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Leader's speech, Blackpool 1963

Richard Austen Butler (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool


The Party Leader, Harold Macmillan, was absent due to illness, and Richard Austen ('Rab') Butler CH, MP addressed the mass meeting of 12 October in his place.

We must all have a feeling of the deepest regret that this rally is being held in the absence of the Prime. Minister and Leader of our Party in whose honour such rallies are usually organised. All his colleagues, and I am sure everyone in this hall, must also be deeply moved by the circumstances which have caused him to indicate to the Conference through you, Lord Home, as President of the Conference, that he will be unable indefinitely to continue as Prime Minister of this country. This is a wrench of which we have only just become fully aware. And it comes as a particular blow to those of us who have worked with him so closely for seven years. These seven years under his leadership have seen a great advance in the position both of our country and our Party. He has proved himself to be a great Party leader and a great Prime Minister. We must all rejoice now at the news of the progress he is making after his severe operation, and wish him, as Lord Home has done, in those well-chosen words, a most immediate and joyful recovery.

I feel sure that you will understand the responsibility that I bear. My colleagues who are sitting here with us on the platform – upon whose help I have leant so much – and I know that we can count on your support in pledging ourselves that our unsparing efforts will be devoted, regardless of any consideration whatsoever, in furthering the best interests of the country and of the Party. We have had a heavy blow, but we intend to carry on the government of the country according to the same high standard which the Prime Minister himself has maintained.

Now, there is no doubt that this Conference has already confounded our critics and given us, as Blackpool has before, the impetus and determination to win. It has served as a beacon of hope to Conservatives throughout the country and it has served as a gesture of contemptuous defiance to the Opposition who, not for the first time, have been celebrating a victory before the battle has even started. Let them take it from me, and from the tone of our debates here this week, that the Conservative Party today is confident, vigorous and resilient. We are absolutely determined when the opportunity comes to knock the overweening confidence out of Socialists and Liberals alike and to come through to victory in our own time. Now, this determination comes from three causes: First, our legitimate pride in a Government which has brought nearer the goals of lasting peace and prosperity. Second, our burning enthusiasm to maintain the position of Britain in an age of change as a first-class country, politically, economically and socially. Third, our clear conviction that anything in the shape of victory for our opponents would defeat these aims and would be an unmitigated national disaster. I will now speak about these springs of electoral effort and determination.

Between 1945 and 1951 we restored ourselves by service, responsibility and moral integrity. These are the principles which we must spell out again in simple words and with conviction; that is; in the time before the election, and in doing so, let me say we are helped and not hindered by the publication of the Denning Report. ‘Lord Denning has performed an important service... With convincing evidence he has demonstrated that the scabrous rumours about Ministers are false… The whole nation will be glad that the fogs of scandal which for eight months have befouled political life at home and Britain’s reputation abroad have at last been dispelled.’ These, my Lord Chairman, are my sentiments; but they are not my words. I quote them, with acknowledgment and grateful thanks, from the Socialist weekly, the New Statesman.

I am delighted at the way this Conference has discussed our principles. When I was Chairman of the Party it was always my ambition to have a debate on future policy and principles in the course of our Conference, and I must say how much we owe to Mr. lain Macleod for the manner in which he led this debate on Thursday morning. I think it was a thoroughly inspiring morning. At any rate, it brought back those old days of struggle when he and I and so many on this platform worked together to restore the Tory position and to restate the Tory faith. Based on these principles we can stride forward through any difficulties and problems which may lie ahead.

Now, the main problem that we of the Conservative Party are up against at the present time is a vague but nevertheless powerful feeling that ‘it’s time for a change’, and I thought we might have a little discussion about that before we launched into the other parts of my speech. The idea is that democracy will not work if one party is in power for a long time; and I think it would be foolish of us to shut our eyes to this. It would indeed be arrogant of us to consider that we Conservatives had some divine right to rule for ever. Yet we should analyse this sentiment a bit more deeply because it is based on a misunderstanding of the true process of democracy. What the theory of democracy does say is that the electorate should be able to make at each election a sensible choice between alternative policies. Those who believe in democracy, as we do, believe that, whatever the aberrations of individual judgement, the general collective wisdom of the community can thus get closest to the best form of government.

We accept this as the reason for democracy. What nonsense it is then to accept as inevitable and right the so called swing of the pendulum. If we accept uncritically the theory of ‘it’s time for a change’ – still more, if we regard government as a sort of cricket match when each side must have its innings in turn – then we may be condemned forever to an alternation between sensible and silly policies. After all, if we accept that doctrine, if the sillies can always be sure of re-election if they wait long enough, then there is no compulsion upon them to make themselves sensible.

