Conservative Leader's speech

1961-06-01 - Harold Macmillan


This month marks the tenth anniversary of our Conservative Government. But I do not intend this afternoon to look back. I would rather look forward. I will only say this. Our opponents affect to dismiss this whole period as ‘wasted years.’ If the country at large shared that view, they would hardly have renewed our mandate with bigger majorities at two General Elections.

I would like first to pay tribute to all my colleagues in the Government, whether in the Cabinet or outside, and to the Members of our Party in Parliament for their loyal support. It would also be right at this meeting to refer to the change in the Chairmanship of the Party. Mr. Butler, at my special request, took on this work after the last Election. He has given the Party great and distinguished service. He is now going to help me in a wider field of public duties. In particular he is going to lead the Ministerial group in London charged with the general over sight of the Common Market negotiations which are to be carried on by Mr. Heath on the Continent. I am deeply grateful to him.

I commend to you Mr. Macleod as Mr. Butler’s successor. He has proved a most successful Minister. He has had long experience of how the Party works; he has zest and great organising ability. I am sure that he can count on the support which has been accorded to all his predecessors and will be fortified by the invaluable help of Sir Toby Low. That is all I have to say on Party matters today. Well, not quite all. I will allow myself just one excursion into the fascinating realms of Labour Party policy, partly for its own intrinsic importance, and partly because it is typical of the indecision which is characteristic of the Socialists today. I will choose a subject of which I have had some experience – Housing. At the last General Election the Socialists had a plan to purchase, for I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of pounds, and hand over to the Local Authorities all rented homes - about five million of them. This was one of the major planks in their platform. But in ‘Signposts for the Sixties’ this takeover bid has been quietly withdrawn, gone, vanished, faded away, kaput. At their recent Conference, somebody from the floor moved to put the plan back again. The platform was of course indignant, and saw to it that the proposal was voted down. It was explained that the Executive no longer believed the scheme would work. Perhaps it is as well for us all that they discovered that in opposition and not in office.

I will not follow this afternoon what has become the traditional pattern for these occasions, and give you a detailed progress report on almost every aspect of policy. In the last few days you have had full debates on all the vital issues. You have heard the responsible Ministers describe their problems and their plans in a series of brilliant speeches. In that field they have left me very little to say. What I should like to do is to take a look at where we all stand today, and see whether any answer can be found to some of the questions which are in the minds of everyone, especially the younger generation.

What is Britain’s place and purpose in the modern world? What are our goals at home and abroad? What must we do to get there? What are the dangers? What are the prizes and what are the stakes? Nobody viewing the international scene today can fail to be concerned and saddened by the deterioration which has taken place during the past eighteen months.

Faced with so many problems, there are some people – not, I am happy to think, in our Party - who would like Britain to retire into isolation and cease to play a major part in the world. We might perhaps make some minor contribution to some Regional Pact, or preferably contract out altogether - become ‘sitters,’ not ‘doers.’ We should then, it is true, be less involved in the day to day struggle. Whether we should be any safer is another matter. All experience shows that you only stay neutral and safe if there are others who are prepared to defend you.

The world today is torn by one of its great doctrinal struggles, greater perhaps than any in the past. Nothing in our recent experience has ever approached the gulf between Communist ideology and our own. And not only between Communism and our own Christian philosophy but between Communism and any idealist philosophy based on a belief in God. Nothing can bridge that gap. What we can hope to do - and what we should continue to aim at doing - is so to contain the issue without abandoning our own positions that time is given a chance to do its healing work. In the fullness of time, if we believe our own faith, we must surely hope that what we regard as wicked and cynical doctrines will gradually change and lose their fervency and strength. Then Communist countries may begin to develop into more normal civilisations recovering a moral basis for their life.

But we are confronted with more than a struggle of ideologies. It is also a struggle for power. For Communist Russia by a strange quirk, is the greatest colonialist and imperialist country in the world and it is using all the old arts and ambitions of Tsarist Russia, strengthened by the techniques and devices of the modern world, and a strange if perverted creed that has a queer attraction both for the most primitive and for the most sophisticated societies. Sometimes they have come with offers of money (not in fact very much money, nothing on a scale approaching the aid the Western countries have given). Sometimes they have come with a revolutionary creed which at first at any rate is often attractive to peoples whose political evolution has been slow. Sometimes they offer armaments in order to set this country against that. Naturally by all these moves they have some success. All the same, experience of the Russian clutch makes people a little suspicious of it. Sometimes they are able to wrench themselves free. Sometimes, alas, the process has gone too far. Once the Bear’s hug has got you, it’s apt to be for keeps. But except in the countries actually neighbouring to Russia, the Communists have not been able to operate by their own armed force. Even in these countries nobody can doubt what is the real feeling of the people, whether it be Poland, East Germany, or Hungary. Nor can any honest man deny what would be the result of any straightforward plebiscite.

