Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1984 Jul 27 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for BBC2 Newsnight

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: John Tusa, BBC
Editorial comments: 2200-2300. The interview was broadcast live.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4199
Themes: Executive, Executive (appointments), Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Pay, European Union Budget, Law & order, Leadership, Security services, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

John Tusa

Prime Minister, can we start with the decision today by the European Parliament? What is your feeling about their refusal to pay Britain's rebate?

Prime Minister

I thought it was absolutely despicable. We have no quarrel, of course, with the Heads of Government, because all Heads of Government agreed that it should be paid and put their name to a communique which said that. But then it was very churlish and petty of the Parliament to disagree with it; the more so because the previous Parliament had agreed, and it is very irritating indeed. So often they ask us why are we not more communitaire? No country does more for Europe than Britain does and then they do this to us. It just adds one more difficulty to the many we have had to surmount. [end p1]

John Tusa

What are you going to do about it, though, and in the end are you going to have to pay? Is it going to be worthwhile paying a little bit more to this year's European budget, which the row is about?

Prime Minister

I do not think so. First, expenditure has gone up far more than it should have done and therefore they want to put up income. I think it was Errol Flynn who said that his net income was not enough for his gross habits. Well, you know, when that happens you really ought to cut your expenditure.

The Treaty is very firm about this. The Treaty says that the budget has got to be in balance. You cannot borrow. The Treaty also says that you have to live within the own resources.

Now, if you got to have a balanced budget and if you have to live within certain resources unless you alter the Treaty, then you in fact must cut your expenditure, not just ask for more income. And I thought some of the people I saw on television were right if they said one should challenge in the Courts if there is any suggestion of putting up the expenditure within the year.

John Tusa

What about withholding Britain's payments which one Labour MP suggested? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I do not think it has come to that yet. We have often been told we should withhold and I have not withheld because I do not believe we should default on our undertakings even though other people default on theirs, until the end of the year has come.

There are other opportunities. The Parliament will have it back in September, and it is still in the reserve budget and should come to us by December. Let us see if it does. Just because they behave that way is no reason for us to do so too.

John Tusa

But does this not now cast a very substantial shadow over one of the main foreign affairs achievements? You have declared it was one of the main foreign affairs achievements—the whole package of the Fontainebleau Summit?

Prime Minister

A small shadow; not a big one. All Heads of Government were united, every single one; no difference between us, on setting up the system which we have longed to have for a very long time. That system will not enable the Parliament to do what it has done today. That is why they have reacted. They are a little bit waspish about it. [end p3]

John Tusa

But is there any practical way that you think you are going to get that rebate without making concessions on the budget?

Prime Minister

We are going to have a very difficult time this year, because they have overspent, but you know, we are the tough one, and they need someone to be disciplined. No organization will command respect and be able to carry on for long unless it has a good budget and a disciplined budget, and we are the one who exerts the discipline.

You know, next time, we are going to have M. Delors who is going to be President of the Commission. He has been very strict with the French budget. It was he who suggested strict guidelines for the European budget. Now he is going to be in the Presidency of the Commission and it will be very interesting to see if the Commission is run better as far as its financial budget is concerned than it has been in the past.

John Tusa

Can we move on to the main issue, really, of this year, which is the miners dispute? You said a few weeks ago that you thought it would run a little while yet. How long do you think it is going to run now? [end p4]

Prime Minister

I do not know how much longer it will run. I do not feel that it will be settled immediately. It has been a very long time, and I think there have been certain very very surprising things.

First, you always expect the National Union of Mineworkers to have a ballot. They have been renowned for that through the years. It has been renowned as a secret ballot and the separate branches have always been known to be very independent. So you expected a ballot, particularly when many of them voted and voted to go back to work in their branches.

John Tusa

So you were taken by surprise by that?

Prime Minister

I think it is surprising that somehow they were got out on strike without a ballot. It is very unusual for that union.

And then, secondly, one never never never expected to see some miners threatened by violence and intimidation by others—never.

John Tusa

How long, therefore, do you think this will run, because surely one of the other characteristics of the National Union of Mineworkers is that they stayed very solid indeed and there is no sign of the people who are on strike [end p5] actually breaking, is there?

Prime Minister

No, but there are some 60,000 at work and they are the ones who are honouring the NUM rule book. The Nottinghamshire miners, it is their proud boast that it is they who have kept the rule book in every particular respect. They had their ballot; they won it. They have done everything right. They still pay their dues to the National Union of Mineworkers and they believe that their way is right and they have had the ballot and the ballot should prevail.

John Tusa

All this has been really the same for five months and the question is, there appears to be no way in which the Government or the Coal Board is making any impact on the solidity of the strike. I mean, are you resigned that it will last maybe until Christmas or the New Year?

