Leader's speech, Blackpool 1973
Edward Heath (Conservative)
Commentary:This was Heath’s last conference speech as leader before his resignation in 1974. On 1 January 1973, Britain entered the EEC, a move Heath believed would bring prosperity to Britain and form the basis of a partnership between Europe and the United States. A month before the conference, Heath became the first British Prime Minister to make an official visit to Ireland, in the hope of bringing peace to the province. On this issue, he spoke about the Constitution Act of 1973, which laid the foundations for a power-sharing assembly at Stormont. Other key concerns at the time of the conference were Britain’s high rates of inflation and unemployment, and the Arab-Israeli War.
The duties of President of the National Union are not, as I understand it, onerous, Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the office does confer its holder a mark of signal distinction, in fact, the greatest distinction which the Party can bestow. The fact that you are presiding over our meeting here today at the end of this Conference is a personal tribute to you for the immense services you have given to the Party over more than 20 years - in particular as Chairman of the Party when we won the last Election and as Chancellor of the Exchequer with all the burdens that means for more than 3¼ years. I believe that history will record that in this office you have proved to be the greatest reforming Chancellor of modern times.
You have carried through the complete reform of our tax system. You have prepared and proposed the Tax Credit Scheme. You have brought about the massive reduction of taxation which we have seen in the lifetime of this Government. We congratulate you on your tremendous achievements and the fruits of your labours.
For me, and I think for most of you in this Conference, this has proved to be a fascinating week. Many of you, I know, came here more than a little anxious - I do not mean anxious about whether the Conference train would arrive on time. It did not. I do not mean anxious whether the boiler at the headquarters hotel would function properly. It did. Nor did you need to worry about how our Conference would compare with those that preceded it. For when the Liberals at Southport were sensible they were not original, and when they were original they were not really very sensible. While the Labour Party here in this hall last week were neither sensible nor original.
It was not exactly sensible to give absolutely first priority to more than half a dozen different proposals - food subsidies, prescription charges, pensions, schools, teachers, housing, land nationalisation - not to mention Mr. Wedgwood Benn’s proposals to take over an unspecified number of public companies. All have absolute top priority.
It was Aneurin Bevan who said that ‘priorities are the language of socialism.’ I see what he meant. And it was not exactly original to make jokes about mothers-in-law doing the backseat driving - even though it was Roy Jenkins to whom the Leader of the Opposition was referring. I see what he meant, too.
No - you were far more anxious - and genuinely anxious - about prices, about mortgage rates; about the effect of inflation on yourselves, your family and your neighbours; about the possibility of our success in the struggle against inflation and the impact of all this on our Party and on the country.
I understand that. My colleagues and I understand it full well, but as a result of this Conference I am convinced that you, for your part - and I hope the country as a whole - have a better understanding of the causes of these anxieties and what we are doing to remove them.
But more than that, I think by the end of this Conference it was clear to everyone that the problems of this Government had to be seen in the wider context of our achievements. And when you saw that, and you could see that there was much to be proud of, then the achievements do in fact outweigh the problems. If we use the same energy and same determination with which we have accomplished our achievements we can and we will overcome our problems.
That I am quite sure is the explanation for the growing confidence I have found as I have watched and listened to this Conference day by day and talked to so many of you both inside and outside this hall.
You have shown this confidence in the reception you have given to the speeches by my colleagues in the Cabinet and in the Government, the way in which you have shown your appreciation of the work they are doing. The moral surely is clear. Those of us here on the platform must continue to put before you the whole picture of what the Government have done and what they are doing today. You, for your part, must be unremitting in telling your fellow citizens the whole truth about this Government’s achievements. They are considerable achievements, of which we can all be proud. Do not forget them, do not let our opponents forget them - above all do not let the country forget them. When you tell them, you speak not only about the achievements of the Conservative Party, not only about the achievements of this Government, but you are speaking of the achievements of the whole British people.
