How do you assess 1985? Has it been a good year from the point of view of international peace, security and prosperity?
I think we can take some quiet satisfaction at what has been achieved in 1985. President Reagan 's meeting with Mr. Gorbachev and their commitment to hold regular summits must improve the prospects for the Geneva negotiations on reducing nuclear weapons. We have seen a massive and heartening effort by governments and, more importantly, by individuals to alleviate the appalling problem of hunger in Africa. The spirit of human charity has shown it is alive and vigorous in the free enterprise societies. We have maintained steady economic growth in the industrialised countries. Not only does this hold out hope for our own unemployed, it is the most important single contribution we can make to helping the developing countries to overcome their problems. And we have celebrated 40 years of the United Nations. Even if it has not fulfilled out original vision, it has undoubtedly made the world a safer place. We can celebrate Christmas and the New Year with our families feeling more secure and more optimistic about the future than a year ago.
Do you believe that the meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev has led to real change in East/West relations? Do you still believe as you said a year ago that Mr. Gorbachev is someone with whom one can do business?
It would not be wise to rest too many hopes on a single meeting. We have to see it as a start, the first in a series. I attach particular importance to the fact that the meeting was an opportunity for a really profound discussion between the two men, much of it conducted privately and face to face. President Reagan will have left Mr. Gorbachev with a very clear understanding of the support which he enjoys, in the United States and more widely within the Alliance, for the policies which he is pursuing. It is vital that the Soviet leader should be able to form his own judgement, unvarnished [end p1] by propaganda or slanted reports, of Western strength and determination but also of the essentially peaceful nature of our objectives.
But the question whether the meeting will lead to “real change” in East/West relations can only be answered as we see whether it produces results over the months and years ahead. It is better to meet than not to meet but next time atmospherics will not be enough, we shall need some concrete results.
And yes, I certainly do continue to believe that Mr. Gorbachev is someone with whom one can do business—and I'm certain we all shall be doing business with him for a very long time to come.
You have been the Personality of the Year for 1985: you have humiliated terrorists, defeated the violence of militants such as Arthur Scargill and Derek Hatton, have made Britain's weight felt in the great world decisions, have re-launched the British economy. Do you believe that your “magic recipe” will still work in 1986?
I claim no magic recipe—just an absolute determination never to give in to violence and extremism and a fervent belief in sticking to firm policies at home and abroad. Those are the qualities which, I believe, are respected in other countries and which the British people recognised in this Government when they re-elected us with an overwhelming majority two years ago. Of course each successive year brings very different problems but our basic approach has not changed since 1979 and will not do so now.
Your support for free enterprise and for privatisation are two of your policies which strike a particular echo in the rest of the world. Do you believe that you have finally got away from the concept of State intervention in industry and [end p2] the State as a controller of great nationalised industries?
For years each successive socialist government nationalised more and more British industry and each successive Conservative government accepted what its socialist predecessor had done. Since 1979 all that has changed. By 1987 we shall have returned to the private sector nearly half of the state-owned industries we inherited. That policy has been good for industry itself with greatly improved efficiency and profits; good for customers with greater competition; good for the public who have rushed to buy shares in the privatised companies; and good for employees, the overwhelming majority of whom have arsquouired for the first time a real stake in the company in which they work. I believe that we have begun to put into reverse the years of creeping socialism. And we shall not stop there.
You have spoken optimistically of the future of Europe. Do you believe that the members of the enlarged European Community can harmonise their foreign policies and their economies, while opening up the internal market in the European Community?
Some cynic commented the other day that there would soon be a proposal to harmonise nursery rhymes in the European Community! I must say that I don't see the future of the European Community in terms of harmonisation but of increasing practical cooperation between member states to secure real, measurable benefits for our individual citizens—lower air fares, cheaper insurance premiums, the right to practice your profession where you want, European firms working together on the high technology products of the future with the assurance that the results will have equal access to markets in all Community countries. That is what we need, not castles in the air, and the recent European Council in Luxembourg took an important step in that direction (or will, when Italy and Denmark lift their reserves on its results). Of course most of these results could have been achieved with a good deal [end p3] less blood, sweat and tears last June in Milan, but that's a discussion it's probably better not to re-open! I am sometimes accused of a lack of European spirit because I am not comfortable with phrases such as European Union. But you know I sometimes think when I attend European Councils: “it takes a woman to get them to focus on the practical, down-to-earth issues”.
The economy of your country made notable progress in 1985 but unemployment remains high. Do you believe that next year the UK will succeed in creating more new jobs and new prosperity? How do you believe that the economy will change, increase in efficiency, attract new investments? What conditions are necessary both nationally and internationally to achieve greater well-being?
Yes, unemployment remains much too high. But the United Kingdom still has a higher proportion of its population in work than in any other major European country. And, indeed, over the last two years we have created more new jobs than the rest of Europe put together. The trouble is that since the number of people entering the workforce greatly exceeds those leaving it, it is very difficult indeed to get total unemployment down. Nevertheless, the consistent policies we have followed since 1979 are now paying off with steady economic growth; lower inflation; investment, exports, productivity and standard of living at record levels; and the fewest strikes for 50 years. To maintain that progress, we shall need to do even better on inflation—our rate is still higher than many of our competitors. The reduction and eventual elimination of inflation with all the benefits it would bring for output, investment and jobs remains our principal economic objective.