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Leader's speech, Blackpool 1968

Edward Heath (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool


A key issue at the conference was the economy, following the devaluation of sterling on 18 November 1967. Industrial relations were also a matter of concern, and the threat of an engineering strike convinced Heath of the need to reform policy in this area. Another area in need of reform was immigration, and Heath pledged that the Conservatives would introduce initiatives to limit immigration and promote racial harmony when they came to power. In a wider context, France had rejected Britain’s application to join the European Community on 27 November 1967, and the Soviet Union had recently invaded Czechoslovakia.

Mr. President - how strange that seems talking to you like that - this has been a wonderful Conference. Even the most hard-boiled observer, glued perhaps to his television set far away from the Winter Gardens, must agree that Blackpool, 1968, has, as a Party Conference, been outstanding. Constantly thoughtful, occasionally controversial, always vital: that has been the tone of our debates. Mature, sensible, practical, and responsible: that has been your own mood. This great Conference I think has lifted our spirits as never before. It has done our party a power of good in the country. But, above all, this Conference has been decisive for the course of modern Conservatism.

And we are delighted, Reggie, that you should be presiding at this meeting today. You have played such a large part in so many different spheres in our party over the last 20 years, as well held great offices of state with immense success in the life of the nation. You have served us all, and you have served me, with immense loyalty and understanding, and here we thank you warmly for it.

At such a time, and at such a conference, I have indeed been proud to be your Leader. I have been proud, too, of the generous loyalty which you have shown to my colleagues and to myself as you have affirmed the policies which you and I together are going to put before this country at the next general election.

What you have done is this. In these three days, you have proclaimed in modern style the old-fashioned virtues of self-reliance and hard work, of thrift and individual independence. And for the less fortunate members of our community you have shown the humanity and the compassion which are in the long and great tradition of our party. That is what we stand for. It is this which has made our party great. It is this which has carried us to electoral success in the past. It is this which is going to win us a great victory when the next general election comes.

As you have said, Mr. President, this Conference has made it quite clear to our fellow citizens that we are preparing to be the next Government. We have the ideas; we have the capacity. But, above all we have what this country must always have: we have the will. If we continue to pursue our goal with the same enthusiasm and determination, with the same bounce and vigour that you have shown in these past few days, nothing - nothing - can stop the election of another Conservative Government.

I have mentioned bounce and vigour. Of course, I was thinking of Miss Joan Hall in that splendid speech on the first morning. I can let you into a secret. Miss Hall and I have met before. We met in Keighley when she made a speech very similar - full of charm and energy; and at the end she was very kind to me. I hope that I will not embarrass her. She made me a presentation of a travelling bag and a pair of beautiful carpet slippers; and she said, ‘Ted, you work too hard, Put these on and get your feet up.’ Mr. President, the slippers are untouched, and the travelling bag is almost worn out.

But what a contrast in these three days with what was happening in this hall only ten days ago. We were told then that the party of protest had become the party of government; and what happened? On every major issue the Labour Party repudiated its own Government’s policies. And then we heard tell of the politics of participation. Participation indeed! Not participation by the citizen, but the imposition of its policies by an unrepresentative Government; the imposition of universal comprehensive education against the wishes of democratically elected councillors.

Participation indeed! Overriding the wishes of the democratically elected local authorities and slamming the door against the citizen who wants to buy his own council house. Thus in this hall ten days ago was truth stood on its head by the manipulator of the broken word.

Almost to the day it is four years since the Labour Government took office. As their mini-manifesto said - you will agree, Reggie, that you could hardly call it a progress report - it said, ‘Four short and difficult years.’ Difficult, yes; short, no. After four long years, on every major issue, the situation today is worse than it was during the years of Conservative Government. I do not know why they call it a mini-manifesto. At least the mini has charms - not this manifesto.

Some people are asking still, ‘What is the difference between the parties?’ Well, look at the newspaper headlines on that document. The Labour Party Manifesto - ‘A new tax on wealth.’ Make Life Better, our document, the headlines read: ‘A new plan for savings.’ That is the difference between the Parties. Socialists at home have but one objective - they simply want to tax wealth. We will have none of that - away with it. Let me warn the Government now, do not let them waste time and money building up a massive bureaucracy for this purpose, for the imposition of the wealth tax. For on our return to power we shall destroy whatever they have built up. We work for the creation of wealth - wealth in which everyone in our country and every part of our country can share. Let this be clear: we are not prepared to abolish all development assistance in the hard-pressed areas and abandon Scotland, Wales, the north of England and the southwest country to slow decline and decay.

