Leader's speech, Brighton 1965
Edward Heath (Conservative)
This speech was Heath’s first since he became Party Leader and focuses primarily on the economy. Prices were rising, mortgage rates were at their highest level since 1945, and Sterling was being supported by a loan of £1,000 million from the western central banks. Another important issue at the time was Rhodesia. Heath had recently met Ian Smith in the hope of resuming talks between the two governments and preventing Smith from making a unilateral declaration of independence, a move Heath claimed would be ‘invalid.’
In his autobiography Heath records that the conference was a launching point for a policy publication called ‘Putting Britain Right Ahead’, itself the basis for the election campaign to come in 1966. He writes that it ’provided the platform for a successful conference in 1965. I made two speeches and stayed at the conference throughout. This was a break with tradition. Before 1965 the leader descended on the conference at the end to deliver his oration. I wanted to show that members of the shadow cabinet and I were interested in all the views expressed on different resolutions at the conferences’. He further reflects that ‘the 1965 meeting contained some lively debates which even today’s spin-doctors would have had to struggle to contain’, mentioning a speech by Lord Salisbury on the crisis in Rhodesia and also remarks by Enoch Powell relating to Suez and the British military presence in the East (Edward Heath, The Course of My Life, Hodder and Stoughton, 1998, 275-6).
Lady Davidson, I want first to say how absolutely wonderful it is for all of us here to have you presiding over this final session of the Conference. Your typical approach and stimulating introduction have reflected the high spirits of this Conference which are obvious to us all. We thank you for the start you have given to us for our final session. We would like to say ‘Thank You’ for the splendid record of service which you and your husband have given so unstintingly to our Party. It is nearly half a century of service. I have to confess to you, Lady Davidson, that my early recollections of your entry into politics are slightly hazy. All I can say is that they are very much clearer than those of the present Chairman of the Party, who was not even born at that time!
It is a great pleasure to have Lord Davidson with us today, because he is part of our Party’s history. Ill though he is, we are glad that he has been able to come and give us that sense of continuity of our Party in all its activities during these past decades. So together we express to you our intense gratitude. Thank you for the welcome you have just given to me. We miss you from the House of Commons, because you were always our guide and friend. There was no need for us to adopt the present method of the Labour Party and have a lady in the Whips’ Office; there you always were, to look after us. I hope it will not be misunderstood if I say that to all of us - and especially my generation - you were indeed our mother.
Many happy things have happened to me this week, for which I want to thank you all. There have been many kindnesses, which I have greatly appreciated, and other things as well. I found in my Daily Mirror yesterday - I read it avidly, as no doubt you always do - that the barbers of West Bromwich had banded together and come to the conclusion that, seen from the back, my haircut was the best in the country. I can only apologise to you all that this splendid panorama has been reserved for the members of the National Executive Committee.
We have got to know each other well, and this is all-important in our political life. To come and be here at the Conference throughout has been of immense help to me, and perhaps, Madam President, Sir Max and Sir Clyde, who have done so much to make this Conference a success, I may express the hope that the invitation to the leader to be present may become part of the permanent pattern of our Party Conference. I think it will mean a new relationship between the Party as a whole and the Party at this Conference, lacking, I hope, nothing of the past but also being in tune with the times today. It has been a good Conference. Just think of all those fellows in Transport House with their eyes glued to the television screen, just to see that everybody was being fair to us and fair to them.
It has been a good Conference, and at Bexley, my own constituency, a fortnight ago - I had to get a plug in somewhere - I asked that this Conference should face facts realistically, frankly and courageously. Madam President, that is what we have done. We have done it to an even greater degree than I ever dared to hope.