We are an island race. That is an accident of geography. But it is a fact that has shaped our history. It has also shaped our thinking. And that perhaps is less helpful than it once was. A poet wrote, ‘No man is an island unto himself.’ Today no island is an island. That applies as much to the price of bread as it does to political influence.
The world is shrinking fast and forming new configurations. The hard truth is that we are not owed a say in the world today on what we have been. We have to earn our say for what we can be. That is not to declare that history and tradition go for nothing. Far from it.
But if that history appears dry with dust, and if that tradition is all behind you, then today’s world is not going to wait. There are those who act as though our past entitles us to our future. It does not. Nobody owes us anything. But what our history, what our living traditions do hand down to us are the wit and the wisdom to compete successfully in the modern world. To compete to win at home and in the world elsewhere.
As a Party we have always known that it is the job of a British Government to build up British influence in the world. And who better can guide us in doing that than the present Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home?
We can use our influence to protect our own interests, most certainly, but we can also use it to work towards a sane and decent world order. You showed in your debate yesterday, how strongly this theme still runs through your of thinking. But real influence is not built up by striking attitudes or by throwing insults. We do it by patient, steady work, done at many levels - always trying to reduce the areas of difficulty, always trying to increase and broaden the areas of agreement. That is what we have been about in the last three years.
Two months ago I went to the Commonwealth Conference of Heads of Government in Ottawa. What a different occasion that was, as the Foreign Secretary will agree, from the stormy and sometimes painful Conference two years before at Singapore. I found in Ottawa this year that everyone had a much clearer idea of Britain’s role in the Commonwealth: appreciating that we, too, have views we wish to express, that we, too, should have the right to follow our own policies as we judge best. No longer are many Commonwealth countries attempting to dissuade us from entering the EEC. All that is past. What they now recognise is that Britain, as a Member, can help them to establish the relationships they desire with the European Community as a whole.
I believe myself that the Commonwealth is now established on a much more realistic basis than before, and because of this the Commonwealth and the links between Commonwealth countries have a great deal more vitality and deeper powers of endurance than at one time to many seemed likely. This is something, surely, which everyone in our Party and in this Conference will warmly welcome.
It is a cliché that we live in an age of superpowers, but day by day we can see that this is not the whole truth. The tragic outbreak of war in the Middle East proves yet again that the superpowers do not and cannot control what happens in the world. There will always be a role for the middle powers - particularly, perhaps, for countries like our own which have a long experience of adventure and diplomacy in every corner of the globe.
In the present Middle East situation Britain has one, and only one, interest. It is to work for a genuine settlement under Resolution 242 of the United Nations. It is urgent, for the longer the war drags on the greater the danger of other Arab countries being sucked into it, the greater the risk of the superpowers themselves becoming involved, the greater the possibility of damage to the interests of the whole Western World.
In the first week of next year I shall be visiting China. Britain was among the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China and to have sensible dealings with it. In the last three years contacts have dramatically increased. I believe that we are only at the beginning of what can be done in this relationship. And the same is true of our relationship with Japan. I know that there are many people in this country, perhaps some in this hall, who still have a vivid memory of what they, or their families, suffered at Japanese hands in the last war. But now there is a new generation in Japan, a generation which has rebuilt their country in a most remarkable way as a leading industrial power, the third in the world, and as a major trading partner of Britain. I am sure that we are right to bury the past and to press ahead in creating a new friendship with the Japanese Government and the Japanese people. Indeed, as I have so often said, if the industrialised countries of the West are to develop their true potential and increase their real prosperity, it can only be achieved through a satisfactory working arrangement between the European Community, the United States and Japan.
With that the West can prosper: without it we shall cut each other’s throats.
The dialogue between Britain and the Soviet Union has been resumed. It was through no wish of ours that it was interrupted. But our relations with the Soviet Union are always bound to be of major importance in British foreign policy and we are glad that these exchanges are now once again taking place.
And so right across the world your Government is building up strong friendships with the Commonwealth and our Allies, firm relations with the major countries of both East and West.