Last week here the Socialists were all obsessed - Ministers and delegates alike - with the fear that the next Conservative Government should inherit some fine fruit from the trees which they have planted. Just what happened in 1951. How quaint. This is how the situation was described in the spring of 1951, ‘Today British industry stands disorganised and threatened by partial paralysis.’ Who said that? Not a frustrated tycoon denigrating his country; not an Opposition spokesman in the heat of Parliamentary debate. No. Those were the words of the President of the Board of Trade in his resignation speech on the 24th April 1951 - the words of none other than Mr. Wilson himself. This will be our inheritance from a Labour Government: a devalued currency just as in 1951; rising prices going up as fast as in 1951; £3,000 million worth of new foreign debts to be repaid in gold and foreign currency - even more than in 1951; and a world strewn with broken pledges and abandoned treaties. That is what we shall inherit. To adapt a famous phrase - some trees, some fruit!

In the last four years political life in this country has been devalued because this Government has openly flouted and repudiated so many of the promises which it made. Our task is to restore integrity to politics, honesty to Government and respect to Britain. That is why I repeat again to you today my pledge: we shall make no promises which we cannot be absolutely certain we shall be able to fulfil. Make Life Better is the theme of this Conference. Our document is the work of the Party in Parliament and in the constituencies. It is the achievement of the whole Party, of CPC, the Three-Way Contact Programme, the trade unionists, the YCs, the universities, businessmen, finance, expert advisers, the Advisory Committee on Policy and the Shadow Cabinet. All have contributed. It is the work of a team.

Never before has there been so much open discussion within a Party on matters of policy in which everyone could express their views. Of course, not all receive agreement, but when it has been argued out, then let us accept the view of our Party. At the end of the day it is upon me personally, as your elected Leader, that the responsibility for policy rests. I accept that responsibility to the full.

I am confident that these are the policies which are best for Britain. I shall see that they are carried through. The next stage has already started. What is now required is to do more work in detail. We have many special projects under way. Since our proposals for industrial relations were published, a team of lawyers under Sir Peter Rawlinson has been hard at work turning them into legislative form. I have now given instructions that we should do the same with our immigration policy. We hope, as Quintin Hogg said on Thursday in his speech, that the Government will speedily implement our proposals on immigration. We shall be able to press them in the House of Commons Select Committee on which we have agreed to serve. But if the Government refuses to take further action, then we will be ready immediately on taking office to put our own plans into effect. Quintin is unable to be with us this morning but I want to say to you behind his back what I have said to him so often in private: How much we value the quality of intellect and of humanity which he has given to this immensely difficult and delicate task of handling home affairs for our party in the House of Commons.

Iain Macleod has already given you details of the work we have been doing preparing for the reform of the tax system. Here in this conference hall we are persuaded and dazzled by his wit and oratory which gave us all such enjoyment earlier this week. But I hope that nobody here will allow that to disguise the immense amount of hard work which he is leading behind the scenes on technical economic matters, but to which he can bring political judgment from his own experience which is of the utmost value.

What we are planning is no patchwork of minor adjustments. We are planning root and branch reforms. Our aim is to simplify the tax system and to encourage efficiency in the use of all our resources. But reform of the tax system makes better sense when combined with reform of our social security system, about which Robin Balniel spoke so persuasively. There are many who pay little or no income tax at all - pensioners and low wage-earners with families. If we attempt to help them by increases in benefits right across the board, as this Government has done, we would simply undo all our efforts to get tax rates down. We would do nothing to improve the incentives to people to stand on their own feet, and so we are studying new methods of giving help to those who need it. But this I would say to you, because it has not emerged yet from this Conference: let nobody underestimate the radical nature of the changes which we propose in Make Life Better for handling family allowances. This is a radical change of policy, which I hope the Party will fully appreciate. You have adopted our plans to provide decent homes for everyone. We will widen the opportunity for home ownership and, at the same time, make better provision, through local authority accommodation, for the retired folk, for the disabled and for the poorer families. Again, let me emphasise the radical nature of the change of policy proposed in Make Life Better for the renegotiation of all local authority housing subsidies. But it is for renegotiation, not for wiping them our altogether, because we believe, as our Party has always done, that local authority housing has got a vital part to play in helping with the housing of the unfortunate members of our community.

