Party Political Broadcast
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||TV Broadcast|
|Venue:||17 Great College Street, Westminster|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: BBC transcript|
|Editorial comments:||Recorded 11 March.|
|Themes:||Conservatism, General Elections, Strikes and other union action, Economy (general discussions), Public spending and borrowing, Industry, Social security and welfare|
The Prime Minister The Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher MP
It's now almost a year since the Conservative Party was returned to power and I became Prime Minister. The time has come I think for you and me to ask ourselves one or two important questions. Tonight I'd like to put those questions to you and then try to answer them.
Is the Government which took office last May giving this country the leadership it's needed for so long? Are we living up to the promises we made to you? Am I, who carry the main responsibility, not only to those who voted for us but to those who didn't, living up to the convictions of a lifetime? Are those convictions standing up in practice? Is our Conservative philosophy failing or succeeding?
Let me begin by reminding you what this Government was elected to do and what the alternatives were when we took over. Last May I think we all had fresh in our minds the appalling winter of discontent from which Britain had just emerged scarred and shaken. The country was convinced, as Conservatives had long been convinced, that unless some saner, fairer way could be found of settling industrial disputes sooner or later we'd face another winter from which the nation might never fully recover.
Prices and unemployment were once more starting to rise. Public spending was growing again. All attempted wage restraint had broken down. That was the position when Britain went to the polls last May. For most people the choice was clear. We could continue on the way we'd been going for years. We could buy our way out of trouble by borrowing more money. We could go on pricing ourselves out of foreign markets and out of our own, condemning more and more people to unemployment. We could carry on increasing taxes on every family in the land. We could go on printing money in a futile attempt to pay for what the country hadn't earned. We could make matters even worse by doing nothing about crippling industrial strife.
We could carry on doing all these things until the economy finally collapsed. Or, by a huge effort of national will, we could stop the rot and change direction. Now you decided that it was time for a change and the new Conservative Government was charged with bringing that change about.[fo 1]
Well what are the signs that the change you voted for is happening? You'll say to me the prices are still going up, unemployment is still rising. Haven't we been caught in another prolonged and damaging strike in which, whatever the outcome, there are no winners, only more problems for both sides—and for Britain? All this is undeniable. Indeed we spoke about it many times when we asked for your vote last year. We didn't promise you instant sunshine. We pointed out over and over again that a nation can't accelerate downhill for years and then jam the brakes on and suddenly return to prosperity as though the past had never happened. We had to start by slowing down before turning round and beginning the long, slow climb back up the hill to recovery.
Change can't be painless, particularly at a time of world recession and rapidly rising oil prices. But much of what we are going through to-day is the result of past folly and neglect. Wild schemes of public spending which can't be reversed in a day and which have to be paid for by tax heavier than any Chancellor would willingly impose. A tangle of rules and regulations, oh yes easy to invent but slow and laborious to unravel. We are paying the price for years and years of make believe and now all the problems of those years have come home to roost.
No wonder you agreed it was time for a change. That change has begun. It began last summer when we cut income tax at all levels to give better rewards for work and enterprise. It's continuing with further measures to reduce the burden of public spending. We must do that because that burden is largely responsible for the present high rates of interest which are causing so much hardship to people with mortgages and slowing down much needed investment in industry.
We are making some progress. It's gradually becoming accepted by management and unions alike that they can't just turn to government to bale them out whenever they are in difficulties. No nation can go on subsidizing failure indefinitely. Buying off trouble only makes the country poorer. And the result, as successive governments have found, is simply decline on the instalment plan.
Of course some of us don't like change. We tend to cling to what we know because it's familiar. But we must change and if Britain changes too slowly it won't recover. On the other hand if it changes too fast, innocent people will get hurt. Getting the balance right is a matter for careful judgment. One thing is certain. The easy way out is no longer open to us and we must ensure that the changes which are made, on which our whole future depends, come about as humanely as possible and that those who can't look after themselves—the old, the sick, the children, the disabled—are properly cared for and protected from the harsher winds of change.
We have to walk a tightrope between the need to face the economic facts and the claims of common humanity. Almost everyone agrees on the need to cut public spending but human nature being what it is we tend to want the cuts to fall where we personally are not affected. The Government has to strike a balance to keep the nation on the path you called for ten months ago. This is what we are doing.[fo 2]
I'm afraid some things will get worse before they get better. But after almost any major operation you feel worse before you convalesce. But you don't refuse the operation when you know that without it you won't survive. Is this perhaps beginning to get through? It's early days but with the Spring the first signs of common sense are breaking through in places. At the steelworks at Sheerness. In Sheffield. At British Leyland. And now the miners in South Wales.
Surely it doesn't need an enemy at the gates for us to put an end to mutual strife and come together as a nation? Apart from the minority of wreckers, we all care deeply for our country. Britain binds us together. The bond is stronger and more powerful than any political differences. We've done great things before, by calmly, with good humour and with hope, deciding to have done with illusion and grasp the nettle of reality. I believe we shall do it again and that we can only do so by moving forward along the path on which we have set out.
The Government is pointing the way to a free, strong and independent future for the British people. We will not be deflected from that purpose. But in the end nations are saved not just by Governments but by themselves.