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Leader's speech, Blackpool 1958

Harold Macmillan (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool


At the time of this conference, the Conservatives were preparing for the forthcoming general election. The economic situation was improving, with lower levels of taxation and Sterling becoming stronger in the world currency markets. Moreover, at the recent Commonwealth Economic Conference in Montreal, Britain had won support for its policies to promote freer trade and increased investment throughout the Commonwealth. Macmillan was also optimistic about the forthcoming talks with the US and the Soviet Union on nuclear disarmament. However, this was a time of international instability. Britain was engaged in a row over Cyprus, which Macmillan claimed was not a colonial issue, but a dispute between Greece and Turkey. In the Middle East, civil war was raging in Lebanon, and Jordanian independence was under threat from rising Arab nationalism. Meanwhile, in the Far East China had attacked the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, and threatened to invade them.

There is something in the bracing air of Blackpool that, apart from minor exhilarations, seems specially good for Conservative Conferences.

It was here that we met twelve years ago after the landslide of 1945. Inspired by our great leader, Sir Winston Churchill, we began to re-define and re-adapt our policies to the needs of the day.

Under Lord Woolton we created a new, modern and democratic organisation. It was here that, four years later, in 1950, you issued the call for 300,000 houses. And you got them.

In 1954 we held one of the most lively and successful of our Conferences which set us confidently on the road to winning a second General Election. Now, here we are again, in 1958, getting ready to win a third. A mathematician will tell you that there are heavy odds against winning three General Elections running. That is, of course, true. So there are against a hat-trick; but the odds against are diminished - not increased - when the bowler has already taken two wickets in succession. And with Lord Hailsham and Lord Poole in the team we need not worry about our bowling.

Autumn - ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ - is also the season of political conferences. We have recently enjoyed reading about the first two - the Liberal and the Socialist Conferences. Those, of course, were the mists. Here we have had the fruitfulness. Our political opponents seem to me to be living either in the past or in a world of make-believe. The pure doctrine of laissez-faire and absolute free trade; the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange - these were the cries of my boyhood. What a musty period flavour they have now. How utterly out of touch all this is with the problems and opportunities of today. That is why so many of the Liberal and Labour debates have an air of lavender and old lace. But the arsenic is there too. It seems to me that the Labour Party’s two main occupations today are splitting over their policy papers and papering over their policy splits. And as with economics, so with foreign affairs. Many of their resolutions are quite unrelated to the actual facts of life today, and many are contradictory. What a contrast with what you have been doing these last four days. Looking through the resolutions on our order paper here, there is one thing that sticks out a mile. We are up to date and they are not. We are realistic and they are not. We are relevant and they are not. And then there is another thing - the accent on youth at our Conference. The Young Conservatives have been seen, and they have also been heard. The emphasis in all your discussions has been on the present and on the future. On the needs and opportunities as well as the problems and dangers of this new, scientific, technological, jet propelled, nuclear powered age. I, too, want to speak today chiefly about the future. But before doing so, I will take as they do in the films a quick flashback over the past. It is just a year since I spoke to you at Brighton. Quite a lot has happened in these twelve months. Last year we had just announced our new and severe measures for combating inflation and the danger to the value of the pound. You will remember them - seven per cent Bank Rate, the credit squeeze and all the rest. Well, now you can see the results. The value of the pound on the world market strengthened dramatically and has remained strong. As a result of renewed confidence and of a most favourable trade balance, our Gold and Dollar Reserves have made gains every single month since last September. Not counting what we borrowed last autumn, we have during the last 12 months added £1,000,000 to the reserves every day. The cost of living index stands today no higher than it did last November. The Budget - Mr. Amory’s first Budget, but the sixth of our Budgets to cut taxes - did all that was possible within the limits that prudence allowed. He cut taxation by over £100,000,000 a year. He cut the duty on house purchase. He cut the Purchase Tax on a great range of household goods. And if this was not enough to win a lady’s heart, he cut the tax on cosmetics, jewellery, handbags and mirrors. What it is to have a bachelor as Chancellor of the Exchequer!