Prime Minister

Then why do you call the strike solid when 60,000 of them are at work?

John Tusa

Well, it is 120,000 who are solid.

Prime Minister

What you are saying is by definition the strike is not solid, because some miners said: “We ballotted, we honour the [end p6] ballot; we want to go to work; we believe in the future of our industry; we do not believe we further the industry by going on strike; we believe we help the industry by being at work.” They also say: “We have a duty to keep our families and we are going to work for our families” but they are also saying something else: that they are loyal to their union, because they have honoured the right rules, so the strike is not solid.

John Tusa

You may be perfectly right in all this and certainly no doubt the 60,000 working miners would agree with you, but as I say, the fact is 120,000 are still there. Is the Government prepared just to sit it out, however long this strike is going to take?

Prime Minister

I think if any group of people in this country or any Government gave in to violence and intimidation of the kind which has disfigured our screens, there would be no future for democracy or for any other union or any moderate trade unionist in this country—if we were to give in to that.

John Tusa

Is this what you meant by the phrase “the enemy within”? [end p7]

Prime Minister

The violence and intimidation we have seen should never have happened. It is the work of extremists. It is the enemy within.

John Tusa

When you used that phrase, you did not specifically connect it. You did not make the connection between Mr. Scargill and General Galtieri—other members of your Government did. Was that a connection that you were deliberately making, and do you make it?

Prime Minister

No, I said violence and intimidation must never be seen to pay, never.

John Tusa

So you were not making a direct comparison between Mr. Scargill and President Galtieri?

Prime Minister

I did not mention either.

John Tusa

But a member of your Government did.

Prime Minister

I believe one of my junior Ministers did. What I said is that it is always easier to defeat the enemy without because [end p8] they can be seen and identified and everyone is absolutely united in defeating the enemy without. When you get violence and intimidation and extremism and militancy within, it is very much more difficult to defeat, but violence and intimidation within are the enemy of the ballot. They are the enemy of democracy, and anyone or any union that gives in to them has very little future.

John Tusa

If I can just get this perfectly clear.

Prime Minister

Liberty does not have any future if you give in to that. Moderate trade unions have no future if we give in to that.

John Tusa

You were accused of making this comparison, so, if I can just get it clear that you yourself have not compared Mr. Scargill with General Galtieri?

Prime Minister

No, most certainly not.

John Tusa

Now, are you prepared to accept—assuming that the strike goes on for a long time and we have heard today both sides suggesting that it would—the damage that it is [end p9] doing to the economy—even on the Government's own figures at least £500 million, interest rates going up, the pound affected? This is having an impact on the Government's own economic strategy is it not?

Prime Minister

Yes, to some extent it is. Indeed, I think that was partly—I said partly—responsible for the rise in interest rates. But let me put the alternative to you.

There are many many people who have not given in in any way to the stress that is being put upon them. The steel-workers, for example, they are determined to keep their industry going, in spite of the picketing, in spite of the violence, in in spite of the intimidation; and last week, steel production was slightly higher than before the miners' strike began. That is a tremendous victory for moderate trade unionism, for realism, for people determined to see their industry through successfully.

John Tusa

But it is not ending the strike.

Prime Minister

It is not ending the strike, but there have not been any other industries which have been put out by the coal strike, with one exception, those who supply the collieries direct. They are suffering; they are suffering badly. Investment in the collieries is also suffering, [end p10] because they cannot get access to carry out the investment which we very much wanted to do. So those who supply the pits have not been able to do so during the strike and they are suffering. But if you look around at other industry; it has kept going and in a remarkable way, after twenty weeks of a coal-miners' strike.

John Tusa

But you are saying that you are prepared to put up with these sort of difficulties and with the possible impact on the pound, maybe even the rate of inflation, in order to establish this one lesson that, as you see it, militancy must not pay? You are prepared to pay that price for that lesson?

Prime Minister

It is a very important lesson, Mr. Tusa. You and I would not be sitting here freely discussing if people gave in to violence and intimidation. We cannot do that. The ballot box is what determines the future of British policy. The ballot box should determine whether or not there will be a strike, and in the Bill which has gone through today and which has now today become an Act, everyone now will have the right to decide in a secret ballot before a strike, and if that right is not given the trade union will lose its immunity, so the law will be different from today.

John Tusa

Prime Minister, are you therefore not disappointed that the previous piece of Government industrial relations [end p11] legislation, which was designed specifically to prevent the sort of scenes that have been taking place, has not been invoked by employers and employers who are, at that, nationalized corporations, for whom the government supplies all the money? Is that not at the very least a source of very considerable disappointment to you?