Just look back over those splendid speeches from the hall: frank, honest, sometimes critical. Gone are the days of praise and platitudes - well, almost gone! A little praise is very agreeable sometimes, and the speeches from the platform show that I am right to be proud of the splendid team we have heard during the whole of this Conference. They are men of great experience: Mr. Maudling, the Deputy Leader of our Party, always at my right hand and by my side; Sir Alec Douglas-Home, a man of great experience with a wealth of negotiating experience; Iain Macleod; Enoch Powell; Peter Thorneycroft; Sir Keith Joseph; Tony Barber; and the other members of the Front Bench who have spoken; and Sir Edward Boyle, who not only spoke here during the Conference but addressed a great gathering of 2,000 people at CPC. It was a great intellectual gathering which had come to listen to what, I am told, was a very detailed, sustained argument about forecasting, or indicative planning, as it is technically known. This interested me greatly. I somehow feel that indicative planning is not really endemic in the British character. The forecast for the night of the CPC meeting - broadcast far and wide in every hotel - was heavy rain. Yet 2,000 people came to this hall without a single umbrella between them. It only shows that weather forecasts themselves are not enough. Somebody has got to do something about it. Then there were the younger members of the Front Bench: Margaret Thatcher, Peter Walker, David Price. They also made admirable speeches.
Did I really hear it said at Blackpool that Mr. Wilson, looking at the Government, said that man for man they could more than match us, more than match this team? Look again, Mr. Wilson, look again.
He had better look at some of the others as well. I will not mention their names; it would not mean anything to you. I will mention their Departments. What about the Minister of Transport in the present Labour Government? He has done absolutely nothing to alleviate our traffic problems, but he is the only Minister who produces jam today as well as promising jam tomorrow.
Then there is the President of the Board of Trade. Poor Mr. Jay - reduced to carrying George Brown’s bags to international conferences. When there is good news, that is; when there is bad news he has to open the bag and read it himself.
And Mr. Willey, the Minister landed without any natural resources. And the Postmaster General, Wedgwood Benn, that would-be whiz kid who always gets the wrong number - even when adding up his election expenses.
But there is one matter which is beyond a joke, and that is the Minister of Technology. In Londonderry a fortnight ago I challenged him to stand up and be counted, separate from the block vote, straightaway. I said, ‘Resign as General Secretary of your Union or resign as Minister because you cannot do both with honour.’ But he has not stood up to be counted. So I ask Mr. Wilson when he is going to restore the collective responsibility of his own Cabinet. Unless he does so, and until he does so, the whole country knows that despite the fine words, he is too weak himself even to deal with Mr. Cousins.
Now to return to our own Conference. On Wednesday I called for a change of mood, that we should put the emphasis on individual effort and enterprise, on the importance of choice for us all, on the need for freedom and independence to stand on our own feet. The outstanding thing about this Conference in Brighton this week has been that the mood is already changing. It is clear here in this Conference. It is a mood, too, of realism. Let me affirm that to the eyes of the world which are upon us.
Our task is to change the mood of the country as a whole. We know our line of advance. Let us see that other people do. Let us heed the wise, stimulating words of our young Chairman, who has just been speaking to you. We have presented and discussed our policies. We know them. Let us see that everyone else does. Let that be our resolve as we leave this Conference.
Realism, I said. We are realistic. What a contrast with Blackpool. Did you notice that George Brown in one of his happier moods said, ‘This has been a great year for Britain.’ A great year for Britain? Do we really read it aright? Where has he been living all this time? Has it been a great year for industry? The longest period of 7 per cent bank rate since 1921. The toughest credit squeeze since the twenties. Investment and modernisation programmes curtailed. Costs rising and production static. A great year for agriculture? The farmers, whom I am getting to know better and better, thought the weather was the biggest hazard they had ever had until they met this Government. Was it a great year for education, with the building programmes: universities, the technical colleges, colleges of education - the CATS - all severely cut? A great year for motorists, with the road programme slowed down? For the taxpayers, with taxes going up more than at any time since the last Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer? For the householders, with rates higher than ever before? For the ‘young marrieds’ with many home loan schemes closed down and with mortgage rates higher than for twenty years? Was it a great year for all of them?
Oh yes, I remember well that Mr. Wilson came to London and made a great speech, and said: ‘We shall provide specially favourable interest rates’ for those who are going to buy their own homes. He referred to a 4 per cent rate. Nothing specific - nothing in small print even, but just the implication - 4 per cent. This was enough to bring George Brown rushing down from the North to my own constituency, and what did he say? He implied that what he had in mind was 3 per cent. At any moment I expected to be overwhelmed by Jim Callaghan coming down and saying ‘2 per cent.’
