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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, 1967

Edward Heath (Conservative)

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Commentary:

In this speech, Heath attacked the Labour government’s record in a number of areas, ranging from education to foreign policy. In particular, he accused Labour of mismanaging the economy, on the ground that interest rates, taxes and inflation were high, and that Britain was facing widespread industrial unrest. On this basis, Heath claimed that Wilson’s Cabinet reshuffle on August Bank Holiday Monday was an admission of failure. In contrast, he claimed, the Conservatives had been successful in the local elections held earlier that year, and in the three by-elections that had taken place since the last general election. Other key issues at the time were the ongoing crises in the Middle East and Rhodesia.

Throughout our history, Mr, President, the abiding inspiration of the Conservative Party has been a deep love of our country and a wholehearted respect and affection for our fellow countrymen; the love of our country, the sea, the cliffs and the sand, of the hills and the beautiful countryside; the respect and pride in its great achievements and in those who have served it so well in the days of Empire and Commonwealth.

Above all, we are mindful of our country’s good name. We have a respect for our fellow countrymen, for their rights in the community, for their individual liberty, for their spirit of freedom and independence. These are shared by others in this country today who, perhaps, are not members of our Party and who do not call themselves Conservatives. These are the people whom we welcome to our ranks and we invite them to join us at this time, because never in our country’s history were these two qualities, love for our country and respect for our fellow countrymen, more necessary than they are in the state of Britain today.

It can give us no comfort and no pleasure that in the councils of the world Britain’s influence today is so low; it can give us no satisfaction that her word counts for so little in the councils of the nations. Sir Alec yesterday, in a far-reaching and far-seeing speech, told us why this was so. It is due, he said, to the fact that the present Government has abdicated its responsibility to the people of this country. We see the trouble spots - difficulty in Gibraltar, chaos in Aden, trouble in Hong Kong, withdrawal from Malaysia and from Singapore. But these are not isolated incidents spread across the world. They all together reflect one thing. They reflect the fundamental weakness at home of the British Government, its loss of nerve and its failure of will.

We recognise that we have clear and specific commitments in the Middle East and in the Far East, and we will carry them out. We do not complain about this Government because Britain today is no longer a super-power. We do not criticise the Government because it has not got the resources of the United States or of the Soviet Union. But we condemn the Government because it fails to maintain British interests abroad. Those interests can be sustained at a cost which this country can bear. No one has given greater study to the make-up of the forces today than Enoch Powell, to whom we listened with such joy at this Conference. He knows - we know - that when this country’s economy is strong, as it would be under a Conservative Government, then it is not only that we would sustain British interests, but that we would then have the resources with which to do it. That is what a Conservative Government will do in overseas affairs.

How sad it is at home today to see this country torn by industrial strife in a way which I cannot remember in my time, which is damaging our trade, which is harming the individual livelihood of our people and which is bruising its very spirit. We see the spread of violence and crime; we see lethargy permeating too much of our industrial life; we see cynicism and disillusionment through large sections of our people. That is the situation here at home today. But, above all, it is characterised by a declining respect for law and order in our community. That can be no wonder with a Government which shows such scant respect for constitutional processes in Parliament and in Government today. From the very first this has been so: the imposition of building licensing without any authority from Parliament; the creation of the Ombudsman without the necessary resolution of the House of Commons; the imposition of ‘D’ Notices when they were proved to be unjustifiable; the attempt to evade the courts by arrogant, high-handed action by the Secretary of State for Education in the Enfield case; the attempt to impose comprehensive education right across this country not through Parliamentary powers, but merely by the use of the financial weapon; the use of that weapon without Parliamentary authority, to achieve the dogmatic purposes of a Socialist Government. All of these are instances of where the Government itself has paid scant attention to the constitutional processes and the law of this country. Until we have a Government which is prepared to observe the law and order and constitution of our country, then we shall not restore respect for it by the people of this country themselves.

Let us look for one moment at the dangers which may confront us. We have already seen that this Government, to achieve its purposes, has postponed the elections in the London boroughs. What more are they prepared to do to achieve their own ends? Delay the implementation of the Boundary Commission for this country in order to save themselves seats?

Let us beware lest they attempt to tamper with the very processes of Parliament itself. The Land Commission Bill, in its original form, would have enabled a man’s house, a man’s property to be seized without any right of appeal - just a buff envelope dropped through the letterbox, that is all there would have been to it. We fought it bitterly in the House of Commons so ably led by Geoffrey Rippon. We fought it night and day, but we failed to alter it. It then went to the House of Lords. It was there that the right of appeal was inserted into that Bill and maintained in the House of Commons later. That is the part which the House of Lords plays in safeguarding the very liberties of the people of this country. Let us, then, beware of what this Government may have in mind to do to our Parliamentary institutions in order the better to achieve their Socialist purposes.

