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1984 Oct 15 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Channel 4 A plus 4

Document type:public statement
Document kind:TV Interview
Venue:No.10 Downing Street
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:Gill Nevill, Channel 4
Editorial comments:1530-1630 MT was interviewed live. The programme was made by Thames Television for Channel Four.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:4804
Themes:Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Defence (general), Employment, Industry, Privatised and state industries, Labour Party and Socialism, Law and order, Leadership, Northern Ireland, Religion/Morality, Science and technology, Society, Terrorism, Strikes and other union action, Famous statements by MT

Gill Nevill

Prime Minister, many of us, I think, watching those events on television on Friday, admired very much your very calm public response, but you must have been feeling tremendously shaken inside.

Prime Minister

I think at the moment when things happen, you are not shaken. You are calm. I am never quite sure why, but I have often noticed it. At the time of crisis you are very calm. It is when it is all over that you really begin to realize the enormity of what happened; but not at the time.

Gill Nevill

Looking back, though, over this week-end, what has been the worst thing for you about it, do you think?

Prime Minister

I think in church on Sunday morning. It was a lovely morning. We have not had many lovely days. And the sun was just coming through the stained glass windows and falling on some flowers right across the church and it just occurred[fo 1] to me that this was the day I was meant not to see, and then all of a sudden, I thought: "There are some of my dearest friends who are not seeing this day!" and had you been able to see the previous Sunday what would happen during the coming week, you could not have endured it, you just could not have endured it. So it is as well we cannot see into the future.

Gill Nevill

I think even watching and listening to that story unfold, a great many people felt genuinely shocked and very bewildered that something so violent could happen so near the heart of government in Britain, particularly in Britain.

Prime Minister

Well, you know, we have had a number of bomb outrages and each time one has felt desperate that they should be able to happen, but you are dealing with an evil streak in human nature and evil men are just as good at using the latest technology, just as good at thinking it out and placing it at the most difficult times and at the most difficult moment, and the fact is that we do live in a certain amount of danger and if you are to carry out your job we shall continue to live in danger, but we must never never never be stopped; never be stopped from going among the people by a few men of violence, because that is what they want, and if they stop us democracy would not be able to continue, and that is what they want too.[fo 2]

Gill Nevill

But just what effect do you think this increasing use of political violence, or so-called political violence, is going to have? I mean, surely it must make government more isolated from the people?

Prime Minister

No, I think in a way it isolates the violence and unifies the people. People in democracy hate extremism. They hate violence, quite rightly, because they fear it. They want, above all, law and order. They know that the choice is between an orderly freedom or a kind of Communist state or a kind of tyrannical state, and they want orderly freedom. I think some of them realize that no matter how many police, no matter how much equipment they have, there is always something that will get through and therefore they also know that law and order is not just a question for the police and the law courts; it involves everyone. Everyone has to be alert; everyone observing; everyone prepared to give evidence; and so, I think when we get something like this, it has a very unifying effect on all democratic people in isolation of the men and women of violence.

Gill Nevill

That is obviously the good side, but what about the effect on you personally, the constant threat of violence? I mean, that must get through to you, doesn't it?[fo 3]

Prime Minister

Well, you just get on with your daily work and that is pretty absorbing. I am doing the only job I ever want to do. Now and then you come very near to violence. The people around one do everything they can to protect you, but you simply cannot live in a cocoon. So, yes, we just have to live that way, but the people who look after us are very marvellous.

Gill Nevill

I have been told that religion is very important to you. Is this a factor in your immense public courage?

Prime Minister

I think there are times when it would be difficult to carry on unless one had a faith, and I have, and I am very grateful I was brought up that way and that, I think, enables you to see what matters and what does not, because in the last resort, you either have the choice to act with courage or without it, and I think the fact that you have a faith enables you to have that much more courage in face of any situation.

Gill Nevill

I know that faith is rather a difficult thing to talk about, but is it also a factor in your political conviction or do you keep faith and politics apart?[fo 4]

Prime Minister

I would never give any impression that because one is a Christian one has a particular political faith. That would be totally wrong, totally and utterly wrong; although I myself think that Marxism and christianity are not compatible because Marxism is the elevation of the state and everything and all rights come from the state, and we believe they do not. There are some rights so precious, and such human rights, that they do not come from the state at all; they come from the sanctity of human life. So one has to be very very careful. Yes, one's faith is personal, but it also helps you in your everyday life.

