The Prime Minister, the Right Honourable David Cameron, unveiled a portrait of the late Baroness Thatcher at Saïd Business School on Friday 13th 2014 to mark the naming of the School’s new building: the Thatcher Business Education Centre.
Welcomed by Professor Andrew Hamilton, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and by Professor Peter Tufano, Dean of Saïd Business School, The Prime Minister unveiled the painting of Baroness Thatcher before speaking about her business legacy. An edited transcript of his speech is published below.
"I’ve come straight from no.10 Downing Street this morning, so I’ve come from one famous home of Margaret Thatcher to another famous home of Margaret Thatcher and it’s when those eyes stare at you from above [gesturing at a portrait of Baroness Thatcher] it always reminds me of what I should be doing in this job.
"I’ll never forget the first time I met Margaret Thatcher – I was a junior researcher at Conservative Central Office and my responsibility was Energy and Trade and Industry and at the Christmas party we all stood there in awe of this extraordinary leader, both desperate to have a chance to talk to her, but also terrified of what she might say to us. And she drew up to me and said ‘What do you do?’ I said Energy and Trade and Industry, and she said ‘So what did you think of today’s trade figures?’ - and of course I had not seen today’s trade figures and I remember just thinking I wanted the ground to open up and disappear. And I thought that was probably the end of my political career, but fortunately I managed to struggle through.
"One of the final times I had a long conversation with her was in 2004 and I was writing the Conservative manifesto at the time and I said to her Margaret how do you think I should structure this, what should I do and she just gripped my arm and said ‘There’s only one thing that matters – liberty under the rule of law, all the rest is not important’ and I think those were very wise words from an extraordinary woman.
"It’s a great pleasure to be here today and a great pleasure to follow Wafic. The truth is I was at Oxford when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and let’s be frank she wasn’t properly appreciated by Oxford at that time and actually when we look at what she did for the British economy and what that has meant in terms of the investment we’ve been able to put into our educational institutions, I think you can see that Oxford has actually gone from strength to strength and it’s a real privilege to be an Oxfordshire MP today as my constituency benefits from the extraordinary vibrancy of this city and of this University.
"Wafic and Rosemary [Saïd] are good friends and they are great, great philanthropists. Whether it is helping students from Palestine to get a good education, whether its caring for disabled children in Lebanon, whether its delivering emergency medical care in Syria or providing a world-class education here in Oxford, Wafic and Rosemary have brought positive change to a huge number of lives – and I would like to take this opportunity to say to Wafic and Rosemary thank you again for everything you do.
"Now we’re naming this centre and we’re honouring an individual and I think it’s absolutely right that a building emblazoned with Margaret Thatcher’s name will stand here in Oxford, a monument to one of this university’s most stellar graduates in all its 800 years. I think it’s particularly fitting that this is a centre for business education. Margaret was a passionate champion of business in this country and I think her passion came at just the right time, at a time when people were wondering whether Britain was heading for decline, when we needed a shot in the arm – and that is what she delivered.
"Now I’ve only got a few minutes today, but I want to tell you what I think are the three big beliefs of Mrs Thatcher that really changed the game for British business. They are simple things; they seem simple now but they weren’t simple. In fact they were radical when she proposed them. Number one was simple, that business should be left to free enterprise. It’s hard to recall but 25 years ago the state owned not just the gas, the electricity, the coal industry but also steel, aerospace, ship-building, water, telecoms. There was a state removal company and the government owned the travel agents Thomas Cook! It’s another world but when we think of the transformation that has taken place. She believed the central planning of bureaucrats can never match the innovation of millions of people who are free to pursue their own ideas in a free economy. So she privatised, she de-regulated – she set British industry free. I think the interesting thing is that the great victory is that the free market consensus that she established has not really been seriously challenged since. Governments have come, governments have gone, we’ve had recessions, we’ve had crashes, but the basic argument about how to run an economy stands firm, and I think every British business can thank her for that.
"Secondly, again – fantastically simple and straightforward, but it didn’t seem so at the time, that management must be allowed to manage. It’s hard to remember just what a decade of strikes the 1970s was – 60,000 worker years lost. Imagine today trying to keep up with a global economy if business couldn’t make changes, if they had half their staff walking out rather than try to compete with India and China. It is almost unimaginable. But these battles were vital and they were fought and they were won. I’m absolutely clear, trade unions have a proper place in a free society, but within the rule of law, democratically led and properly accountable. The things we used to have – strikes without a ballot, closed shops, flying pickets and blockades – they’re all gone. It was a revolution in our labour markets and businesses, and our economy has reaped the rewards from that day to this.
"But third and perhaps most important – she was a fantastic optimist. She had a belief in Britain. She made people believe that it didn’t matter where you were from, where you went to school, what your name is, whether you’re a man or a woman – you can make it if you are willing to work hard enough. She put industry and hard work on a pedestal in terms of our national imagination. Her favourite poet Kipling wrote: ‘No easy hope or lies/ Shall bring us to our goal/ But iron sacrifice/ of body, will and soul.’ That is what she believed. It was an iron attitude that inspired thousands of people, that drove a generation of entrepreneurs, that led to countless jobs and opportunities – she made Britain believe in itself again. Not as a country whose time had been and gone, but as a country whose time had come.
"And I think we need exactly the same optimism today and I hope the Saïd Business School will help lead this. There is an argument in our world today, put out by some, that globalisation is going to inevitably result in the hollowing out of middle income and middle class jobs, that we should just erect barriers and try to avoid as much of it as we can. I think this is completely wrong. I see no reason why, if Britain invests in its talent, if Britain makes the most of its industries, makes the most of its science base, its skills, its position in the world, its language, its time zone - makes the most of all of those things, we can be a success. But we need a generation of optimists in politics, in business, in universities to make that happen, and I hope that Margaret Thatcher would be proud, but not surprised, to see the British economy coming back today.
"Since I walked through the gates of No.10 Downing Street, 2 million extra jobs have been created in the private sector. Not by government, but by government enabling the private sector to invest and to grow. We’ve doubled our exports to China, we’re now one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world. I think she’d be proud to see Britain coming back, and I think she’d be immensely proud to see what is happening right here in Oxford. We have scientists pioneering cutting-edge DNA technology, and I’ve got one of the first .. geodes on my desk in No.10, engineers developing the first plane to fly through space, physicists recreating a supernova in a laboratory. And today I think she’d be very proud to see her name on this building. It’s a place to nurture free-thinking, to inspire enterprise, to light the fires of new businesses. And what better tribute to Margaret Thatcher could there be? So now, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to formally name this place: The Thatcher Business Education Centre."