When we drove the Socialists from office they said they were going back to me classroom. Well, in the 11-plus years, if I may so phrase it, that they have been there they do not seem to have learnt much. Judging by their speeches, they have not even got as far as Lower Six Science B. Let us, then, complete their education. Let us teach them a lesson. Let us beat them once again. For a fourth Conservative victory would mean the end for all time of the immature nonsense of Socialism.

Some of you may remember that I said here in Blackpool in 1954, when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that by wise and prudent policies we could double the standard of living in 25 years. Today I re-affirm nine years later, that promise, and prophecy, with emphasis and conviction. We are actually ahead of the schedule I laid down nine years ago. In twelve years of Conservative Government the living standards of our people have risen more than in the whole of the previous half-century. The evidence can be seen all around us: in the great rise in personal incomes, the gratifying multiplication of savings, the increased comforts of the home and the improvements that have been made in education, health and welfare. Weekly earnings have increased considerably more than personal expenditure. Many more people are saving more of what they earn. Savings have, in fact, been multiplied by seventeen times. Surely this shows that our so-called affluent society is responsible and puts thought for the future and indeed thought for others before expenditure on self. When you add to that that our expenditure overseas on developing countries has increased by three times, while at home we have increased the wealth without which we cannot help others, that gives the lie to the recurrent theme of the Socialist Conference that we think only of ourselves.

I know it is the fashion now to deplore the increase in the standard of living, the increase which has been taking place with such notable acceleration in the last decade, but this is surely a strange attitude for the Labour Party. For years they have been denouncing poverty in the most vigorous terms. Now that we are winning the battle against poverty they have performed the most remarkable somersault and now spend most of their time deploring the moral dangers involved in these better conditions. The truth is that our opponents want to have it both ways. They remind me of that American political party called the ‘Mugwumps’, because they sit with their ‘mugs’ on one side of the fence and their ‘wumps’ on the other. Mr. Wilson accuses us of taking a purely materialistic point of view. What is in fact the logic of that argument? Are people to be unemployed, hungry and poor in order that they should have the moral elevation that comes from deprivation? That is not what statesmen are for, and that is not the Tory tradition. It is our job to give people opportunity in a free society and to trust them how best to use it. ‘Trust the people’ is an old and sound Tory doctrine. How can we have been wrong in carrying out Disraeli’s doctrine that we must elevate the condition of the people?

There is a passage in the reminiscences of the well-known actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke. He was a son of a general practitioner in the Black country, and his father, to discourage his theatrical ambitions, took him round with him to get an insight into the real life that then existed at the turn of the century. This is what he remembers: ‘In my father’s company I saw hell or perhaps the closest approximation that existed in those days. In slums and noisome alleys where the sun never seemed to shine, I saw families of twelve and fourteen souls living in a single room that was kitchen, bedroom and factory combined. Ragged children toiled alongside their gaunt parents, hammering chains together link by link. I sat by the hour in our one-horse trap, waiting for my father – in my memory it is always dusk, with rain falling – while he delivered another baby into a world of hunger and ignorance’. So he wrote. Surely we must all be thankful that these days are past in Britain. Let us see to it that they never come back in any form, and let us make it part of our ambition and duty to mitigate and ultimately to remove similar sufferings in any part of the world.

You have heard at this Conference speeches from Ministers on our definite progress and precise plans for the future. You would not want me to go over that in detail this afternoon, for they have covered the ground. But let me stress that all the progress we have made and the plans they have outlined depend on our keeping right at the centre of our national purpose the maintenance of an expanding, excelling and even an exciting economy. If you look at the landmarks of the Government’s policy you cannot but observe how they fit into the geography of the future: tax allowances for investment, introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which are the best in the world; Mr. Brown talks about seed corn, but we are already ensuring that it is stored up in plenty for the future, and it will be for us to use it and not them; what is more, a scientific research and development programme bigger than that of any free country except the United States; a revolution on the railways, geared to fast freight traffic, and the first thousand miles of motorway by the early 1970s; great new plans for the north and for Scotland, coupled with training and financial help to those moving from contracting to expanding industries; a further assurance to our farmers and farm workers that we intend to carry forward the benefits of the 1947 and 1957 Acts and to try to establish fair quantities of production for the major products, and to take measures to regulate those imports which have been dislocating and distorting the market. All my parliamentary life I have tried to serve the interests of agriculture and I know that with our present Minister and in the future the Conservative Party will never let British farming down.