Gill Nevill

Now, the message has come from you that it is business as usual, and I want to ask you something which I am not sure how happy you will be about, which is the criticism that has been coming over the past year, maybe even two years, but particularly recently, from the Church of England. That must get through to you, doesn't it?

Prime Minister

I do not think it was meant as personal criticism in any way. As we were saying a moment ago, Christianity does not mean anything unless you live it in your everyday life and therefore, there is perhaps heightened concern about some of the problems. I think the mistake is to[fo 5] think that because there is a problem, there is a ready answer, and of course, people in my position are constantly being asked: "There is a problem; this is the analysis; therefore you must have an answer to it or you must take an initiative!"

If there were ready answers, we would be the first to find them. First, because we are as concerned about things as those who express their opinion, and secondly, if we had ready answers it would obviously be the very best political thing to do, to bring them out.

Gill Nevill

Nevertheless, there is a general issue at stake, isn't there? Do you believe the Church should tread on political ground in this way?

Prime Minister

I do not like the phrase "tread on political ground". Obviously, everyone expresses their way of life in relation to other human beings and therefore people are concerned—I am concerned when people cannot get a job, of course I am. How else are they going to earn their living, what is there to live for? But it does not mean that just because one expresses concern about unemployment one can conjure up three million jobs. One cannot, nor can some of the people—most of the people—who also express concern about it.

Of course, they express concern. So do we. But you remember, there is that bit in the Gospels which says: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the[fo 6] things which are God's", and that, I think, just about sets it out right. Each is concerned about the other, but we have to be very careful about what we say about one another.

Gill Nevill

I think one of the things that the bishops have been pointing to is the danger of Britain becoming a divided nation and you yourself have said: "If we are not [word missing: one?] nation, we are no nation!" But with unemployment rising so fast, do you not feel that there is a real risk of two Britains?

Prime Minister

No. We are one people, all equally important, all different, but we are one people and what I can never stand is the kind of politics that sets out a nation in terms of class struggle. This is absolutely ludicrous. That went out years ago, if it ever came in. Each person has different talents, different aptitudes, different abilities. They are all important. They are all important in the eyes of God. They are all important in the eyes of law. Each of us has one person, one vote. That is the way democracy looks at people. It does not mean that everyone can find and just exactly have their niche in life handed to them on a plate. If you do that, you become a totally dictated society, and you do not have any will or choice left.

So it really is having laws and a framework which enable people to live together, because the moment you have a society, then you have to have rules to live by.[fo 7]

If you think about it, we all want a higher standard of living and gradually, over the years, we have got one, as new technologies come in and man with a machine can produce more than man without a machine. So it really is trying to arrange things so that between us we can produce the things and do things for one another which lead to that higher standard of living. You cannot do it by minute planning. That would lead to just the kind of battery chicken society in which you do not regard each person as being important, but only the system.

Gill Nevill

That is the theory of it, but as you know, ‘A Plus 4’ has a large number of ... or we think it has a large number of unemployed people among its audience. Apart from the reassurance that you gave to them very strongly at the Conference that the Conservative Party cares, what sort of hope or consolation can you offer to those viewers?

Prime Minister

The kind of hope that I tried to offer in the speech, there really is only one way to more jobs.

When I went round an information technology centre in Wrexham in Wales the other day, they were training young people in the latest technologies and also training them in their attitudes to their jobs. There was a marvellous poster saying that it is the customer that makes pay days possible. Now there was the fundamental truth. In the[fo 8] end, we only have jobs if we produce something that someone else will buy, or a service which they will purchase.

Now you are in the service industry and services will become greater and greater. Leisure is big business. Leisure will get increasingly large business. Now we are in a period when we have got two things happening in this country:

First, the population of working age is getting larger. We cannot help that; it is because of the birth-rate many years ago. They are all becoming school-leavers. And actually, the number of jobs is going up, but the number of school-leavers is going up faster and also, among that population more married women want jobs. So we are having to find a higher proportion of jobs as well as more jobs.

Added to that, you have got new technology, which both offers new opportunities, but then makes redundancies in some other jobs.

Now, we shall get through this, but we are in that period when the redundancies are coming out faster than the new jobs are being created, bearing in mind the increasing population of working age. We shall come through it. I have no doubt about that. This is the Third Industrial Revolution, and we shall come through it, and possibly we shall have a slightly shorter working week, as we have now from days a long time ago.