Before I pass to the general state of our economy, I would like to say a word about our oldest and still largest industry, to which you, Mr. Chairman, referred – agriculture. Our farmers have suffered from one of the most difficult summers this century, and the earlier expectations of a bumper harvest have been dashed - literally to the ground. The harvest will now be below normal in all too many areas. 

I am determined that, so long as I am responsible, this shall never happen again.  The unemployment figure of 2.2 per cent covers the whole country.  But averages, as of course we know, are deceptive things, and there are certain areas where unemployment is a special problem.  Sometimes a local and once flourishing industry is on the decline owing to changes of method or perhaps of fashion. Sometimes the areas are remote from the great centres of communication or perhaps have only seasonal trade to support them. I am thinking in particular of some areas in Scotland, in Wales, and some of the coastal districts of England.

We have taken powers to encourage industrial development in some of these areas. We also intend to use the industrial certificate system for the same purpose. But as well as the opportunity to work, I want to see the opportunity to earn. We want to see a steady increase in earning power to provide the means for a fuller life. We want to remove much of the drudgery and toil from manual labour and make life easier and brighter in the home. We also want to see people keeping more of the money they earn and the Exchequer taking less. That is why in Budget after Budget taxes have been cut. That is why we aim to continue this happy process.

Next, the opportunity to own and to save. With more than half a million new houses built for sale in the last seven years, we have already gone some way towards providing more chance to own. The Socialists want to see a nation of Council house tenants; we want to see a nation of house owners. The Socialists want to narrow and concentrate in the State the ownership of industry; we want to spread it. And we are spreading it. Listen to this; it is a quote: ‘In pre-war days it was the wealthy who supplied the cash to finance industry, Today it is the turn of the masses to take over a large part of this vital job by putting their savings to work. Figures show us it is the British public generally, not just a few rich chaps, who are pouring their money into Saving Certificates, Premium Bonds, Defence Bonds, Building Societies, Unit Trusts, and other forms of saving.’ This is not a Tory leaflet that I am quoting; it comes from a Daily Herald feature of last Wednesday (October 8th), and it gets better as it goes on. It says: ‘The ordinary people up and down the country are materially better off now than they have ever been. We have more money,’ says this article, ‘to spend and to save.’ And yet I seem to remember I got into terrible hot water a year ago when I said they had ‘never had it so good.’ As a nation we are saving more each year than we saved in the whole six years of Socialism. And, by the way, I was glad to see that nice little tribute to the Premium Bond. This increase in saving is twice blessed. It not only helps the individual and the family, it also provides the funds needed for economic expansion. New roads and factories, new plant and equipment, research and development - all this can only come from saving.

To sum up: the right to earn, the right to own, the right to save, and the opportunity and encouragement to exercise these rights. That is what we stand for. That is what, whether they intend it or not, Socialism must in the end destroy. But there is another large field of conflict between the Parties - the place of the individual in modern society. When we took office in 1951, we set about the task of removing from off the back of the trader, the farmer, the businessman and the private citizen the whole Socialist paraphernalia of burdensome and complex controls. We cut back State trading, we reopened the commodity markets, we abolished rationing, we did away with identity cards, we got rid of a thing, a horrible thing, hardly remembered now, called the development charge, and many other irritating controls over personal liberty and freedom.

The disciplinary powers of the Agricultural Executive Committees have been abolished, and a Council is being set up to watch over the working of administrative tribunals and enquiries, and to see that the ordinary citizen gets a fair deal. Since the Lord Chancellor is in charge of this, I think we can trust to his robust good sense.

Then there are the various Emergency Regulations. Powers readily and properly granted to the Executive in the urgency of war must not be allowed to live on unchallenged.

We have been steadily hewing them down. There were 215 in operation when we took office in 1951. Over 200 of them have gone. And we intend to finish the job during this Parliament. Those that for some reason have to be retained and cannot be abolished will be made part of the normal fabric of Parliamentary law. Of course, we in the Conservative and Unionist Party do not want to return to the laissez-faire doctrinaire Liberalism. Too often that meant the defence not of freedom but of privilege.

