“Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so.”
—Holly Hunter as Elastigirl in The Incredibles
With yesterday’s passing of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the truly great figures of modern history. Mrs. Thatcher was a tremendous political partner with President Reagan in battling the Soviets and global communism. But she also faced down tremendous difficulties at home in Britain, salvaging a flagging world power drowning in its own self-imposed socialism. And she was able to do that by staying true to a set of intellectual and philosophical principles, rather than reading polls and blowing with the political wind. She had guts, charisma, and integrity. And she will be missed.
I tracked down an address she gave 10 October 1975 to the Conservative Party Conference, and you’ll see she could just as easily be talking to us in the U.S. today. I’ve edited it for space reasons, but I’ll otherwise let the then-Prime Minister-to-be speak for herself:
Some . . . suggested that I criticized Britain when I was overseas. They are wrong. It wasn’t Britain I was criticizing. It was Socialism. And I will go on criticizing Socialism, and opposing Socialism because it is bad for Britain—and Britain and Socialism are not the same thing. As long as I have health and strength, they never will be.
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. 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.
And it’s the Labour Government that have brought the level of production below that of the three-day week in 1974. We’ve really got a three-day week now—only it takes five days to do it.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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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. Even the Russians have to go to a capitalist country, America to buy enough wheat to feed their people. And that after more than 50 years of a State controlled economy. Yet they boast incessantly while we, who have so much more to boast about, forever criticize and decry.
Isn’t it time we spoke up for our way of life? After all, no Western nation has to build a wall round itself to keep its people in. 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 capitalism, but of Socialism. No country can flourish if its economic and social life is dominated by nationalization 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 nationalizing one industry after another.
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. 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.
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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. 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.
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. 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. No profits mean no investment, and a dying industry geared to yesterday’s world . . . The trouble here is that for years the Labour Party have made people feel that profits are guilty-unless proved innocent . . . 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 nationalization.
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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. So today what is the picture? Depressed profits, low investment, no incentive, and overshadowing everything government spending, spending far beyond the taxpayers means . . . 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.
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.
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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 . . . The spirit of envy can destroy. It can never build.
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.
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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. Let us extend choice, the will to choose and the chance to choose.
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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. Let us resolve to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And let that act of healing be the prelude to a lasting victory.
Godspeed, Prime Minister. Tell President Reagan we miss him, too.