Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1979 Apr 27 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for BBC Campaign ’79 [“I can’t bear Britain in decline. I just can’t”]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: Conservative Central Office, Smith Square, Westminster
Source: Michael Cockerell: OUP transcript
Journalist: Michael Cockerell, BBC
Editorial comments: After 1400. The editors are grateful to Mr Cockerell for his help in tracing a copy of this interview. Film of the interview can be viewed here, although it omits her famous remarks "I can't bear Britain in decline".
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3776
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Conservatism, General Elections, Monetary policy, Labour Party & socialism, Media, Women, Famous statements by MT

[Film of middle-aged women crowding around MT on a walkabout, struggling to catch a glimpse]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Margaret Thatcher is a woman with a mission, and she believes the ordinary people of Britain will help her to accomplish it. [More voices from the crowd]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Margaret Thatcher believes that this election campaign is her one and only chance to become Britain's first woman Prime Minister. [Film of MT with press photographers]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher's campaign has been made for the media. The controversial policy and personality, as well as her campaigning methods, have kept the centre of attraction. Her husband, Denis Thatcher, is consigned to a supporting role. [Film of Denis Thatcher on campaign]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mr Thatcher's role is to chat up those who didn't quite get to talk to the star of the most professionally organised election campaign ever seen in British politics. On the campaign trail, there have been two very distinct Margaret Thatchers. One of them is “Our Maggie”, the housewife's friend. The other is the crusading Iron Maiden, promising a radical blend of free enterprise politics. From the start of the campaign, her Labour opponents have been convinced that Mrs Thatcher is their secret weapon. Mr Callaghan deliberately resisted her call for a quick election campaign, calculating that she would eventually crack under pressure and that “Maggie's gaffe” would hand them the election.

Then they derided her campaign tour as a gimmicky series of non-events. In fact there has been a sophisticated and careful plan behind every one of Mrs Thatcher's famous photographs. [Shots and sound from the campaign, including campaign song (“Margaret Thatcher is the name”). Then film cuts to interview at Central Office against blue backdrop, flowers on table; MT also in blue. Her voice is cracked from the strain of speaking

MT

The press say: “Look, we don't want just another photograph of you, with a hundred, uh, bullocks looking in superb condition. There was this beautiful calf, and after all, we had seventy and eighty cameramen around with us. They have to do their job, and I'm very conscious they have to do their job. And they want a good picture. But we learned quite a lot from those farmers.”

Michael Cockerell, BBC

But a lot of people have said that the campaign has been full of staged media events?

MT

Oh, not at all. I regularly go round the country, go round factories, go round farms, do walkabouts. Whenever I've been on tour I reckon that it's not good enough just to see you on television, they want to see what you’re like in three dimensions [smiles], not in a flat thing on film. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes they say you look very different from television, sometimes they say the same. But we've always run a campaign, a meet the people campaign, and I love it. [Film of campaign resumes]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

It sometimes seems that most of the people she has met have been journalists and cameramen, as on the inevitable visit to silicon chip factory. But there was a serious purpose behind the commotion and the jokes at the heart machine. [Film of Denis Thatcher wired to the machine; MT beside him; journalists and cameramen crowding about]

MT

It doesn’t look as if it’s beating from that thing! [laughter from crowd]

Denis Thatcher

Still alive love.

MT

I hope so.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Not only did the Thatchers appear as a warm, loving couple in millions of homes, but she informed us she would be the first ever British Prime Minister with a science degree.

Heart machine operator

That’s a pretty steady beat, you know.

MT

Very steady. Oh yes. We’re all right, us girls. All right. I now propose to take a turn to the right, which is very appropriate. [Laughter from cameramen and Denis Thatcher] … last me for twenty years. There were are … adrenalin's all right, perfectly all right. And lung and tongue power good. [Laughter]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Barry Day, a Humphrey Bogart fan, and formerly the Conservatives’ chief media adviser, has watched how Mrs Thatcher has learned the professional techniques she is now using in this election. [Cut to film of Barry Day, pictured against the film poster from Casablanca]

Barry Day

I think she’s like any good professional, she just learned the techniques because she realised they're important to learn. They’re part and parcel of a politician’s daily life, and I don't think you can say that of many politicians. So, for instance, she has learned how she projects, she has studied her performances. And I wouldn’t say that’s the wrong use of word, it is a performance one’s putting on it, to project a particular point of view. She’s taken advice on what she’s been getting wrong. Her appearance has changed, but not dramatically—it ’s just softened. They’ve learned from what people say about her, and they’ve taken some things and others they’ve ignored.