There are, of course, many cases where the interests of the nation must override those of the individual. That must happen in slum clearance, for instance, or with the new road construction on which the Minister of Transport is so active.

You have been rightly insisting that where these cases happen the individual citizen must get fair play. Mr, Brooke, the Minister of Housing, is an ingenious as well as a cautious man. That is why he has been so singularly successful in dealing with the terribly difficult problem of rent control. I think that, when our proposals in this matter to which I have referred are presented to Parliament, you will not be disappointed. This role of providing the balance between the State and the individual is, I believe, the historic role of the Tory Party.

Once it was necessary to proclaim the rights of the State against those of powerful individuals or associations. It may become necessary to do so again. But now the need is rather to proclaim the right of the individual against the State and other large-scale concentrations of power.

I now want to look further afield. Dependent on world trade as we are, what happens at home - what we can do to affect things at home - is only part of the problem. What happens in the world - what can be done to encourage international trade can be every bit as important. There are many things which cannot be done by one country alone, but only by co-operation between many countries - by the practice of economic interdependence. Britain, which is at once a Commonwealth - head of the Commonwealth - a European and an Atlantic power, has here a unique opportunity. The recent Commonwealth Economic Conference in Montreal has been a resounding success. It has been welcomed as such throughout the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom Ministers - Lord Home, Sir David Eccles and of course the Chancellor of the Exchequer - were able to point the way to a freer system of trade and payments; to encourage and stimulate exports; to develop and stimulate trade; and to encourage investment throughout the Commonwealth. An economically strong Commonwealth needs an economically strong Europe. This is certainly our conviction here in Britain and all our Commonwealth partners share this view. That is why we propose that the Common Market of six European powers should be allied with a broad free trade area. Mr. Maudling, who was at Montreal, is now carrying on these negotiations in Paris with skill and perseverance. All the industrial countries of the world must share in the task of supplying capital to enable the poorer countries to develop their resources. We can be proud of what we are doing. British investments overseas now reach something like £200,000,000 a year. This is a greater proportion of our national income than any other country’s. We must keep it up.

Finally, one of the problems of world trade, on which I am glad such progress has been made in Delhi, is that of creating a sufficient volume of credit to support the expansion of world trade. I first discussed this with President Eisenhower this summer and he has already shown the response which America intends to make. All this is vital to our trade and our employment. But it is not merely economic self-interest which should prompt us. The inequalities of living standards in the world are a source of weakness. They are easy targets for Communist propaganda. Indeed, one of the most powerful threats of Communism today is economic, and it is in the economic field that it must primarily be met.

Now I turn to the political aspects of these problems. The Foreign Secretary has dealt so fully in his speech with some of the most urgent questions that you already have a clear and detailed picture of the responsibilities we carry - and they are global. You have already shown how you value the courage, skill and patience which the Foreign Secretary has brought to his task. He, with the Commonwealth Secretary and the Colonial Secretary, have done fine work for the prestige and authority of Britain overseas. In foreign, as in home affairs, we must accept the facts of the age in which we live. We cannot deal with them by words and resolutions, but only by practical policies and actions.

I read the latest document on Socialist foreign policy, and the speeches made about it, by Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. Bevan. The most remarkable thing that came out of the debate was the Socialist vote in favour of the Conservative Government’s policy, that we should not unilaterally renounce the nuclear deterrent.