Both on the land and in the towns Britain is thriving, changing and going ahead, and it is high time we answered, good, loud and clear, the Wily Wilson and the Poor Old Joes who spend so much of their time cracking up other countries and running down their own. Don’t they know, or don’t they want to know, the successes Britain has achieved in the economic and technological fields? Mr. Wilson is always giving us league tables showing Britain at the bottom. Doesn’t he know or doesn’t he want to know that in the past eighteen months alone Britain has operated the world’s first commercial Hovercraft service, inaugurated the world’s most powerful computing system, brought into commission the world’s two biggest civil nuclear power stations, and opened Europe’s largest scientific lending library? These are some of the proud achievements of a first-class country determined to keep in the lead.

Mr. Wilson at Scarborough proclaimed that this age of automation needs the accompaniment of Socialism. Of the importance of his speech and of the age of automation we should be in no doubt, but what a terrible amalgamation, automation and Socialism, one machine running another machine. What they say in fact – and I think this needs answering – is ‘up with the robot automatic state and down with the individual’. The Wilsonian dream turns out to be the Wellsian nightmare come true. The individual in Britain is to have ample leisure and carefully controlled environment – the exact circumstances of the battery hen.

Let the country take note, as we know, that there are deep divisions of principle between ourselves and our opponents. They have told us that their proposed Ministry of Planning is intended – and I quote – for ‘purposive physical intervention in industry’. If that is not a threat – ‘physical intervention’ – I do not know what is. They try to blur their policies, but they are clearly determined to bludgeon and bypass private enterprise, whereas we feel intensely that individual enterprise and responsibility must be given full scope to balance the mechanising effect of automation. Every intelligent person has long realised that material progress in society, as well as the spiritual and intellectual benefits of greater leisure, must depend on replacing human by mechanical effort. It needs no spirit to come from the heights of Scarborough to tell us that. Increasingly this process of mechanisation must extend to the control systems which link and co-ordinate the machines themselves. This is a process which we welcome and have taken measures to encourage, but I think it self-evident that the more we become dependent on machines, however sophisticated, the more important it is that we should be governed by people who believe in the supreme value of the individual.

It is for these reasons that our Conservative philosophy and practice has been to encourage industrial modernisation by means of incentives for both the industrialist and the employee, and to deal with the human problems, such as redundancy, by special schemes of compensation and re-training. Of course, as I have often said to the Party before, the Conservatives have always been ready to use the power of the state to direct and encourage new trends in our economic life, to deal with monopoly and abuse and to assure incentive, that is, encourage it. We have used the power of the State since Bolingbroke in the time of Queen Anne, long before the Socialists were ever thought of but we have always used it to foster and preserve individual freedom. Many of you may remember these lines:

These things shall be: a loftier race
Than e’er the world hath known shall rise, With flame of freedom in their souls,
And light of knowledge in their eyes.

Well, the light of knowledge was certainly refracted at Scarborough, but there was no sign of the flame of freedom, just the white heat of revolution. Freedom is what we care about. Without it, as all history shows, knowledge serves only the more firmly to enslave a society.

Now I want to say a few words to you about the kind of society inspired by those thoughts that we Conservatives are developing. This kind of society must derive its motive power not from the commands of the planners but from the character of the people. We shall therefore march forward to victory and beyond with an imaginative and far-reaching Programme for People; not a programme that is concerned solely to line their pockets and satisfy their material needs but a programme that inspires their sense of service and dedication, develops their intellectual potential and raises their economic status. Such is our aim and such is our programme.

A first feature of this programme is a new and exciting breakthrough on the educational front, for on the future of education not only the efficiency of our society but the fulfilment of our ideals depends. In the nineteenth century a Conservative Government completed the process of making primary education free and compulsory for all. In 1944 I played my part in opening the doors of secondary education to all. Now a fresh challenge and opportunity await us. Already seven new universities are being created and plans are in hand to increase substantially the capacity of existing universities, colleges of advanced technology and teacher training colleges. These programmes will be developed in the light of the Robbins Committee Report which will shortly be published. Our aim is higher education for every boy and girl in the land who can benefit from it.

We believe that these policies can succeed only if parents and children are assured that the extra talent and skill that they gain from education or training will bring them extra reward. In a Socialist society they could never have that assurance. Under Socialism the fruits of individual effort; enterprise and sacrifice would be plucked and harvested not by the people but by the tax gatherers. Under Socialism the room at the top would be reserved for the gentlemen in Whitehall who is always supposed to know best. In a Conservative society, by contrast, we mean to see that incentives are maintained and improved, that initiative and skill are rewarded, that there are a variety of ladders to the top and that positions of responsibility are not reserved for one coterie or class or brand of education. I have lived all my public life in the hope that we could achieve that ideal, following upon what we did nearly twenty years ago in the Education Act.

