Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1979 Dec 20 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Central Office of Information

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Andy Wood, COI
Editorial comments: 1645-1725.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2926
Themes: Autobiography (marriage & children), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Education, Employment, Industry, Energy, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Northern Ireland, Society, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, as the Western World's first woman Prime Minister, you are known for your firm conviction, your steadfast resolve. What are your guiding principles?

Prime Minister

My guiding principles in politics are that I believe that you can only do things, nationally or internationally, through individuals and that individuals can only give of their best if they live in a free society, and that in that society they have some kinds of guarantee against the very worst happening. That is why, in the kind of society in which I believe, we are free; the sky is the limit, we are free to rise as far as we can, but we do have the social services to prevent us from falling below a certain level.

There was reason and purpose in that. It really was to remove the worst worries from people. They knew they could always get a certain amount to live, they knew they could always get free Health Service, free education, and that enabled them, really, to devote their time, their efforts, their thought, to doing the very best they could in life—doing the very best they could for their own families. That is about it. [end p1]

Question

Your Government's economic policy has been described by some as bold, tough—even revolutionary. What are the basic principles of that policy and what do you think it can achieve in the face of the growing world recession?

Prime Minister

Well, isn't it strange to describe it by those means: bold, tough and even revolutionary—and all it is, is just sound. I mean, I don't believe in trying to get round the fundamental laws of arithmetic. You have to live within your own income at home, otherwise you are soon in trouble, and the nation should soon start to learn to live within its income.

For years now, we have borrowed and borrowed and borrowed and it is not surprising that we have enormous problems, because we have gone on that way. And what we are trying to do is trying to say to people: “A nation can no more do that than a family!”

So that is one of them. What about the prospect of world recession? Yes, there is a prospect, because when oil has gone up in price as much as it has, we have to spend more on that and it means we have less to spend on other things, so people who make other things have not got such a big market. [end p2]

I think in Britain, though, we do have a special opportunity. Not only do we have oil, gas and coal, which means that we are free from a lot of uncertainty that hinders other people and worries them, but also, you know, we have a tremendous chance to put up our own efficiency in industry. It is not good at the moment. Therefore, our industry does not compete well with other industries and with other goods that are imported. If we can put up our efficiency—even by a little—then we can make more of our goods here at home and we shall have less imported. That really would mean, if we were successful, we should not be hit by a recession as much as other people.

We have tried to give people the incentive by reducing taxes, but you know—what is the best expression to use?—we can only put the ball in front of people; it is up to them to kick it, and I hope they will!

Question

But does the present position of the British economy in any way depress you? The relatively high level of unemployment?

Prime Minister

I am never never satisfied. We have got about 1.2, 1.3 million unemployed at the moment. That is not the highest it has been. I fear it will rise, unless we really do make a point of becoming more competitive and unless we put less [end p3] resources, less money into loss-making industries and use more for industries which have a good, flourishing future.

Question

It has been said that your controls on Government spending are really the first steps towards perhaps dismantling the Welfare State. Is there any evidence, do you think, that Britain is becoming perhaps a less caring, a less compassionate society?

Prime Minister

No, I have no intention of dismantling the Welfare State. We have had a Health Service all through post-war Conservative Governments.

I am a passionate believer in our education system. As you know, I myself went right through it, not costing a penny, except in what one pays in taxes.

So there is no question of extravagant phrases like “dismantling the Welfare State” . We do, in fact, have to watch that it is efficient; that it does not absorb too much money. We also have to make certain that people have enough money left to do things for themselves, if they so wish. That, after all, is what a free society is all about.

Any evidence that Britain is becoming a less caring, less compassionate society? Well, I hope not, but you know, [end p4] once there is any suggestion that everything should be left to the State, then people would become less caring and less compassionate.

But the essence of everything that I believe in is that people should be prepared to take personal responsibility for their own future. It is not good enough, although it might be easier, just to demonstrate and say the State should do this, or to protest that there are certain economies in expenditure. That is easy. Protesting about what other people should spend is easy. The more difficult thing is to do something personal yourself. But that is what democracy is about.

Question

Can I turn to the vexed question of industrial relations? Now, perhaps unfairly, Britain has a poor international reputation for this, yet recently there have been examples of unions voting against strike action and of union members actually trying to counter strikes.

