The free society speech

The first Conservative Party Conference I attended was in 1946.

I came to it as an undergraduate representing Oxford University Conservative Association (I know our Cambridge supporters will not mind.) That Conference was held in this very hall and the platform then seemed a long way away, and I had no thought of joining the lofty and distinguished people sitting up there.

But our Party is the Party of equality of opportunity—as you can see. (Laughter).[fo 1]

You will understand, I know, the humility I feel at following in the footsteps of great men like our Leader that year, Winston Churchill a man called by destiny who raised the name of Britain to supreme heights in the history of the free world. (Applause).

In the footsteps of Anthony Eden , who set us the goal of a property-owning democracy—a goal we still pursue today.(Applause).

Of Harold Macmillan whose leadership brought so many ambitions within the grasp of every citizen. (Applause).[fo 2]

Of Alec Douglas-Home whose career of selfless public service earned the affection and admiration of us all. (Applause).

And of Edward Heath who successfully led the Party to victory in 1970 and brilliantly led the nation into Europe in 1973. (Applause).

During my lifetime, all the leaders of the Conservative Party have served as Prime Minister. I hope the habit will continue. (Laughter)

Our leaders have been different men with different qualities and different styles. But they have one thing in common. Each met the challenge-of-his-time.[fo 3]

What is the challenge of our time?

I believe there are two—to overcome the country’s economic and financial problems, and to regain our confidence in Britain and ourselves.
The Economic Challenge

The economic challenge has been debated at length in this hall.

Last week it gave rise to the usual scenes of cordial brotherly strife.[fo 4]

Day after day the comrades called one another far from comradely names, and occasionally, when they remembered, they called us names too.

Some of them, for example, suggested that I criticised Britain when I was overseas. They are wrong.

It wasn’t Britain I was criticising. It was-Socialism. (Applause).

And I will go on criticising Socialism, and opposing Socialism because it is bad for Britain—and Britain and Socialism are not the same thing.[fo 5]

As long as I have health and strength, they never will be. (Applause).

But whatever could I say about Britain that is half as damaging as what this Labour Government have done to our country?

Let’s look at the record.

It is the Labour Government that have caused prices to rise at a record rate of 26 per cent a year.[fo 6]

They told us that the Social Contract would solve everything. But now everyone can see that the so-called contract was a fraud—a fraud for which the people of this country have had to pay a very high price.

It is the Labour Government whose policies are forcing unemployment higher than it need have been—thousands more men and women lose their jobs every day.

There are going to be men and women many of them youngsters straight out of school—who will be without a job this winter because Socialist Ministers spent last year attacking us, instead of attacking inflation.[fo 7] Beginning of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975:

And it’s the Labour Government that have brought the level of production below that of the 3-day week in 1974. W’ve really got a 3-day week now,—only it takes five days to do it. (Applause).

It’s the Labour Government that have brought us record peace-time taxation. They’ve got the usual Socialist disease—they’ve run out of other people’s money. (Laughter).

And it’s the Labour Government that have pushed public spending to record levels.

And how’ve they done it? By borrowing, and borrowing and borrowing.

Never in the field of human credit has so much been owed. (Laughter). End of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975.[fo 8]

But serious as the economic challenge is, the political and moral challenge is just as grave, perhaps more so.

Economic problems never start with economics. They have deeper roots—in human nature and in politics.

They don’t finish at economics either.

Labour’s failure to cope, to look at the nation’s problems from the point of view of the whole nation, not just one section of it, has led to loss of confidence and a sense of helplessness.[fo 9]

With it goes a feeling that Parliament, which ought to be in charge, is not in charge—that the actions and the decisions are taken elsewhere.

And it goes deeper than that. There are voices that seem anxious not to overcome our economic difficulties, but to exploit them, to destroy the free enterprise society and put a Marxist system in its place.

Today those voices form a sizeable chorus in the Parliamentary Labour Party. A chorus which, aided and abetted by many Constituency Labour Parties, seems to be growing in numbers.[fo 10]

Anyone who says this openly is promptly accused of seeing Reds Under the Bed.

But look who’s seeing them now!

On his own admission, Mr Wilson has at last discovered that his own Party is infiltrated by extreme left-wingers—or to use his own words it is infested with them.

When even Mr Wilson gets scared about their success in capturing key positions in the Labour Party, shouldn’t the rest of us be?[fo 11]

And shouldn’t the rest of us ask him «Where have you been while all this has been going on, and what are you doing about it?» (Applause). The answer is nothing.

