses. A further key issue was the miners’ strike over the threat of pit closures, which at the time of the conference was seven months old, and Thatcher reiterated her pledge to stand firm against the union leaders.

The bomb attack on the Grand Hotel early this morning, was first and foremost an inhuman, undiscriminating attempt to massacre innocent, unsuspecting men and women staying in Brighton for our Conservative conference. Our first thoughts must at once be for those who died and for those who are now in hospital recovering from their injuries.

But the bomb attack clearly signified more than this. It was an attempt not only to disrupt and terminate our conference; it was an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically elected Government. That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now, shocked but composed and determined, is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail. 

I should like to express our deep gratitude to the police, firemen, ambulance men, nurses and doctors, to all the emergency services, and to the staff of the hotel, to our ministerial staff and the Conservative Party staff who stood with us and shared the danger.

As Prime Minister and Leader of the Party, I thank them all and send our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have suffered.

Now it must be business as usual We must go on to discuss the things we have talked about during this conference, one or two matters of foreign affairs and after that two subjects I have selected for special consideration: unemployment and the miners’ strike.

This conference has been superbly chaired - and our Chairman came on this morning with very little sleep and carried on marvellously. The conference, with excellent contributions from our members, has been an outstanding example of orderly assembly and free speech. We have debated the great national and international issues as well as those which affect the daily lives of our people. We have seen at the rostrum miner and pensioner, nurse and manager, clergyman and student.

In Government we have been fulfilling the promises contained in our election manifesto which was put to the people in a national ballot. This Government is reasserting Parliament’s ultimate responsibility for controlling the total burden of taxation on our citizens, whether levied by central or local government. And in the coming Session of Parliament we shall introduce legislation which will abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.

In the quest for sound local government, we rely on the help of Conservative councillors. Their task should never be understated and their virtues should not go unsung. They work hard and conscientiously with a true spirit of service. I pay special tribute to the splendid efforts of Conservative councils up and down the country in getting better value for money through greater efficiency and putting out work to competitive tender. This is privatisation at the local level and we need more of it.

At national level, since the general election just over a year ago, the Government has denationalised five major enterprises, making a total of 13 since l979. Yesterday, you gave Norman Tebbit a standing ovation. Today our thoughts are with him and his family.

Again and again denationalisation has brought greater motivation to managers and workforce, higher profits and rising investment. What is more, many in industry now have a share of the firm for which they work. We Conservatives want every owner to be an earner and every earner to be an owner. Soon we shall have the biggest ever act of denationalisation with British Telecom, and British Airways will follow. And we have not finished yet. There will be more to come in this Parliament.

And just as we have stood by our pledge on denationalisation, it is our pride that despite the recession we have kept faith with nine million pensioners. Moreover, by keeping inflation down we have protected the value of their savings. As Norman Fowler told the conference on Wednesday, this Government has not only put more into pensions but has increased resources for the National Health Service. Our record for last year, to be published shortly, will show that the Health Service today is providing more care, more services, and more help for the patient than at any stage in its history. That is Conservative care in practice. I think that it is further proof of the statement I made in Brighton in this hall two years ago. Perhaps some of you remember it, ‘The National Health Service is safe with us.’ 

This performance in the social services could never have been achieved without an efficient and competitive industry to create the wealth we need. Efficiency is not the enemy but the ally of compassion.

In our discussions here, we have spoken of the need for enterprise, profits, and a wider distribution of property among all the people. In the Conservative Party, we have no truck with outmoded Marxist doctrine about class warfare. For us, it is not who you are, who your family is, or where you come from that matters. It is what you are and what you can do for our country that counts. That is our vision. It is a vision worth defending and we shall defend it. Indeed, this Government will never put the defence of our country at risk.

No one in their senses wants nuclear weapons for their own sake. But equally no responsible Prime Minister could take the colossal gamble of giving up our nuclear defences while our greatest potential enemy kept theirs. Policies which would throw out all American nuclear bases - bases which have been here since the time of Clem Attlee, President Truman and Sir Winston Churchill - would wreck NATO and leave us totally isolated from our friends in the United States - and friends they are.