On education you supported the local education authorities against dictation from Whitehall. But our approach is based on the needs of the children and not on political dogma. Where parents and local authorities want it, of course, we shall support grammar schools, support them to the hilt. I went to a grammar school myself. I have, perhaps a personal interest in seeing a healthy future for the grammar schools. But I believe that it is also in the interests of our children, because what we ought to glory in - to glory in - is the infinite variety of our educational system in this country.

On incomes policy you have spoken for the whole nation in rejecting control of wages by law. But again with responsibility you have recognised that the Government cannot stand aside entirely from these matters.

On immigration you have endorsed the proposals which I put forward at York for the strict control of entry, together with policies to promote racial harmony. Of course, the Home Secretary is wrong; this policy will severely curtail the number of immigrants coming into this country. But, at the same time, we shall pursue policies to help racial harmony. Again we will help those who wish to return to their own country. But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that this is going to remove the problem - it will not, but we will help in this way. But if there are any who believe that immigrants to this country, most of whom have already become British citizens, could be forcibly deported because they are coloured people, in an attempt to solve this problem, then that I must repudiate, absolutely and completely.

Surely, when we are saying, for the reasons we have given, that the number of people coming from the developing countries and from the countries of the Commonwealth into this country must be drastically curtailed, then there is a responsibility even greater than in the past, a moral responsibility as well as a responsibility in their interests and our interests, to help them in other ways, economic ways, in their own country. On east of Suez, in the debate in which you took part yesterday, Mr. President, you have spoken for Britain in our determination to honour our obligations and to defend our interest.

On one further matter you have given the lead. You have reaffirmed support for our industrial relations policy. With every day that passes the need to carry out this policy becomes more urgent. In less than ten days’ time this country faces an engineering strike which would aim a direct blow at half the exports of our country. It will affect the jobs, not of thousands of workers, but of millions, most of whom clearly want no part in this strike. It could damage the interests of every man, woman and child in Britain. Two days of such a strike could mean more working days lost than were lost from all the strikes in all the industries in any one of the last five years.

In one of the papers yesterday I saw the headline, ‘Engineering Unions confirm strike Government act.’ Act? What it should have said was, ‘Government talk.’ For talk is the only thing they can do under our present system of industrial relations. But words are no longer enough. I am convinced that where the interests of the whole nation are exposed to such a threat the Government should have the power to order a cooling off period.

If there was no settlement within the sixty or ninety days, then a secret ballot should be held. Such a policy would not weaken the ultimate right to strike, but it would strengthen the cause of responsibility and moderation. It is fair to the unions, it is fair to their members and it is fair to the nation. It is part of our Fair Deal at Work. That is what the next Conservative Government will introduce.

Mr, President, these policies which you have endorsed this week at this Conference are the Conservative policies to make life better. But they are also policies to make Britain stronger. We want to build a stronger Britain because we believe our country still has got a role to play in the world outside. No man in office or in opposition has done more to bring this home to the people of Britain or to maintain Britain’s interest than Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

As long ago as the Brighton Conference of 1961, this Conference and this Party committed itself to the European policy. Throughout those negotiations of two years the great majority of the Party here and in Parliament gave me wholehearted support. We wanted to bring about that unity, for political as well as for economic reasons. We were working for an ideal, an ideal which was important to my generation and to many here, but it was also vital for the youth of the whole of Europe.

And how strongly events since then have shown this to be true, and nowhere more so than in the defeated countries like Germany, where they sought a unity greater than that of the nation State which had failed them both in peace and in war.

We were unable to accomplish our task. When the present Government, eating their bitter words, changing their Party policy, suddenly themselves embarked on this venture, we supported them. But how often we had emphasised that before another negotiation should be embarked upon or could be successful, they must ensure that all the members of the Community wished to bring about British membership. It is now evident that this the Government completely failed to do. Their exploration of the European capitals was superficial. Their repeated argument that there was no sterling problem was soon to be disproved by devaluation. They did not succeed in resolving differences between Britain and France. In those circumstances, their application was bound to fail. Britain suffered another rebuff.