It was indeed curious to find Mr. Gaitskell adopting precisely our own argument, that to deny ourselves possession of the bomb and rely on America to use it if necessary in our defence would be both morally indefensible and politically disastrous.  I am bound to say that during the last two years I have found the Socialist position on this controversy very confusing. Some were against the bomb and still are. Others, including apparently, Mr. Gaitskell, were and are for the bomb, but they were against the tests. But had I yielded to the heavy pressure brought upon me during the last two years and prematurely abandoned the tests, then there could have been no bomb. If now, the majority of the Labour Party are in favour of Britain having the bomb, that policy has only been made practicable by our refusal to yield to their agitation. At the same time we have not rested there. We now have, through our close friendship with the United States, the amendment to the McMahon Act. This allows us to pool our information, and to speak on equal terms with the Americans. In all this we owe a lot to our Minister of Defence. I would remind you that it was the British Government’s initiative which brought about the conference of nuclear scientists at Geneva which has agreed that control is scientifically possible. We have now joined with the Americans in proposing a one year suspension from the end of this month, subject to the Soviet agreeing to work out with us a proper system of control. If, as I hope those talks succeed, we have a chance of making a beginning with real disarmament - for that is what we want: real agreements in which conventional and nuclear disarmament go hand in hand.

The principles of our external policy are threefold - strength, unity and under standing. We must maintain the defensive strength of the Alliances - NATO, SEATO, and the Baghdad Pact. I am of course ready to go to a Summit meeting inside or outside the United Nations, and indeed I thought for a moment that we had reached that objective when Mr. Khrushchev accepted our proposal for a Summit Conference on the Middle East within the Security Council. Then after (or perhaps because of) a visit to Peking he suddenly turned round and withdrew.

This was a great disappointment to me, but I have not given up my hope of a Summit meeting. But there is one thing I must make clear. I pray that we may be able to reduce armaments, but we will not reduce them unilaterally. Let the level of both sides fall simultaneously. Any other course will not bring peace, but either war or surrender.

What is the next thing? Unity. Among the Western powers who are members of NATO, there are from time to time dangerous divisions. We have one now between Greece, Turkey and ourselves on the question of Cyprus.

Here I know you would wish me to express again what was so well expressed yesterday - the sympathy we have with our forces in Cyprus, both military and civil. We have the greatest admiration for them and the fullest confidence in them and in their discipline and courage. I must repeat that the problem of Cyprus is not a Colonial but an international one. I have certainly done my best to bring all sides together, and I am not without hope that agreement will be reached. Discussions are still proceeding in NATO and I hope they may be fruitful. Meanwhile I am not ashamed to have put forward the idea that such a problem could best be solved by mutual co-operation. For remember, the old world is not the whole world; Europe is not the whole world - it is but a small peninsula of the great Asiatic plain jutting out into the ocean.

The powers of Europe should not think backwards to their old quarrels, but forward to a new understanding. I know, of course, of the long, bitter fights between Turkey and Greece going back 500 years. But if we were to look backwards over the centuries, we should still be at enmity with France. If France and Germany were not able to look forward they would still be bitter rivals, instead of having, under the leadership of great men, decided to shake hands and be friends. It does not serve the cause for which we are all joined together, nor do we match the level of world events, if in any of the western countries we allow our minds to be obsessed by the quarrels of the past, instead of looking to the dangers of the present and the hopes of the future.

In the same way, there are many in this country, we may as well confess it, who want us to quarrel with the United States.

For instance, we are invited to abandon our independent nuclear power (which I think is the Liberal policy), pool our arms with America, and then publicly quarrel with our American allies. On the extreme left, some are willing to play the Communist game, an obvious feature of which is to try at all costs to drive a wedge between the Atlantic powers.

Happily, American and British policy on the Middle East is today agreed and I am convinced that the rescue operation which we did in concert in Lebanon and Jordan has given the necessary opportunities for the United Nations to play their role. As the Foreign Secretary rightly stressed, so long as the veto in the Security Council remains, there must always be occasions when the great powers cannot evade their duty. They must prevent aggression while there is still time. Then having completed their immediate task they must hand it to the nations of the world for collective action. That we have done and the responsibility now firmly rests upon the United Nations to see that our work has not been in vain. Meanwhile, I cannot believe that the Opposition can look back with any pride on the role they played when this crisis arose in the summer. It was perhaps no accident that, seeing Anglo-American unity in the Middle East, the Communist pressure changed and they started to hot up the Far East in the hope, of course, of splitting us over that. Do not let us fall into that trap. On the strength of the United States and their continued interest in the world as a whole, freedom largely depends. We can best serve British interests if, on the basis of our friendship, we give our honest advice in private consultation, rather than yield to the temptation of public recrimination, or (what I think they really like) governessy nagging. In this spirit, from the opening days of the renewed troubles in the Far East, centring on Quemoy, I made clear the position of the British Government and people. I am convinced that the mass of the people support the line which we have taken. Recent events have confirmed the wisdom of our course. Strength, then, first; next unity. What is the third need? I called it, for want of a better word, understanding or imagination. We have got to recognise the changing character of the world abroad just as we have to recognise the tremendous changes at home.