No nation in history has ever shouldered a greater burden, or shouldered it more willingly nor more generously, than the United States. This party’s pro-American. We must constantly remind people what the defence policy of the Opposition party would mean. Their idea that by giving up our nuclear deterrent could somehow escape the result of a nuclear war elsewhere is nonsense. And it is a delusion to assume that conventional weapons are sufficient defence against nuclear attack. And do not let anyone slip into the habit of thinking that conventional war in Europe is some kind of comfortable option. With the huge array of modern weapons held by the Soviet Union, including chemical weapons in large quantities, it would be a cruel and terrible conflict. The truth is that possession of the nuclear deterrent has prevented not only nuclear war but also conventional war. And to us, peace is precious beyond price. We are the true peace party. 

The nuclear deterrent has not only kept the peace but it will continue to preserve our independence. Winston Churchill’s warning is just as true now as when he made it many, many years ago. He said: ‘Once you take the position of not being able in any circumstances to defend your rights against aggression, there is no end to the demands that will be made or the humiliations that must be accepted.’

He knew, and we must heed his warning. Yet Labour’s defence policy remains: no Polaris, no cruise missiles in Britain, no United States nuclear bases in Britain, no Trident, no independent nuclear deterrent. There is I think just one answer the nation will give - no defence, no Labour Government.

In foreign affairs this year has seen two major diplomatic successes. We have reached a detailed and binding agreement with China on the future of Hong Kong. It is an agreement designed to preserve Hong Kong’s flourishing economy and unique way of life. We believe that it meets the needs and wishes of the people of Hong Kong themselves.

A few weeks ago the unofficial members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong came to see me. We kept in touch with them the whole time and they have frequently made journeys to No. 10 Downing Street as the negotiations with China have proceeded. We were just about to initial the agreement, and we consulted them of course about its content. Their spokesman said that while the agreement did not contain everything he would have liked, he and his colleagues could nevertheless recommend it to the people of Hong Kong in good conscience. In good conscience. That means a lot to us. If that is what the leaders of Hong Kong’s own community believe, then we have truly fulfilled the heavy responsibility we feel for their long-term future.

That agreement required imagination, skill, hard work and perseverance - in other words, it required Geoffrey Howe.

In Europe, too, through firmness and determination, we have achieved a long-term settlement of Britain’s Budget contributions, a fair deal for Britain and for Europe too. If we had listened to the advice of other party leaders, Britain would not have done half as well. But patient diplomacy and occasionally, I confess, a little impatient diplomacy, did the trick.

Also, we have at last begun to curb surplus food production in the Community. We know that for some farmers this has meant a painful adjustment and we are very much aware of their difficulties. Their work and their success are the great strength to our country. Michael Jopling and his colleagues will continue to fight to achieve a fair deal for them.

We have also won agreement on the need to keep the Community’s spending under proper control. The Community can now enter on a new chapter and use its energies and influence to play a greater part in world affairs, as an example of what democracies can accomplish, as a very powerful trading group and as a strong force for freedom.

We had one of the most interesting debates of this conference on employment, which we all agree is the scourge of our times. To have over 3 million people unemployed in this country is bad enough, even though we share this tragic problem with other nations. But to suggest, as some of our opponents have, that we do not care about it is as deeply wounding as it is utterly false.

Do they really think that we do not understand what it means for the family man who cannot find a job, who has to sit at home with a sense of failure and despair? Or that we do not understand how hopeless the world must seem to a young person who has not yet succeeded in getting his first job? Of course we know; of course we see, and of course we care. However could they say that we welcome unemployment as a political weapon?

What better news could there be for any Government than the news that unemployment is falling? The day cannot come too soon for me. Others, while not questioning our sincerity, argue that our policies will not achieve our objectives. They look back 40 years, to the post-war period, when we were poised to launch a brave new world, a time when we all thought we had the cure to unemployment.

In that confident dawn it seemed that having won the war, we knew how to win the peace. Keynes had provided the diagnosis. It was all set out in the 1944 White Paper on employment. I bought it then, I have it still. My name is on the top of it. Margaret H. Roberts.