Now, how much, do you think, this is a response to your Government's policies and how much to your own personal leadership? [end p5]

Prime Minister

I think it is a kind of interaction. People knew that it is ridiculous to have as many strikes and as many interruptions to production as we do. They knew, they felt it was absolutely ridiculous. They could see that certain numbers of shop stewards were getting controls and powers which really were not right. Some of the leaders felt that way too, and others appeared to look over their shoulders and say: “Well, if we are not pretty extreme ourselves, then the shop stewards will be even more extreme!”

People have seen what has happened and, you know, there is nothing like a dose of experience to change people's views.

Now, the Labour Party could not have any kind of reform of union law, because in fact the Labour Party depends on trade union subscriptions for, in fact, its income. So it was left to us. It took a good deal of courage on our part to do it, but the fact was that first, we knew we were right; secondly, we felt people were with us; thirdly, we felt they were prepared to respond because the timing is now right.

So I think it has been both a bit of Government leadership—but that only works provided it strikes a real chord in the hearts and minds of people, and I believe it does now. [end p6]

Question

So what kind of a contribution is your new Industrial Relations Bill going to make to improving industrial relations?

Prime Minister

Very much so. As you know, we are tackling secondary picketing and it was that which caused immense problems last winter. We are really doing quite a lot about the closed shop, which I personally feel is wrong; and we are making sure that when members of trade unions want to vote on really important issues and in particular for who shall lead them, then they shall have …   . be able to have a postal ballot, and that will be paid for by the tax-payer. It is not everything, but it is three very important moves.

Question

Let us turn to the issue of energy. Given Britain's reserves of oil and coal—there are supposed to be 250 years' worth of reserves of coal left in the ground—are there any grounds do you think for thinking that this country might become complacent towards energy conservation or the development perhaps of new energy resources?

Prime Minister

No, no grounds whatsoever. First, because we have not got that much oil in the North Sea. It is only a very limited [end p7] supply, perhaps for what, 15, 20 years, and we might even be net importers before then. But secondly, we just also have to have regard to what happens in the world and world prices affect us, because our oil happens to be a particularly high-grade oil and we sell it. But then, we have to buy back the ordinary crude oil for our own purposes, and we have to buy back the crude at world prices, so we have to sell ours at world prices. And as you know, there is nothing like price to cut down your consumption, because you just cannot afford to be extravagant or to waste it. So we are affected just in the same way as other people are.

But we do have one plus point: those who have oil of their own do not face quite the same uncertainty as the other nations face, and that I think does give us a tremendous opportunity in the future to be self-sufficient in fuel, to have a very talented people, to have a new government which believes in giving incentives does give us an opportunity of the kind we have not had for a very long time.

Question

On the subject of Southern Africa, you must be feeling very pleased at the moment with the success your Government has had on the question of Rhodesia, of bringing that country back to legality. How do you rate that achievement? [end p8]

Prime Minister

Very highly indeed. First, the fact is that we have managed to get an agreement actually signed. Managed to get it signed, where others have failed for some nearly 15 years. That itself is important. It is extremely important, because it gives hope to all of the people of Rhodesia, but you know, the optimism goes beyond that. It offers hope for all the surrounding countries in Africa, because their economies can return to normal and go ahead—again, for the first time for many years.

It offers hope, even more deeply and fundamentally than that. It shows that there is some possibility of having and keeping democracy in the heart of Africa. Whether that will go on and on we do not know. What we do know is we have given an independence constitution for a democracy. We are going to have an election on that constitution and the rest will be up to the people of Rhodesia, and I do most earnestly wish them well.

Question

But to quote an old saying, there's many a slip twixt cup and lip. Are you confident that there will be free and fair elections in the country and that it will come to independence? [end p9]

Prime Minister

I believe there will be free and fair elections. That is exactly why we have a British Governor there. Oh yes, there will be difficulties. There will be incidents. There will be problems. But just keep the main objective firmly in mind—free and fair elections so that people can decide freely, without intimidation, who they want to govern them. Nothing ever goes perfectly, but you must not be deflected by a few incidents. We must go on until we achieve our goal.

Question

Nearer at home, in our own country, Northern Ireland is perhaps a less happy story. What do you think can be done to bring peace to the province?

Prime Minister

Well, we try to do all we can as a government to stamp out terrorism, to do as much as we can to have the very best possible working arrangements between the police and the army, maximum information, maximum intelligence, so they can take action quickly.