We know the rise of nationalism, the sense of independence and freedom which come to peoples who have either never had it since the world began, because they have never risen from barbarism, or who formerly had great civilisations and empires that have declined and fallen. Some of these countries, in Asia or Africa, are rising like a giant from a long dream, and are determined to revive the fabled glories of the past. Others, coming for the first time out of the darkness to the light, are determined to force their way into this new exciting world even sometimes at the cost of disunity or aggression. In this turmoil, all this would be less dangerous than it is if so many of these peoples did not lie, as it were, in the uncommitted territory between the great structure of communist strength upon the one side and that of the free peoples upon the other. In this no man’s land position, they can either try to play off one side against the other, gaining benefits from both, or they may be the easy prey to the subversion of Communist propaganda that preaches freedom and practises slavery.

What then is our role in all this? Just as the United States has the larger part to play in military strength and in economic development, for they have the greater resources, so I think the Commonwealth has a unique opportunity in the political field.

Since we met last year, I undertook a tour of the Commonwealth, which, although it was very short, was the most exciting experience of my life. A month or two before, I had been to Canada where I have been since. But in this tour I went to Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, and all through I was thrilled to feel that some great instrument had come into being - half consciously, no doubt - perhaps under Providence, which can and must largely influence the solution of this struggle in Africa, Asia and Europe.

For the Commonwealth represents, by its very nature, a declaration of partnership and interdependence between all men and women of different races, regions, creeds, religions, traditions and philosophies. And how has it come about? In the old Commonwealth countries it has come through the people of British stock who have gone out as pioneers and kept there loyal feelings for the old country and especially for the Crown. But in the new Commonwealth countries it is the product of something of which, perhaps, now we think too little; partly the great pro-consuls who governed these territories, still more perhaps the magistrates, the ordinary administrators, the doctors and the missionaries. To them, therefore, we have handed on the traditions of individual rights, the equality of man with man, the independence of the Judiciary from the Government, the right of free speech, and of free Press, to think, to say, and within limits to do what you like - all the things which in the long course of experience spread over hundreds of years we have learned in our own country. And it is because of this link in the Commonwealth that, although some of the new countries in it have different points of view on questions of defence, or the organisation of military strength, they have a complete unity of view about the things that are really worthwhile in life. It is perhaps worth noticing that it is these new, emerging countries which have come from and are still members of the Commonwealth where these traditions are being maintained and respected. They will have difficulties of course. But they will cling, I believe, to the principles of liberty and respect for the law which are our common tradition. And this is what I feel so deeply: they will have a decisive effect upon some of their neighbours, who, as they reach their independence, may be tempted to fall victims either to Communism or to other forms of dictatorship. I repeat, therefore, our external policy - strength, unity and understanding. Each set of problems, whether in Europe, the Middle East or the Far East, must be dealt with so far as possible in the light of these principles. But our difficulties, as I have said, cannot be resolved by words and speeches and resolutions. They will only become manageable if we apply these principles with patience and determination. Above all, you cannot contract out of this task; you cannot ‘disengage’ from the common cause of freedom.

So ends once more our Tory Conference. Once again, it is a beginning and not an end. This is a time for action not a time for rest. One warning I must give you before I close. Set your faces against apathy and complacency as you would against Socialism itself. Do not be beguiled by the sweet music of public opinion polls; there is work to be done. Yet we have good grounds for hope - yes, and for confidence too. We are building a Britain strong and free as we promised in 1951. Let us then go forward together - with driving enthusiasm and with a living faith.

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