One of my staff took one look at it and said, ‘Good heavens, I didn’t know it was as old as that!’ We all read that White Paper very carefully, but the truth was that some politicians took some part of the formula in it and conveniently ignored the rest. I reread it frequently.

Those politicians overlooked the warning in that paper that government action must not weaken personal enterprise or exonerate the citizen from the duty of fending for himself. They disregarded the advice that wages must be related to productivity and, above all, they neglected the warning that without a rising standard of industrial efficiency, you cannot achieve a high level of employment combined with a rising standard of living.

Having ignored so much of that, and having ignored other parts of the formula for so much of the time, the result was that we ended up with high inflation and high unemployment. Now, this Government are heeding the warnings. They have acted on the basic truths that were set out all those years ago in that famous White Paper.

If I had come out with all this today some people would call it Thatcherite, but in fact it is vintage Maynard Keynes. He had a horror of inflation, a fear of too much state control and a belief in the market. We are heeding those warnings. We are taking the policy as a whole and not only in selected parts. We have already brought inflation down below 5 per cent. Output has been rising steadily since 1981 and investment is up substantially.

But if things are improving, why, you will ask, does unemployment not fall? That was the question one could feel throughout that debate, even though people know that there is always a time lag between getting the other things right and having a fall in unemployment. Why does unemployment not fall?

May I try to answer that question? First, more jobs are being created, as Tom King pointed out. Over the last year more than a quarter of a million extra jobs have been created, but the population of working age is also rising very fast, as the baby boom of the l960s become the school leavers of the l980s. So although the number of jobs are rising, the population of working age is also rising. And among the population of working age, a larger proportion of married women are seeking work.

So you will see why we need more jobs just to stop unemployment rising and even more jobs to get it falling. On top of that, new technology has caused redundancy in many factories. But it has also crated whole new industries providing products and jobs that only a few years ago were undreamed of. So it has two effects. The first one is redundancies; the second, and slightly later, new jobs and new products become possible. This has happened in history before.

A few days ago I visited York, where I saw the first railway engine, Stephenson’s Rocket. I thought of the jobs, the prospects and the hope that the new steam engines and the railways then brought to many people. Communities queued up to be on a railway line, to have their station. Those communities welcomed change and it brought them more jobs. I confess I am very glad we have got the railways. If we were trying to build those same railways today, I wonder whether we would ever get planning permission, it sometimes takes so long. That is one thing that can sometimes delay the coming into existence of jobs.

That was one example from history, but let us go through during my lifetime, as we had this same phenomenon - redundancies from new technology, more jobs from new technology. In the 1940s, when I took a science degree, the new emerging industries were plastics, man-made fibres and television, Later it will be satellites, computers and telecommunications. And now it is biotechnology and information technology. Today our universities and science parks are identifying the needs of tomorrow. So, there are new industries and new jobs in the pipeline.

I remember an industrialist telling me when I first went into business, and I have always remembered it, ‘Our job is to discover what the customer will buy and to produce it.’ And in Wrexham the other day, at a youth training centre, I was delighted to see a poster saying ‘It is the customer that makes pay days possible.’ So these young people were not only learning new technology, they were learning the facts of business life and how we create new jobs.

It is the spirit of enterprise that provides new jobs; it is being prepared to venture and build a business. And the role of Government in helping to do that? It is in cutting taxes, cutting inflation, keeping costs down, cutting through regulations and removing obstacles to the growth of small businesses, for that is where many of the new jobs will come from - small businesses. The role of Government is also in providing better education and training.

The youth training scheme, now in its second year, was set up to give young people the necessary skills for the new technologies and the necessary approach to industry. A majority of the first year graduates are getting jobs. A much bigger proportion of those leaving the youth training scheme are getting jobs, compared with those leaving the youth opportunities scheme. And so they should, because it is a much better training scheme and it will improve again this year.

I was very interested in it. David Young started it, and I offered to take a trainee for our office, No. 10 Downing Street. We would love to have one. He or she might not have made it to be Prime Minister in one year, but the work at No. 10, because we have a staff of about 100 to run the office, is varied and interesting and we really wanted to take on a trainee. We also said that we would take some trainees into the other parts of the civil service. So we were not willing, we were really welcoming this person, or people, and looking forward to it.

