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1986 Mar 10 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Italian Television (RAI)

Document type:speeches
Document kind:TV Interview
Venue:No.10 Downing Street
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)
Editorial comments:1720-1755. The interview was broadcast on 18 March 1986. For copyright reasons the questions have been paraphrased. The full original can be examined on the Oxford CD-ROM. This interview is the source of MT’s remark: “I always cheer up immensely if one is particularly wounding because I think well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. That is why my father always taught me: never worry about anyone who attacks you personally; it means their arguments carry no weight and they know it.”
Importance ranking:Minor
Word count:2367
Themes:Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Autobiography (marriage and children), Conservatism, Conservatism, Defence (Falklands War 1982), General Elections, Family, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Leadership, Strikes and other union action, Women, Famous statements by MT

Enzo Biagi , Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Describe your day as a woman and PM?

Prime Minister

Well, the days vary according to the day of the week. On Tuesday and Thursday, I am always in the House of Commons answering questions. Also on Thursday is a Cabinet Meeting, so those days are almost entirely devoted to parliamentary work. On other days, I get up fairly early. I start listening to the news at about six o'clock and I am up an hour later. I do some work before coming down to the office at nine o'clock. Then I will see people or hold meetings throughout the morning. I sometimes go out and speak at a luncheon. More meetings or a visit in the afternoon. Perhaps a reception or a speech in the evening. Sometimes, on an ordinary day, it can amount to ten or eleven engagements and then, at about ten or eleven o'clock at night, I return upstairs to my flat with a whole lot of paper work to do, in preparation for the next day, and it may take two or three hours, so it is quite a long day.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Much difference between governing a family and a country?[fo 1]

Prime Minister

Well, in some ways not. I think in some respects the principles are the same. You know, whether you are a family or a country, you have to live within your means and stick to a budget, but there are lots of things that you would like to have but you cannot have because you have not enough money to have them all. That is the same.

And then I think also there is another similarity. If you are bringing up a family, you cannot do it by doing everything for your children. You have to teach them to do things for themselves and to take their own decisions according to how old they are, and it is the same with a country. You cannot do everything for people, nor should they want you to in a free society, but in a free society they must take responsibility for their own actions and look to themselves and to their own efforts for their standard of living, and not expect governments to do too much for them. So some things are similar.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Someone said you are the only woman among many men and the only man among your ministers. Are you flattered? Or do you think being a woman makes no difference?

Prime Minister

It sounds as if it was the sort of remark made by a man, because men always think that it is a compliment to a woman to say she thinks like a man, and I am not sure that we women would[fo 2] take that same view.

I judge people really rather by their personality, not by whether they are men or women; but whether they have a strong enough personality, whether they are decisive enough, whether they are prepared to face questions and not run away from them; and that is much much more important than the particular sex.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Which do you prefer between two great women leaders — Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir —which one would you prefer?

Prime Minister

I knew them both and liked and admired them both. Both had something very different from being the first woman British Prime Minister. Both were pioneers in their countries' independence. Mrs. Gandhi was the daughter of Nehru and Golda Meir, right from the beginning, and it is, I think, a little bit different when you are a pioneer in your country's independence, from coming to power with a country with an age-old tradition of the rule of law and democracy. So they faced enormous problems; in some respects similar, because all democracies have some problems, but you know people want more than sometimes they can have, and governments cannot give it to them. And sometimes, having to decide between competing groups who all want things and to make decisions which are unpopular and Mrs. Meir, of course, had also to face some warlike situations and I had to face Falklands. So I knew and admired and had[fo 3] talks with them both. Mrs. Gandhi perhaps better than Mrs. Meir, and I do particularly miss Mrs. Gandhi because, in a way, we could talk about things which no other two women could talk about, because perhaps we fully understood them and could talk more frankly.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Where did your vocation for politics come from?

Prime Minister

Do you know, I am often asked that and I find it very difficult to answer. It was just that I have a natural interest in it and we always discussed these matters in our home when I was a young girl. We were encouraged to read, we were encouraged to go out to lectures, we were encouraged to get involved, and therefore I found a natural fascination for it. We were also encouraged to read and talk about history because, of course, each country is a compound of its own character, of its own political institutions, and of its own history. And then there are certain things which are common to all nations.

So I was very much encouraged during my early days by my family, and I suppose I developed the same fascination for politics as other people may have for music, for literature or the stage, and I really just could not leave it alone.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] You said: "I wish every Englishman was a capitalist!" Why?[fo 4]

Prime Minister

Because if you are a capitalist, it means you have some stake in the country in which you live. You may own some land, you may own the home in which you live, you may have some savings, but the important thing is that you have some independence, some independence, and a country whose people all have a little bit of their own independence is likely to be very much stronger than a country which has not. And so I often say that what I am trying to do is to have popular capitalism. That means everyone has an opportunity to acquire either some land or savings or goods, or have something behind, some savings behind them.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] You were first woman Prime Minister in Britain. Is there a secret way to get to the top?

