The Conservative Leader, Mrs. Thatcher, who's visiting the United States, has repeated that Britain's position is far from hopeless.
Referring to her controversial speech in New York on Monday when she blamed Socialist policies for some of Britain's problems, she said it wasn't part of her job to be a “propagandist for a Socialist society.”
She was speaking in Washington after talks with President Ford during a busy day of meetings: Michael Brunson reports: [end p1]
Proceeding at what she calls her normal pace in spite of a cold, Mrs. Thatcher started at 8 o'clock this morning with breakfast and a view over Washington with Dr. Kissinger. Then Mrs. Thatcher launched a shuttle of her own backwards and forwards across this city. On Capital Hill there was a meeting with the House International Relations Committee. Mrs. Thatcher arrived so punctually that almost no-one was there at first, after a few minutes the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert arrived and so did many more Congressmen. Mrs. Thatcher having changed her dress from powder blue to green was lunched by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There was also a meeting with the Treasury Secretary, Mr. Simon, and Mrs. Thatcher is meeting now with the Defence Secretary, Mr. Schlesinger. But her most important engagement at mid-morning was with President Ford at the White House. He was heard to remark on her being the first woman leader of a major party in Britain to which Mrs. Thatcher added, in many years. Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Ford plainly share many conservative, with a small c, views. Both are known to believe very strongly in free enterprise, both share a suspicion of detente with Russia, for example, and Mrs. Thatcher has not been slow to tell a lot of Americans of her political beliefs in a series of speeches and meetings, a point we discussed at the White House.
Mrs. Thatcher hasn't your basic message to the Americans been that British socialism under Mr. Wilson has gone too far and has been bad for Britain?
My basic message to the American people has been that we have problems in Britain that are similar in kind, different in degree, to those which other nations have had but that we're still fundamentally British and we're still able to cope with our own problems and that reports of ‘Bye bye, Britain’ are greatly, grossly exaggerated and quite wrong.
Do you feel that it violates in any way the so called unwritten rule that visiting British politicans here don't discuss internal party politics? [end p2]
I think that people would not expect me to say that a state in which we have 25%; inflation, 1¼ million unemployment, unprecedented public expenditure is one in which we think everything is all right, and I have in fact been showing that we are tackling these problems and we are able to tackle them, but of course, as you would know, it's no part of my job to be a propagandist for a socialist society.
The [inaudible word] among congressmen this morning goes on record as saying, “If you don't make it out in Britain, we would like you to come over here.”
But I'm going to make it in Britain. [end p3](2) The Times, 19 September 1975
Thatcher message that Britons can cope
Mrs Margaret Thatcher, speaking on the White House lawn after meeting President Ford, today defended her speeches on the state of Britain this week. She said that no one could expect her to have said things were all right as they were.
But she had emphasized that Britons could still cope and that reports of “Bye bye, Britain” were grossly exaggerated. Everyone knew that “it's no part of my job to be a propagandist for a socialist society” .
The Leader of the Opposition was interviewed by British broadcasters. She suggested with some irritation that she had expected to talk about her meetings in Washington, and professed to be unfamiliar with any fuss her remarks had caused at home.
She disclosed that in her hour-long meeting with President Ford they had discussed problems of the economy, particularly the relationship between unemployment and inflation, as well as Middle East and Nato problems, including Cyprus.
The broadcasters wanted to go back to her speech last Monday to the New York Institute of Socio-Economic Studies, in which she had attacked the “progressive consensus” and called for an end to policies of income distribution. She did not know, she said, whether this was the “new Conservative philosophy” as The Times had christened it.
She had meant it to be an analysis of what had actually happened in Britain over the past 25 to 30 years. The reason she gave it in the United States rather than in Britain was that the institute had invited her to give what she called a “highly technical lecture” .
She added: “It wasn't party politics I was interested in” . Her speech showed that she had made an opening point of that disavowal. It was a “dispassionate analysis of events” . She had been discussing the “progressive consensus” which she said “was common to all parties” in Britain over the same post-war period.
She had discussed where this consensus had got Britain and “particularly the point that we have gone as far as we possibly can with the redistribution of income. We really now must concentrate on creating more growth so that the size of the cake is bigger” .
Her proposals for cuts in government spending were as laid out in speeches to the House of Commons. “You can no longer have blanket food subsidies, blanket housing subsidies, on the scale we have got them now. It's far better if you concentrate the help on those who need it.” She recalled that Mr R. A. Butler had done the same in the fifties.
Asked if she was saying that socialism under Mr Wilson had gone too far and was bad for Britain, she replied: “My basic message to the American people is that we have problems in Britain that are similar in kind but different in degree to those other nations have had. But we are still fundamentally British and we are still able to cope with our own problems.
Questioned as to whether she thought that she had broken some unwritten rule about not airing party politics abroad, she said: “I think the people would not expect me to say that a state in which we have 25 per cent inflation, 1,250,000 unemployed, and unprecedented public expenditure is one in which we think everything is all right … . It's no part of my job to be a propagandist for a socialist society.”
Later at a news conference, Mrs Thatcher declined to discuss specifics of her meetings with the Ford administration which included the Secretaries of State, Defence and Treasury as well as President Ford.
But she said she had found a “great deal of concern” among Americans over Britain's inflation and they really want assurance that we can get out of it” . She added that she had passed on the assurance that Britain “can and shall” get out of it.
She dismissed a question as to whether Americans she met were gloomy about Britain by saying: “I've seldom met such good will towards Britain… .” At the Pilgrims Society the other night she had felt that people “are willing us to surmount our problems” .
Mrs Thatcher sounded slightly impatient with the questioning. She was up early to have breakfast with Dr Kissinger, the Secretary of State. She was then received for coffee at the Capitol, before addressing an informal meeting of the House international affairs committee.
Mr Denis Thatcher was mistaken today for Sir Peter Ramsbotham, the British Ambassador, by a correspondent of Agence France-Presse in The Oval office of the White House. They vaguely resemble each other.
He attended a press conference with his wife during her big Washington day; and he agreed most exceptionally, to answer a question. Asked about accompanying Mrs Thatcher on the American journey, he said: “I have enjoyed it immensely, as I always do.”