[Cut to film of MT in her car on the motorway reading a newspaper, filmed from a car driving alongside]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

For all her skill with journalists on the election tour, the Conservative lead in the opinion polls has steadily narrowed since the campaign began. At her Chelsea home, she summoned Shadow Cabinet colleagues to discuss tactics.

[Film of Keith Joseph walking briskly along the street]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

What are you doing here?

Keith Joseph

… passing the time.

[Film of Lord Carrington arriving

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Good morning, Lord Carrington. What are you up to? Well, what are you up to?

Lord Carrington

I don't know yet.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

What brings you here?

Lord Carrington

[pauses] The Boss. [Laughter]

[Film of MT coming to the gate of her garden in Flood Street, welcoming colleagues and speaking to press pack]

MT

…coffee and then they want us all out. [Turns to journalists] Can I just explain, in case you should think anything different. The people I've got coming have got no particular great significance, or those that are not here. They are the ones who are in London this weekend—Angus [Angus Maude walks past], hello, in you go. [Prior also passes but MT says nothing to him] I’ll bring you all out in a moment—any particular significance in those who are and particularly those who aren’t here.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher had organised a photocall for her colleagues.

[Prior followed by other Shadow Cabinet members walks from door to stand for the cameras in array across the small courtyard garden of MT’s house in Flood Street]

Jim Prior

Like coming out of the bloody zoo. [Laughter]

[MT marshalling colleagues for the cameras]

MT

I think we all have to form a sort of semi-circle.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher says that by next Friday she will be forming her first Cabinet. But she knows that her aggressive brand of Conservatism frightens many of her colleagues. And she knows that for all the present show of jollity, if she loses an election campaign she has so dominated, it will no longer be safe for her to turn her back on them.

MT

… we’ll start at that end. Shall we go over to the centre?

Michael Cockerell, BBC

And already she is a great deal less popular than her party in the opinion polls. [Film cuts to studio interview]

MT

The opinion polls will dash about. They always do. And you have to have an iron nerve, which of course is appropriate for an Iron Lady. [Smiles]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

You don’t mind being called an “Iron Lady”?

MT

No, not at all. They’re quite right. I am on some things. I need to be.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

I just wondered. There seemed to be two Mrs Thatchers sometimes.

MT

Oh, three at least.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

What are the three?

MT

Oh … [laughs, pauses] Uh, there is a very logical one, there’s an instinctive one, and there’s just one at home.

[The following section of the interview is transcribed from a disk copy supplied by the BBC Motion Gallery, which can be viewed on this site. This section was not present on the tape originally borrowed from the BBC, c1998, and so was omitted from the text on the Oxford CD-ROM of MT’s Complete Public Statements. The soundtrack of this section is poor, so it is possible it was not broadcast.]

MT

I was a long time as a candidate before I got a seat. Then I got a seat and I became a Member of Parliament and gradually I learned to master that. Then I became a Parliamentary Secretary, and this is really how I know a reasonable amount about pensions, because I was in the Ministry of Pensions and I loved it.

[edit - material looks to have been cut at this point]

There are two things in my life. There is all the logical training, for years, the steady scientific training, with the science degree, the legal training, all the logical training. But still I turn to one’s instincts and feelings and you know sometimes that is best for one.

[end of section from disk copy]

[Film of comings and goings at Central Office in Smith Square, cars waiting to depart]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher’s election headquarters. The murder of Airey Neave on the first day of the campaign deprived her of her closest political confidante. She's has had to rely even more heavily on the experience of Lord Thorneycroft, the man she appointed Party Chairman. [Film of Thorneycroft getting into a car; detective Barry Strevens talking with party official David Boddy, Derek Howe alongside] Together with other campaign advisers, they decided that she should make very few specific promises and fight on the general issues of tax cuts, prices and law and order. The man she appointed her publicity director, Gordon Reece, has been described as her Svengali or Lady Falkender, a flamboyant former television producer with a penchant for large cigars and good champagne. He is credited with changing her image, appearance and her voice. [Film of Gordon Reece in Smith Square, climbing into a blue Range Rover with personalised number place “GMR1”] Like her other advisers, he believes that what will decided the election in the crucial marginal seats in the north of England is what they call “the Thatcher Factor”, in other words, how the voters react to the prospect of the first woman Prime Minister, and in particular to that woman being Mrs Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Reece was also responsible for the controversial appointment of a full-time advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, to promote the general Conservative message in the most sophisticated way. Its chairman is Tim Bell. [Film of Michael Cockerell attempting to speak to Tim Bell outside Central Office; Tim Bell says ‘hello’, smiles briefly then climbs into a black Jaguar]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mr Bell, can I ask you how the campaign is going?

