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Leader'speech, Blackpool 1970

Edward Heath (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool


This was the first speech to conference that Heath gave as Prime Minister, having been elected the previous June. He records in his memoirs that: ‘I set out in my speech to the party conference the challenges facing the country and explained our approach to them…In this speech I had some hard things to say, but my words did not exaggerate the scale of our problems. Despite the difficulties of the 1960s there were still those whose memories of Britain’s past greatness prompted them to imagine that our former status somehow guaranteed a bright future. It was my duty to dispel this illusion’ (Edward Heath, The Course of My Life, Hodder and Stoughton, 1998, 329). 

The main theme of his speech was foreign affairs and followed Britain’s effective use of diplomacy to secure the release of hostages following the Jordan war. Britain had reached agreement on the Five Power Defence Arrangement in the Far East, which was established to protect Malaysia and Singapore and maintain peace in that region, and was working towards stability in the Middle East. The government had also begun negotiations for Britain’s entry into the EEC. In domestic politics, meanwhile, the Conservatives planned to reduce government spending, and to promote economic growth in order to tackle inflation.

We are met here together today to celebrate a famous victory. None can deny us that - well, hardly anyone. At the end of such a successful Conference as you have just had, there is all the more reason for us to rejoice together. ‘Ah, just an automatic ritual,’ some say. After five years hard slog in Opposition, let me tell them that there is nothing automatic or ritualistic about it. These celebrations are the real thing.

I find today that the world is divided into two groups - those who are proudly boasting that their opinion poll was at any rate within six points of where we got to, even though they said we were going to lose, and those who are still busy writing and publishing books proving in fact that we lost. So to the satisfaction of winning, which we all feel, must be added the additional satisfaction of proving so many people wrong - outside our own Party, of course.

Historians will long acclaim this, not only as a famous victory, but as a triumph for the common sense of the British people. It was that which always sustained me, and it is for that reason that I was always confident of victory. To you, Chancellor of the Exchequer, for three years Chairman of the Party, I accord the thanks of the whole Party as the organiser of victory. To all my colleagues who laboured with us throughout those long years of opposition, and in particular to that most loyal, devoted and selfless Deputy Leader of the Party, Reggie Maudling - I express the deepest thanks of the Party.

There is only one note of sadness which dims the lustre of this occasion. Today, Chancellor of the Exchequer, you sit in the chair where Iain Macleod as President of the National Union would have sat but for his sudden and untimely death. Nowhere in our Party, and least of all in a Party Conference, will we ever underestimate or allow to be forgotten the contribution which Iain Macleod made to the affairs of our Party and of the nation. Our sadness today is lightened by the memory of what he achieved through his life and work.

All too many kind things have been said during this week about myself - not that they are any less agreeable at this stage for that - and you have added to them today. This makes me very happy. But, members of the Conservative Party, the victory was yours. It is your victory and it is one on which I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. Throughout the years of opposition, despite the stresses and strains, inside as well as without, the Party kept its balance. It maintained its direction; it held to its purpose. It regained the confidence of the nation; and today it provides the Government of the country. And it is as head of that Government that I speak to the nation here today.

We have been summoned to the service of the nation - a nation seeking fresh outlets for its energies, a nation looking for new opportunities for its people: more encouragement, greater reward for its activities, happier conditions for the community at large. In sum, a nation wanting to embark on a new course towards that better tomorrow which we all seek. We pointed the way in the election campaign, although some saw it only dimly and others refused to look at all. We were returned to office to change the course of history of this nation - nothing less. It is this course, the new course, which the Government - your Government - is now shaping.

We have found in government, as I warned the country we would, that at every turn we fine limitations - limitations imposed on the nation in part by past events and in part by the failures of our predecessors: limitations of the economy, of heavy international indebtedness, of enormous and increasing public expenditure, of a high and damaging level of taxation: limitations of outmoded industrial relations and increasing losses through strikes: limitations of wildly excessive wage demands encouraged deliberately by the last Administration for its own political purposes: limitations of a stagnant economy and roaring inflation. And overseas we face the limitations of the broken pledges of the last six years and, above all, of defeatist attitudes after continuing retreat.

We have found, as we expected, that our room for manoeuvre is limited. But what that means is this: that we must create that room to manoeuvre for ourselves. That is what the Government is now doing. It means in every sphere taking fully considered decisions, making in each case a deliberate choice. My concern as head of the Government is that we should have available the best means of reaching those decisions and that the country should understand clearly the reasons for the choices which we make.