At first the unions said yes; then they said no, And the result is that young people have been denied training places. The same problem arose at Jaguar. First the unions said yes; then they said no. So 130 unemployed teenagers have been denied training. That means young people were denied jobs. We cannot create jobs without the willing co-operation not only of employers, but of trade unions and all the work force in industry and commerce.

Yesterday, in the debate, we were urged to spend more money on capital investment. It looks a very attractive idea, but to spend more in one area means spending less in another, or it means putting up taxes. In Government, we are constantly faced with these difficult choices. If we want more for investment I have to ask my colleagues in Cabinet, ‘What are you going to give up? Or you? Or you? Or you? Or you?’ Or should I perhaps ask them ‘whose pay claim are you going to cut? The doctors? The police? The nurses?’ I do not find many takers, because we have honoured the reviews of pay for doctors, nurses and the police, and others in full.

You would not have cheered me if we had not done so and quite right too. I am bringing this to you because although people can say that the way to solve unemployment is to give a higher capital allocation I have to ask ‘what are we going to give up?’ Or I have to turn to Nigel Lawson and ask him which taxes would he put up.

Would it be income tax? Personal income tax is already too high. Value added tax? I should get a pretty frosty reception from Nigel and I should get a pretty frosty reception from you. But I would be loath to ask him, anyway. But, you see, Governments have to make these difficult choices, because as you know, whether you are running households or your businesses, there is a certain amount of income and you are soon in trouble if you do not live within it.

That I want to say to you is that we do consider these difficult choices in the public expenditure annual round, and we are just coming up to it. And we have managed to allocate a very considerable sum to capital investment. Indeed we have found the money for the best investment projects on offer. Believe you me, it has been because of very good management in each and every Department; it has been cutting out waste so that we could make room for these things and be certain that we could say to you that we were getting value for money.

Let me give you a few examples of some of the investment projects for which we have found money by careful budgeting. There is the M25 road for example. It has been completed. British Railways has been given the green light to go ahead with electrification if it can make it pay. We have started or built 49 new hospitals since 1979. Capital investment in the nationalised industries as a whole is going up. Of course, we look at various things like new power stations, and in a year after drought we look at things like more investment in the water supply industry. So we are going ahead with major capital investment.

So what is the conclusion that we are coming to? It is that it is the spirit of enterprise that creates new jobs. And it is the Government’s task to create the right framework, the right financial framework in which that can flourish, and to cut the obstacles which sometimes handicap the birth of enterprise. And also to manage our own resources carefully and well.

That is more or less what that employment policy White Paper in 1944 said. Let us just return to it. Page 1: ‘For employment cannot be created by Act of Parliament or by Government action alone; the success of the policy outlined in this paper will ultimately depend on the understanding and support of the community as a whole - and specially of the efforts of employers and workers in industry.’ It was true then. It is true now. And those are the policies that we are following and shall continue to follow, because those are the policies that we believe will ultimately create the genuine jobs for the future. In the meantime, it is our job to try to mitigate the painful effects of change, and that we do, as you know, by generous redundancy payments and also by a community enterprise scheme which not only finds jobs for the long-term unemployed, but finds them in a way which brings great benefits to the communities. And then, of course, where there are redundancy schemes in steel and now in coal, the industries themselves set up enterprise agencies both to give help to those who are made redundant and to provide new training. All of this is a highly constructive policy both for the creation of jobs and a policy to cushion the effects of change.

May I turn now to the coal industry. For a little over seven months, we have been living through an agonising strike. Let me make it absolutely clear. The miners’ strike was not of this Government’s seeking, nor of its making. We have heard in debates at this conference some of the aspects that have made this dispute so repugnant to so many people. We were reminded by a colliery manager that the NUM always used to accept that a pit should close when the losses were too great to keep it open. And that the miners set great store by investment in new pits and new seams. Under this Government that new investment is happening in abundance. You can almost repeat the figures with me - £2million in capital investment in the mines for every day this Government has been in power. So no shortage of capital investment.