But this situation can only be dealt with by a Government which is sure of its purpose; which is prepared to take clear and difficult decisions in the interests of the people of this country; which will take action without the weakening effects of continuous compromise; a Government which is going to dominate events and not be pushed around by them; above all, a Government which will stand up for British interests abroad and the liberty and interest of British people at home. That can only be done by a Conservative Government.

Since we last met we have had immense successes in the local government elections, in which every one of you here must have taken part. Never at any time in British history has so much of the local government of this country been under the control of Conservative administrations and so little under Socialist councils. What an opportunity that is for our local councillors - many of them after years and years of tireless effort to achieve control in the local council chamber. As I have gone round the country on my tours I have seen how quickly they are seizing those opportunities, how rapidly they are putting into effect the Conservative policies on which they fought the elections, how carefully they are serving the interests of the electors.

But what responsibilities rest upon them as well. They know that they will be judged by the electorate in their own local elections. But there is much more at stake than that. It is not only the local councillors who will he judged by what they do in these three years; when the election comes - when the General Election comes - then we, the Conservative Party, are going to be judged also on what our local councillors have done, what they have shown themselves to be in the years meantime.

To what are our successes due? They are due to the efforts which have been made in Parliament by my colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet and on the Front Bench and by all the back benchers who support us, all of us working together as a team, fighting ceaselessly, tirelessly. If any of you ever have any doubts - just ask a member of the Government or one of their back benchers what it is like to be in the House of Commons fighting against a formidable Opposition like this. Many of them thought that they were going to a House which would be something nice from 10 to 5, and for the rest they could put up their feet by the fire at home. It has been the most formidable Opposition of modern times, and to the Party here I want to express my very sincere gratitude for the immense amount of work that my colleagues both on the Front Bench and on the back benches have put into this Opposition.

But our success is also due to you, the Party workers. It is you who have worked tirelessly on the doorsteps, who have raised and are raising the funds, who are carrying on the daily job of persuading other people to change their minds and to support us in our cause. So it is to you, the Party workers and to all those whom you represent, that I wish to give the thanks of the Party in Parliament for the work you have done, and for your achievements; because they have been achievements not only in local government but in the by-elections as well. The great victory of Pollok in Scotland, and then Cambridge and West Walthamstow - these are tremendous triumphs in the first eighteen months of a Government.

But, above all, these triumphs are due to one thing. This has been the most difficult period in the Party’s history. After the defeat of 1906 - and in centenary year one might perhaps be forgiven for glancing back for a moment or two - the Party tore itself apart over tariff reform. In 1929, after a great defeat, the Party was then tearing itself apart over India. In 1959, the Labour Party tore itself apart over Clause IV and nationalisation. On this occasion we, the Conservative Party, despite our problems and our difficulties, have maintained our unity, and this is due above everything to the fact that you, our loyal Party workers, kept your heads. It is for that above all that we have to thank you.

But let us be perfectly frank - we have also been helped by the Government. I do not wish to mention names here, but I cannot help mentioning George - we have been helped by George. And we have been helped because all of their policies have failed: those first policies of inflation which won them the 1966 Election failed, and the policies of savage deflation after failed to solve the country’s problems as well. That is clear beyond a peradventure.

And, of course, the confession of failure came when Mr. Wilson reshuffled his Government on August Bank Holiday Monday. When something like that happens on a Bank Holiday Monday I cannot help asking why. It must be done to hide something or other. It was an attempt to hide the failure of three years of Socialist rule - and those failures were so brilliantly exposed by Iain Macleod in his speech to the conference.

It was not only a confession of failure by the Government, but a confession of no confidence by Mr. Wilson in every one of his colleagues. He appointed himself the supreme economic overlord. I must confess to you that this appointment did not give some of us quite all the encouragement which it was meant to do. We remembered that he had appointed himself supreme overlord of the Rhodesian crisis which still, alas, drags on; that he himself made the tour of the European capitals - alas, that situation still drags on; that he himself took supreme command of the Middle East crisis which has been damaging and expensive to this country; and, above all perhaps, it was he who took supreme command of the economic crisis of July 20th 1966 - those panic-stricken, ill judged measures which have led to so much of the trouble in this country today.