Already overseas we have made a start - a start in gaining freedom of manoeuvre for British diplomacy and a start in showing how effective it can still be. In the Far East, Lord Carrington, the Secretary of State for Defence, working ably and quietly, has reached agreement with the other four Commonwealth countries - Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore - on the five Power arrangement which we proposed in Opposition, an arrangement to help maintain peace, stability and prosperity in that all-important area. Our contribution will be limited - far smaller than at present and at modest cost. Many will be surprised how successful we have been. The critics will be routed, and full tribute should go to the Secretary of State for Defence for his work. When this arrangement is completed, I believe it will be overwhelmingly accepted both in this country and in South-East Asia. It will become a major part of our diplomatic influence in the Far East.

We are now engaged in working out how best to contribute to the stability of the Gulf. In Europe we have begun negotiations for entry into the European Economic Community. I doubt whether many people realise how great a burden it imposed on the Government in its first few days of existence to review the negotiating position and to send you, Mr. Chairman, to Brussels to begin those negotiations. But we were determined that there should be no delay whatever in the timetable arranged by our predecessors with the Community for the start of those negotiations. We were determined and we succeeded in carrying through the start of them. For it remains our conviction that if we can negotiate the right terms it will be in the long term interests of Britain and of the British people to join the European Economic Community - and not only in the interests of Britain, but in the interests of Europe also; not only in the interests of Europe, but I believe in the long term interests of the Commonwealth.

As so many of you know, I have always upheld the value of the Commonwealth as an influence for good in world affairs. We have shown that we gladly listen to the views of its members and take account of them. But the Commonwealth can only thrive - and of this I am absolutely convinced - if all its members realise that Britain, like themselves, enjoys full independence of action. Whatever arguments we in Britain may have here amongst ourselves, British policy is, and is going to remain, a matter for decision by the British Government.

As our freedom of manoeuvre as a country increases, we shall be able more and more to play a major part in seizing the opportunities which events open up for us. It may well be that in four great areas of the world we are at the beginning of a period where these opportunities will prove to be greater than they have been for many years. In South-East Asia, as the policies of the United States to withdraw from Vietnam develop - and the President’s initiative is welcome and ought to be fully supported - there may be a chance to establish a new pattern of stability and cooperation in that area. Both our interests as a country and our experience in that part of the world will fit us to go on playing a role there. In the Middle East, Britain now has an opportunity, as the violent emotions of the past are stilled, to put our relations with the Arab world on to a new and more realistic basis - an opportunity to contribute to peace and security for all the States in that area.

In Africa it is our duty as well as our interest to work, as Conservative Governments have done before, to avoid physical conflicts between peoples of different races. Other solutions, requiring no doubt long and patient negotiation, must be found to the differences which exist between the races. The outcome of strife can only be suffering for all. There again, we, the British, are well equipped to help to find a solution to these differences and to resolve them peaceably.

In our Continent the agreements so far reached between Western Germany and the Soviet Union may present the opportunity now of resolving other differences between East and West. So long as the Soviet Union recognises the need for Western security, we, this Government, will be active and indeed enthusiastic in working with our allies towards a settlement of the long outstanding European problems.

This Government is now moving into a new era of British diplomacy. How effective our leadership can be has already been shown in the way we handled the affairs of the hostages and the Jordan war. We have so much to contribute from our experience in diplomacy and, above all, in being so fortunate and indeed proud as to have a Foreign Secretary so greatly experienced and widely respected as Sir Alec Douglas-Home. We are leaving behind the years of retreat. We are determined to establish the reputation of Britain once again, a reputation as the firm defender of her own interests and the skilful and persistent partner of all those who are working for a lasting peace.

We are shaping a new course in our affairs at home. We have created what we promised, a new style of government. For the first time you have had the opportunity at this Conference - a very successful Conference - to see something of how the new style is being carried out. If I sense aright, you rather like the new style as you see it here in Blackpool and you have liked the Ministers who have exemplified the new style. Let me make one reservation, it is not going to continue exactly as it has been here. I do not propose that the Scottish President of the Board of Trade should always answer English local government debates! But you have welcomed the Ministers, and I am grateful to you for that, grateful for the support which you have given my colleagues and for the way in which you have endorsed what they have had to say to you.

Of course, it is not just a matter of style, it is a matter of doing the right things at the right time. I know that here, too, I can count on you to endorse what has already been achieved, because already in the first six weeks of our Government we implemented the pledges we had given to you and to the country. We restored freedom to local authorities to decide their own form of educational arrangements - no more compulsory comprehensives. We restored freedom to local councils to sell council houses and to tenants freedom to buy them. We are abolishing the Land Commission and have taken the necessary steps. We have introduced the Bill to give pensions to persons over 80 who, through no fault of their own, so far have none. In addition, Robert Carr, quietly and firmly, handled the dock dispute and received full praise for it.