We have the highest mortgage rates since 1945, and prices rising faster than for years - and what did George Brown say here? ‘We will tackle the problem of rising prices at the roots.’ Well - he did; he manured the roots.
Was it a good year for sterling - under threat for eleven months and supported by £1,100 million of additional debt? They sat there waiting for something to turn up, and in August, when another £1,000 million standby turned up, they preened themselves on having found the solution to our problems. A great year, indeed!
Yes, it has been a great year for the public relations men, stimulated by keen competition from the Prime Minister. It is the only competition in which he is really interested. He has his army of ‘admen’ in the basement - they must be getting pretty close to the bottom of the barrel now, looking for the glowing terms with which Mr. Wilson can pat himself on the back – ‘a dynamic Government,’ ‘a purposive Government,’ ‘an honest Government,’ ‘a frank Government,’ ‘a Government imbued with the Dunkirk spirit,’ and ‘a Government with guts.’ What self-adulation - and the latest word is ‘gritty.’ It goes back to David Lloyd George - sand in the works.
What is their defence for all these broken promises, for the blunders, for the incompetence and for the very high debts? The so-called £800 million deficit. Let us deal with this once and for all. It is time the people of this country recognised the truth, and it is very relevant to the judgment of last year, 1964, and it is very relevant to those of you who from the hall in our debates on policy and economic affairs asked us questions about the management of the economy next time.
Mr Wilson’s favourite trick is bitterly to attack those whom he accuses of selling sterling short. I will tell you the name of the man who in the past year has done far more than any other to sell sterling short: that is Harold Wilson himself. He did it by his politically-motivated exaggeration of the £800 million so-called deficit. We have suffered enough from this lie, and we must suffer no more. Let us look at it.
Of the £750 million overall deficit, £350 million was British investment overseas - solid assets like the Shell share in the Italian petrochemical industry. Those are assets of which Mr. Wilson is proud to boast when he travels abroad. Of the remainder, another £100 million was due to aid for the developing countries - and we in the Conservative Party are not ashamed of that, and we were always pressed to do more by the Labour Opposition.
But there was a gap, and I will tell you why. It was because during 1963 and 1964 the Conservative Government, under Mr. Maudling’s guidance, was deliberately trying to break out of the cycle of recession and expansion which we had experienced since the war: a stable expansion, more modernisation, greater competition, intensive regional redevelopment - all these together formed a coherent policy. And, as part of this expansion, we forecast a high level of imports in 1964. They were needed for our expansion, but they were higher because of stockpiling from fear of the restrictions which a new Labour Government might impose on our manufacturers. And by our policies we were encouraging exports to rise to catch up with our imports.
And, of course, the myth about this has been exploded by the Labour Government themselves. It has been exploded in their own National Plan - page 69, chapter 7, subsection 4. Go and read it, Mr. Brown, go and read it, and you will find there a fairer balance set out of the situation. It acknowledges and accepts all these facts, and demolishes the myth of the White Paper of 26th October of last year.
Let me remind you that Mr. Wilson himself supported this policy. Indeed, Labour, pressed us to expand faster. And on this policy of a steady expansion depended many of our hopes for the future, But what have the Government always done? They have always accused Mr. Maudling and our Government of refusing to take necessary action last year because of electoral considerations, refusing to take advice to deal with the economy. In fact, Mr. Maudling put up Bank Rate in January. He put another £100 million on the Budget in April. There is not one word of truth in the accusation that advice from any quarter to act was refused or rejected, and certainly never for electoral considerations.
But Mr. Wilson put political interest before the national interest. He broke the confidence on which our expansion depended. What mock horror he shows now at the state of affairs he says he found when he took office. What he forgets is that five weeks before the Election he accurately predicted the trade position. What he forgets is that two weeks after the Election he himself officially stated there was no need for measures of restriction. At the same time, he knew that the deficit this year was going to be halved - he was told so, and he said so in his own White Paper. Plus is no new discovery as a result of the Government’s policies of the past year. There were seven weeks when they knew the position, seven weeks when they said it was manageable. The crisis only came after their exaggeration and their muddle. The mess was created by Messrs. Wilson, Brown and Callaghan - messers indeed.
This Conference will be remembered for our policy document, Putting Britain Right Ahead. What we have done here is to work together on our action plans for the next Conservative Government. These plans you can put to the people. There are five of them which I wish to put before you to sum up our discussions.