What has been happening in the Middle East in these past ten days has shown us again how dangerous and unpredictable is the world in which we live. But there is one immense change which has come over the world in recent years.
It is not so long ago since Europe was the most dangerous and the most unpredictable of all the continents. Think of what was happening in Europe thirty years ago. Thirty years is a long time in the life of an individual: it is not very long in the history of our continent. Thirty years ago the lands and cities of Europe were attacked or bombarded - not by forces from outside but by tanks and planes coming from inside Europe itself.
The situation today is so different that we take it too much for granted. The danger of war between the countries of Europe has disappeared. The legacy of fear and hatred has almost vanished. Our countries are coming steadily closer together year by year.
Only a few years ago who would have thought that Britain, France, Germany, Italy and our other partners would have been able to agree on a common European identity; and as a result of this to work out a common European policy towards our principal ally, the United States?
Yet that is exactly what was achieved last month at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the European Community in Copenhagen. They agreed on a British proposal as a result of a British initiative. That can form the basis of the future relationship between the European Community and other countries across the Atlantic. We have at last started to build the twin pillars on which our friendship can rest.
Are we not becoming just a trifle blasé if we take political agreement of this kind for granted? To have all our countries with their different histories, their traditional rivalries, sitting round the same table agreeing on a common purpose - that in itself in Copenhagen was a piece of history. But let there be no doubt about one thing.
This success, this latest coming together of the nations of Europe, would not have been possible if Britain had not been a member of the European Community. This is what your Government have achieved, with your repeated encouragement and support.
That is what the Labour Party would throw away - just like a child discarding a borrowed toy. They knew the truth well enough when they were in Government. They saw clearly enough where the interests of Britain lay. Now they are jealous that we have succeeded where they failed. And because of their jealousy they are willing to put at risk the prosperity of our people. They are willing to plunge Europe back again into uncertainty and endless debate.
Of course we are not satisfied with the European Community as it stands today. I do not know anyone in the Community who believes that it has reached its final form, or indeed its perfect form. The whole nature of the Community is that it should constantly change and develop according to the changing needs of its peoples. It is not a Community of the Governments for the bureaucrats - it is the Community of the peoples and for the peoples of Europe.
Should there be changes in the Common agricultural policy? Certainly. And it is precisely because we are now members of the Community that it has been agreed that plans for change should be set in hand, and we owe a great deal to our Minister of Agriculture, Joe Godber, for the part that he played in those matters.
Should there be changes in the way the Community spends its money and in its control over it? Most certainly. And it is precisely because we are now members of the Community that we have already reached agreement on the setting up of the Regional Development Fund from which Scotland, Wales and the regions of England will benefit. We can pay tribute to John Davies and Christopher Chataway for the part they have played in the negotiations over the Regional Development Fund.
Should there he changes in the democratic working of the Community? Most certainly. This is precisely why Peter Kirk and his colleagues, with my full agreement and that of my colleagues, have set in hand various proposals in the European Parliament. Their very presence in Strasbourg has revitalised that institution, because they have brought to it characteristics from the Westminster Parliament itself.
Should there be changes in the way our Governments work together for greater unity? At the Summit Conference of Heads of Government in Paris a year ago, we laid down the general lines of policy for the Community for the rest of this decade until 1980. We visualised another meeting in 1976 to review what had been achieved. Progress this year is already considerable. By the end of the year major decisions will have to be taken over a very wide field including economic and monetary union, and social and regional policy. But the total programme of work in the Community which has to be handled by the Council of Ministers, on which the Foreign Secretary sits, is immense.
I believe that already some of my colleagues as Heads of Government feel the need for us to get together regularly without large staffs so that we can jointly guide the Community along the path we have already set. I would like to see the Heads of Government of the member countries of the Community meeting together, perhaps twice a year, as I have said, alone and without large staffs, with the President of the Commission being present, as he was at the Summit, on matters which concern the Commission. I would hope that my partners would respond to an initiative of this kind.