Prime Minister

I have said in the House that if they wish to take action we certainly would not override …   .

John Tusa

Could you not tell them too?

Prime Minister

No, anymore than I tell Ian MacGregorMr. MacGregor precisely what to do over this strike. We set them financial targets. Now, steel as I indicated, last week its actual production was slightly above that just before the miners' strike. so they are getting their iron ore through, they are getting their coal through, they are getting their people through, and all of those miners who want to go to work are being got through by the police, who make it their duty—and it is their duty—to uphold the rights of law-abiding citizens to go to work.

Can I just make one more thing? Those 60,000 people who are at work in the mining industry, they belong to the NUM. They are paying their dues to the NUM and, of course, [end p12] it will be some of their funds which were at risk if action were to be taken against them.

I saw an interview with Mr. MacGregor today in one of the newspapers and he gave that as one of his reasons.

John Tusa

Do you think he is right?

Prime Minister

I think it is a factor which you must take into account.

John Tusa

But does that not suggest that the legislation you framed has failed because because at the first major test with a major union it is not being used?

Prime Minister

No, most certainly it does not, because outside people, private people, private businesses have taken action against the NUM. They have chosen to do so and the Act has been used. Indeed, we saw a case where they were used on the film which we were watching just before we spoke. Also, may I point out that some of what we have seen on the television screens is nothing to do with the civil law; it is to do with the criminal law. Violence and intimidation is for the criminal law and that is for the police and for the courts. [end p13]

John Tusa

Is it not the case that already there are no winners? The economy has been badly damaged, individual miners have been seriously hurt, and that, if the dispute goes on, both sides—both the nation at large and the miners, the miners union, never mind the coal industry—will be even more damaged and that under those circumstances the Government really has to say: “Enough is enough; we must get involved,” not by inviting people in here to have beer and sandwiches, but by deciding the thing has got to be brought to an end, maybe with a court of inquiry or a referendum?

Prime Minister

No. There is a very good ballot procedure in the NUM. It has not yet been used. In April, the Neil KinnockLeader of the Opposition said to me when we had one of our twice-weekly question and answer sessions, that did I not agree that the ballot in the NUM was nearer now. He has not mentioned it since. There is a very good procedure in the NUM. Hitherto, it has always been used. What does the National Coal Board seek after this strike and the Government? To carry on in precisely the way as every other National Coal Board has carried on over the years, with the agreement of the NUM. To accept that uneconomic pits have to close because they are not beneficial to the industry. Yes, to accept that the industry must be modernized; to accept that coal must be competitive; to accept that it has a good profitable future. [end p14] That if you get the best equipment and the best machinery and you get the highest productivity per man, you will get the price of coal down. If you get the price of coal down electricity, we shall have a lower price there. That will be enormously helpful to the rest of industry. It will be enormously helpful because we shall be able to sell more coal. Every industry must be modernized. You cannot leave it in the last century. Every National Coal Board has been able to carry on that way. Every government has accepted that we must carry on that way. Every previous National Union of Mineworkers had accepted it. So what we are saying is nothing fresh or new: that we must be able to carry on to secure a really flourishing, good coal industry.

John Tusa

Can we move on, Prime Minister, to the sort of criticisms that have been made of your style of leadership and government, and there have been many criticisms. One, for example, in the “Economist” which is a paper which is favourable to the Government, which described your style of leadership as being petulantly authoritarian, which is the characteristic of your Government.

Now, when you read criticisms like that, do you recognize this as being a comment on the way that you are running the country? [end p15]

Prime Minister

I did not think that was a very accurate one. They are fully entitled to say what they like about me. I am fully entitled to think what I like about them.

Look, if all you have got to criticise is my style, it is not very much, is it?

John Tusa

… because you are said to be authoritarian.

Prime Minister

But it is not authoritarian. People who do not know what a Cabinet is like and have never sat within one, often write things which they should not. It is not authoritarian. One moment on there you are accusing me of disagreeing with certain members of my Cabinet and next time you are accusing me of being authoritarian.

John Tusa

It is the “Economist” which is doing it.

Prime Minister

You cannot have both at the same time. Yes, we do have arguments in Cabinet. Yes, I do hold firm views. Do you really want a leader who does not know what she wants to do, has not got any views, does not attempt to lead? If so, you do not want me! [end p16]

John Tusa

That, of course, is maybe what your critics are saying, but I think the charge of being authoritarian …

Prime Minister

Do you want a leader who does not know how to lead? How ridiculous! Look, I sit in the hot seat, yes I do. I came to it because I wanted really to do things. I did not come to be someone. I did not come into the House to be someone. I came into the House of Commons because I believe certain things.

