At CWA’s Convention 2000, held September 14-16 in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, served as the honored banquet speaker. This article, originally published in the November/December 2000 Family Voice, contains excerpts from her address and the question-and-answer session that followed it.
It is a great honor to address the national convention of Concerned Women for America, with some 575,000 members. You’re concerned, above all, for the values for which you and your marvelous country stand.
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is saying that the United States’ economic system has produced the greatest prosperity the world has ever seen. He is right, and it’s quite remarkable. The triumph of the United States’ free market system is based on trust and respect for the rule of law, for individual effort, for fair dealing. In Alan Greenspan’s usually generous way, he said this demonstrates the productive capacity of free peoples in a free market. He was, as usual, quite right. But most also think it was due to the excellent leadership.
Free countries have really found the recipe for steady, and I hope perpetual, rising success. That is indeed a great feat. The problems we face today are not so much economic; they’re much more in the sphere of values, in the moral problems of society. It was your second president, John Adams, who wrote, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
A good deal earlier, John Winthrop led the great migration to America in the early 17th century. As his ship neared the coast, he called together those on board. “We shall be as a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14b),” he addressed them. On the voyage to the New World, he told them they must rise to their responsibilities. They must learn to live together as God intended men should live, in charity, love and cooperation. With enormous courage, the first American colonists set out on a perilous journey to an unknown land. They came without government subsidies and not in order to amass fortunes, but to fulfill their faith. Their faith affirmed the sanctity of every individual, as well as their responsibility. As the years passed, these early Americans formed strong communities and devised laws to protect individual freedom, laws that would enshrine the Declaration of Independence a bit later.
With such firm foundations and beliefs, perhaps it is no surprise the early Americans began to build the greatest nation the world has ever known. Countries founded on the rule of force and dictatorship, whether Nazism, fascism or communism, have brought only misery and failure. None of them has succeeded. Only those countries founded on the great moral foundations, with men and women of courage and determination, have weathered everything. And if I might say, many of them have been the English-speaking peoples of the world.
The remarkable love of liberty brought the English-speaking peoples to see down the tyrants and to show the way for the rest of the world. So freedom, the responsibility it requires, and victory over tyranny have added economic success to the quality of life that your values have assured.
President Ronald Reagan
We knew one another before he was President and before I was Prime Minister. I’d heard his speeches and knew that we had the same passion for a law-governed liberty, the same belief that we could do better for our countries than was being done at the time, and that if we put all our beliefs into action, we might be able to have some impact on the Soviet Union. It was Ronnie who brought the Cold War to an end.
It so happened that I saw Mr. Gorbachev first. His first visit out of the Soviet Union had been to open an exhibition in Canada.
He rang and said could he come and see me on the way back. For four hours we discussed every subject between the West and the Soviet Union. He was fluent, easy, confident. When Gorbachev left, I went straight to the phone to ring Ron Reagan to say, “I think this is a man we can do business with.”
With Ronnie’s skillful way of dealing with the politicians, dealing with the whole nation-the people of Russia loved him-the Cold War came to an end. It collapsed suddenly, and we didn’t know quite why. But we do know that Ronnie Reagan was responsible for the collapse of communism and the rebirth of freedom.
Ronnie was always a joy to work with. I knew his great talents and abilities, but some of my colleagues on the European continent didn’t. In 1982 Ronnie and I attended a meeting of the heads of state from America and Europe. It occurred in France under President Mitterand. Everyone had had their say. Ronnie had stayed very quiet, absolutely typical of him. About 20 minutes remained, and President Mitterand wondered how he could keep it going. “Would you like to address your fellow heads of government, President Reagan?” he asked.
Ronnie came to the front, customarily without notes, his thoughts in order and his expression and voice absolutely perfect. He spoke about why and how we had to defeat communism, and why we must put across, more than ever before, the values of our societies. It was magic! He mesmerized them all and finished with one minute remaining. I’d never seen President Mitterand silenced before. He just said, “Well, thank you very much. I think we ought to go to lunch now.”
Ronnie is a very great man. He did so much for the world, and we’ll never forget his warm way of doing it.
I only really ever had one, and he was Winston Churchill. We shall not get another one like him for more than a generation. I have a feeling, which I’m sure you share, that sometimes the good Lord scatters one or two personalities about, believing that one day they’ll come in useful. And Winston did.
The European Union
I could never lose Britain’s sovereignty. The papers said, “Join the Euro,” as if it were a little thing to do. If you lose control over your currency, you’ve lost control over your destiny. I would campaign against going into the Euro, to keep Sterling, to keep Britain’s independence, and I think our side would win.
The Future of Conservatism
We shall win in the United States and Britain, given time, because the policies are right. The alternative to conservatism is a form of socialism: more power and more control by the government over people. That is fundamentally wrong and will not last. It is the conservative view that has minimum control, minimum taxation, minimum regulations. You do everything to encourage free enterprise, which keeps the economy going, which keeps jobs going, and keeps a prosperous nation.
Their industries are grossly over-manned. They are thoroughly outdated. But they are a very powerful nation, as I know, because I had to negotiate with them over Hong Kong. Our forebears over 100 years ago took a lease over Hong Kong, and it ended in my time. We had done very well in Hong Kong. The average annual income was $25,000 per head. Just across the border in China, it was only $800 dollars per head. Similar people, similar abilities, under totally different political systems. They thrived under free enterprise; they were stifled under a total dictatorial system.
Those who run a dictatorial government think they’ve got the best, but what they’ve got is economic tyranny that prevents people from profiting from their own talents and abilities. They will never give up communism voluntarily. And I think it’s going to take a very long time for China to change.
This is a really difficult problem, and I don’t know yet of any technical way to stop it. We could fine people heavily if they were discovered displaying those things. I do know we’ve got to try strenuously to defend young people from this appalling material that is coming straight, not only into their own homes, but sometimes into their own bedrooms. These days children have a television in their own bedrooms. I wouldn’t allow it.
I’ve never known a period when the fundamental values that sustain our civilization have been challenged as much as they are now. That is a cause of concern, not only to every government, but also to all sound, good-minded people. Certain standards are being steadily undermined on a very large scale, like the sanctity of the family. This is extremely difficult.
Importance of the Family
In days gone by, we knew that a good home, good parents, good education, good local facilities, and a background of liberty and the rule of law would give everyone a good start. Unfortunately, the traditional family is not so traditional any longer. There are many single parents, and this puts an extra burden on the schools.
We have figures available that show the frequency of crime among pupils and particularly among some minority races. It is not a function of race. It is the absence of marriage that characterizes the families of pupils who break the law. The absence of marriage robs the pupils of the security they would have had.