Read an Excerpt
Address to the Conservative Political Centre,
Blackpool, 10 October 1968
The October 1968 Conservative Political Centre (CPC) Lecture was Mrs. Thatcher's first public foray into 'Conservatism'. It was made at an important time for her and for the Tog Party. Enoch Powell's speech on immigration that April' and his criticism of the collectivist economic management practised in the sixties by both Labour and Conservative administrations had produced much upheaval and some rethinking. Margaret Thatcher, though by October 1968 handling the Fuel and Power portfolio within the Shadow Cabinet, had cut her political teeth as Shadow Chancellor lain Macleod's deputy, with special responsibility for exposing the absurdities of Labour's prices and incomes policy. Both Powellite - what would later be called 'monetarist' - influence and Mrs Thatcher's personal experience of dissecting socialist economic regulation are evident in the Lecture. The underling issue, which she does not fully tackle, though, is whether the causes of inflation - and so by implication the cures for it - are manetary or can be ascribed to the 'wage push' of trade unions.In her memoirs, Lady Thatcher notes of the speech that it 'summed up how far my understanding of these matters had gone -and how far it still needed to go'. (II, p. 149)
What's Wrong With Politics?
Criticism of politics is no new thing. Literature abounds with it. In Shakespeare we find the comment of King I ear:
Delivered in Birmingham on 20 April 1968, the speech called for an end to New Commonwealth immigration andfor assisted voluntary repatriation. Tory Party Leader Edward Heath took exception to the language used and sacked Powell from the Shadow Cabinet.
The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher
'Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.'
Richard Sheridan,' reputed to have made one of the greatest speeches the House of Commons has ever heard (it lasted five hours and forty minutes), commented that 'conscience has more to do with gallantry than it has with politics.' Anatole France' was perhaps the most scathing: 'I am not so devoid of all. talents as to occupy myself with politics.'Nor have political leaders escaped criticism:
Disraeli unites the maximum of Parliamentary cleverness with the minimum of statesmanlike capacity. No one ever dreams to have him lead. He belongs not to the bees but to the wasps and the butterflies of public fife. He can sting and sparkle but he cannot work. His place in the arena is marked and ticketed for ever.This from the Controller of the Stationery Office, in 1853, quoted in The Statesman by Henry Taylor. There is no need to remind you how utterly wrong that judgement was.
There are even some things that have improved over the years. Bribery and corruption, which have now gone, used to be rampant. The votes of electors were purchased at a high price. The famous Lord Shaftesbury, when he was Lord Ashley, spent 15,600 on successfully winning Dorset in 1831- It is interesting to note that 12,000 Of this went to public houses and inns for the refreshment of the people. And this when gin was a penny a glass! Some forty years before, Lord Penrhyn spent 30,000 on his campaign - and then lost!
But we can't dismiss the present criticisms as easily as that. The dissatisfaction with politics runs too deep both here and abroad. People have come to doubt the future of the democratic system and its institutions. They distrust the politicians and have little faith in the future.
Why the Present Distrust?
Let us try to assess how and why we have reached this pass. What is the explanation? Broadly speaking, I think we have not yet assimilated many of the changes that have come about in the past thirty to forty years.
First, I don't think we realize sufficiently how new our present democratic system is. We still have comparatively little experience of the effect of the universal franchise, which didn't come until 1928. And the first election in this country which was fought on the principle of one person one vote was in 1950- So we are still in the early stages of dealing with the problems and opportunities presented by everyone having a vote.
Secondly, this and other factors have led to a different party political structure. There is now little room for independent Members, and the controversies which formerly took place outside the parties on a large number of measures now have to take place inside. There is, and has to be, room for a variety of opinions on certain topics within the broad general principles on which each party is based.
Thirdly, from the party structure has risen the detailed programme which is placed before the electorate. Return to power on such a prograrnme had led to a new doctrine that the party in power has a mandate to carry out everything in its manifesto. I myself doubt whether the voters really are endorsing each and every particular when they return a Government to power.
This modem practice of an election programme has, I believe, influenced the attitudes of some electors; all too often one is now asked, 'What are you going to do for me?', implying that the programme is a series of promises in return for votes. All this has led to a curious relationship between elector and elected. If the elector suspects the politician of making promises simply to get his vote, he despises him, but if the promises are not forthcoming he may reject him. I believe that...