The Home Secretary backed the reforms of the Northern Ireland Government, and in the very first days we met the need for more troops to help control the situation there. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so for as long as its people wish. That constitutional position must be maintained. Every support will be given to those who are carrying through the present programme of reforms. In these circumstances, there can be no justification for the differences which exist in society in Northern Ireland today being allowed to break out into open conflict, demanding the presence there of many thousands of British troops, many more than there could be such justification in Lancashire or Yorkshire, Scotland or Wales. We believe that we stand for moderation and toleration. It is these virtues which must now re-assert themselves in Northern Ireland. It is these qualities which must speedily bring to an end this ugly chapter in the history of Northern Ireland.

While the Government were handling successfully as heavy a load as any in recent history we put in hand in rest of the preparations necessary for us to pursue. Then we went on holiday, to be back on 1st September. A holiday - what an extraordinary idea! People’s hands were lifted in horror and some of those who had already been away were loudest in their shrill shrieks. Of course, if I had gone and sat on an island somewhere, out of the way, and just watched the boats pass by, that would have been unexceptional, perhaps even commendable; but because I got on a boat and sailed past the islands… (Laughter and applause)

Now the nation is seeing, and will see more and more in the next few weeks, the fruits of our labours. Last Monday, details were published in full of our industrial reforms - a brilliant piece of work by Robert Carr and those who have been working with him. ‘Will they ever do it?’ the sceptics asked. Now they know. It is ‘Fair Deal at Work’ and more - consultations, the Bill before Christmas and the Act on the Statute Book this Session.

Last Tuesday, provision was taken to expand our agricultural production and save on our imports. That you received here well, if I may say so. Indeed, it is becoming a dangerous situation when, for the first time in living memory, a Minister of Agriculture receives a standing ovation at a Party Conference.

I shall shortly be announcing the reconstruction of the Whitehall Departments. This will be of major importance and wide-ranging. My object is to produce as far as possible a rational structure of Government which will enable us to streamline the Departments and reduce the demands which are made on money and manpower. My objective is also to produce a better way of taking decisions and to provide the Cabinet with the means for doing so. I hope that this reconstruction when it is achieved will provide Whitehall with a period of stability which it badly needs. I hope it will provide a structure which will be effective and which will last for many years to come.

After the House resumes, as you know, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will announce his proposals for dealing with Government expenditure. These are the consequence of the first review of functions being carried out by the Government. I would like to make this point to you: what we have been doing is something entirely different from the previous exercise in making sudden and arbitrary cuts in Government expenditure. This is the redirection of Government expenditure, the withdrawal of some Government functions and a change of priority in others, leading in all to a better and more justifiable use of public money.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made plain that whatever cuts are made in Government expenditure, however unpleasant they may be, are the full collective responsibility of all his colleagues in the Government and he has indicated to you that should there at any future date be any reductions in taxation they should be accredited fully to the benefit of the Chancellor himself.

On top of this will come the announcement of the details of our policy in connection with this redistribution of public expenditure - our policy on housing, on education, on social security and on the relief of poverty. We shall announce our proposals on defence.

These, then will be the first fruits of our first few months in office. They are of major consequence, but I repeat that this is but the first stage to create room for us to manoeuvre as we move on to our new course. To follow this, I have now asked each Minister to organise an examination of every function carried out in his department, to examine personally the consequences, and then to recommend whether it is essential for each of these functions to continue. The purpose of my request is to ensure that Government withdraws from all those activities no longer necessary either because of the passage of time or because they are better done outside government, or because they should rightly he carried on, if wanted at all, by individual or by voluntary effort.

You will see that our strategy is clear. It is to reorganise the functions of Government, to leave more to individual or to corporate effort, to make savings in Government expenditure, to provide room for greater incentives to men and women and to firms and businesses. Our strategy is to encourage them more and more to take their own decisions, to stand on their own feet, to accept responsibility for themselves and for their families.

Our purpose is to bring our fellow citizens to recognise that they must be responsible for the consequences of their own actions and to learn that no one will stand between them and the results of their own free choice. Until this is made clear up and down the country, not only will men and women themselves, but their fellow citizens in the community as well, suffer from the feckless behaviour of irresponsible groups within our community.