But your commitment and my commitment remains unchanged. There is no doubt where we stand. We no longer need to prove that we are Europeans. That stage is long past. Britain does not need to knock at any man’s door. We are an applicant, but we are not, and we never have been, a supplicant. Our European credentials cannot be challenged by anyone. So we say to the six Governments of the European Community, ‘We are ready when you are ready.’ Having said that, we must now give our time and our energy to building our own strength and advancing our own interests.

In this island of ours it is always easy to take our security for granted.

Ancient, effortless, ordered, cycle on cycle set,
Life so long untroubled, that ye who inherit forget,
It was not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep,
Men, not gods, devised it. Men, not gods, must keep.

That is our security.

In these last months we have had a tragic warning. We have seen a small and peace- loving people abruptly invaded and forced step by step back down the path into slavery. Of course Czechoslovakia was within the Soviet orbit. Her geography and her history together made her helpless. But have we in Britain, have we in the Western world, learned the lesson? Last week I went to the NATO Headquarters at Brussels to see for myself. I returned convinced that the Conservative Party, now as before, has a solemn duty to make that lesson clear. It is not enough to rely on optimistic assessments of Soviet intentions. These intentions are now seen to be at best obscure, at worst brutal and threatening. We must concentrate with our Allies on providing an adequate defence against what we know to be Soviet capability. We must halt the run-down of our forces and the destruction by the Socialist Government of our system of Reserves.

Now, as in the past, we must be strong if we hope to be safe. In an uncertain world, that is the surest guarantee of peace. We must look beyond the confines of Europe. In the Gulf, in Singapore, in Australia, so far from wanting us to go, our friends are imploring us to stay. They are sure that it is in our interests as well as theirs that we should do so.

We do not say that Britain should be the world’s policeman. We say that, since there is no world policeman, we cannot assume that our own interests across the world will be safe unless we make some effort ourselves to protect them. We are not trying to cling nostalgically to a few last footholds of Empire. Outside the Communist world the age of colonial empires is virtually over. It is precisely because of this that Britain is now welcome in Asia - not as a master, but as a partner and as an ally.

Of course we are not proposing some massive system of overseas establishments which will beggar the British economy. What I have proposed is co-operation between five Commonwealth countries and between ourselves and the States in the Gulf which would share with us the facilities, the effort and the expense. Just as our friends have helped us in the past, so are we determined that we shall never let them down in the future.

Today the voice of Britain is querulous and faint. We used to be known for our far-sightedness and good sense. We used to have a reputation for keeping our word. Our friends across the world are asking if those days are gone for good. From this Conference let us give them the answer for which they hope. Let us proclaim to them clearly and unhesitatingly: The years of retreat are over. Britain is ready with them to make the effort which is needed to build for the future a safe and prosperous world.

If we are to back this pledge, then we must, each one of us, go to our task. Our task is to secure the return of our Party in Government at the next Election. Together we will make sure that when the people of Britain are given the choice they will choose a Conservative Government.

Helping us in that, with immense persuasiveness, skill and power of organisation, combined with an immense capacity for a sheer hard grind, is the Chairman of the Party, Tony Barber. This Party Conference is the place where it gives me most pleasure to thank him and all those who work with him for what they are doing for our Party.

When we come to Government it will be a Government winch will have to tackle many of the same old problems of politics which have confronted every Government of every generation - the relationship between the Government and the governed; how to ensure that the freedom which is essential to human development is within the framework of order that is so vital for man’s security; how to reconcile opportunity for man and his family with provision for the needs of the community of which he is a member.

It is in the nature of Conservatism always to strive to keep a balance in society, to ensure that the community serves the individual and that the individual can carry out his responsibilities to the community. Through much of the 19th century, Conservatism was fighting to save the individual from the fate of soulless laissez-faire. Lord Shaftesbury worked to get through the Factory Acts, and Disraeli railed against the callousness of Liberal principles. For much of the 20th century, the Party has been fighting against the insidious encroachment of collectivism under Socialism, fighting to restore their rights to men and women and their families, fighting against the all-pervading presence of Government, fighting against the power of bureaucracy, against the strength of monopoly capitalism, against the unchecked might of uninhibited trade unionism, in order to restore and protect the undoubted rights of the individual.

Every generation sees this struggle in its own way. Every generation must redress the balance to meet its own needs. Today it is both the morality and the competence of Government which is being challenged - the morality of the Government’s actions towards the individual, the encroachment upon his liberty; the demands upon his income and property; the need to ensure fair dealing between the citizen and the State - a need even extending to a demand for the introduction of constitutional guarantees for the individual to protect him against Socialist authoritarianism; to protect him against legislation being steamrollered through a Parliament of placemen.

