Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1984 May 31 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Times

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: The Times , 1 June 1984
Journalist: Frank Johnson, The Times
Editorial comments: 1400-1500. This item opens with a front page news story followed by an edited transcript of the rest of the interview. It was published on 1 June 1984.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2517
Themes: Economy (general discussions), Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Strikes & other union action, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Middle East), Media, Northern Ireland, 1984-85 coal strike

Thatcher sees no early settlement

Front page story

Mrs Margaret Thatcher said yesterday that she could see no early settlement of the coal strike and insisted that she had no intention of intervening between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

On the international issue of the hour, the Gulf war, she refused to discuss whether the United States, or the West, would intervene militarily to ensure oil supplies.

Those were the most immediate points she made in an interview with The Times in the spring sunshine of an airy upstairs room in Downing Street, to answer questions about summitry in general, and in particular the annual economic summit meeting of the western industrial powers in London next week.

Almost a year after the general election, Mrs Thatcher was in relaxed mood—serene, even, But not bland.

In search of points of possible conflict among the summiteers I asked, among other things, about whether she and President Reagan would discuss Ireland and, if so, what it had to do with President Reagan.

“I suppose I would say to him: ‘how did you enjoy your visit?’ But you're putting your questions—if I may say so—as if there's going to be confrontation on almost everything. There isn't, and I think it's a great mistake to present it that way.”

Constantly, Mrs Thatcher spoke warmly of the United States. “You did have a small disagreement over Grenada” , I suggested. “Yes I did” , she replied. But it was water under the bridge?” Yes, they looked at it, as I said at the time, from a different aspect.”

Mrs Thatcher said: “I see no point in going back over it again.” But she carefully added: “Most of the Americans are out. That's a fantastic contrast to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.”

Millions of American television viewers yesterday saw the Prime Minister suffer a prolonged coughing fit which almost brought an interview with her to a halt.

Mrs Thatcher was in discomfort for several minutes as she appeared on US breakfast television, in one of five interviews she gave yesterday.

At the end she declared: “I am sorry about this early morning cough.” The interviewer suggested: “Perhaps it's hay fever” , but she replied: “No, a dry throat.”

Front page ends [end p1]

Thatcher's view of summits, strikes and United States

Interview transcript begins

In the week before the annual economic summit, which this year is being held in London, the Prime Minister yesterday answered questions from FRANK JOHNSON on summitry in general, this summit in particular, and how the summit should be seen in the light of leading international and domestic issues, including the miners' strike.

Q

You subjected Mr Callaghan and Lord Wilson to a certain amount of ridicule when they came back to the House from Summits. When Mr Callaghan came back from his last Summit you said he “will be aware of my habit of comparing the phraseology of communiques one with another across the year and nothing a certain similarity of words, a certain similarity of optimism in the reports which followed the summit meetings, and a certain similarity in the lack of practical results during the ensuing year” . Assuming that it's more or less the same people who are composing these communiques, what has changed?

A

First, last year we had the Foreign Affairs and Security communiques. That was quite different from what we had before. It was the need of the time.

It was very important to get the cruise missiles sited. Platitudes? Yes, they are platitudes. Platitudes are there because they are true.

I have always said that the most valuable thing about it was not the communique, but the contact between heads of government …

I'd love to have a meeting without a communique, but I don't see what we would do with the press.

What would you say if no communique came out of it? You would write ‘disastrous failure—couldn't even agree a communique’.

Q

Now are you not coming perilously near to admitting that these annual summits are really staged for the benefit of the media?

A

No I am not. I'm saying they are not staged originally for the benefit of the media. They were staged for—no, staged is not the right word—they were arranged for heads of government to get informally together, actually quite away from the press.

But that's not the way they've developed. They have developed a great expectation, which I think is totally wrong and I think we would far prefer them to be quieter.

Q

How is it possible to have a quiet summit? Isn't that rather a contradiction in terms?

A

They have acquired a following of their own. And I think it is one of the tragedies that seven of you can't meet together and just discuss among one another.

Q

A following of their own among whom?

A

How many journalists are coming to London, two and a half thousand? Everyone writes about them, every economist is writing about them. All the radio is talking about them, all the television is talking about them, all the television is talking about them and building the whole thing up.

Q

In having these events every year, isn't there a great emphasis put on minimizing conflict? If there is serious conflict the Summit would be deemed a failure.

A

No, no there isn't an emphasis on minimizing conflict; we have lots of lively debates. Of course you have to agree a communique, but that won't stop lively debates. That's why the language sometimes isn't good because some of them insist on intruding a phrase here, a phrase there.

Q

You said something particularly lively less than a year ago about the American economic policy at the time: ‘I would rather be in our position which is sustainable than in theirs, which I believe will cause great trouble in 12 months’. Well, 12 months aren't up, but …   .

A

Since then they've had quite a change, just before Christmas. It's very interesting—quite a change of view. They knew they had to get their public expenditure down, possibly their taxation up, because public opinion had changed. They knew they had to do something about the deficit … They had, in fact, started to deal with it because they knew the problem it was causing on confidence and on interest rates.

It was a change just before Christmas that enabled Mr Reagan to go on the State of the Union message to get a down payment. I am told they will have the down payment sorted out before Congress rises. That's 150 million dollars. That's very interesting and that's not the end of it.

Q

So they took your advice?

A

It's not a question of taking advice, the facts spoke for themselves.