Apart from that, and apart from giving the lead about a political initiative, things will only work out if the people will work out. That is the only way I can put it. I would always have thought that after 10 years of living this way, the people themselves would have said “We cannot [end p10] go on like this! We must come together!” I believe an increasing number do want that, and we must try to help them to come together. But you cannot impose good will. You can only encourage it and try at the same time to stamp out the terrorists who do not want the good will. And that is the direction in which we shall go.

First, to take every action to stamp out terrorism and secondly, every action to encourage those who are prepared to work together in future.

Question

You are well known in the Eastern Bloc and, in fact, in the West now, as the Iron Lady. As we enter the 1980s, how will you be approaching the decade? Should the accent, do you think, be on firmness or on conciliation?

Prime Minister

Well, the two go together. Conciliation between two countries is best done between equals in the matter of strength. Never never never negotiate from weakness; it is not a fair negotiation. You will not get anywhere. It is a much more genuine negotiation if you know you can deter any action that they might take if they got hostile and wanted to use their immense military strength to threaten others. You know you can deter them—and they know similarly, although the West is never never never likely to attack the East—so strength really is a pre-condition to conciliation. [end p11]

You put it another way. Strong defence, strong deterrents, really are the condition for successful detente. They are all two-way businesses.

I am an iron lady. I have to be! I have to be strong. I have to be firm. I have to let our people know that I am not likely to be taken in by soft words—I have seen it all before!

On that basis, I am prepared to say we will negotiate for disarmament, provided it is genuine; and we will negotiate for many many more contacts, because I believe that it is the Western way of life that gains from increasing contacts between the Western way of life and Communism. They will want to come our way—that is why their people try to stop them!

Question

But is there not a possibility that your verbal attacks on the Warsaw Pact countries might provoke hostility there?

Prime Minister

Good Heavens no! We have plenty of verbal attacks against me and look, they have always, even though you have had alleged detente, even though you have had conciliation, and they have always tried to further their system in as many other countries in the world as possible. Good Heavens, no, and never have wool pulled over one's eyes about the Communist ultimate aim. It is to get Communism the [end p12] world over and that, to me, is the end of freedom.

I am going to say exactly what I think. It is my duty to the freedom-loving peoples of the world to do so.

Question

Looking ahead to the 1980s, what hopes do you have for Britain and perhaps for the rest of the world?

Prime Minister

Do you know, these questions are the most difficult to answer. They really are, because you do not want to give people the impression that next year everything will go well without their doing anything about it. So let us just be a little bit circumspect in what we say.

I think two things:

First, I think, because of what has happened, particular in Iran, in the Middle East, in Vietnam, Cambodia, there is a realization that foreign affairs are not foreign affairs any longer. They are a matter of local affairs in this country too, because what happens in Iran affects the price of oil; what happens in the Middle East affects the many families all the world over, and also the price of oil and therefore the standard of living. What happens in Cambodia and Vietnam is terrifying, that when we think civilization is so advanced, we can still get such callousness and cruelty, and that affects people everywhere.

So local affairs are now foreign affairs and that means [end p13] that we all have to work on foreign affairs, local affairs, vice versa. That means that leaders have to work together more than ever before, so that is the first thing.

Secondly, we must not look for any formulae, magic solutions or grand designs. We must each of us just do the best we can with the task closest at hand each day. That is the only way we will get steady improvement in the world—not by grand designs, but through people each doing their part.

So if we go about it that way, the leadership of working together, and individuals doing their bit, also working together in the way they best can, then we can hope for steady but not dramatic improvement—but after all, steady improvement will be so very welcome!

Question

Finally, Mrs. Thatcher, you have made this year a successful trip to Australia. Have you got any particular message you would like to give to the people of that Commonwealth country now?

Prime Minister

Well, I loved our brief visit there, but I have been there twice before and it is a wonderful country. It is after all the great example—Australia and New Zealand—of working democracy, the other side of the world for Britain, and therefore has a very great leadership role. It is rich in [end p14] natural resources and it has a wonderful agriculture. That does give them and all their people a tremendous opportunity for leadership and for example. I have a special reason for being interested in it, because Carol Thatchermy daughter works there and therefore her future is the country's future and the country's future is her future. So my very best wishes, and we do look to you for making great strides to demonstrate just in that part of the world that democracy is really the way of the future for all peoples.

Chris Mills

Mrs. Thatcher, thank you very much. This is Chris Mills with Britain's Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, at No. 10 Downing Street, London.