And the challenge is to the competence of government - a government which is outmoded in its structure, outdated in its techniques, presumptuous in its demands and totalitarian in making its decisions. A government which has proved unable to maintain the value of the currency, incapable of defending British interests overseas, and which so inadequately meets the genuine needs in commerce and industry and the citizen.

Nor is there any lack of connection between morality and competence. The State - ever grasping for more power over the individual - steadily undermines its own effectiveness and brutally increases the opposition to its own sway and thus it sows the seeds of its own curtailment. Nor is the morality of the Government unconnected with the morality of the governed. Respect for law and order, regard for financial probity, endeavours towards enterprise and efficiency - these cannot flourish where the State itself overrides the right of the citizen, shows little concern for its financial prudence, and whose ideas of organisation, administration and decision making are so antiquated as to be unrecognisable by modern minds.

We must restore respect for government, its morality and its competence. In its morality it must set the example; in its competence it must deliver the goods. No one in this Conference is in any doubt today when the balance needs to be redressed.

We will remove the shackles of government from industry.

We will banish the regulation and control of business activities.

We will withdraw the Government from holdings in private firms.

We will begin to reintroduce private ownership into nationalised industries.

We will prevent the family businesses and the young innovators from being penalised by taxation.

We will enforce that care over the use of public money which the private citizen exercises over his own.

We will puncture the swollen corpus of bureaucracy, cut free the octopus-like grip of over-centralisation.

We will purge the body politic of the toxins of waste, extravagance and procrastination.

It is to this end that I shall establish a smaller Cabinet as a decision-making body, create federal Departments to reduce interdepartmental friction and streamline administration, prune drastically the number of civil servants, and inject the modern techniques of business management and technology into Whitehall.

Nor shall we rest there. Research and development will be devolved more about business and the universities, and many self-contained branches of Government will be organised and run as special projects under men seconded from industry and finance, and trained for the purpose. Our work on this is already advancing. The men and women will be ready when the time comes.

For I want to offer the people of Britain a real alternative, a Government that is as different in men and methods as it is in thought and action from what they have endured in these past four years.

Then let the people choose - between bad Government and good, between men who break their promises and breed cynicism and men who honour their pledges and keep faith, between an administration that is out of date and inefficient and has brought Government into contempt and a Party whose record in Government is one of proven competence, whose vision of the future is realistic, and which can and will restore confidence to the people of this country. Let the people choose between a Government whose remoteness from them breeds indifference and one which will involve our people in the making of decisions that affect their lives and those of their families.

That is the choice - the choice between a discredited Socialist Government and a new Conservative Administration.

But there is much more at stake than that. There is more at stake than the result of the next General Election. It is my sombre conviction, watching events here in Europe and across the Atlantic, that what is at issue when the people of Britain come to make their solemn choice is nothing less than the survival in anything like its present form of democratic Government itself.

I do not believe that even here in Britain, in the very birthplace of Parliamentary democracy, the process of democratic Government could survive another battering of the kind it has received at the hands of Labour over these past four years. I do not say this lightly. I believe it is something that transcends the normal give and take of political debate. It is something that goes far beyond the shores of this our island, for when it comes to democratic institutions and the great freedoms attached to them the whole world still looks to Britain.

We have welcomed at this Conference more than 250 observers from nearly 40 countries. They come from a world in turmoil. In Asia and in Africa, in Eastern Europe and in America, the struggle for freedom and for rights is bringing about immense upheavals. With each upheaval the chasms that divide man from man seem to become wider and deeper. The only thing that can bridge them is faith in the eventual outcome.

It is in such a world of shifting currents and contrasting tides that Britain stands out as a rock, a rock of political stability throughout our history, and on that rock is a lighthouse that proclaims fairness and tolerance, democracy and freedom. Sometimes it has been shrouded in mist; sometimes its light has grown dim; but never yet has it been extinguished.

It falls to us here in the Conservative Party to keep that light ablaze, so that in all the turmoils and upheavals through which the world is passing, men will still be able to point to Britain and say, ‘There - there stands the rock to give us faith. There stands the light to guide us.’

This is Britain’s heritage. It is this for which we fight. It is this which we will defend and maintain.

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