Our purpose in meeting together would be to lay down the broad direction of European policy, to keep up the momentum towards greater unity in foreign policy, to help forward the working out of common internal policies within the Community; and so to agree upon the strategic issues facing the Community as to avoid the damaging controversies which so often appear to the public to dog the deliberations in Brussels.
Of course, you cannot bring about the changes that we want by sulking at a distance, as the Labour Party does. We shall not bring about the changes we want by feeble blustering of the kind we heard from Blackpool last week. We shall achieve these changes by persuading our partners that they are necessary if we are to achieve our common purpose.
That is the meaning of the Community. That is what our European Community is all about. The Community is on the move, and Britain as a new member is providing a great deal of the impetus.
Wherever we have begun to make our contribution the reaction from our European partners is the same: ‘Thank goodness you are here,’ they say. ‘This is what we have waited for. We have been watching you do business for years. We have admired your institutions. We know you have problems, just as we had at the beginning of the Community. Maybe we can help to solve them. Now that we are together at last we can get something done.’
That is the prize which together we have all won. How damaging it would be, how absurd Britain would look, if at this point of success we allowed this prize to be thrown away.
It is our job as a Government, once again with your support, to build upon what has already been achieved. We can do this because the will to succeed is there in our partners also.
Given this will to succeed there is nothing now that can hold the Community back.
One of our new partners in the Community is the Republic of Ireland. I hope, and I have long hoped, that this fact will help us to find the right answer to the gravest of all the problems which your Government have had to face. Yesterday you heard Willie Whitelaw give us a progress account of the last year in Northern Ireland. I think you will agree that the progress that has been made despite all the difficulties has been remarkable indeed. I want to add my tribute to him and to his fellow Ministers for their extraordinary patience and tenacity in immensely trying circumstances. We still have a long way to go. There is no easy and quick solution. There is going to be no speedy end.
I always remember how, on the eve of my meeting at Chequers with the Prime Ministers of North and South, the first meeting of all three Prime Ministers which had taken place for fifty years, I received a charming letter from Quintin Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor. It was very brief, and all it said was, ‘Prime Minister, if you do not solve the problems of Ireland in the next forty-eight hours, pray do not be disappointed. They have remained unsolved for the last four hundred years.’
Last month, as you know, I also visited Dublin to talk once again with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.
For years now British Prime Ministers have flown around the world. They go by jet to Washington or to Moscow, without even anyone batting an eyelid. Now, as I have said, I have been invited to visit Peking soon. In the bustle of diplomatic activity one meets statesmen with whose policies one is not in agreement, or to whose policies one may even be bitterly opposed. One does it in the pursuit of the diplomacy of peace. Yet here we are in this little group of islands, lived in by barely sixty million people, and my visit to Ireland last month was the first official visit by a British Prime Minister, and the first talks the Prime Minister has had in the Irish Republic in Dublin since the Free State was set up more than fifty years ago. In my view, it was high time a British Prime Minister made such a visit.
And I did so because I was prepared to take the risks which were involved - political or otherwise - in the hope of reconciliation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics, reconciliation between the various political parties in Northern Ireland itself.
People have learned, and learned painfully, all over the world, that their best chance of survival is in finding a way of living together. It is no less vital that in our own islands we learn the same lesson. I understand full well how much the people of Northern Ireland have suffered from the violence of the last few years. I know what a traumatic experience they have gone through politically during this time.
It is true, as Brian Faulkner said yesterday, that the Westminster Parliament is asking much of them through the Constitution Act - which is now the law of the land - by requiring what is in effect a form of coalition government, though we have tried to make it more possible by keeping in the control of Westminster those aspects of Government which have always divided people and parties in Northern Ireland in the past. But I would hope that those who have held power there for more than 50 years will recognise the need to accept others who are prepared to work the Act, and to do so in a spirit of compromise. I would also hope that those who now find themselves for the first time in a position to share power, will themselves accept the need, however deep their feelings about the past, to take part in the give and take of the daily business of Government and the running of Northern Ireland affairs. That, I am convinced from my visit there, is what the great majority of people in Northern Ireland want today and that way I am sure progress can be made in bringing peace to this strife-torn province.