I sometimes think the Labour Party is like a pub where the mild is running out. If someone doesn’t do something soon, all that’s left will be bitter. (Laughter). And all that’s bitter will be Left. (Laughter).

Whenever I visit Communist countries, their politicians never hesitate to boast about their achievements.[fo 12]

They know them all by heart and reel off the facts and figures, claiming that this is the rich harvest of the Communist system.

Yet they are not prosperous as we in the West are prosperous, and they are not free as we in the West are free.

Our capitalist system produces a far higher standard of prosperity and happiness because it believes in incentive and opportunity, and because it is founded on human dignity and freedom. (Applause).[fo 13]

Even the Russians have to go to a capitalist country, America to buy enough wheat to feed their people. And that aftermore than 50 years of a State controlled economy.

Yet they boast incessantly while we, who have so much more to boast about, forever criticise and decry.

Isn’t it time we spoke up for our way of life? (Applause) After all, no Western nation has to build a wall round itself to keep its people in. (Applause).[fo 14]

So let us have no truck with those who say the free enterprise system has failed. What we face today is not a crisis of capital ism, but of Socialism. No country can flourish if its economic and social life is dominated by nationalisation and state control.

The cause of our shortcomings does not therefore lie in private enterprise. Our problem is not that we have too little socialism. It is that we have too much.

If only the Labour Party in this country would act like Social Democrats in West Germany. If only they would stop trying to prove their Socialist virility by relentlessly nationalising one industry after another.[fo 15]

Of course, a halt to further State control will not on its own restore our belief in ourselves, because something else is happening to this country. We are witnessing a deliberate attack on our values, a deliberate attack on those who wish to promote merit and excellence, a deliberate attack on our heritage and great past. (Applause). Beginning of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975:

And there are those who gnaw away at our national self-respect, rewriting British history as centuries of unrelieved gloom, oppression and failure.

As days of hopelessness—not Days of Hope.[fo 16]

And others, under the shelter of our education system, are ruthlessly attacking the minds of the young. Everyone who believes in freedom must be appalled at the tactics employed by the far Left in the systematic destruction of the North London Polytechnic. (Applause).

Blatant tactics of intimidation, designed to undermine the fundamental beliefs and values of every student.

Tactics pursued by people who are the first to insist on their own civil rights while seeking to deny them to the rest of us. We must not be bullied and brainwashed out of our beliefs. (Applause).[fo 17]

No wonder so many of our people—some of the best and brightest—are depressed and talk of emigrating.

Even so, I think they are wrong at giving up too soon. Many of the things we hold dear are threatened as never before, but none has yet been lost.

So stay here. (Applause). Stay and help us defeat Socialism, so that the Britain you have known may be the Britain your children will know. (Applause). End of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975.[fo 18]

Those are the two great challenges of our time.

The moral and political challenge, and the economic challenge.

They have to be faced together—and we have to master them both.

What are our chances of success? It depends what kind of people we are. Well, what kind of people are we?[fo 19]

We are the people that in the past made Great Britain the Workshop of the World. The people who persuaded others to buy British not by begging them to do so, but because it was best.

We are a people who have received more Nobel prizes than any other nation except America, and head for head we have done better than America. Twice as well, in fact.

We are the people who, among other things, invented the computer, refrigerator, electric motor, stethoscope, rayon, steam turbine, stainless steel, the tank, television, penicillin, radar, jet engine, hovercraft, float glass and carbonfibres. Oh, and the best half of Concorde. (Laughter).[fo 20]

We export more of what we produce than either West Germany, France, Japan or the United States.

And well over 90%; of these exports come from private enterprise. It’s a triumph for the private sector and all who work in it. Let us say so, loud and clear. (Applause).

With achievements like that who can doubt that Britain can have a great future? What our friends abroad want to know is whether that future is going to happen.

Well, how can we Conservatives make it happen?[fo 21]

Many of the details have already been dealt with in the various debates. But policies and programmes should not be just a list of unrelated items. They are part of a total vision of the kind of life we want for our country and our children. [Beginning of section checked against ITN Early Evening News, 10 October 1975] Let me give you my vision.

A man’s right to work as he will to spend what he earns to own property to have the State as servant and not as master these are the British inheritance.

