Interview for Press Association (10th anniversary as Prime Minister)
|Document type:||public statement|
|Venue:||No.10 Downing Street|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: COI transcript|
|Journalist:||Chris Moncrieff (and colleague), Press Association|
|Editorial comments:||0930-1015. Immediately after the interview MT did a photocall in Downing Street holding her baby grandson Michael, while his parents looked on. She commented how patient the baby was (BBC indexes), talked about his clothes, asked if he cried, and apologised for the absence of Denis (ITN indexes).|
|Themes:||Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage and children), Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Defence (Falklands War 1982), Economy (general discussions), Monetary policy, Privatised and state industries, Pay, Secondary education, Higher and further education, General Elections, Environment, Economic, monetary and political union, European Union Single Market, Family, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Labour Party and Socialism, Law and order, Leadership, Media, Northern Ireland, Religion/Morality, Society, Terrorism, Strikes and other union action, Women|
Prime Minister, what do you regard your greatest achievements in your ten years? First of all congratulations on it.
Thank you very much. I think really the greatest achievement is to have restored Britain's reputation in the world. Everyone knows now that Britain counts for something once again in the world at large. That is a result really of many other achievements. Obviously, it is a result also of having a strong economy again, it is a result of having a strong and sure defence, it is a result of having led quite a foremost part in many international occasions. But I think it is the most outward and visible sign, apart from the increasing standard of living, which everyone knows about, the most outward and visible sign in which everyone can take pride.[fo 1]
What do you regard as your greatest challenge that you now face?
There are so many, there are always great challenges ahead. I think the immediate one, well there are two immediate ones, one is to keep NATO strong, it is its 40th anniversary this year and we cannot have any sign of weakening now; the second is to get Britain and the Common Market into a truly Common Market. It is not just a question of free trade, it is a question of getting Europe to something much more fundamental than that, to fair competition, and handling some of the many other issues that will come up.
On the home front, the greatest challenge at the moment is to get inflation down and still maintain a slower but reasonable rate of growth. Because without the growth and the enterprise, we cannot have either the higher standard of living or social services, or the increasing generosity to other countries on things, for example, like tropical forests.
Do you think the green issue has been tackled too late?[fo 2]
No, I do not think it has been tackled too late. The Conservative Party, in a way, has been tapping green issues for years and years. You will recall, I do, the Clean Air Act in the mid–1950s. Do you remember that very great smog in the early 1950s and then we had the great Clean Air Act to clean up the air of London? There have been so many of them over the years.
But I think what we have had in the last few years is a totally new dimension to environmental problems. It is that these great systems, these global systems, you know the ozone layer and the carbon dioxide layer, and do not forget we should not have life on this planet without something of a greenhouse effect because it is that that raises the temperature of the earth enough to sustain life.
But what we know now in the last ten years, is that these systems are being changed because of the amount of chemicals that we are putting up into the atmosphere and we might be changing them fundamentally. That is why we have got this new factor and which involves all countries, it is no good us being very careful about what we put into the atmosphere if countries infinitely bigger and larger than we carry on as before or without learning the lessons of science.
So I think we have got it in time but they are two aspects, the immediate pollution, which we are tackling and there will be a big Act in the coming Parliament to up-date previous Acts and previous legislation.[fo 3]
So the immediate pollution, the pollution of the North Sea, the air, a certain amount of new local pollution from nitrates, for example, in water, and then there is the global, the world's life-supporting systems, about which we are gradually knowing so much more and know that we cannot leave things carrying on in the way they are.
Are you perturbed at all about what seems to be a growing resurgence of industrial strife?
No, I do not think I would necessarily say that. You know there was quite a big strike at Fords some time ago, there has been a previous one at Jaguar. There have been these strikes. The whole total number of strikes is very much down but no-one can say that we have been absolutely without them because we have not.
Normal Willis spoke of the possibility of a spring of discontent. Does that bother you?[fo 4]
Well, it just does not look like it, does it? When you think of the winter of discontent, the hospitals on strike, the grave-diggers were on strike, the lorry drivers were on strike, it really was terrible.