The centre-piece of our Conference, Mr. President, has been the debate on the Economy and in particular on inflation in which you, Geoffrey Howe and Joseph Godber also took part. Last Monday I announced the next stage of the Government’s programme for controlling inflation. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition is complaining that one minute and twenty-two seconds of broadcasting time was not sufficient for his reply. It is true that when he and his Party announced in this hall last week their plans for dealing with inflation they took most of the week. Surely he could have done that in less. Increase public spending by £5,000 million to £6,000 million a year. Increase taxes of all kinds - VAT, Pay As You Earn - hitting virtually every family in the land. A programme of nationalisation which would cost another £10,000 million - presumably extra borrowing requirement. The ending of the fair rents scheme which would make hundreds of thousands of families lose their rent rebates. That is Labour’s programme for countering inflation. It is bogus, it is humbug, but it is dangerous humbug. It did not even take one minute twenty-two seconds to spell that out.
The essence of our proposals lies in stricter control over prices, but in a way that will allow investment to continue and increased efficiency to be rewarded. And the greater scope for wage bargaining, wage negotiation we propose is important, but it will be done in a way which will not stimulate inflation as it did in the free-for-all just before the freeze last year.
At this Conference you have constantly, and quite rightly, told us of the worry which rising prices cause to individuals and families throughout the land. I ask you to accept that this knowledge is at the front of our minds as we wrestle day by day with the problems of inflation, and no Government has wrestled harder and with greater ingenuity than we have done over these last three years.
We receive and publish the figures which show that, on average, earnings in this country have kept well ahead of prices. We know these figures to be accurate, but we also know that average figures, however accurate, can conceal a great deal of individual anxiety.
In dealing with inflation some of you touched in your speeches in the Conference on this. We have not been thinking just of the TUC and the CBI, or the other groups whom we have been consulting. We have also been thinking of those not represented by a big organisation. They do not have anyone to argue for them at No. 10. They look to us, the Government, and they have a right to look to us, the Government, to protect them from the anxiety which they feel.
It is the old people in our society perhaps who feel this anxiety most acutely. After a life of hard work they rely on their savings and on the old age pension to see them through the years of retirement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already acted to relieve the tax burden on their savings, but more often than not it is the level of the old age pension itself which makes all the difference to their weekly budget.
You can look at pensions in two ways. You can take the cautious line. You can say that pensions will be increased to keep pace with the cost of living. That is the line which we took in our election manifesto, and those who, quite rightly, in the course of the debates here, have drawn attention to the promises in our election manifesto might remember that it is a pledge we have amply fulfilled. But in our view that in itself is not enough. We believe that pensioners ought to have a share in the growing prosperity of this country. So in our package for Stage 3 we have gone well beyond making sure that the pension keeps up with prices.
I announced last Monday that this year there would once again be an extra payment of £10 for every pensioner and for those in other categories who received the extra payment last year. I can tell you this morning that if Parliament approves the necessary legislation those who draw their pensions at Post Offices will get their extra pensions in the week beginning the 26th November. Those who are paid by other means will also get their £10 bonus before Christmas. £10 for those who draw their pensions at Post Offices in the week beginning 26th November, and the others will get it before Christmas.
We believe that pensioners are entitled to extra consideration, particularly at a time when they are faced in the shops with the result of prices rising across the world. Some people asked me why we cannot do more. Of course, we would like to do more, and we mean to do more. Sometimes people go on to ask me why we cannot pay pensions at the same level they do in some other countries in the Community, particularly Germany and Holland. It is odd that the people who make that point are sometimes the same people who most bitterly opposed our joining the European Community. For the answer is a simple one.
These other countries have managed to do better than we have in the field of pensions. They have done so precisely because they have managed to do better in achieving a steady rate of expansion of the economy. One of the main reasons why we are determined to keep the economy of this country expanding is that we want to do so much more - not only for the pensioner, but right across the field of social services.