But we shall have to go steadily. In the meantime, we[fo 9] have to do everything we can to cushion the hardship on those who are most grievously affected.

Gill Nevill

I was very interested, listening to that speech—perhaps I got the wrong impression, but it seemed to me that you were giving—I know you have always been concerned about unemployment—but you were giving it a new priority. Is this a U-turn or maybe just even a slight U-bend perhaps?

Prime Minister

Look, no-one ever ever ever wants unemployment, ever ever ever.

What I was trying to do is to explain why and how. How the new jobs will come, as they will come, and I indicated, for example, that when I was thinking of embarking on a career there were great new materials ... I remembered vividly. You know, I was brought up in a small town. I remember talking with [ Beatrice Roberts] my mother shopping—there was much more conversation in those days in the street, quite extraordinary, we stopped and talked to someone else who said to me "What are you going to do?" And I said I want to take a science degree. Yes. All the new plastics and the new textiles, the new radio. Science is the thing. We had a lot of new industries to look forward to. We still have today and video is comparatively new. All of the things in your business can still be extended a great deal into the future and there are whole new leisure industries coming. So I was trying to explain that there would be jobs in the future. We had seen this in the past.[fo 10]

But first we have to train for them and secondly, we have to get rid of the impression that Britain is a strike-happy nation, because that stops the creation of a great many jobs.

Gill Nevill

Now I have been very interested, and you are just showing a hint of it there, that talking to people about you in preparation for this interview that I have come across two Mrs. Thatchers. One of them very firm, very resolute, the strong leader with the strong economic principles—and I think probably that is how a lot of the nation, friend and foe, sees you. But then, talking to your close advisers, the image was completely different: warm, thoughtful, approachable, immensely considerate.

Why do we have these two Mrs. Thatcher?

Prime Minister

Because the two are not incompatible in any way. You can be extremely firm in your decisions and very considerate for the people who carry them out, the way in which they are carried out, and you try not to have them on duty too many week-ends, because they have got their families to consider, and obviously you are concerned if you are all working extremely late night after night. There is nothing incompatible with those two things. Tremendously firm. Often, to be very firm and to carry out the difficult things you must have tremendous consideration for your staff because[fo 11] you will only do it if you are a team. So actually, I would say the two go together.

Gill Nevill

Now, you mentioned just now Grantham and your childhood in a relatively modest home in Grantham. What was it then that made you a Conservative, because surely then the Labour Party offered rather an attractive vision of the future, sweeping away class prejudice, lots of idealism? Was that not very seductive to you?

Prime Minister

Well, the Labour never …   . class prejudice. They all seemed to be based on class. We never were, never, and I can well remember my [ Alfred Roberts] father saying: "Now look!"—perhaps it is an elementary difference—"If you see a problem, see something that is wrong, "he said, "sometimes I get fed up with Labour colleagues on the Council, getting up and saying something is wrong, the government must do something about it, make a speech about it in the market place or somewhere else," and he said: "The view we take is if something is wrong, first of all I must do something about it. I must not put all my problems on the hands of the government, on the shoulders of the government, because if a government does everything for you you will soon find it can only do it by taking everything away from you," and so very much we were taught and brought up: there is a problem, you must try and do something about it yourself. You must go and help someone[fo 12] else.

It is very very ironic and it happens to so many people. My father was a grocer, but he employed some people in the shop and in another small shop at the other end of the town, so he, having left school at thirteen, provided employment for other people.

There was a great fashion in that time that the next generation should go into the professions because, quite honestly, in our town the people who had greater security were in the professions. So I took a science degree and I was employed in a scientific job and then I came into law and politics. I, with a much higher education, have not actually created jobs, and I often think of my father when I hear some academics pontificating about how to solve the unemployment problem and I am tempted to say to them: "Well if you find it so easy to solve, why don't you go out and start up a business and employ by your own effort, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, a hundred, two hundred? Why don't you?" I will tell you why. Because you cannot. It is easier to tell other people what to do about it than it is to sort it out yourself. But in the end, we have to provide the kind of society where people who can do this, who can build up a business, are prepared to start and do it, because they are tremendously important.