Do not forget in those days we had an incomes policy and an incomes policy in the end lands you in trouble, a rigid incomes policy, and in the end it lands you in trouble.
You have complained a lot about the litter problem. What do you think are the worst features in Britain today?
The worst feature about the litter problem, it is very ironic that everyone is talking about measures for being green and yet they are not even thinking of clearing up the worst of the litter or the graffiti. No, that is not correct, there are great efforts in the schools, I went to a little play in a school the other day to teach children to collect bottles and take them to the bottle bank. There are great efforts on the Keep Britain Tidy and to tidy up the graffiti. And many of the shops are very very particular about keeping the frontages very good.[fo 5]
But it is very ironic that with a higher, more prosperous society, where a lot more is spent on packaging, the first thing people do with packaging is to throw it down. And the litter is appalling. I do think people are becoming more conscious of it now, but we still must have a very great effort.
We should not have litter but for people who throw it down, quite careless of the kind of city they are creating or of the needs of others.
What other features do you not like that you see about you? What about violence?
Obviously, if you ask about a very very big challenge, it is not only a challenge to government, it is a challenge to civilisation itself, that rising prosperity has brought a rising level of crime I think the world over. People used to think it was rising unemployment but it is not.
It is increasing means, together with vastly increased freedom of young people, together with I think sometimes too loose a discipline at home. I think everyone is better if they are brought up to live by some kind of rules. You need some kind of rules to live in society and if they get too loose then you do get some of the problems we are experiencing now.[fo 6]
I think I would put it this way. There is a quite fundamental problem. Many people are prepared to take the freedom, use it, enjoy it, but they are not prepared to take the responsibility that comes with it. And you will find that most of the problems in life come from people abusing freedom and not rising to the responsibility, which is really quite inseparable from it.
So that means they are thoughtless of the needs of others. But you cannot live in any community like that.
Do you think television and the press has deteriorated at all?
I think what I said is true of many aspects of life. There are people who take the freedom and who sometimes abuse it and do not rise to the responsibilities that go with it. And I think many many people, not least our best and most professional journalists, are worried about some of the things that appear in the press, some of the intrusions into privacy, sometimes the way in which people who have greatly suffered are constantly asked again and again for photographs, their grief is intruded into when they want to be left alone.[fo 7]
I think that is why people are searching for something which tries to keep the freedom which we cherish but which makes very clear, George Bernard Shaw's old saying, which is so true: freedom incurs responsibility, and you really cannot have the one without the other.
I know you probably would never contemplate defeat, but can you envisage Labour ever governing Britain again?
Obviously I hope not because Labour remains socialist, socialism is a creed which, by its very nature, is central control over the lives of people. Less freedom for people to use their own talents and abilities and make their own decisions, more power by government over people.
It is a version of communism. I have lived in politics through a period when I remember, was it Khrushchev at the United Nations saying to the West: "We will bury you"? Well, it is not Marxism that has buried the West, it is the West that is steadily and slowly burying Marxism.
But socialism is a version of Marxism. Do not forget it is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.[fo 8]
I obviously hope not, because it is not good for people. It is quite absurd, you educate people more and more and give them greater and greater opportunity, greater and greater capacity to make their own decisions, greater and greater earning power, and then at the that time you take so many of the powers to take their own decisions away from them. It is quite absurd.[fo 9]
What do you think about the performance of the present Opposition?
I leave them to get on with their own job in their own way. I have more important things to do than to spend my life looking at them or criticising them. We keep our eye on the positive, constructive way the whole time.
Have you any views about the current spate of opinion polls which are not terribly favourable, I don't think, at the moment?[fo 10]
No. The opinion poll that matters most to me is an election, when people are looking at your whole record and then they are looking at the alternative and I think when they look at our whole record, we have done so much which has enabled people to achieve so much. It is not that the Government has done it—it is their whole policies that have enabled all people's talents and abilities to flower, whether it be the ability to build up business and create employment for others or whether it be the extra ability, through their earning power, to have money to help others; whether it be the extra ability to own their homes and build up capital and savings out of income. Do you know, that is the first time in my life that that has been able to happen—that you can become a capitalist and have something to hand on to your children out of income. So everyone can do it, and they look at all of those things. I reckon well over 50 percent of trade unionists—probably more than that—vote for us because they have been given more power over the decisions that rule their lives and over their trade union bosses.