As our policies move forward, more and more people benefit from the Conservative philosophy of giving extra help to those in the greatest need. Sir Keith Joseph, who has done so much in this field, spelt it all out to you at the end of his speech. The same philosophy has been applied to housing.
In the debate which you had on Wednesday, which Paul Channon answered so admirably, you concentrated mainly on what the Government is doing and should do to help people buy their own homes. This was right, and natural enough, especially for our own Party. For unlike the other Parties we believe that people who want to own their own homes should be able to do so. But there is another side to our housing policy, which is expressed in the Housing Finance Act.
I have never understood why tenants who can afford a fair rent, because their earnings are high, should not be asked to pay it for the house which they rent. There has never seemed to me any good reason why tenants should be subsidised, often by people with lower pay or people who have retired or pensioners, by people less well off than themselves. But, of course, there is more in the Act than the fair rent.
The Labour Party have said that they would repeal the Act. This must mean that they would also sweep away the system of rebates and allowances which are an essential part of our legislation.
What does the Act achieve in practice? Let me just give you two examples of what is at stake here. Of course, the names I give you are imaginary, hut you will find people like them in your own towns and villages. Mr. and Mrs. Parker have two children. He only earns £25 a week and lives in a privately-rented home paying a rent of £4. Until we came into office he had no help with that rent at all. Now he and his family get a special rent allowance of £2.84 a week, so that they have to find only £116 out of their own pocket. That is the effect of our Act on privately-rented accommodation.
Or take Mr. and Mrs. James with three children, earning too just £25 a week. The rent of their council house is £3.50. They live under a Labour-controlled council, which gave no rent rebates at all, until it was forced to do so as the result of our Act. Now because of that Act, Mr. and Mrs. James get a rent rebate of £3.29 a week, so that the rent which they pay from their own pocket is now down to 21 pence.
These are the facts of Conservative policy. They are not proved by average figures or percentages, but in the actual experience of people’s daily lives. I have chosen these two examples from the field of housing. I could find you many more such examples among the disabled, the very old, the over 80s, the widows, the chronically sick, and the other groups of people who need help and are now getting effective help for the first time under a Conservative Government.
This week I have had the opportunity of meeting for the first time the new Youth Development Officers whom the Party has recruited in most parts of the country. Selwyn Gummer, as we know, has taken the lead in all of this. We discussed together how far there still existed among young people the myth that the Conservative Party was hard of head but also hard of heart. We agreed that it is our job to destroy this myth of hard-heartedness once and for all. We can do it conclusively by showing examples from practical, personal experience, such as the two I have just quoted, of what our policies mean in practice. I hope you will do it in your constituencies, that you will search out the practical examples and then let them be known so that everyone can see how much we have achieved in the field of the social services.
Of course, it is very convenient for our opponents to forget what has been achieved over these three years, but do not let them forget, and do not let people forget.
I know that more and more trade unionists all over the country, and their leaders with whom I have had so many hours of talks, are now beginning to understand the real meaning of the policies we have been pursuing. It has not been an easy time for us. Trade unionists have suffered, like everyone else, from the rise in world prices, yet in the ten months since we introduced our counter-inflation policy the days lost through strikes are less than a quarter of those lost in the ten months that went before - less than a quarter. That is a much more orderly development of our economy and of our labour relations.
I believe that we are now seeing a fresh climate developing in industry. There is a new understanding that there are better ways to resolve problems than by calling a strike. Today the trade unionists come regularly to Downing Street, as do the employers, to tell us their views, to argue their case. They do not come in the heat of a crisis. They come in a calm atmosphere to discuss future policy. This has not been wasted time, for we have taken account of their views and suggestions in the counter-inflation policy. Too often in the past a strike was the only way for a union to make its views known. Those days are past. Our talks in Downing Street are held regularly before there is a dispute. They have had more influence on policy than any number of demonstrations or strikes.