This strategy I have outlined will lead to an expanding economy which will enable the standard of living of all our people to rise. It will lead to the improvement - a genuine improvement - in the social services for the community as a whole. It will provide a sound economic basis for our defence abroad and it will enable us to maintain our aid to the developing world. This strategy is necessary to be able to defeat inflation, the menace of rising prices at home, so damaging to exports overseas and to our position in the world outside. No one can deny that today the major cause of the inflation from which we are suffering is the excessive wage demands, not only those which have been made but those which have been met. We have said that in the public sector we have a particular responsibility. It is the responsibility of an employer, direct or indirect. But it is also a responsibility to you, the taxpayer and the ratepayer, because when the Government are called upon to provide resources necessary, then they can only provide them from what is taken from you in rates and taxes.

We do not expect any discrimination between the public and the private sectors. We shall act as responsible employers and we expect others, the private employers, to do the same. But this we have also made clear: if they go their own way and accede to irresponsible wage demands which damage their own firms and create a loss of jobs for those who work in them, then the Government are certainly not going to step in and rescue them from the consequences of their own actions.

Now I call the Party to a fresh task. We are setting out on this new course. It is your task and it is this I ask of you at the end of this Conference - to help to move the country along that course with us. No longer is it the task of the Party just to criticise our opponents. This Conference has been notably free of such criticisms - not because there is not ample room for it but because all that our opponents are saying is so obviously irrelevant to the problems with which we are dealing now in the 1970s.

The task of the Party is no longer that of just explaining the policies we would follow if we were returned to power, however well you have done that in the years of opposition.

The task of the Party is no longer just that of keeping us, the leaders, up to the mark.

Now is the time for the positive and constructive work which goes with office and responsibility. As we, the Government, swing into action, so the Party in the country must become the spearhead of the movement to change the attitude of the people of Britain, to explain the choices before us, to back the Government’s decisions.

Let the people see for themselves up and down the land what Conservatives stand for, what Conservatives are like, what they do when they are given responsibility. I look to you to do that now, from this day on, when you go back to your constituencies. And when you do wholeheartedly, then we shall achieve as a Party what we failed to do in 13 years of power. We shall have won the hearts and the minds of our people, and we shall permanently change the outlook of the British nation.

When I arrived at No. 10 four months ago I said - and I said what I meant – ‘To govern is to serve.’ And the single most important service that I believe this Government can perform for the British people is to restore to them more and more freedom.

But to do this the Government must first free itself. I talked earlier of room to manoeuvre, and I have spoken of the kind of government we mean to have. The question now that we are in office is not what kind of government, but how much government. The answer, with which I know you agree, is that there must be less government, and of a better quality.

It will not happen overnight. Maybe there will be no day that you can mark on the calendar and say, ‘That was Freedom Day.’ It is a continuing process which will happen by degrees. But it is going to happen in every aspect of our daily life. It will not always be obvious; gradually it will become apparent.

And I ask you and the nation to get used to this idea of change, because it is going to be the pattern of this Government, and I urge you and the nation not to fear the danger but to recognise the opportunity, the opportunity to meet the challenge that change represents.

We in the Government have already accepted the challenge, and I warn the nation that there is no alternative. To stand still today is to go backwards. To cling desperately to the present will be to find ourselves embracing only the past.

Change will give us freedom, and with freedom most go responsibility. The free society which we aim to create must also be the responsible society - free from intervention, free from interference, but responsible: free to make your own decisions, but responsible also for your mistakes; free to enjoy the rewards of enterprise, but responsible for making sure that those rewards are justly and fairly earned; free to create for yourselves and your families that better tomorrow which we all want, but responsible for those who, through no fault of their own, cannot create it for themselves; free to lead a life of your own, but responsible to the community as a whole.

This then is the task to which your Government is dedicated: to give to all our people both freedom and responsibility. That is the challenge and from it will come opportunity. Opportunity to take our destiny, the destiny of the nation, once again in our own hands. If we are to achieve this task we will have to embark on a change so radical, a revolution so quiet and yet so total, that it will go far beyond the programme for a Parliament to which we are committed and on which we have already embarked; far beyond this decade and way into the 1980s. For it is the task of building something of style, of substance, and worth; something so important to the life and the future of this country of ours. We can only hope to begin now what future Conservative Governments will continue and complete. We are laying the foundations, but they are the foundations for a generation.

That is our aim, and that is the context in which we are working. It is a task that will take all our efforts and all of yours, every member of our party up and down the country; the efforts of every citizen of the nation. But it is a task worthy of all of us. It will require open minds, it will require great courage; but it will provide opportunities for this generation that few generations have ever seen. It is a task that calls for all of us to do all that lies in our power. It is a cause that this Government - your Government, the Government of the nation - is proud to serve.

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