We were not, therefore, greatly encouraged, but we were prepared to be fair and to watch events. What did we see? He announced his appointment on the Bank Holiday Monday. On the Tuesday, he sent his telephone number to the Trades Union Congress and the CBI and announced to the world that he was ‘in touch.’ On the Wednesday he rested. On Thursday he announced that all hire-purchase restrictions were to be eased and this would put £100 million into the pockets of the people, to enable expansion to begin. That was on the Thursday. On Friday he announced that all electricity charges throughout the country were to be put up, and this would take rather more than £100 million out of people’s pockets and effectively continue deflation. On the Saturday and Sunday he went to Chequers, there, no doubt, to reflect that he was the first economic overlord ever to make it cheaper to buy a fridge and more expensive to run it at one and the same time.

The by-elections of Cambridge and West Walthamstow showed that the people of this country have rejected the policies of the Labour Government, whether they were the policies of inflation or whether they be the policies of savage deflation. They have rejected compulsory prices and incomes. They want to reject the squeeze and the freeze. In addition, those by-elections showed a disillusionment - disillusionment with the Labour Party and the Labour Government. And who can blame them, after all the promises they were given at the two elections and all the promises which were so speedily broken?

It is sometimes said that perhaps there is not much difference between the two parties. We have had the Labour Government for three years. During those three years they have put up taxation. Let us look at our last three years. We lowered taxation by £450 millions. In three years the Labour Government has raised taxation by £1,000 millions. In our last three years, the deficit on our trade was only £42 millions. In their three years, the deficit is £342 millions. In our last three years, production went up 14 per cent. In their three years, we have had stagnation.

But then it is said, ‘But the Labour Government is spending a great deal on the social services for the people of this country; for every £100 it was spending when it came into power it is now spending £145.’ But what about our last three years? For every £100 we spent £143, a difference of £2. And what is it made up of? The great increase in the unemployment benefit which this country has to pay to the people who are out of work.

People are leaving this country. In 1966, under this Government, more people left in the brain drain than in the last three years of the Conservative Administration put together.

Let no one say that there are no differences in action, in what has happened, under three years of Labour compared with three years of Conservative administration.

They say that they were always blown off course, blown off by the shipping strike, blown off by the Middle East, or blown off by some other strike. But, they tell us, they are always rounding the corner - not, if I may say so, a very nautical way of putting it. In fact, of course, they have only their own policies to blame for their own failures.

Now the time has come when the people of this country are prepared to listen to the policies which we put forward. Our policies are there. They have been debated at this conference, admirably debated, with, if I may say so, replies of a very high standard from those who have answered our debates this week. These policies flow, as I have said, from the abiding inspiration of the Conservative Party, its belief in freedom, its belief in order, its belief in individual responsibility. This is the theme which we put before our country today, out of love for our country and respect for our fellow countrymen. It is because we believe in freedom that we also support private enterprise, as Mr, Maudling, our Deputy Leader, to whom we owe so much, said in his reply to the debate on the Motion this week.

We are the party of private enterprise. Never let us stop saying so. We believe that it should be free, that it should be enterprising, that it should be competitive, and that the Government should support it in all those activities, not subsidise it. Support it, give its backing, enabling it to be free and enterprising and competitive.

It is because we believe in freedom that we want to see the changes in taxation which have been described to you so often. We want to see people having greater freedom of choice with their own resources. We want them, therefore, to have the incentive to use their potential to the utmost.

It is because we believe in freedom that we want to see trade union reform. We want to see the man at the bench able to make the most of his abilities, without being held back by restrictive practices. We want him to be able to look after his family better, without being damaged by the strike activities of a small minority of his colleagues.

We want to see the agricultural system changed, because this will give freedom to the British farmer to expand, and it will at the same time give to any Chancellor of the Exchequer some more resources with which he can help to reduce taxation or improve social service benefits.

We want to see the future resources in the social services used for those who have the greatest need - to give freedom of choice to others, and to give a better service to the poorer sections of the community. It is because we want the citizen to be free to use his own resources to the greatest extent that we want Government expenditure to be controlled and the interference from central Government or local government reduced. Let us leave the citizen free to make his own decisions and to accept his own responsibility.

That, then, is our theme. It is the theme of freedom for our people, order and responsibility. Unless order is restored, then we cannot have our trade unionists working in freedom. This, perhaps, is the most immediate and crucial problem which faces us in this country today. The events which we are now witnessing do not arise from the fact that the trade union movement and its leaders are too strong but, as Robert Carr pointed out yesterday in his brilliant speech and analysis, it arises from the fact that they are too weak, that they do not have influence and control over their members in order to prevent many of the industrial difficulties which so often confront us.