Of course, may I make it clear, you have got to have the good administration in government; you have got to have good education; you have got to have good health. Do not think that you can do without the professions and trade. But[fo 13] in the end, we rely on those who say, as I heard one on the BBC—does that matter?—say the other day: "I have always wanted to build up a business," and I thought, my goodness, I want a few thousand like you and we are home and dry, because they are the people who spot what you and I will want if only they can create it, and they are the people who create the jobs.

Gill Nevill

Now, I know the strength of your political conviction and your leadership, and this is a harder question, is very much admired, but do you not think that it could have created an equal and opposite force like the one we are at present experiencing in the miners strike?

Prime Minister

Good Heavens, no! Whatever is there about my philosophy that could create that? Nothing at all! What do you mean "equal and opposite"? I think I must cross-examine you very closely about that question. Equal to what?

Gill Nevill

I think what I am suggesting is that perhaps because the society feels polarised that maybe the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement have moved in behind an extreme leader in a way that they might not perhaps have done. I am making a suggestion.[fo 14]

Prime Minister

I do not regard society as polarised. Indeed, it is not. The commentators like to try to make it so, but it is not. The greater part of society is ... believes in orderly freedom. It totally and utterly rejects extremes.

Now, there is nothing extreme about my policies. Can you mention anything? Nothing extreme about mine. There is extreme about the policies of anyone who has to use violence or intimidation to pursue them.

Gill Nevill

But for good or ill, I mean, do you see this is a turning point—a critical point—in British history?

Prime Minister

Always, when you get a large amount of violence and intimidation and people go in fear, yes, it has to be beaten. It has to be beaten. Otherwise, what is on the rack is not a political party. It is democracy itself.

Gill Nevill

Prime Minister, that seems to me to be a very good point to go over to our studio in Euston where, as you know, a lot of viewers have been telephoning in with question. So let us go over now live to Paul Jones.[fo 15]

Paul Jones

Thank you very much. Prime Minister, we have had a lot of questions on a variety of subjects, with obviously a great many of them on the bomb outrage at Brighton. There is a question here which says: Will the Conservatives now be backing a law to restore the death penalty in the light of what happened in Brighton?

Prime Minister

I expect that there will be a demand to have another debate on the death penalty. We had one at the beginning of this Parliament. I personally have always voted for the death penalty because I believe that people who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live. I believe that that death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty. But I say that as a personal view. There has never been a party political view on the death penalty. It has always been held that we vote individually. I have consistently voted to retain the death penalty for the reasons which I have given.

Paul Jones

Thank you very much. That answer is for Mr. Kyle of Belfast. There is another Irish question here from Mr. Peter Jennings of Birmingham who asks: In order to reduce[fo 16] support for the IRA in Sinn Fein still further, do you intend to approve any new initiatives to stop the feeling of alienation and frustration felt by many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland during your forthcoming summit meeting with the Irish Prime Minister, Garret Fitzgerald?

Prime Minister

Do you remember earlier in the interview, I said I am often being asked about new initiatives. People do not define the initiative and if there were any sudden quick initiatives, that would be equally acceptable to both parts of the community in Northern Ireland, we would have found them. I am not sure if they can ever be found from this country. I think that there will have to be some coming together within Northern Ireland if we are ever truly to be able to find a long-term solution. In the meantime, we have to go on trying to look at people in Northern Ireland; each and every person has equal rights, because they do live in a democracy. It does not matter whether you are Roman Catholic or Protestant, you vote equally; every one person, one vote. There is a ballot box there. There is democracy. They all have a vote for the Westminster Parliament. They have a vote for local authorities, so they have democracy there. It is not a question of there being an alternative, having to resort to the bullet because there is no ballot. There is.

I cannot think of a sudden new initiative. Everyone we bring forward, if it is acceptable to one side, is repugnant to the other and that is the great difficulty about this problem and we can only go on trying.[fo 17]

Paul Jones

There is another question here now from John Cronin of Wimbledon. He would like to know: To what extent has your training in scientific methods influenced your style of leadership?

Prime Minister

Oh, I have no idea, no idea at all. I can only tell you that in doing the job it has been invaluable. People tend to think of me as the first woman prime minister at No. 10. In fact, I am the first scientific prime minister and it is very very valuable to me if you are dealing with some of the latest things in defence or some of the latest things in nuclear energy. All right, one is outdated but in fact, if you have had the real scientific method and approach taught to you, you can always revise it and people who are explaining things to you know that they just cannot throw dust in your eyes. You will soon see through it.