We heard moving accounts from two working miners about just what they have to face as they try to make their way to work. The sheer bravery of those men and thousands like them who have kept the mining industry alive is beyond praise. ‘Scabs’ their former workmates call them. Scabs? They are lions. What a tragedy it is when striking miners attack their workmates. Not only are they members of the same union, but the working miner is saving both their futures because it is the working miners - whether in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, North Wales or Scotland - it is the working miners who have kept faith with those who buy our coal and without whose custom thousands of jobs in the mining industry would be already lost.

Then we heard, unforgettably, from the incomparable Mrs. Irene McGibbon, who told us what it is like to be the wife of a working miner during this strike. She told us of the threats and intimidation suffered by herself and her family and even her 11-year-old son. But what she endured only stiffened her resolve. To face the picket line day after day must take a very special wind of courage, but it takes as much, perhaps ever more, for the housewife who has to stay at home alone. Men and women like that are what we are proud to call the best of British. And our police who uphold the law with an independence and a restraint, perhaps only to be found in this country, are the admiration of the world.

To be sure, the miners had a good deal. To try to prevent a strike the National Coal Board gave the miners the best ever pay offer, the highest ever investment and, for the first time, the promise that no miner would lose his job against his will. This we did despite the fact that the bill for losses in the coal industry last year was bigger than the annual bill for all the doctors and dentists in all the National Health Service hospitals in the United Kingdom. Let me repeat it: the annual losses in the coal industry are enormous - £13 billion last year. You have to find that money as taxpayers. It is equal to the sum we pay in salaries to all the doctors and dentists in the National Health Service. This is a dispute about the right to go to work of those who have been denied the right to go to vote. And we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of trade unions, including many striking miners, deeply regret what has been done in the name of trade unionism. When this strike is over, and one day it will be, we must do everything we can to encourage moderate and responsible trade unionism so that it can once again take its respected and valuable place in our industrial life.

Meanwhile, we are faced with the present executive of the National Union of Mineworkers. They know that what they are demanding has never been granted either to miners or to workers in any other industry. Why, then, demand it? Why ask for what they know cannot be conceded? There can be only one explanation.  They did not want a settlement. They wanted a strike. Otherwise they would have balloted on the coal board’s offer. Indeed, one third of the miners did have a ballot and voted overwhelmingly to accept the offer.

What we have seen in this country is the emergence of an organised revolutionary minority who are prepared to exploit industrial disputes, but whose real aim is the breakdown of law and order and the destruction of democratic parliamentary government. We have seen the same sort of thugs and bullies at Grunwick, more recently against Eddy Shah in Stockport, and now organised into flying squads around the country. If their tactics are to be allowed to succeed, if they are not brought under the control of the law, we shall see them again at every industrial dispute organised by militant union leaders anywhere in the country.

One of the speakers earlier in the conference realised this fact, realised that what they are saying is ‘Give us what we want or we are prepared to go on with violence.’ He referred to Dane-geld. May I add to what that speaker said? ‘We never pay anyone Dane-geld, no matter how trifling the cost; for the end of that game is oppression and shame, and the nation that plays it is lost.’ Yes, Rudyard Kipling. Who could have put it better?

Democratic change there has always been in this, the home of democracy, but the sanction for change is the ballot box. It seems that there are some who are out to destroy any properly elected Government. They are out to bring down the framework of law. That is what we have seen in this strike. And what is the law they seek to defy? It is the common law created by fearless judges and passed down across the centuries. It is legislation scrutinised and enacted by the Parliament of a free people. It is legislation passed through a House of Commons, a Commons elected once every five years by secret ballot of one citizen, one vote. This is the way our law was fashioned, and that is why British justice is renowned across the world.

No Government owns the law. It is the law of the land, the heritage of the people. ‘No man is above the law, and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right - not asked as a favour.’ So said Theodore Roosevelt.

The battle to uphold the rule of law calls for the resolve and commitment of the British people. Our institutions of justice, the courts and the police require the unswerving support of every law-abiding citizen, and I believe that they will receive it.

The nation faces what is probably the most testing crisis of our time - the battle between the extremists and the rest. We are fighting as we have always fought for the weak as well as for the strong. We are fighting for great and good causes. We are fighting to defend them against the power and might of those who rise up to challenge them. This Government will not weaken. This nation will meet that challenge. Democracy will prevail.

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