This Programme for People must also be extended in the spirit of our Conservative industrial charter to the factory and workshop floor. Our future economic opportunities will yield barren fruit unless human relations in industry develop alongside scientific and technological advance. We must give up thinking of sharply defined spheres of responsibility, let alone of conflicting interests or separate sides. In a modern industrial Britain, increasing its wealth as we wish it to do by at least 4 per cent each and every year, there can only be one side and all of us are on it. In concrete terms, this means that we must look for a marked reduction in the 4 million days lost on average each year through industrial disputes and strikes. We are intent on making a new approach to the abandonment of outdated, irrelevant and unnecessary restrictive practices, whether indulged in by management or by labour, and we are working out wider social and financial measures to re-house, re-settle and re-train workers and tide them over the period when they are changing jobs.

In each of these areas of policy, then, the Government and our Party are staking out new frontiers, but, unlike the Socialists, we do not regard a progranune for people as an indiscriminate distribution of expensive presents by a profligate Santa Crossman. We believe that social benefits and social subsidies should go, first and foremost, to those who really require them, and that those who are able to stand on their own feet and make provision for themselves should be allowed and encouraged to do so.

As you have heard, our housing programme will now be expanded to 350,000 new homes a year as fast as possible, and to the level of 400,000 thereafter. But within these totals we wish and we mean to put home ownership within reach of all who want to own their own houses and could do so if the cost is reasonably spread, and also to cater for many who prefer to rent a modern home from a housing society without subsidy.

Our health and welfare plans will bring to every part of the country the standard of service which in the past was found only in certain large cities and towns, and will transform the patch-work of local services into a fine nation-wide system. But within the ambit of these plans great scope will be left and great emphasis will be laid on the voluntary service and human touch which matter so greatly and can make all the difference when a. person is sick or handicapped or lonely. Above all, never let us get into the frame of mind where we can believe that we have fulfilled our social responsibilities when we have finished paying our rates and taxes. We still owe our service, our compassion and our Christian duty.

Our Programme for People, therefore, rests on the belief in the infinite capacity of the individual to rise and meet these challenges. It carries with it the urge to ambition, to success and also to responsibility, and it is not an incitement to envy, malice or uncharitableness. It is a creed for the young and for the young in heart and it is not a repository for the disgruntled in spirit.

So much for Britain at home, the record good, the prospects excellent so long as the Socialists are not permitted to spoil them. What about Britain overseas? We live at a time of incalculable change in the world around us. Literacy and technology have, if anything, added to the problems of national and ideological rivalry. New nations are on the move, new alignments are appearing, the conflict between east and west is changing its character. The old formulae that were adopted to meet the challenges of yesterday are not enough to keep the peace today. The enormous nation of China has awakened from centuries of slumber and every few years is adding to its teeming millions a population equal to that of the United Kingdom. The United Nations now has more than a hundred members, many of them small and weak but all young and proud. We have pride in the United Nations and its agencies and we are dedicated to making our full contribution to the part it should play in world affairs. We welcome its many successes, but I must say this: it is a matter for regret when the United Nations attempts to take on responsibilities which are not properly its own and thereby reduces its standing and influence for good.

We have always done our duty in the world. It is the policy of this Conservative Government that Britain should remain not on the sidelines as it would under Socialism but at the centre of international affairs. We can do this because of the strength and experience of our people and because we are partners with the rest of the free world. The greatest of these partnerships is with the Commonwealth, and let me say here that when the history of our times comes to be written there will be no more remarkable story than that of the peaceful transformation of a colonial empire into a fellowship of free and independent peoples. I know that it is fashionable on the political left to abuse the period of British colonialism, but, having been born in India when my father was a servant of the British Raj, I say that we can look back not with anger but with pride at the generations of our fellow countrymen who have laboured good-humouredly in outposts the world over to bring order where there was no order, law where there was no law, and the boon of rising standards to a quarter of the human race.

I know also that there is much anxiety in our Party today lest the speed of independence may weaken valuable ties. In the first stages of self-Government in some of these new countries it may be that parliamentary systems give way to single party or dictatorial rule. There may be flirtations with dangerous powers and impediments to their own way of traditional development. Yet I am convinced that broadly speaking what the historians will view with amazement is not the difficulties or the disappointments but the astonishing success with which so vast an undertaking has been carried out. I feel this very deeply myself, for I played some part thirty-years ago in the granting of self-government to India, and more recently in the complex negotiations to bring the peoples of Central Africa to nationhood within the Commonwealth. The path has proved long and hard for all the races there, and we should not imagine that when a good agreement is reached, as reached it will be, our responsibilities will come to a full stop. For our duties to the Commonwealth are not at an end; they are at a new beginning. We are providing today three times as much aid to the Commonwealth as we did twelve years ago when I started being Chancellor of the Exchequer – that is not to my credit, it is to the credit of my successors – more than £200 million a year. But trade is even more important and the Government has welcomed the emphasis and the interest which this Conference has shown in promoting both commerce and investment in the Commonwealth.