It is Soviet Russia that has frustrated all our efforts at Geneva to reach agreement on the abolition of nuclear tests. In addition, she has blown off a score or more explosions in the atmosphere amounting to many megatons. I cannot help contrasting the rather modest reaction all over the world, including our left-wingers, to this wanton addition to the fallout risks, with what would have been said had the offender been one of the Western Powers. All the same, I still hope that the Russians may in their own interests be willing to accept something in the nature of a detente; that they may wish for a pause in this particular turn of the struggle. Berlin may provide the first real test of that. The Foreign Secretary has put before you very clearly the present state of the Berlin problem and our hopes of finding by patient examination a basis for negotiation. I have nothing to add to what he has said except perhaps to observe how brilliantly in the last year he has justified an appointment which did not go uncriticised when it was made.

If Communism could bring itself to carry out with sincerity what their leaders declare to be their purpose, if they would allow a straightforward competition between our two systems, we should gladly accept the challenge.

Meanwhile we must accept the fact that this bleak ideological struggle may last for another generation, perhaps even longer. In this struggle we must have faith and a sense of purpose. In every civilised society there has been a conflict between the materialist and the idealist concept of life. Some of the noblest figures have devoted themselves entirely to the latter. These are the great lights that have shone through history. There have been many, too, who with pure cynicism and selfishness have followed only what they believe to be their immediate material interests. All the same, the great mass of us have been brought up to believe that practical day-to-day ambitions should be leavened by idealist inspiration. Now we are faced with vast communities and widespread doctrines which wholly reject any idea of this view of life. Materialism is all they think about. If this mood were to spread, either in the form of a positive acceptance of Marxist atheism or in the perhaps more dangerous form, the indolence of agnosticism, then I believe that Western society would be doomed.

Britain cannot retire from this contest, but we cannot wage it alone. We must bring to the help of our friends and allies such moral and material strength as we can create at home. And we must do more. We must look outside our island, wherever we have authority and influence. That is one of the purposes of our policy. We can bring our influence in the Commonwealth. We can play our part in Europe. We must bring a continual effort to strengthen the organisations and groupings of the Free World, for the Free World is not strong enough to hold out unless it works as a team - together.

It has been with this in mind that we have approached the question of Europe and the Common Market. In recent years, the countries of Western Europe have drawn closer together in matters of common defence. But in economic affairs there is still a potentially dangerous rift - the Six and the Seven, both of them in themselves sincere attempts at cooperation and greater unity. But if the gulf cannot be bridged, or if it seems to be permanent and unbridgeable, then I greatly fear the consequences will be grave. It will be, as I said in the United States six months ago, ‘a canker gnawing at the very heart of the Western Alliance.’ The Lord Privy Seal, Mr. Heath, and the Commonwealth Secretary have dealt in detail with our position in these negotiations and with the safeguards that we require for the Commonwealth, our home agriculture and our EFTA partners. I need not go into it here. I am convinced that a more united Europe could be and will be of the utmost benefit to our Commonwealth family.

This issue, which you have been discussing largely on economic aspects, does not concern only the economic aspects. We must keep in mind the picture of the Commonwealth as a whole and what it has come to mean. It should be idle to claim that the recent developments which are turning the Empire into the Commonwealth have met with universal approbation at home. It is quite natural that there should be nostalgic memories of past glories. Of course, to the little Englander or the philosophic Radical this means nothing, for they always rather disapprove of the great story of British expansion overseas. Yet nobody today can go to any of those distant parts of the world - and I have visited, as Prime Minister, almost every Commonwealth country - without a thrill and a tightening of the throat as old memories stir. Nearer home, we cannot pass a museum or depot of almost any regiment without remembering with pride how much valour has been spent in the creation of this immense heritage. In the next stage, when conquest changed to administration we remember not only the great pro-consuls but the simple, humble men and women who gave so much to the advancement of the peoples entrusted to them. Now we have reached the third stage. It has been our constant purpose to hold these responsibilities as trustees until, with the ward grown up and able to arrange his own affairs, the guardians can take their honourable discharge. Nor should we perhaps forget, as it is forgotten sometimes, that in the early days it was not a choice between independence or British rule. It was often either British rule or chaos.