First, our action plans to give all those who have already retired individual care and attention.
Second, our plans to give all those who retire in the future the real security for themselves and their families of a pension which can really be called their own.
Third, our plans for helping the young marrieds to find a home of their own, and a home at a reasonable price.
Fourth, our plans to ensure that the earner enjoys the prosperity that he himself, and only he himself, will be creating.
Fifth, our plans for giving the customer, whether the motorist or the commuter, the hospital patient or the housewife, better service and, above all, steadier prices.
All of these plans derive their strength from the two great driving forces of modern Conservatism. First, our belief in the virtue of a property-owning democracy, which Iain Macleod elaborated in his speech here. What does it mean? For us, it means three things: a home owning democracy, a share-owning democracy, and a pension-owning democracy. The other force, which has been emphasised time and again at this Conference, is our belief in the individual, the man and the woman, the individual as taxpayer and as a member of a trade union, the individual in the school and in old age, the individual at work and at play. Here, all around us, as well as in the rest of our country, we see the immense richness of diversity of individual character and personality and, let it be said, often eccentricity, which is the great source of our strength as a nation. It is this which we must nourish.
This Conference will be remembered, too, as you, Sir Max, recalled, for the debate on Rhodesia, in which passionate feelings were expressed with reason and in which the Conference reached a firm and clear decision. There were two young men yesterday who, I think this Conference will agree, showed great courage in the speeches which they made. One of them was Jonathan Aitken, son of a dear friend of many of us here, Bill Aitken, who, alas, died so recently - but with whose great uncle, I am afraid, I sometimes disagreed. His was a remarkable speech.
I wish to say a few words about Rhodesia. Last Saturday I saw Mr. Smith. I did so only after the negotiations between the two Governments had broken down. My main object was to find some means of re-starting the dialogue between the two Governments, of seeing that the negotiations continued. We could not leave the British Government to sit in Whitehall and Mr. Smith to go off to Salisbury, possibly to take the drastic step of a unilateral declaration of independence. I did not believe that this could possibly be allowed to remain where it was.
Later that night, we saw Mr. Wilson. As a result of the points we raised, there was a further meeting between Mr. Wilson and Mr. Smith on Monday, and I was glad of it. Later that evening, I issued a statement, after the meeting of the Shadow Cabinet, urging further negotiations. On the Tuesday, Mr. Wilson made the proposal for a Commonwealth Mission. It may seem strange to some that, if such a proposal were going to be made, it was not discussed with Mr. Smith when he was in London. But at least it means that another method of keeping negotiations open is being examined.
The position the last British Government took up, which has been followed by the present Opposition, was clearly stated yesterday by Sir Alec Douglas-Home. A unilateral declaration of independence would be invalid. Its impact would have the gravest consequences. The whole Commonwealth, the old members of the Commonwealth as well as the new, have made that abundantly plain. In these two respects the present Government’s policy has followed ours, but the handling of the negotiations is the Government’s responsibility alone. They have not, and cannot have, a blank cheque from us on that. We are free to criticise the conduct of the negotiations, and, if I may say so, the Government themselves need to look again at the psychology of their handling of these negotiations and their relations with Rhodesia.
To all our citizens in this country, in these very difficult moments, I would say how greatly I deplore the use by anyone of the emotive words, words like ‘treason’ and ‘traitors,’ which can do nothing whatever to help to bring a solution to this problem. As an Opposition we shall concentrate all our efforts on securing a solution by negotiation.
This Conference made it abundantly clear yesterday that the overwhelming majority present wish to do nothing to prejudice that. This is why it overwhelmingly supported the Resolution. As your Leader, I bear an immense responsibility in this matter. With my colleagues I shall continue to discharge it, knowing that you have given us your confidence. Today, at the end of this eventful week everyone here prays that there will be no unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia. We pray that with all our hearts. Our views are known to the British Government, and, on behalf of us all, I should like to send this solemn message to Mr. Smith and his colleagues: ‘We believe that a middle way must be found. If there are still thoughts of unilateral action, then turn back from the brink.’