We recognise the contribution that the leaders of the trade union movement have to make to our policies. Surely a strike can now become a weapon of only the very last resort instead of being the first thing that comes into somebody’s head. But we also recognise the contribution that ordinary men and women have to make in the running of the businesses in which they work. If employers fail to talk to their employees or, worse, do not listen to the views of their employees, they cannot really be surprised if their industrial relations are not as good as they might be. This is, however, neither a sensible nor a civilised way to run industry. Employers - and all the good employers recognise this and have long done so - have a duty to give their employees a much bigger say in the decisions that affect their everyday life.
We shall soon be publishing our proposals and our ideas for extending and improving participation in industry. It will demonstrate once again our belief that co-operation is a better policy than conflict.
Mr. President, I would like to take your mind back to the last Conference speech I made before the election of 1970. I told you then that we were setting out to fight for higher living standards, and those we have achieved; to fight for a better deal for those in need, and that has been ably fulfilled; to fight for a strong Britain with influence in the world, and I have described to you how we are bringing it about; to fight not for a narrow, sectional or class interest but for all the people in this country.
That is what I said in 1969 and a little more than three months later my colleagues and I met and decided on the priorities necessary to carry this out. We announced a programme that was published on the front page of every national newspaper. It was headlined as a five-star plan.
Tax cuts was the first - brought about by the Chancellor.
The reform of industrial relations brought about by Robert Carr.
The new pensions for the over-80s, more help for those in need - brought about by Keith Joseph.
Action to deal with crime - brought about by Reggie Maudling and Robert Carr.
New legislation on immigration and stricter control - brought about by Reggie Maudling and implemented by Robert Carr.
Those were the five points - that was the five-star plan - which appeared the morning after our meeting. That meeting was at Selsdon Park. That was what was really laid down at that conference. That is the reality, not the myth of Selsdon Park.
Do not forget - and do not let our opponents forget - that we carried out all this against a background of six years of socialism which squandered the skills, stunted the enterprise and drained the nation of energy and achievement. What we had to do when we took office was to reverse the dreary deflation and stagnation of those years.
We set out on a course of expansion. We knew it was the only way to solve our problems. We set out to end the years of self-doubt. We were not the first government to set out on this course. It was not our ambition that was unique; it was our determination to achieve our objectives which was different from that of our predecessors.
It was not easy at first. The effect of our new policies was not immediate. It has taken two budgets with the most massive cuts in taxation since the war.
It is interesting how, when we were in opposition, the first problem which was always put to us was the problem of the burden of taxation on the people of this country. You do not hear about that now. It has been dealt with by this Government, and dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealt with by the Government as a whole. But do not let them forget.
It has taken a series of measures to encourage investment like the Industry Act. Let those who read our manifesto also read there the pledge we gave that we would have an advanced regional policy, that we would never allow the regions to go on suffering as they have done in the past. Through the Industry Act, we are now achieving results such as have never been achieved before. What it is doing is to allow our industry to modernise rapidly in order to compete in Europe in the great market which is now open to us. It has taken time for a new climate of confidence to develop but now the results here are beginning to show. The economy is moving into higher gear and it is no coincidence that this is the time when we have joined the European Community.
The British economy has been expanding far faster than for many years. In 1973 industrial output in Britain has risen by a massive 9 per cent. The volume of our exports has risen even faster, by over 12 per cent.
We are quickly developing the all-important discoveries of oil in the North Sea, which will make such a vast difference to our future. The first oil will reach our shores next year.
At the same time, although this rate of inflation is still far too high we have reduced the rate of inflation through domestic causes below the level of the majority of our competitors. These are achievements of which we can be proud. They are achievements which we are determined not to surrender.
Of course, expansion brings new problems. It can produce shortages. Some employers report that they are finding it difficult to recruit workers, but that is not all bad news. It means that those who want to work can find a job. It means that the tragedy and the deprivation of unemployment are being eliminated. Inflation is a social evil with which we have to deal. Unemployment is a social evil with which we also have to deal. What would this Party at this Conference be saying to me here, and to my colleagues on this table, if today we were about to enter into another winter with one million unemployed in this country? That is the fact that people have to face. We have dealt with this social evil. It means that there is new money flowing into the homes of 300,000 people who could not find a job a year ago. It means that there are more opportunities for working overtime and for earning more money.