It is because we have a conception of the trade union movement in a modern industrial society which corresponds to the importance of the position it holds, because we want to see the trade union leaders able to influence their members and because we want to see them playing a full part in improving the effectiveness and the efficiency of our industries that we want to bring about the reforms which we have put before you. Let no one say that we do not have detailed policies. The details have been worked out. They have been placed before you. They are there to be discussed. We are willing and anxious to discuss these with every part and sector of industry, trade unionists or employers. However, what I say to the Government is this: you can dally no longer over this matter which is so vital to our national life. It is not enough to have set up a Royal Commission. It is not enough to have emergency powers. The Government must set about the problem of trade union reform without any further delay. Let them go to it.

These policies, flowing from this central theme, form together one cohesive whole. There is no point in our trying to put one into effect on its own; they must be put into effect together.

Sometimes people say to me, ‘What would you advise the Government to do today or tomorrow? You must know.’ However, there is no point in telling the Government what to do. First of all, they ignore all advice. Secondly, this assumes that we would have got into this position ourselves, and nothing can he further from the truth than that. Even more, it assumes that this Government would be able to put into effect the policies which we have put before you at this Conference. That assumes that a Labour Government can have the confidence, either in this country or abroad, which a Conservative Government would inspire.

I am not going to say to you today whether this Government ought to consider the parity of the £. I do not believe it should, but I am not going to discuss it in detail. Nor am I going to say whether there ought to be import controls, surcharges or whether there ought to be a little more reflation or deflation. Those are matters which the Government of the day must decide on their own responsibility. However, in this country so many have become so obsessed with the daily problems of the management of the economy that they are entirely failing to pay attention to the fundamental reforms which have got to be brought about in our economic life if we are, once again, to have a strong, stable and prosperous economy. It is our task constantly to put before the people of this country the measures which have to be taken by a Conservative Government directly we get back into power. That is what we shall continuously do.

It can only be done by all of us together, by you, our loyal, hardworking Party supporters, by us in the House of Commons, by the National Union and by the Shadow Cabinet. I know how much is involved. I know full well the chores which go with political life. Having always fought a marginal seat, I know what is demanded of our Party workers up and down the country, and how generously they give of their time, their energy and their thought. Our only desire is to serve you and to serve the people of our country.

However, you must sometimes ask yourselves, ‘What is the purpose?’ We are sometimes still accused of materialism. I do not believe that to improve the conditions of life for the people of this country, which Disraeli, nearly 100 years ago, told us was one of the three main principles of the Conservative Party, is something which is to be condemned.

However, there is much more to it than that. Our purpose is to give a strong, secure and material base on which our fellow countrymen can enjoy the culture, the recreation and the spiritual activity which they want and which they deserve. I always feel that when we think of our purpose like that, then it makes all those chores worthwhile. I do not believe the people of this country yet recognise what modern life can hold for every one of us. I do not believe in telling people that they should work harder. What I do believe is that they should work more effectively and that we should use all the resources at our command - our savings for capital, our plant and industry and the new techniques which Ernest Marples is exploring for us. We should use all these things to enable each of our fellow countrymen and women to have more time, more leisure, which they can use for their own interests. I believe they should have the freedom to decide for themselves how they are going to build their own lives, the lives of their family and their children.

Sometimes it is thought that progress interferes with much of this. It is true that technical advance very often carries grave disadvantages, but these are accepted for the overall benefit which it brings. However, what surely is important is that we should look to our land, our countryside, the cliffs and the sea, to make sure that for all of our people there are those recreational facilities which will enable them not only to escape from their daily tasks, but to avoid many of the disadvantages of technical advance, and there find that refreshment of body and soul which is more and more essential for us as modern life becomes more and more complex.

Therefore that is our purpose. I believe it is a great one, worthy of all that our Party has been able to achieve in the past and worthy of giving us that inspiration for the future.

It is worthy of our great traditional inspiration, love of our country and respect for our fellow countrymen and women. This, I believe, is what they want. They want to show the traditional character of the British people.

Therefore, when you ask me what I want to achieve as Leader of the Party, I would say this: I want to restore confidence to the British people, and I want the whole of the Conservative Party now to devote all of its energies to doing just that.

It was Lord Randolph Churchill who said, ‘Trust the people.’ We trust the people to take their own decisions on their own responsibilities. The British people can trust us. They have no cause to be disillusioned with the Conservative Party. We have told them the truth, and we have been proved right. We shall go on trusting the people. But now we have one task as you go back to your constituencies, and that, more and more in the interests of our country, is to rouse the people. Let us go forth and rouse them to the situation which exists today, to the policies which are needed to put it right, and, above all, to the Party which alone is able to do it.

So often I think of those words at the end of King John which I give you here today: ‘Nought shall make us rue, As long as England to herself do rest but true.’

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