Q

You said you didn't comment on the American economy, but since the American economy is the motor of all the economies that are meeting at the Summit, presumably, you will comment on the American economy in the Summit?

A

I'm very pleased they are getting a down payment and I think there will be further cuts in public expenditure to cut their deficit, or at the moment increases in taxation and probably both. What they are doing now is a combination of both.

Q

Are you urging on them a deflationary policy? Some people say that might damage our own economy …

A

I'm not urging on them a deflationary policy … And that, of course, is in keeping with what Reagan has said for years and of course he was saying for a very long time the way to get a low deficit is not to have increased taxation but lower public spending.

He spent a very, very long time trying to do that. He couldn't get it through Congress and eventually they had to have what they called a down payment, which is partly reduced public spending, partly covered by increased taxation.

Q

But sound financial policy, as we are told, is not necessarily good for British exports in the American market, for British employment.

A

A sound financial policy is the only thing that enables you to sustain a recovery. And in the long run gives the unemployed a chance to return to jobs. I don't need to say this to you. If you go into what I call a bubble boom every bubble bursts.

Q

There was a bubble boom in the making in America which has now come to an end?

A

It has come to an end and I think they very wisely know that if they want on as they were they would have had more sharply increased interest rates even than they've had. And they've got to restore confidence in the markets. They've got to keep inflation down otherwise the interest rates will go on rising.

Q

What is the explanation for yesterday's news from the Stock market, shares suffering their heaviest losses for 10 years?

A

I very rarely have an explanation for what happens in the Stock Market, but if you look at what they are writing about international debt I think we can cope with it on a case by case basis. I don't mean a sudden formula … the down payment has not gone through. American interest rates are up. That makes it more difficult for the international debt.

You've got two things then coming together, increased interest in respect of the international debt, together with the demand for finance for a recovery and that undoubtedly has unsettled the market, it unsettles them there and it unsettles them there and it unsettles them here. There also is the uncertainty as to how long the coal strike is to go on here. And uncertainty does, as you know, unsettle markets.

Q

How long is the coal strike going to go on for?

A

I don't know. I couldn't dream of saying. I just don't know. We're in the twelfth week now. I do not see an immediate end.

Q

You don't think perhaps there are people in the coal board who want an early settlement? Perhaps not Mr MacGregor, but others …   .

A

I do not see, you asked me, I do not see an immediate end. Unfortunately, because I think the tragedy is that we've got a strike in the face of a pay offer the power men and the gas workers and the railmen have accepted. Investment on a scale we have never even known and no compulsory redundancies.

Q

You're sticking to your policy of no intervention?

A

Yes. My job is to set the framework. We've done our stuff with investment.

Q

But there was an occasion early in 1981 when a similar situation arose. There was no strike because the pit closures proposed by the board were rescinded.

A

Pit closures, as a matter of fact, have gone on as you know.

Q

The pit closures supported by Mr David Howell, who was Secretary for Energy at the time. There weren't as many as he intended.

A

Last year we had over 20,000 people out of the industry. Last year we had may be about 19 pit closures. About the same number as this year.

Q

But there has been no hard or fast policy of not intervening on pit closures. There was that incident during 1981.

A

I haven't intervened in nationalized industries for years. It took us a time to get it right. Since we have, we have said: ‘Right our job is to set the framework, theirs is to get on with it’.

Q

So there will be no repetition of Mr Howell 's policy in 1981?

A

No.

Q

What's changed?

A

The fact that we've got a proper framework in the industry in which to work.

Q

There's no possibility that after six months or so of this strike the Government might become more actively involved?

A

We're not six months into a strike, but 12 weeks … I do not say what will happen I do not intervene …   . What's happened on the Stock Market is not wholly due to the strike. Shares continued to go up and up when we were a few weeks into the strike. If I may say so, we've only got the fall this week.

Q

Are those factors, other than the coal strike, ones you hope to resolve at the Summit when you meet?

A

I don't think there can be any miracle cure because one simply doesn't exist.

Q

Isn't there unlikely to be an identity of view between yourself and Mr Reagan on the one hand, and M Mitterrand on the other.

A

An enormous amount of what M. Mitterrand said the other day was very. sound economic policy. There are many many people who once espoused different ideas and who come after a time to sound economic policy.

Q

You're referring there to M Mitterrand seems to have undergone … a similar thing would happen were Mr Mondale or Mr Hart to become President?

A

The United States has no socialist party, or no socialist party has been in power. That is the reason why it has always been the country of last resort for every currency.

Q

Turning to non-economic issues, is it the country of last resort politically? For example, it seems to be the power we all look to to protect our interests in the Gulf and yet American interests in the Gulf are not as great as West European interests.

A

It's the most powerful free country in the world as you know, which is going to remain the most powerful free country in the world. And we are very, very fortunate in that.

Q

Yes but it appears to be undertaking these enormous duties alone?

A

Really? Really? We have been in very close consultation the whole time and also with our European allies and also with the Gulf countries.

Q

But presumably any military action …

A

I'm not talking about military action.

Q

May I raise the possibility?

A

First we try all of us diplomatic action and secondly if there were to be anything else specific it would not be at the invitation of the Gulf countries. Thirdly you only use military means, which I suppose means keeping shipping going as a last resort.

Q

Yes but it's reasonable to look ahead.

A

You are asking me to see ahead and do you realize that what we say about this, could actually make things better or worse. I'm not going any further.

So often people assume the worst will happen. Sometimes by those questions and answers you can make things worse.