Michael Cockerell, BBC

In the advertising world, Mr Bell’s agency is known as a highly creative and aggressive one. [exterior shot of Saatchi & Saatchi Garland & Compton office] To promote the Conservative cause, Saatchi & Saatchi decided for the first time to use commercials in the cinema and presented a picture of Britain as one dismal queue after another, from everything for jobs to cinema seats.

[Extract from Conservative PEB - film of people talking in a cinema queue]

Man

Excuse me is the queue for the 50p stalls?

First Woman

50p! Haven't you heard of inflation?

Man

Tell, you what I don’t want to see.

Second Woman (played by Gillian Taylforth)

What’s that?

Man

Labour in power again.

Second Woman (played by Gillian Taylforth)

Labour in power? Was that the Marx brothers?

Man

No. Another bunch of comedians. [Laughter]

Voice over (by actor Peter Barkworth)

Coming shortly. The Conservatives. A great programme for all the family.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

The creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi responsible for the slogan “Labour Isnrsquo;t Working”, and for the cinema commercial, is Andrew Rutherford. He’s now set up his own agency, but has agreed to talk about his work for the Conservative Party.

Andrew Rutherford

Like any product, we are given the product and it’s not up to … it wasn’t up to us to decide the policies of the Conservative Party. They were given … they were handed to us, and these were the issues, certain issues, that they wanted to emphasise, and it was just up to us, to, um, emphasise those issues as effectively as we could.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

What did they specifically want to emphasise?

Andrew Rutherford

Well, for example, unemployment, tax, um, this is, um, health, and so on.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

But there have, inevitably, been accusations that you've been trying to sell the Conservatives like a soap powder, in a slick way.

Andrew Rutherford

I don't know what that means. I really don't know what that means. I have heard this, and the accusations have come from, uh, the Labour Party. I think they feel sore because they feel we’re being effective.

[Film of MT with journalists on her campaign aircraft]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

On her campaign jet to the crucial marginal seats in the north of England, Mrs Thatcher maintained her solicitude for the travelling press.

MT

You’re pretty crowded here. [Looking out of window] I’m told it's cold up there.

Unidentified journalist

Yes, it is.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher's advisers have suggested that in areas of particularly high unemployment, she should modify her normally swingeing attacks on state subsidies to ailing industries. [Film of MT working on papers on the plane, sitting next to her husband]

MT

Ten people out of work for every one notified vacancy.

[film of plane arriving at Newcastle Airport]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Working class northern housewives, who traditionally voted Labour, are Mrs Thatcher’s main target.

[Film of MT greeting party dignitaries at foot of aircraft steps]

Party dignitary

… a most welcome guest.

MT

It’s better weather up here than it was at … [inaudible]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

There is a crucially important purpose behind her seemingly gimmicky factory tours and the noisy business of tea-tasting.

[Film of MT and her husband (in white coats) tasting tea at Ringtons]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

She wants to appear on the early evening television programmes as a woman who identifies with the problems of ordinary housewives.

[Film of tea-tasting; question of spitting out tea arises. Soundman calls out “Sound running”; everyone laughs]

MT

I’m going to try Kenya now. I'm sorry it won’t make much difference, I trust, whether you’re running sound or not. [cameras clicking; a journalist asks her to spit some tea out] Of course I am not going to spit it out! Oh, it’s nice. [conversation largely inaudible; much laughter] That’s very nice. Now which is the next one? Taste that way. [turns for cameras] All right. Taste that way. Mind you, they’ll think I’m drinking … [MT winces at bitterness of tea]

Denis Thatcher

That’s obviously not a popular one.

MT

All right. [Laughter; film of MT chatting to women at the tea tasting] Do you buy your tea now in tea bags or in? … you still have loose leaf? But it’s so much more convenient to wash up in tea bags. [laughter; turns to another woman] Do you buy tea bags? It is so much more convenient. And weight for weight, it’s quite economical too, isn’t it, because you don't put in more than you need because you know. [MT leans forward and speaks as if confidentially] It is much easier.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher is convinced that television is crucial in this election. When she first became party leader, she hated the prospect of formal studio interviews. But after every appearance, Gordon Reece, the Conservative Publicity Director, commissioned private polls to find out what people thought of her. As a result her appearance, her manner and her voice were all modified.