When it comes to an election, they look at the whole thing; they look at your reputation overseas, they look at defence; they look at the strength that we have. Then they say: "Now, what is the alternative?" and I think that is the explanation of why.[fo 11]
Having set our faces to a certain goal, we have gone steadily towards those goals and not been deflected in any way and we have never never never sacrificed the long-term goals to short-term political expediency and I think people sometimes wish, you know, that they could have everything more easily, but they know life does not come like that and I think that is the explanation why they say: "Please!. We respect what this Government has done!" You know, if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing!
Tell me! Can you think of any mistakes you may have made?
I am sure there are lots and lots, but if I give you a list of the mistakes, I shall give you material on which to write articles for ever and a day and you will forget all of the achievements because I am afraid good news is no news.
Is there anything you have done which you might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight that hits you between the eyes, as it were?[fo 12]
I think there are probably many things that, tactically, one might have taken differently.
I think one of the difficulties now—it is a kind of new difficulty—is that the European Commission is churning out so many regulations and trying to acquire a political competence over all areas of politics, a kind of rival competence to the one we have got at home, so that it is quite difficult to know precisely what is going on, and it could affect our lives and we are now very wary of that and watching it very carefully.
You say what can one do differently! It has been such a battle, in a way, to hold the ship on course and to stay on course when so many people, as things get difficult, say: "No, no, no! Take the easy way!" The easy way is the difficult way in the end. But I think, therefore, one tends—particularly with the kind of atmosphere that there is in the House at Question Time where you are always attacked—to defend oneself. Of course, most women defend themselves—it is the female of the species, the tigress, the lioness of the species that tends to defend when attacked because you are defending everything you have done, including your family and your political family.[fo 13]
I think that perhaps that might have given the feeling that one is constantly in some kind of battle, whereas in fact you really would not go through all the difficulties and problems and hard times unless you really had an object and a goal worth achieving, which is of course a better life for the people of this country and others, by enabling them to harness their own efforts and work together with other peoples of like mind to build a better community, using "community" in the sense of the place in which you live, the village, the town—not a society. "Society" is a sort of concept. The community is a real, living thing of human beings and, of course, when you use your talents and abilities, you are constantly thinking and using them in relation to other people and this great word "duty" which some people think is such a cold word—it is not! By definition, it means that you are automatically thinking of other people.
So all of these things are so very important but require daily effort. You can never leave them alone.
Prime Minister, I was wondering if you could look back over ten years, can you point to any personal memories that you would cherish that are high points in your career, that mean a lot to you?[fo 14]
High points? Let me put it the other way!
The first four years were extremely difficult. When you are changing course, it takes a long time for the benefits to show and I remember in the 1980 Party Conference it was suggested that we do a U-turn and I said: "No! We are not going to do a U-turn!" At the 1981 Conference: "Well, you must change your policies!" and I said: No, the defeat of inflation was too important. We were not going to change our policy to seek short-term popularity.
I say that to indicate, but do you know, in a strange way, this firmness showed through so that when the Falklands came the world knew we could be firm and the Falklands decision was so right. But personally, the Falklands was the most difficult period that I have had to live through because hour by hour, you waited for the news and although the Falklands were eight thousand miles away, they really were not—they were right in my study, right in the Cabinet Room and, of course, in one's room at the House almost every hour of the day and night.
The other very difficult time also was, of course, the Coal Strike.
We look back on these things. We know they were won. Hindsight is easy. It is foresight that is difficult and uncertain and I remember the feelings day by day.[fo 15]
Of course, the Brighton bomb left us bereft of so many friends and was traumatic, but the courage! I shall never forget! The next morning at 9.30, I was determined to be on the platform—so was the Chairman of the Party. I walked on that platform at 9.30 to start the proceedings and gradually the hall filled because everyone came—everyone! They were not going to be defeated by terrorism! It really was most moving. It took a long time because the security was strict. Steadily, the whole thing built up in the hall. British people were not going to be defeated by that sort of thing! It was absolutely fantastic!