Our role in the Commonwealth is complemented by our role in the Atlantic Alliance. We have the closest possible ties with our American friends – and we intend to keep them. We are also resolved to maintain and extend our links with Europe by all methods and institutions open to us. In this we are being helped by the growing strength of E.F.T.A. as well as by the active goodwill of the great majority of the members of the European Community.

How I wish the Prime Minister could have been here to tell you himself of his own untiring efforts in the long story of the complex negotiations that led up to the Test Ban Treaty. He played a magnificent role and many a time have I been with him late at night or early in the morning when, like the Foreign Secretary, I have watched and admired his patience and doggedness; and, as Lord Home said, the President of the United States has paid him a special testimony. I should like to emphasise that this Treaty was not achieved by agitators sitting down in the public highway but by statesmen sitting round the conference table. Let those who are pondering the supreme issues of political life remember that our views and influence at that conference table derived from the policy of nuclear strength which the Conservative Party alone in this country has consistently and unitedly maintained.

At their Conference the Socialists avoided any discussion of these great issues. For the sake of a superficial, spurious and, no doubt, short-lived unity they avoided the subjects of foreign policy and the defence of our country. One of the few things they made clear is that they would renounce our nuclear deterrent and accept that Britain should become, as it were, a camp follower in world affairs. To that I would quote the words of the greatest living Englishman, ‘What kind of people do they think we are?’ Now, our own nuclear deterrent has strengthened not only the defence but also the diplomacy of our country. And I would like to add this, that until such time as a comprehensive agreement on disarmament can be reached – and we shall never give up working for such an agreement – the Government does not intend to disarm Britain unilaterally. British nuclear strength is too powerful an influence for peace frivolously to be thrown away. Now, the signing of the Test Ban Treaty was, of course, only a beginning. The next step is to extend it and build upon it; and this we are trying to do. There is rising hope of success, and here, Sir, I must pay a tribute to you as our Foreign Secretary for the efforts you have made. (Applause).


MR. BUTLER: I am sorry your duties as Chairman conflict with the emotions we all feel about you, not only as our Foreign Secretary, but as our friend. The Government, I say with all authority, will not miss the opportunity given us by the Test Ban Treaty. We must not rush forward in a moment of thoughtless euphoria. But neither should we dawdle in a fog of defeatism and cynicism. We must urge our allies in Europe and outside Europe to press on boldly, to keep the momentum of negotiation and discussion going. I repeat, if we stay strong – and I stress that – there is every hope that we shall be able to register some new advances. These may be brought about in private negotiation, as was the case with the Test Ban Treaty, at various levels, or by the machinery of a Summit Conference. The prize matters more than the process. And so it may come to pass that our children and grandchildren will look back upon these years as the point in time when the nightmare of war between civilised peoples began to fade away and the peace began to dawn.

Now, my Lord Chairman, we have had an inspiring Conference and I will now endeavour, before I resume my seat, to sum up. A Programme for Peace is above all a Programme for People, for peace is what people care about most. I have said that a Socialist victory would be an unmitigated disaster. Abroad, they would weaken our voice and our strength by throwing away our independent deterrent. At home they have no contribution to make to our economic affairs which was not tried and found wanting years ago. Their intention seems to be to transform our country into what the old-fashioned Whigs used to call Little England – the modern prescription being, it appears, an American dependency a la Wilson, with a Swedish wealth tax a la Callaghan, and a Yugoslavian social system a la Crossman. We reject and repudiate these absurd aberrations of the left-wing mind. We stand, not for Little England, but for Great Britain – a Britain that is great in its tireless service to peace; a Britain that is great in economic justice and respect for the individual; above all, a Britain that is great by virtue of compassion for its fellow men wherever they may be. These have always been the deep convictions of our Party. We are, in Sir Robert Peel’s words, ‘a great national Party, deriving its strength from the popular will’.

Conservatives have always believed in the British people. In the last three elections the British people have shown that they believe in us. Now let us believe in ourselves. Let us tell the people we are determined to tend and care for ‘the flame of freedom in our souls’. Because we alone can keep this alight. (Applause).

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