Barry Day

Gordon Reece is important to her I think because he is a piece of professional reassurance. He has been around and with her for the last ten years, to my certain knowledge. Um, and by this time he’s a personal friend of hers, to a degree, and you listen to friends, and because they’ve got a track record with you, they’ve been on your side, they've helped you. Other politicians will say “saw you on the box last night, darling, and thought you were marvellous”, and probably say quite the opposite when you’ve gone. A man like Gordon, or whoever happens to be in the mix at the time, does anything but that. He’s there and he’s consistent, and she can play off him, knowing where he stands, and knowing what his values are.

[Filmed interview resumes]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

How important has the advice of Gordon Reece been in the way you’ve presented yourself in this campaign?

MT

[pause] Do you know, I think he’s consulted me, not I him. [Laughter faintly audible off set - unclear whether in response to this remark; another pause] I think it’s always been that way round.

Michael Cockerell, BBC

And it’s said that Gordon Reece gave you humming lessons, to improve the way …

MT

Humming lessons? I'm not a very good hummer. Uh, I just know that when you do get taught …

Michael Cockerell, BBC

I mean, you’re voice is much lower than it used to be.

MT

Yes, um. Yes. I’m not quite sure why? [MT wears a puzzled expression] Whether it is that one is using it more? But I have often been conscious that at times when I have been very very very nervous, your voice rises. It does you know. And now sometimes I learn to write on the top of a speech “Start low. Relax. Don’t go … Don’t go too slow”. Um, and then they said I was going too fast. [Briefly laughs] Anyway, I just go the speed I like now.

[Conservative crowd singing and applauding, singing Maggie song]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Although she is rapturously received by her own supporters, Mrs Thatcher's advisers privately concede that they are worried about the effectiveness of Mr Callaghan's counterattack on her main campaign plank. He says by cutting income tax she will raise prices for the poor.

[Film of MT delivering a speech]

MT

Mr Healey and Mr Callaghan, who dare to lecture us about prices, have themselves put prices up by over one hundred per cent, and food prices by even more than that. [edit jump to peroration] … asking you to help us in this the most crucial election for putting Britain on a different road, a road going back to increased prosperity, increased prestige, and a Britain of which we can all be proud. [applause]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

In her campaign, Mrs Thatcher has consciously tried to avoid all the mistakes of the man she replaced as Tory leader. She remembers the old adage, Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. The paradox is, that she’s so far behind the Prime Minister in the personal popularity polls, that the Conservatives could come to power despite rather than because of her. But she knows that if she loses, the Tory knives will be out before you can say ‘Heath ’. [Film of MT getting on her campaign coach with David Wolfson behind her; talking on her campaign coach]

MT

… and on the same issues, tax, prices, it is all very consistent …

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Mrs Thatcher feels in her bones that on Friday she’ll begin her mission as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.

[The following section of the interview is transcribed from a disk copy supplied by the BBC Motion Gallery, which can be viewed on this site. This section was not present on the tape originally borrowed from the BBC, c1998, and so was omitted from the text on the Oxford CD-ROM of MT’s Complete Public Statements. It is possible it was not broadcast.]

MT

I know that one or two men are prejudiced. But after all their prejudice is so, so ridiculous, that doesn’t deal with it. No argument will deal with prejudice. But some people are prejudiced. You know I say to some of them sometimes, “You know it’s a good thing you didn’t live in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, isn't it? After all, I wonder if we should have grown to such a fantastic nation if we hadn't had people like her. And of course look at Golda Meir in Israel, a woman Prime Minister during Israel’ s most difficult years. And she was marvellous. I can put all these arguments. But I know you can never deal with a prejudice by argument.

[end of section from disk copy]

[the following section is omitted from the disk version available on this site]

MT

I just hope that they will take me, as I am, for what I can do. Not as man or woman, but as a personality, who has an absolute passion for getting things right for Britain. I can’t bear Britain in decline. I just can’t. We who either defeated or rescued half Europe, who kept half Europe free, when otherwise it would be in chains. And look at us now. I just hope they'll look at that and say “does it matter whether it’s a man or a woman? Isn’t it just best to get it right”?

[end of section missing from disk copy]

Michael Cockerell, BBC

Why did you say that you will not be given another chance if you lose the election?

MT

Oh. There’s only one chance for women. ’Tis the law of life.