As I say, the third stage has now been reached. Of course it is fraught with great problems and great dangers. All the same, I think the best judges may perhaps be those who have had to deal with this changing scene. The reactionaries, if there are some, have not been the governors nor the members of the colonial service; not at all, it is they who have been the leaders even in this evolution. If there are disappointments and setbacks, as there are and must be, on the way - and what great human aspirations have not suffered disappointments and setbacks - my faith, and your faith, I believe, in the destiny of the Commonwealth is still undimmed.

I believe that this is the dawn and not the dusk. What we have done and are still trying to do is something which has never before been attempted in history. Our purpose is to create by evolution a new Commonwealth structure which will avoid the decline and fall which till now has been the fate of every Empire. Freedom of the individual under the law, the right to think what you like, say what you like, and within the law take what action you like, and, above all, to believe that the machinery of the State exists to be the servant not the master of its people - to open up a wider and fuller life for the individual - these are what the Commonwealth should stand for. We do not all always live up to our ideals; growing countries have their growing pains. We in this island had quite a rough time of it for many centuries, with many bitter internal struggles until the Victorian age, when we settled down to the orderly form of politics we now enjoy. So let us hope that others may be able to learn from our mistakes.

To return to the Common Market. The prizes of success would be great, but they are long-term and not short-term prizes. Nor must we delude ourselves. Even if we succeed in negotiating our entry on acceptable terms, that will not be any short cut to an effortless prosperity. It will not absolve us from the stark necessity of earning our way in the world in the teeth of fierce competition. It will be no less necessary than now to keep a close eye on costs and prices. Indeed, we must expect competition to intensify. It is a bracing cold shower we shall enter, not a relaxing Turkish bath.

But that must be our experience whether we join or not. In or out of the Common Market, Britain in this decade must be prepared to face changes in her industrial life and organisation, some of them novel, many of them painful, but all of them in the long run salutary. We in the Government felt that there is now a chance of giving a new meaning to the future relations of Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth and that in the state of the world today this may make a difference. We cannot guarantee that we shall succeed in our purpose. But I am sure we should have been wrong, after full reflection and earnest weighing of all these things, not to have made the attempt. If, through indecision, timidity, or sheer political expediency, we had allowed this opportunity to slip from us, we should have failed to rise to the level of events. Your vote on Thursday showed that our Party is ready to face the reality of the world today. Of course, the Socialists once again are undecided. They, as a party, belong to the class which the Gallup Poll calls ‘don’t knows.’ Mr. Gaitskell is still hesitating. Let him beware lest, if I may recall a famous phrase, he sits so long on the fence that the iron enters into his soul.

In any event - in this Common Market or out of it - our economic policy must be dynamic not static. It must change with changing conditions. Naturally, after the restraints of six years of war and six years of Socialism, our first instinct in 1951 was to set ourselves free - free from the restrictions and controls inevitable to a siege economy and inseparable from Socialism. We have only to look round the country to see the beneficial results of that broad policy. But freedom must not be made the excuse for licence. It must not mean waste, inefficiency or unwillingness to develop any of our resources to the maximum in an orderly and constructive way.

Yesterday you heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer and gave him every assurance of support in his testing and supremely important office. He emphasised the pressing need to increase our exports. Since we launched the special export drive last year and since the Government introduced the new means of assisting exports, we have made substantial progress. In the last ten years exports have gone up by 20 per cent (a fifth) in real terms - far more of course in money terms, as we well know. But we have got to do better still. For the great help we used to get from our invisible exports, £300 million or more, and which we had up to a year or eighteen months ago, has suddenly dwindled. This may be for temporary reasons lower prices of oil and lower shipping rates – but I do not think this amount can be rapidly rebuilt. Therefore, we have all the more need to increase our visible exports - that is, of actual products. When you add to this our need to invest and give aid overseas, you will see how vital today is the export drive. And from this new angle, I am sure it is right that we should now make further efforts to develop, by a combination of Government, management and Trade Unions, a purposeful attempt to see our industrial future as a whole, though leaving it to each industry to make its individual assessment of its own future, to find where the weaknesses are, and to remove all those obstacles which from whatever cause may stand in the way of efficient production. We all know in our hearts that if every industry in this country were anywhere near the level of the best, our problem would be solved. There is also need for co-operative effort to make sure that each industry knows what the other is doing and makes the right preparations for joint development.