That was the first Parliament and the second Parliament.
The other very traumatic time, which was because it was a decision that was difficult to take—but we have never run away from difficult decisions—was when we were requested by the United States if they could use the Libyan bases [sic] That was a decision that we took and it was absolutely the right decision but because you took the right decision does not make it an easy decision and it takes a long time to ... and of course, people did not understand and it took a long time and a lot of explanation for for us to enable them to understand.
I think there have been other occasions.
If I look back through the Commonwealth, which is very important to Britain, right at the beginning we had some great successes.[fo 16]
I have told you about the difficult times we had at the beginning, but we were sustained by the great successes. The great successes actually were in keeping with the firmness that we were displaying on the economic front. The firmness on the economic front was matched by the firmness on the Commonwealth and foreign affairs front and also on the terrorist front, so it was all of a piece.
For example, the first year, we were right into the problem of Rhodesia. Could we solve it? And we did! And that came in the first year and it really was a terrific success and marvellous working with everyone to do it. One leader after another from the Commonwealth came in the room while we were negotiating because they all wanted to be kept in touch and they all were kept in touch. That was a great success. It was great firmness coupled with enormous skill in negotiating. Peter Carrington was absolutely terrific, but that was a success and a success on one front helps you, you know, to get through the others.
Very soon after that, we had great big hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. Again, we were firm and in the end, we defeated the hunger strike as a weapon. It was the same kind of firmness: "This is absurd! We are not going to be bullied by these tactics!"[fo 17]
The third thing, again, was very difficult but I think what people now realise was right was standing absolutely firm—almost alone in the Commonwealth but winning through—against sanctions on South Africa and saying you do not solve a problem by putting people into unemployment, poverty and starvation and now, we have kept people away from the sanctions and it looks as if there is a chance of getting through to solving South Africa's problems.
Does that give you a feeling of the flavour?[fo 18]
It certainly does, yes. I was thinking on the personal side, moments that you cherish and perhaps also moments where you look back and think, "Gosh, that was a little embarrassing, I wish that had not happened."
I think there have probably been quite a lot of those. But the overriding memory is that whatever the difficulties and whatever the worries, we are a very closely knit family and we are always together, even though we are far apart. Would you understand that? Even though we are far apart.
I can remember one day when Oxford, this in Oxford, they were not going to give me an Honorary Degree, perfectly entitled to make that decision, it was a possibility I had always faced but allowed my name to go forward because I had so many friends who wanted it to do so.[fo 19]
As I say, it was a possibility I had always faced, and apparently it flashed up on the news channels in the United States, where of course my [ Mark Thatcher] son by that time was living, and you know within half an hour he had rung up and said: "Don't worry, mummy" and within about two hours there were some flowers here. You know the message, and it is this kind of closeness that really is my abiding and enduring, not memory, it is part of my life, every day.
[ Denis Thatcher] Denis is always there and [ Carol Thatcher] Carol too, I remember after the Brighton bomb she was in South Korea on a journalist job, you know she goes all over the world, and she was out at supper with some politicians and she had read that there was an incident in Brighton, it was a bomb, but there was no trouble and her host said: "Look, there was trouble, some people were killed and I think you had better go and ring up your mother." So immediately, very very quickly. Carol too came and telephoned and of course we did not have good news about many of our friends.
But I say those because it shows the close-knittedness of the family. Of course it was a great joy when my [ Mark Thatcher] son married [ Diane Thatcher] Diane, she is absolutely lovely and it was marvellous that we were in this house at the time of the wedding and that we went to the wedding from here. That was a very very very great joy and of course when the [ Michael Thatcher] grandson was born, well just everything seemed worthwhile again, you know you have just an extra special interest in the future.[fo 20]
It was the first time you had met last night is that right?
[ Michael Thatcher] He is coming in this morning for the first time.
You have not seen him before?
No, no, they had a long journey from Dallas, a very long journey from Dallas, and obviously my [ Diane Thatcher] daughter-in-law was tired and I thought the most important thing was to get sleep.