In that debate yesterday, and throughout the week, many of you spoke of the consequences, for good or ill, of change. We are just twenty years since the end of the Second World War. There is no particular magic in that figure, but a whole generation has now come to manhood who knew nothing of it, and those of us who did now realise how far off it all is. To my generation, who had just reached manhood before the last war, how different the situation is. Some of us were born along this coast, looking across the Channel always towards Europe, loving our country and outward-looking. Then we used to take our chance without any money to get across to Europe and to wander round and see it. Why? Because Europe still then, and only twenty-five or thirty years ago, was the hub of power in the world as a whole; it was the centre of affairs still as it had been for centuries. Then it all changed. Now today this is a time, twenty years after that cataclysm, when men’s minds are again beginning to question so many of the things they have since taken for granted; to question the things in their daily lives, in their jobs, in their families and in their country. This is happening all over the world where people are trying now to find a fresh equilibrium. Even in the year since the last election this process has moved apace. The first practical steps have been taken towards nuclear weapons in China. We have seen the polarisation of the Sino-Soviet conflict. For us in some ways the most important of all, we see the changing balance between the two sides of the Atlantic. Whether it is in trade, in industrial goods or in farm produce, whether it is in the international financial arrangements, whether it is in the defence of the west as a whole, the old arrangements are being questioned and new ones have to be worked out.
How different the situation was when these arrangements were first made. Europe was weak then, and across the Atlantic they were powerful. They gave generously of their strength, and as a result Europe today is rebuilt, prosperous and flourishing in trade and finance. The more clearly the changing balance between the two sides of the Atlantic is understood, then the greater are our chances of redressing the balance without friction between friends. It is in this position today that I want Britain to be able to exert her influence.
I want again to have a British policy. I do not want this in any nasty nationalistic sense; I want it in order to be able to perform our duty internationally as we do here, with the traditions of centuries and she experiences of ages, to do our duty as we see it. I want us to do our duty in the Western Alliance, in Europe, in the Commonwealth and the developing countries as a whole. Alas, today this Government has neither the power nor the will to pursue such a policy; overburdened with debt it is inhibited from pursuing effective action. Therefore, it is we who must pursue a British policy.
What we have to do now is to carve out a new place for Britain in the world, carve it out without nostalgia, without bitterness and without regret, but with imagination, skill and with determination. That is what our discussions this week have been about. Change has been constantly on our lips. Change in attitudes, change in skills, change in policies, and in people. But the change most necessary is a change in Government.
In this world where the constant need is to understand change, the Labour Party today, as we see them, have all the wrong attributes. Why? Because they consist of one part revolutionaries and three parts stand-patters. They are revolutionary optimists wishing to march back into the 19th century to the time of the birth of their doctrine. They are evolutionary pessimists finding every conceivable argument why day-to-day change should not take place. They are rooted in vested interest. They are avid for the status quo. It is no paradox, strange though it may seem, that in a period of rapid change like this, what the nation needs is leadership from a progressive and modern Conservative Party, for it is only we Conservatives who will get moving and seize the opportunities which exist for us as a country. It is only we Conservatives who will act, and it is only we Conservatives who will remember and care, as change goes on, for the individuals - and there are always many who find it difficult and uncomfortable. Above all, it is only the Conservatives who will have the foresight and the sense of history to keep and protect those elements which are fundamental and valuable in our society, to keep the things which make this country the place where we want to live.
The moral of this is plain. We must regain power, but power has to be won. We must work to bring it back. There is no easy way. I did not disguise this when I became your leader. It must be clear to every one of us here at this Conference. Once again, it is the efforts of the individual men and women which count. Let us face this fact realistically. The Government today is still on trial by the people of this country. But we also know that the day of reckoning will soon come. It will come when the people of this country find that words are no substitute for deeds; that publicity is no substitute for policies; and that gimmicks are no substitute for government. We here, every one of us, and those whom we represent in our constituencies can bring that day nearer. We do so as we capture the hearts and the minds of our fellow citizens by our own personal influence one upon another. You, Madam Chairman, with all your long experience of politics, will know that that is in fact the only way. But great is the prize. It is to guide the destinies of Britain in this ever-changing world. It is that upon which we set our hearts here at this Conference today. It is that prize and nothing less which together we will win.