Of course, if we were to hand ourselves over to a completely controlled economic system, like the communist one, some of the difficulties of those at the top would doubtless be much reduced. Anyway, their mistakes would be concealed. But it is not so pleasant for those who aren’t so near the top. A completely planned socialist economy means the Government taking into their hands full power over human lives and human destinies.

But while it is and has always been opposed to State domination, the Tory Party has never stood for the sacrifice of human values to the doctrines of a completely free economy. Between Socialism and the old laissez-faire Liberalism there is indeed a Middle Way. That is our way. It is in this spirit that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has formulated his proposals for planning in a free society, purposeful but free.

I must add just this warning. In any economic society, planned or unplanned, profits, salaries and wages must march in step with increased production. It is because we have gone rather too fast and this has affected the level of costs and therefore the balance of payments that the Government have had to propose the wages pause. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained to you, it is intended to be temporary. Its purpose is to fill the gap until productivity as a whole justifies further increases. It is obvious that without an increase in national productivity, mere increases in money rewards cannot add to income in real terms. In addition, they threaten the stability of the whole economy. With the close co-operation of all concerned I believe we can find the right answer. The Government have thought it right to give a lead, even at the cost of some highly distasteful decisions in the sector under their control. We believe that the country as a whole sees the reason for our action, and I am hopeful that the proposed National Economic Development Council will help to improve competitiveness of the whole economy.

I reminded you in my first words that it was ten years since the task of government was entrusted to the Conservative Party. What I have tried to do today is not to look back over the past but to look a little into the future. What are the tasks we must seek to tackle in the next ten years? For I have no doubt at all that if you all play your part, the responsibility for those years will lie with our Party. I cannot promise to be at the helm all that time. For, like one of Shakespeare’s characters I do not intend ‘To live after my flame lacks oil. To be the snuff of younger spirits.’ Obviously in our ranks there is no lack of younger spirits.’

Our first task is to maintain the safety of our country and to do our duty in the world, to play our full part in the collective defence of freedom. That must take precedence over every other consideration. It will involve effort. It will involve patience and some sacrifice. But it is well within our power. Having made that clear at the outset, let me turn to our affairs at home - social progress.

First, slum clearance. I put that first of all our social problems. We must remove these blots that are a threat to health and the decencies of life. We have not been idle. Indeed, we are the only party that has made not without difficulty a sustained attack upon the problem. If we can maintain the same rate of progress as we have had in the last three years, we shall have broken the back of the problem outside the larger cities. We shall then be free to concentrate on these.

Second, the old. I take an increasing interest in this. Their numbers are growing. They are living longer and more active lives. Pensions, of course, are a basic need. We Conservatives have always been cautious about the promises we make to the pensioner. Of course, in this field we are always outbid by our opponents. But the four increases we have made give pensions a higher purchasing power than they have ever had and our new graduated scheme will prove a notable forward step by relating pensions to earnings. So we need not fear any comparison between our deeds and our opponent’s words. As for the future, I will repeat what I said at the election, and have since carried out. We intend in the coming years, as in the past, to see that the old share in rising national prosperity. Then there are the housing needs of the old. Special housing for them was only just beginning ten years ago. But now it is an accepted feature in local authority programmes. It in fact accounts for more than a quarter of the total of their house building. Help in the home, health services, and so on: we have made great progress here, but more needs to be done. There is also the need to prepare for the more worthwhile use of retirement, whether in occupation or in leisure. But, in addition to the help that the State or the local authority can give, we must not neglect the part that neighbourliness and voluntary effort have to play. It is good to see some of our younger Conservatives heading a concerted attack on that worst feature of old age - loneliness.

Third, the young. If we are to keep abreast in the modern world we must devote ourselves to vast educational expansion. When we came in ten years ago, the university population was 83,000. By the end of this decade, we hope - if all goes well - it will be 170,000. You have only to look around the country to see what has been and is being done in the building of new primary and secondary schools. And there is a lot of improvement going on in all the schools that you cannot see from the outside. We must complete the programme and get rid of the oversize classes. At the same time we shall continue to expand our technical education and develop the youth service. We shall aim to widen education and training opportunities in industry. In a single phrase, the next ten years in education must set the seal on the work of the last ten years.

Fourth, the nation’s health. Here again the Government have already told the hospital authorities to make their plans for ten years head. This is a massive undertaking. To see the job through may well cost £500,000,000.

Fifth, our standard of living In the last ten years, wages have gone up by one third in real value, not just nominal, and if we can keep the general rate of increase the same - level with, and not ahead of our productivity - we should be able to see the average wage packet rising from the present figure of £15 a week to something like £20. That means the average industrial wage earner should be a £l,000-a-year man at current prices. That would have seemed an impossible dream not only in my youth, but even only a few years ago.