I presume you have been keeping in fairly close contact?
I have got lovely photographs.
Can you tell us a little bit about him before we see him, what is he like?[fo 21]
Let us just see him first. I think from the photographs he looks a little like his [ Mark Thatcher] father at the same age.
Tell me, Prime Minister, do you have any regrets about the way your family have suffered from the spotlight because of your job?
Always, that is one of the most difficult things. It is I think difficult both here and in the United States, maybe in democracies as a whole, that your families are constantly in the spotlight and therefore it is much more difficult for them to have a private life and most young people you know can make their mistakes without having the spotlight on them. It is very very difficult when everything that you have to learn from in life is on the front pages. But there you are.
Are you happy with the way they have coped?
They have learned to cope, we have learned to cope, we have to, here, you have to cope.[fo 22]
And of course your husband has played a tremendously important part, has he not, in supporting you?
Oh enormous, we could not have done it without him and [ Denis Thatcher] he has got his own niche in the affections of the people of this country. He has just gone about things his own way, he has never changed.
He gave one interview early on, I think, and I think never again, he has never given an interview ever since and I think as a matter of fact it is very very good advice for the families of politicians, never give interviews. Maybe you do not like it, but never give interviews. It is something that the others are now following.
Does it distress you when you and your family come under personal attack?
It I am afraid goes with the job, that is what Party politics expose you to and if you put yourself in the front line of politics you are going to get shot at and of course you are going to defend yourself.[fo 23]
There is no point in getting upset about it. I do not read some of these things because I was taught very early on in life that if people are venomous and have only to attack you personally, they have lost every argument, they have got nothing constructive to say, and you really should not waste your time on thinking about them. Just let it glance off you and go on doing the things that you believe are right to do.
It is not as easy as it sounds but when people are venomous and vicious, well I think it tells you more about them than about the person they are attacking.
Can I take you back twenty years ago when you said, you are on record as saying, that you could not see there being a female Prime Minister in your lifetime and you would not have liked the job yourself?
I never thought there would be. I did not set out to be Prime Minister, it would have been far too arrogant an ambition ever to have. I was only too delighted when it became possible for me to have an ambition of becoming a Member of Parliament.[fo 24]
Living history has always fascinated me, as indeed the past history. And to have a part in it was really the peak of one's ambitions. It was not that I went into politics, in a way it was that I could not keep away from it. And the training that I had, both in science and in law, I never gave up the political ambitions all through that and it was absolutely wonderful when I became a Member of Parliament and I remember sitting on the Back Benches and watching the interflow of debate, the noisy sessions, sometimes feeling very anxious that it was not really debate, you know a kind of tit-for-tat, and it was the debate that I was really interested in.
I remember sitting on those Back Benches and thinking "Goodness me, how do those people on the Front Benches ever stand it? How do they ever go through this? I do not think I could do it."
Then Harold Macmillan asked me to become Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and of course I took it, so one started to learn there. In those days the debates on pensions were much more reasoned and much calmer and we were really debating the issues and beginning to have a second pension we were starting then, the graduated pension.
So one learned gradually and then when I came in [ Edward Heath] Ted's Government, when we were in opposition I had a lot of experience of being in opposition and of being on the Front Bench Opposition, and I must say I do not like Opposition. I am not a naturally destructive person, I do not enjoy constantly trying to destroy other people's arguments.[fo 25]
I quite enjoyed some of the debating but I like being in a position where we can make the decisions, where we can constantly be constructive, I hate the destructiveness of Opposition. And so, being naturally constructive, we were constantly in opposition formulating constructive policies. But when we got into power, and that really explains quite a lot, but so was [ Edward Heath] Ted doing the same thing and therefore from that opposition we had our constructive policies, we developed them, and we were always putting them. It was never just destructive opposition, we were always putting our policies for the future, always.
That really has been the key to tackle things. And when we came back in, and a very tough time in education, you ask me now to remember occasions, when I was made Shadow Minister for Education, yes I did want to preserve the grammar schools, they were the ladder from the bottom to top for many children who came from very very modest backgrounds, that was the ladder from bottom to top. Yes I did want to save them, yes I did not think that we should be able to do justice to each and every child by compulsory comprehensive education.