I went into the Cabinet and I became Prime Minister, because I wanted to translate those things into a vision for Britain. Yes, of course, I try my utmost to do that and, if I might say so, I have won two elections doing it and we won two Euro-elections doing it, so we have got quite a lot of people actually agreeing that they like a leader to lead. Yes, I do try to get my views across. Yes, sometimes I succeed. More often than not I succeed.

John Tusa

But when it comes to something like GCHQ, would it not have been better if you had consulted with the unions; as the judge said, natural justice was actually infringed because you did not consult with the unions. Now was that not instinctively authoritarian? [end p17]

Prime Minister

No, it was not. I believed that what I was doing was within the law. I am in difficulty because the case comes before the Court of Appeal next week, but may I say this, as I have said all along: I am ultimately answerable for national security. National security and intelligence is always treated, and has always been treated, differently. The other intelligence agencies were treated in the same way as GCHQ was treated, or I tried to treat it. In other words, what I did with GCHQ was to bring it in line with the other intelligence agencies because intelligence is different. I cannot go any further from that now because the case is coming before the Court of Appeal next week and we really must not discuss the matters which are in issue. What I have said is I am firm believer in the rule of law. Whatever the rule of law decides, I will honour and uphold.

John Tusa

Would it not have been better if you had consulted first so that you were not in a position where you might find yourself ultimately overruled by the highest courts in the land?

Prime Minister

You are asking things which in fact are the source of the appeal and the case as it will be heard in the Court of Appeal and as you know, we cannot discuss those things. I have given you the reason why I acted as I did and I told you that I thought at the time that it was within the law and I [end p18] told you that whatever the final process of law decides, that I will honour and obey.

John Tusa

Let us move on then finally, Prime Minister, to the question of presentation of the Government policies. Some of your backbenchers have said that it would be a good idea if Mr. Parkinson came back and was responsible for this. Is there any reason, in public or political propriety, why he should not now come back, because he obviously did the job very well before?

Prime Minister

Cecil ParkinsonHe did the job extremely well before. I think you are trying to ask me to reshuffle my Cabinet on television.

John Tusa

You are going to reshuffle it aren't you?

Prime Minister

You know that when I do reshuffle I tend to do it in the Recess, because obviously that is the best time to do it, but I cannot reshuffle it here.

John Tusa

Do you accept, though, that Mr. Prior will not be a member of your next Cabinet?

Prime Minister

I shall be very very reluctant to lose Mr. Prior. [end p19]

John Tusa

But he seems determined to go.

Prime Minister

I shall be very reluctant to lose him. He is a very able member of my Cabinet. I shall be very reluctant indeed if he chooses to go.

John Tusa

Will you try to persuade him to stay?

Prime Minister

I cannot persuade a person to stay if they do not wish to do so. Mr. Prior would know that he would have a place in my Cabinet. He is very able and I shall be very reluctant if he chooses to go.

John Tusa

Is Thatcher's Law still likely to apply, that is that the worst always happens, and are you expecting an even more difficult second year than you have had a first?

Prime Minister

Thatcher's Law is that the unexpected always happens. I think I did enunciate a second one which I think really comes from someone else and I think I enunciated it at the 1922 Committee, and do not forget that that was during a dock strike. The law was that when you think things cannot get worse, they do. [end p20] and that of course is what happened when we got the dock strike on top of the miners' strike. Fortunately with the dockers, the moderates in the trade unions exerting their influence, exerting their right to go back to work, they in fact won the day and they are back at work. No, the unexpected happens, but if I were to choose between my first year in this second term of office and my first year in my first term of office, the first year in the first term of office was even more difficult, because of course we had inflation running away, we had to honour all the Clegg awards. It was after the winter of discontent and the previous government had said they had a strict incomes policy—look take this X percent now and refer it to Clegg.

We were left with a blank cheque to honour all that. We have in fact done remarkable things and I notice you gave me credit for the very very big things and then you choose many personalities on the debit side.

John Tusa

Personalities have been very difficult for you, have they not?

Prime Minister

Yes indeed, but also may I point out that you gave me credit for very big things: the economy; gave me credit for defence; gave me credit for upholding the right of people to go to work with the rule of law. Those are very very big credits. You could have given some more. We have in fact given [end p21] increases in pensions that have more than kept pace with inflation. We in fact have spent more on the National Health Service. We have got more doctors, more dentists. Actually, we are now getting fewer non-medical staff, but we have got more patients treated. Those too are things for which we would take credit.

John Tusa

Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Prime Minister

Thank you, Mr. Tusa, it is a pleasure.