Prime Minister

Is there a secret to get to the top? I do not think it is really very different in politics from any other profession, or indeed in sport or music or the arts. It means working incredibly hard; it means trying to master your subject; it means always trying to improve and in our case always trying to understand people and trying to put your case. But I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but it should get you pretty near, but everyone needs just a little bit of luck. Sometimes the times work with you. I have known people being very very able but just their time did not come.[fo 5]

I worked … I took advantage of every opportunity, not knowing where it would lead. I never expected it to lead here, but it did, and it is a job that I love and hope to go on doing.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

Do you like being called "The Iron Lady"?

Prime Minister

Do you know, I have not been called it so long. Almost soon after I became Leader of my Party. It was because I made a very tough speech on defence and the need, if you love and believe in freedom, to defend your freedom; and part of defending your freedom is to make a pretty accurate and cold-blooded assessment of any potential aggressors, and that is what I did, and so from that speech I got the title "The Iron Lady" and you know, if you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a touch of iron about you. So I don't really mind it!

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] What were the most difficult days in your political career?

Prime Minister

Oh, each time you come up against a difficulty, it seems the most difficult one. I think the days which were most anxious[fo 6] of all were the days of the Falklands, because some of one's soldiers were at war and you knew that they and their families were making sacrifices which is of a totally different order from any ordinary political problem and so each day was filled with anxiety, and that of quite a different order from anything else, although when we had the Coal Strike for a year—and I did not know how it was going to end or how long it was going to go on—and one saw and heard some of the scenes of intimidation, that too was anxious.

You can see, I think, what one is saying: that whether it is war or whether it is violence or whether it is crimes of violence, those things give one more profound worry and anxiety than anything else.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Most difficult days in your personal life?

Prime Minister

Difficult days in my personal life. Goodness me! Well, you know, one is constantly coming up to difficult hurdles. As you come up to each one, it is difficult to get over, but as you come up you think: "Well, I have got over all the hurdles before, so I can get over this one!"

Obviously, when you go to an election and so much depends on it, the future of your country depends upon it, in our case your whole philosophy, the whole policy that your country follows, depends to some extent on the Leader of the Party. You do feel[fo 7] the burden upon you very heavily then as you wait for the results to come in—that night in 1979, and again in 1983, and again when the next one comes—but I have always been so lucky. The family has been marvellous. My husband is wonderful and my children are wonderful, and although we are very far apart sometimes, the children, we are always very much together; we always telephone; and Carol was with me in the last election the whole time, and my son comes and if they hear of anything on the news which they know might worry me, they always ring up, and that you know, to have a family behind you, it is that that enables you to get through some of the most difficult days.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Has your career created problems for your children?

Prime Minister

Yes, immense problems, because if you are a child of someone who is well known in public life, then inevitably, everything which the child does or young person, comes under public scrutiny. It is very unfair on them. When I was young, my father was not well known, so one was allowed to make one's mistakes in privacy—and so should every young person—but everything is heightened. Sometimes, things are totally distorted, and it is very wounding. I, you know, expect it for oneself, but it is very rough on one's family, and I think that it reflects not on them, but on those who do the distortion, and they should themselves know better, because they would know too that they would not like their children to be the target of such comment.[fo 8]

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Has being husband of the PM been a burden for Mr. Thatcher ?

Prime Minister

Sometimes I think he would like just to get away for a little time, but you know he does. I have always understood that. He must sometimes, because he has his own career and works very hard. He must sometimes get away and go away for a week or ten days with his own friends on a golfing holiday and he does, and he will sometimes get away from No. 10 and Chequers and go down to … we have a flat in a country house … and he must go down to that … and that is vital … just so that he can recover and go out with his own friends and it all works marvellously, and he does so much that I am immensely grateful to him.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Which criticism offends you most?

Prime Minister

Oh dear! That is always very very difficult. In my work, you get used to criticisms. Of course you do, because there are a lot of people trying to get you down, but I always cheer up immensely if one is particularly wounding because I think well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. That is why my father always taught me: never worry about anyone who attacks you personally; it means their arguments carry no weight and they know it.[fo 9]

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Which compliment flatters you most?

Prime Minister

I just think the compliment … that it is known that during the time that I have been Prime Minister of Britain that we really have managed to tackle some of the fundamental problems and change old attitudes and really have managed to modernise the industries of Britain, change industrial relations, start on popular capitalism, free up so much that was unfree. We have also given great emphasis on defence and being reliable allies, internationally we have not run away from problems. We have tackled them, whether it be bring independence to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, whether it be tackling our European problems, whether it be tackling the problem of Hong Kong. All of those and many others we have tackled, and therefore, I think the compliment is that we really have faced problems which others have shunned, and in doing so we have changed a rather defeatist Britain into one with both great prospects for the future and one which carries respect in the world.

Enzo Biagi, Italian TV (RAI)

[Question paraphrased:] Does power make you lonely?

Prime Minister

Yes, power does create loneliness. I suppose it always has, and that was one thing which made it so easy to talk to Mrs. Gandhi and Golda Meir, because they understood the loneliness of the difficult decisions and there are not many people to whom[fo 10] you can talk about it. But again, you rely on family and friends to see you through those difficult times. But yes, it is lonely, because other people make the easy decisions and so one is left with the difficult ones.

Interviewer

Thank you very much, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

My pleasure. I am very much looking forward to the day in Italy on Wednesday.