They are the essence of a free economy. And on that freedom all our other freedoms depend. (Applause). End of section checked against ITN Early Evening News, 10 October 1975.[fo 22]

But we want a free economy, not only because it guarantees our liberties, but also because it is the best way of creating wealth and prosperity for the whole country.

It is this prosperity alone which can give us the resources for better services for the community, better services for those in need. (Applause).

By their attack on private enterprise, this Labour Government have made certain that there will be next to nothing available for improvements in our social services over the next few years.[fo 23]

We must get private enterprise back on the road to recovery, not merely to give people more of their own money to spend as they choose, but to have more money to help the old and the sick and the handicapped.

The way to recovery is through profits. Good profits today, leading to high investment, well-paid jobs and a better standard of living tomorrow. (Applause).

No profits mean no investment, and a dying industry geared to yesterday’s world.

Other nations have recognised that for years now. They are going ahead faster than we are; and the gap between us will continue to increase unless we change our ways.[fo 24]

The trouble here is that for years the Labour Party have made people feel that profits are guilty-unless proved innocent.

But when I visit factories and businesses I do not find that those who actually work in them are against profits. On the contrary, they want to work for a prosperous concern. With a future—their future. (Applause).

Governments must learn to leave these companies with enough of their own profits to produce the goods and jobs for tomorrow.

If the Socialists won’t or can’t there will be no profit making industry left to support the losses caused by fresh bouts of nationalisation.[fo 25]

And if anyone says I am preaching laissez-faire, let me say this.

I am not arguing, and never have argued, that all we have to do is to let the economy run by itself.

I believe that, just as each of us has an obligation to make the best of his talents so governments have an obligation to create the framework within which we can do so. Not only individual people, but individual firms and particularly small firms. (Applause).

Some of these will stay small but others will expand and become the great companies of the future.[fo 26]

The Labour Government have pursued a disastrous vendetta against small businesses and the self-employed. We will reverse their damaging policies. (Applause).

Nowhere is this more important than in Agriculture—one of our most successful industries made up entirely of small businesses. We live in a world in which food is no longer cheap or plentiful. Everything we cannot produce here must be imported at a high price.

Yet the Government could not have destroyed the confidence of the industry more effectively if they had tried deliberately to do so, with their formula of empty promises and penal taxation.[fo 27]

So today what is the picture? Depressed profits, low investment, no incentive, and overshadowing everything government spending, spending far beyond the taxpayers means. (Applause).

To recover, to get from where we are to where we want to be, will take time.

«Economic policy» wrote Maynard Keynes «should not be a matter of tearing up by the roots but of slowly training a plant to grow in a different direction.»[fo 28]

It will take time to reduce public spending, rebuild profits and incentives, to benefit from the investments which must be made. The sooner that time starts, the better for Britain’s unemployed.

One of the reasons why this Labour Government has incurred more unemployment than any Conservative Government since the War is because they have concentrated too much on distributing what we have, and too little on seeing that we have more. (Applause).[fo 29]

We Conservatives hate unemployment.

We hate the idea of men and women not being able to use their abilities. We deplore the waste of national resources, and the deep affront to peoples’ dignity from being out of work through no fault of their own. (Applause).

It is ironic that we should be accused of wanting unemployment to solve our economic problems by the very Government which has produced a record post-War unemployment, and is expecting more.[fo 30]

The record of Mr Wilson and his colleagues on this is unparallelled in the history of political hypocricy.

We are now seeing the full consequences of nearly twenty months of Labour Government.

They have done the wrong things at the wrong time in the wrong way.

They have been a disaster for this country.[fo 31]

Now let me turn to something I spoke about in America.

Some Socialists seem to believe that people should be numbers in a State computer. We believe they should be individuals.

We are all unequal. No one, thank heavens, is like anyone else, however much the Socialists may pretend otherwise.

We believe that everyone has the right to be unequal but to us every human being is equally important.[fo 32]

Engineers, miners, manual workers, shop assistants, farm workers, postmen, housewives—these are the essential foundations of our society. Without them there would be no nation. (Applause).

But their are others with special gifts who should also have their chance, because if the adventurers who strike out in new directions in science, technology, medicine, commerce and industry the arts are hobbled, there can be no advance.

The spirit of envy can destroy. It can never build.[fo 33]

Everyone must be allowed to develop the abilities he knows he has within him, and she knows she has within her, in the way they choose.