Of course there will be the impact - there is already - of a high standard of living on various sectors of the economy. And we must also devote new thought to the social consequences of this more widely distributed wealth. Will the structure of the social services, which after all was designed against a vastly different background, be altogether suitable to the new conditions? How can it be remodelled or adjusted to ensure that public resources are concentrated on those to whom they do most good, and that the benefits are not dissipated by being dispersed too widely? How best can we adapt our present policies to take account of a growing ability - and, I think, a growing desire of the individual to make more provision for himself and his family?

I am confident that, given the will, we can make great forward strides in the next ten years. Of course, it is no easy road that lies ahead. To ensure success we shall need to draw to the full on those traditional qualities of work and thrift, which have stood us in such good stead in the past. Work to produce wealth; thrift to ensure that we put by more of today’s wealth to meet tomorrow’s needs. Science today is, as you know, my Lord Chairman, placing exciting new devices at the disposal of industry and commerce. All of them are costly. That calls for investment on a massive scale. We dare not neglect that investment; but unless it comes from genuine saving, it will inevitably be met by inflation, with all its injustices and dangers. If the Government are to preach thrift, they must also try to practise it. We intend to see that Government expenditure, both current and prospective, is kept in line with our national resources. For this purpose, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for the help of a second Cabinet Minister of authority and experience at the Treasury. I am indeed grateful to Mr. Brooke for so readily accepting this task. The Government have, of course, a great part to play in all this; but success or failure will rest in the end with the nation.

We need better organisation of industry, a more conscious application of resources to needs, better industrial relations with all concerned facing the realities of our situation. For what, after all, would be the use of arguing about a tea break if we could not afford to import the tea? We have got to get rid of restrictive practices, both by management and labour. If all that we have to do both at home and overseas is to be accomplished, we must be imaginative, but practical - eyes on the horizon but both feet on the ground. It is fashionable, I know, today to throw doubts on the value of material progress. But it was a Great Tory statesman, Disraeli, who made the improvement of the condition of the people one of his cardinal aims. But it does not and cannot stand alone. Prosperity, however widespread, will not solve our problems.

In this Conference, you have been deeply stirred by the prevalence of crime, and especially violent crime, despite all our social advances. In the course of a notable debate, the Home Secretary set out the policy which he has been following in recent years with the full support of the whole Government. On Thursday last at this Conference you gave him an overwhelming vote of confidence. I know that this will cheer him greatly in his difficult and unenviable task, and fortify him in carrying forward his plans, for he needs the help of every one of us. But no Home Secretary, no police, no laws, no prisons or reform institutions, can solve this problem alone. What we need is a rekindling at all levels of our society of the old faith that makes a clear distinction between right and wrong. If I may be allowed to say so, we need humility as well as faith. So much for home.

What of the next ten years work overseas? I have spoken of the Commonwealth, with all its difficulties and opportunities as the self-governing communities multiply. The next ten years will be the test of the new Commonwealth. Helping the new Commonwealth should be as inspiring as founding and governing the old Empire. I have spoken of Europe and of our hope that Britain may become more closely associated with Europe, economically and politically. We must think of Europe and the Commonwealth, not as rivals but as joint pilgrims on the road to peace and freedom.

I have spoken too of the world outside. Here, as the Foreign Secretary rightly told us, we must be calm and steady, but firmness does not mean obstinacy. We must not oscillate wildly from one extreme to the other - unilateralists one year, multilateralists the next; sometimes isolationists, sometimes internationalists, and sometimes a bit of both. We must pursue, as we are doing, a steady and consistent policy. We must not miss the opportunity for relaxations of pressure, so long as we never forget that the fundamental struggle will be long and testing. We could lose very quickly by a false step; but to win will mean a long drawn out effort waiting for the time when Communism itself falls a victim to the spiritual forces which it despises.

To sum up - here at home, we seek a balanced society, in which our prosperity as individuals is reflected in the standard of the things we do together, and in which public effort is conjoined with private purpose in a common endeavour to increase our wealth and to use it well. In our Colonial territories we seek to place new nations on the true course. In Europe and the Commonwealth, we seek to add a new relationship to old ties and to find a greater common strength in the face of the greatest common challenge. In all the world, we seek to help poorer nations, to preserve freedom and to promote peace. These are exciting opportunities for us all in the next ten years; tasks which will put to worthy use the vitality of a great people. We in the Conservative Party are ready.