Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Sun

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: The Sun, 21 July 1978
Journalist: Anthony Shrimsley, The Sun
Editorial comments: 1100-1200.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1836
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Executive, Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Leadership


Mrs Thatcher tells how she will run Britain if she becomes Prime Minister

If Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister, she will enter 10 Downing Street knowing just how she wants things run. Her way.

• She will appoint—as Churchill did—a chief-of-staff to head the Prime Minister's office. He will be “a person of some considerable standing.”

• She will bring into her government leading outside expert figures who are not now MPs—just as Harold Macmillan did.

• She will launch a blitz on the blossoming industry of political patronage, the legion of State boards and committees whose 20,000 members have salaries and expenses paid by the public.

• The National Enterprise Board will be stopped from using tax-payers' cash to buy into profitable firms.

• The British National Oil Corporation will be told to get out of the oil-producing business, and stick to its responsibility for policing the activities of licensed private companies.

The Tory leader discussed her views on the Thatcher style of government with me in an exclusive interview at the Commons.

If Mr Callaghan does call an October poll Mrs Thatcher will be fighting for his job in a matter of weeks.

What, I asked, would her style be? Would she copy Harold Wilson 's first 100 days of “dynamic action,” or would it be more of a Heath-style “open government?”

She said: “I want a steady but sure change in direction.


“Britain is now driving very fast towards Socialism. This has been the most Socialist government since 1945.

“But before you can change a car's direction, you've got to slow it down.

“I don't believe in a first 100 days of action. I think that is asking for trouble.

“During your first week—you have to make clear your fundamental strategy. You have to make your impact upon those with whom you are working, your civil servants.

“Each Minister will know definitely what he wants. But we shall not rush the detailed decisions.”

She would, for example, hope to avoid hurrying into an instant Budget, as both Labour and Conservative previous governments have done.

“I am convinced in my [end p1] own mind—and so I believe is Callaghan—that people want to be more Conservative.

“But he has tried to show his party as something that it isn't.

“I don't have that problem. I am a Conservative, and I therefore am not just trying to be what I am not.”

At present, said Mrs Thatcher, Britain was on “the impoverishment course.

“We have got to change to an approach that will mean new products for old, new services for old, new orders for old.

“Therefore we must have incentives, to keep the most inventive skilled people here, working with a zest and with a will.

“They must know that at last things are going to be different, and that this will benefit not only the country but themselves and their families.”

The Government's job creation programme, Mrs Thatcher said, might be better than nothing at all for the time being.

“But it's like the difference between artificial flowers and real flowers.

“Artificial flowers have no roots, and they will never produce any seeds.”

Mrs Thatcher believes that there is much too much involvement of the State in people's lives and ordinary day-to-day affairs.

“Do you know that last year the Department of Health and Social Security even put out a circular to hospitals on how to cook turkeys for Christmas,” she said.

One National Health region, she said, had spent £1million on paper alone.

But would she actually reduce the size of the Civil Service, which I pointed out, was now 738,000 strong?

“I think we probably can,” she said. “But over a period.”

It is not, she insists, the fault of the civil servants that they are given so many regulations to enforce by governments.


So she would rely on natural wastage to bring down numbers.

“But I am quite determined. If you are going to have sound administration, you have first got to decide what is the proper sphere for government, and what is not.”

And would she really reduce the vast New Establishment—the giant army of Quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations?

“Oh look, we've got to,” Mrs Thatcher said. “It is not a question of can we. We are going through them with a toothcomb.

“It's ludicrous. It has gone too far. We will start a scrutiny committee on this. We will be reasonable about it.

We will be reasonable about everything. But we will be determined.”

Mrs Thatcher made it clear that the National Enterprise Board—which Premier James Callaghan has spotlighted as the prime method of new-style nationalisation would have its role drastically cut.

“It is not a proper use of taxpayers' money,” she said. “That function goes completely.”

But she would let the NEB carry on with its existing rescue operations, such as British Leyland, for the time being.

“Parliament has said that the state shall provide a certain amount of money to give British Leyland under Michael Edwardes a chance,” Mrs Thatcher said. “We can't make British Leyland profitable. Only the people in it can do that.

“If they don't take the chance, we shall obviously have to reconsider the future. Because they are simply taking money from other profitable companies.”

Many NEB shareholdings would be put back on the market.