Freedom to choose is something we take for granted—until it is in danger of being taken away.

Socialist governments set out perpetually to restrict the area of choice, Conservative governments to increase it.

We believe that you become a responsible citizen by making decisions yourself, not by having them made for you.[fo 34]

But they are made for you under Labour all right.

Take education.

Beginning of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975:

Our education system used to serve us well. A child from an ordinary family, as I was, could use it as a ladder as an advancement.

But the Socialists are better at demolition than reconstruction, are destroying many good grammar schools.

Now this is nothing to do with private education. It’s opportunity and excellence in our State schools that are being diminished under Socialism.

And naturally enough, parents don’t like this. But in a Socialist society parents should be seen and not heard. (Laughter).[fo 35]

And another denial of choice is being applied to health.

The private sector helps to keep some of our best doctors here, and so are available part time to the National Health Service. It also helps to bring in more money for the general health of the nation.

But under Labour, private medicine is being squeezed out, and the result will be to add to the burden on the National Health Service without adding one penny to its income.[fo 36]

Let me make this absolutely clear.

When we return to power we shall reverse Mrs Castle ‘s stupid and spiteful attack on hospital pay beds. (Applause).

We Conservatives do not accept that because some people have no choice, no one should have it.

Every family should have the right to spend their money, after tax, as they wish, not as the Government dictates. End of section checked against ITN News at Ten, 10 October 1975.

Let us extend choice, the will to choose and the chance to choose.[fo 37]

I want to come now to the argument which Mr Wilson is trying to put across the country: namely that the Labour Party is the natural party of Government because it is the only one that the Trade Unions will accept.

From what I saw on television last week, the Labour Party did not look like a party of Government at all, let alone a natural one.

But let’s examine the argument. Beginning of section checked against ITN First Report, 10 October 1975

If we are to be told that a Conservative Government could not govern because certain extreme leaders would not let it, then General Elections are a mockery we’ve arrived at[fo 38] the one party state, and parliamentary democracy in this country will have perished. (Applause).

The democracy for which our fathers fought and died is not to be laid to rest as lightly as that.

When the next Conservative Government comes to power many Trade Unionists will have put it there. Millions of them vote for us at every Election.

I want to say this to them, and to every one of our supporters in industry.[fo 39]

Go out and join in the work of your Union.

Go to its meetings—and stay to the end.

Learn the Union rules as well as the Far Left know them, and remember this. If Parliamentary democracy dies, free Trade Unions die with it. (Applause). End of section checked against ITN First Report, 10 October 1975.[fo 40]

I come last to what many would put first. The Rule of Law.

The first people to uphold the law should be governments. It is tragic that the Socialist Government, to its lasting shame, should have lost its nerve and shed its principles over the People’s Republic of Clay Cross. And that a group of the Labour Party should have tried to turn the Shrewsbury pickets into martyrs.

On both occasions the law was broken. On one, violence was done.[fo 41] No decent society can live like that. No responsible party should condone it. (Applause).

The first duty of Government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when its inconvenient, if government does that, then so will the governed, and then nothing is safe—not home, not liberty, not life itself.

There is one part of this country where tragically defiance of the law is costing life day after day.[fo 42]

In Northern Ireland our troops have the dangerous and thankless task of trying to keep the peace and hold the balance. We are proud of the way they have discharged their duty.

This Party is pledged to support the unity of the United Kingdom. To preserve that unity and to protect the people, Catholic and Protestant alike, we believe that our armed forces must remain until a genuine peace is made.

Our thoughts are with them, and our pride is with them too. (Applause).[fo 43]

I have spoken of the challenges that face us here in Britain. The challenge to recover economically. The challenge to recover our belief in ourselves.

I have shown our potential for recovery.

I have dealt with some aspects of our strength and approach.

And I have tried to tell you something of my personal vision, my belief in the standards on which this nation was greatly built, on which it greatly thrived, and from which in recent years it has greatly fallen away.[fo 44]

We are coming, I think, to yet another turning point in our long history.

We can go on as we have been going and continue down.

Or we can stop—and with a decisive act of will we can say «Enough».

Let us, all of us, here today and others, far beyond this hall who believe in our cause make that act of will.

Let us proclaim our faith in a new and better future for our Party and our people.[fo 45]

Let us resolve to heal the wounds of a divided nation.

And let that act of healing be the prelude to a lasting victory. (Prolonged applause).