And I made that perfectly clear in my initial interviews as Shadow Minister of Education. Now the education world, that is education correspondents, and they all asked me to a lunch. I remember where it was, it was the Cumberland Hotel, they all came, one by one, they ridiculed everything I believed in.[fo 26]
There was only one person on my side and one freelance. They had swallowed, book line and sinker, compulsory comprehensive education. They were not thinking of what it was like to go from a small primary school into a great big impersonal school, what it was like when the teachers did not even all know one another, let alone the children, were not thinking of whether you could get in that atmosphere the aptitude and ability of each child, even examinations, you could not have examinations because that meant some failed.
I knew then what I was up against and it was the best training I could ever have had and they and I live to know that they were wrong. I mention it to show you something which I sometimes think that journalists do not always understand, there is a censorship of fashion, as a whole group of specialist journalists or a whole group of lobby correspondents can go for a particular foible or fashion and sometimes they can squeeze out the other voices that plead from a different view.
I have never forgotten that day but I never changed what I believed to be right. And so, when we withdrew the famous circular which compelled compulsory comprehensive education, yes we had battles, and so I learned those battles.
So you do not get from the bottom rung to the top rung in one leap, you go painfully up the rungs. And as I got up one, it was not again that I had great personal ambitions, I always wanted to achieve goals and it did not matter to me who achieved them but I did very much want to achieve goals.[fo 27]
I admired Keith Joseph very much because after we were defeated in 1974 we went right back to the drawing board, to the fundamentals in which we believed and we rebuilt our policies from there. I thought that he would be the person who would succeed [ Edward Heath] Ted and take them through, and so all my weight and help was put behind him and that particular team because those were the goals I wanted to achieve. And then when he did not stand and no-one else seemed willing to come forward, I said: "Then I have to, because someone has to spearhead these beliefs, someone has to put them, and someone has to go on fighting for them".
My purpose was to achieve goals, it was not necessarily to do it myself. And then, well I had to, because if they were going to be achieved I had to pursue them vigorously and, by default of others, take the lead.
You appear to have the most frantic schedule, you work yourself to the limit, I was wondering how you managed to keep up with this?[fo 28]
That, again, you come to.
Do not underestimate that most women who work have to learn how to manage their time. If you have a family ... many women have a part-time job, many career women manage to do two. I you are to do them well, you can do two things well but you cannot do three. You can do politics and your home but to do it well you really do have to manage your time and you learn to take decisions quickly. You learn not to worry about small things. You learn to have a system and do things systematically because organisation and method enable you to do things much more quickly and to pack things into your day.
You must always arrange things so you spend time with your family. The family and its maintenance really is the most important thing not only in your personal life but in the life of any community, in the life of any country, because that is the kind of unit on which the whole of the nation is built and however busy you are, you must find time.[fo 29]
People sometimes say: "But supposing there is an emergency at home? What do you do if you are a career woman?" I can tell you: If there is an emergency, everyone understands. If someone is not in here because a child is ill, you say: "Of course, you do not come in!" Everyone understands an emergency; everyone covers for everyone else; everyone buckles-to, so you just learn to do it, again by experience, but many many women do it. It is not an unusual thing for women.
That has helped you considerably in your life?
How do you relax?
We do not have very much time to relax. How would I relax? To me, it is sheer joy to go out for a walk in the countryside, in the fresh air—sheer joy![fo 30]
I still read quite a lot and sometimes late at night, you know, to take away some of the worries of the day, to empty your mind of those and put something else there so that you do not sleep with the worries the whole time.
Listening to music or going to a concert or singing again takes you into a different sphere and also just having a few people in over supper and just talking among friends.
These are the things and, again, for a woman perhaps if you are deeply worried about something, it is easier because there is always something in the house to turn your hand to. There is always something to tidy up, something to think about, something to organise, so you have always got a lot of practical things to do—always—so if you really find yourself sitting and brooding, there is always a lot you can go and do and that, too, is therapeutic.