Mrs Thatcher is also interested in the latest proposal by the state-owned British Steel Corporation, to use the NEB to sell off shares in one of its loss-making subsidiaries.

She sees possibilities in using the NEB as an agency for bringing private ownership back into industry.

The British National Oil Corporation is also under the Thatcher eye.

“I saw no reason to start the BNOC,” she said. “The oil was discovered by private enterprise, the technology brought in by private enterprise, and the oil brought ashore by private enterprise, in almost record time.


“Do you think that any state board would or could have done that?”

But she does see a future for an agency regulating oil production in the North Sea, and it seems clear that the BNOC would be allowed to carry on this function.

Beyond that, Mrs Thatcher was cautious.

“I'm not going to go rushing into mass denationalisation,” she insisted. “The first thing to do is get the economy on to a wealth-producing course.”

She is scathing about some of the Government's myriad state “watchdogs” —particularly the Price Commission.

“People like Freddie Laker with Skytrain, and Marks And Spencer, and British Home Stores, and the supermarkets, have been responsible for better value in keeping prices down than the Price Commission,” she said.

“Our policy is really effective competition.

It has been suggested that Mrs Thatcher would have in 10 Downing Street a “kitchen cabinet” of special advisers.

She was against at the idea.

“My advisers would be the Cabinet.” she said.

“Obviously one builds up a lot of contacts, maybe in the universities, the City, industry or the unions. You must keep in touch with those.

“But unless an adviser is actually doing his regular daily job he ceases to be in touch.”

Nor is she keen on the present Government fashion of ministers having “political advisers.”

“I'm my own political adviser, and I would have the Cabinet. I don't need to take political advisers in with me.”


But Mrs Thatcher might well appoint as Ministers people not now in politics.

And she does intend to have a personal chief-of-staff.

“He wouldn't necessarily be of Ministerial rank,” she said. “I haven't in fact decided.

“But I do think that Winston ChurchillWinston's idea of having his own chief-of-staff was a good one, and that would give me great confidence.

“I want someone who knows me, knows my shortcomings, my strengths.

“Someone who knows my ways, but also knows me well enough to say, ‘Don't spend time on that, I can do it,’ or, ‘One of your other Ministers can do that’.”

But who? I asked.

“Someone of my own choice.” She laughed. “You will not get any further than that.”

Was there any point in my going down a list of likely names? I asked.

“No, no no,” she laughed again.

Applicants of considerable standing could no doubt send their bids to the Leader of the Opposition.

But I formed the strong impression that the vacancy has already been filled. [end p2]

But it's go slow on the referendum

Mrs Thatcher may be determined to press on with her own policies, but it is now clear that she has had to go slow on one of her most interesting ideas—legislation to make the referendum a permanent part of the British Constitution.

If the election is this October, the Tories will not yet be ready to put out a firm commitment in the manifesto she told me.

Mrs Thatcher first [print is not clear] her “Let the people speak” proposal in a television interview last September.

It came up in the context of questions about a threatened attempt by unions to insist that, having negotiated a pay increase, they might also try to force the taxpayers to subsidise them against any resulting redundancies.

In that case, Mrs Thatcher suggested, there might be a case for asking the voters what they thought without putting the Government's survival on the line, as Mr Heath had done.

She has since extended the idea to the possibility of using Common Market-style referendums on major constitutional issues—but not on such things as hanging.

It was clear from her comments, however, that, although a special discussion group under Mr Nick Edwards MP is almost ready to report, the Shadow Cabinet is unlikely to reach an agreed position.


“I think we've done a dismassionate and realistic study,” Mrs Thatcher said.

“But I do not believe we can make a decision before an election. My objective has been—and it was the same with House of Lords reform—to demonstrate that the Conservative Party was in fact thinking in a practical way about these great issues.”

So was she rolling back from her original plan?

It would be perfectly possible, she insisted, to have a quick referendum bill on a particular issue.

“A number of us feel that it would perhaps be better to have a general enabling bill on constitutional matters,” she said.

“Before I put in any promise to that extent. I would have to be certain we could get it through. And I want the pros and cons of a referendum to be carefully discussed.”

Plainly, with an election in the offing. Mrs Thatcher does not wish to intensify debate in the Tory Party on the subject.

But it is a scheme about which she has been highly enthusiastic, and it may be that as Prime Minister she would feel in a better position to bring her colleagues to a decision.

‘If you clap the brakes on sharply and swerve, you'd have problems’