Paul Jones

I would like to put a question to you now on the subject of unemployment. It comes from Mr. Holland of Merseyside who asks: With hindsight, would the Prime Minister have subsidised failing industries and preserved the skilled labour they were using rather than losing those skills by putting the people on the dole?[fo 18]

Prime Minister

Well, we have subsidised industries to an enormous extent. Last year, the tax-payer subsidised coal to the extent of £1.3 billion. That is equal to 28½pence on every gallon of petrol or £2.50 every week on every retirement pension. That is the subsidy to coal alone.

For a long time we subsidised British Leyland and indeed, we still do because she cannot find the money for her new models.

There is of course a considerable subsidy to British Railways and always likely to be.

There is still a considerable subsidy to British Steel and so on, and also we give help to the regions, as you know. There is a very active regional policy which enables people to start up in the regions and re-equip and claim considerable subsidies and considerable subsidies if you start up in a new innovatory business.

Now, the thing about skills is that they are getting obsolete and you have to re-train. I remember going round a car mechanics’ garage the other day, a few months ago, and being told now that the need for maintenance on cars is very much less than it used to be because the things are made and built in a much more reliable way. So they will need fewer mechanics in the future.

You will find that coal-mining is different. When I first came into politics, there were 700,000 people employed in coal-mining. Well, what was the use of the skills they had then when the equipment is totally different now, and so [words missing][fo 19] Look, we produce gas in a different way. We used to do it by the destructive distillation of coal; it now comes from the North Sea. Skills are different. We have subsidised, but you subsidise in order to cushion the effects of change, not perpetually to keep old-fashioned industries in being, but to give time for people to re-train for new ones and for new ones to develop.

Paul Jones

I wonder if I could just ... I would like to get one more question in if we may.

Prime Minister

Of course.

Paul Jones

It is on the subject of nuclear weapons. Denise Robertson. In fact, it was already read out by Mavis . Denise Robertson of Dumbartonshire would like to know: After Mrs. Thatcher's awful experience in Brighton, has she reviewed—have you had a chance to review your thoughts on nuclear weapons and the effects that would have on all of us?

Prime Minister

I gave my views in the speech in Brighton on Friday. The fact is that nuclear weapons are so appalling that they have stopped not only nuclear war but conventional war. That is a fact that those who try to abolish nuclear weapons cannot[fo 20] get over. Never think conventional war is a soft option and if the possession of nuclear weapons helped to stop all war between the two main protagonists, then it is worth possessing nuclear weapons, because peace is the most important thing of all

Paul Jones

Thank you Prime Minister. I must cut you off and return there to Gill Nevill.

Gill Nevill

Thank you Paul . Prime Minister, on Saturday it was your fifty-ninth birthday. You are now ...

Prime Minister

Next year it will be sixty!

Gill Nevill

You are now in your sixtieth year and that is the time that people in the Civil Service and in industry often retire, or at least I should say women and be precise about that. I presume though you would like, despite the horror of Brighton, to run a third term?

Prime Minister

Oh yes indeed! I am in the job that I like most of all. It is a job which I think needs quite a bit of experience and I think I have a role to play in the future.[fo 21]

I thought President Reagan's remark was marvellous when they said to him: "Do you think of retiring?" He said: "What do you think a young fellow like me would do without a job?"

Gill Nevill

I think it is fair to say that no prime minister since the War has actually had a third time. Very briefly, because we have almost no time, what do you want to do with it?

Prime Minister

Oh, carry on with the kind of policies, because I believe they really will bear fruit and take us through to a very much better future, which will give greater prosperity and at the same time human dignity for each and every person.

Gill Nevill

Prime Minister, I was very amused to hear somebody calling you mother of the nation and if I had more time I would love to ask you, or perhaps you can give me your brief reaction. Do you prefer that to "Iron Lady"?

Prime Minister

Oh, I think it is a lovely phrase. I remember looking at Golda Meir sometimes, whom I knew very well, and I always thought she was really rather a grandmother of the nation. So if I go until I can be called that, that would be marvellous.[fo 22]

Gill Nevill

Thank you very very much for talking to us at this particularly difficult time and back to the studio.

Paul Jones

Mrs. Thatcher sounds as if she is going for a fourth term.