In Scotland, in the North East, in Wales, all over Britain it means that there is a better choice of jobs. But, of course, it also means that employers do have to provide better working conditions to attract workers and all the things that go with it, if they want them to move there. It means there is more incentive for employers to invest in more efficient machinery, so we can get better investment backing for those who work in Britain.
When we hear of these problems of expansion, let us not be faint hearted. Instead, let us remember the greater opportunities they bring. The challenge now is to create new skills by more training and better plant in our factories, by more investment, in order to maintain steady and continued expansion in the years ahead.
The real problem facing us today is this, that we still have more than half a million unemployed and many tens of thousands of women who would like to be in jobs if suitable conditions could be arranged for them. But the people are in different places from the jobs, and they do not have the skills which are required. That is the real practical problem which not only the Government, the employers and the Unions, but the country also has to solve today. You do not solve it by imposing higher taxation, by deflation, and by increasing unemployment.
Let us not forget that the real standard of living has risen twice as fast since we took office as it did in the six years of the Labour Government. That is the real reason we have been able to raise pensions by 55 per cent. That is why we have been able to begin a massive programme to rebuild our primary schools, as Margaret Thatcher has described to you. That is why we have been able to increase our spending on the social services. That is why we have been able to provide new help to some of the poorest, to some of the least fortunate people in Britain who never had any help before under any Government.
I began by speaking to you, to the members of our Party, as your Leader. I want now to speak as Prime Minister to the nation. Four years ago it would have been quite possible for people to look at us and say with a sad smile that we were a country whose future was all in our past. We had lost our way, so it seemed to them. What lay ahead was too complex to comprehend. We faced it with trepidation, waiting for it to overwhelm us, and it very nearly did. Yet the future does not have to be a threat.
Not for any individual. Not for any nation. It is too easy to say: ‘Well, that is all in the future. We will have to face that when we come to it.’ We will have to face it all right, but why wait until we come to it? Too often that just delays defeat. What is wrong with attacking the future? Why should the future not be made and moulded into what we want it to be? That is what we have been trying to do these last three years. We have made mistakes which we have acknowledged. We have had our setbacks, which are all too well known. But together in this country we have started to build something that is worth having. We have done it without the false stimulus of war. We have done it in a world that is changing further and faster than anyone could possibly have foreseen. What we are building is not just bricks and mortar. It is not even a question of getting figures right on a balance sheet, even though we need all of those things to make it work. It is just as much a creation of the mind and of the heart. It is building a society that works well and suits our nation, because it is a society that knows what is fair and because it is a society that knows that it must work as one.
Some people have said that they thought we had forgotten how. And perhaps we did for a time, but this year has shown for the first time in a long time what we as a nation are capable of doing. It has shown something of what we can hope to receive in return. For the last three years we have known what we have wanted this country to be. We knew what we wanted. But we also knew that we might have to find different ways of getting there. The problems might be age-old problems, but in a changing world there might have to be new solutions.
As a nation we are beginning to remember how to work together as we do at all the great moments in our history. We did not remember a moment too soon. For in today’s world the future is no longer somewhere beyond the horizon. In today’s world it is upon you almost before you know it. What we have been working for so hard is not some abstraction, some distant promise, to be delivered only to our children or our children’s children. What we have been working for so hard is real. It is ready and we are earning it. We had the wit to see it and the courage to seize it.
Today we are moving nearer to the kind of place we want in the kind of world that we want. If we throw away now what is in our hands we do not deserve to keep it. We are an island race. That is an accident of geography. But what we have achieved in the past, and what we are going to achieve in the future - that is no accident. That is the fruit of British character, of British determination, of British tolerance, above all it will be the victory of the British nation acting as one. (Prolonged applause)