Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 Jun 18 We
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Central TV

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Kaye Adams, Central TV
Editorial comments: 1000-1100.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4352
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage & children), Executive (appointments), Parliament, Foreign policy (general discussions), Family, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Leadership, Voluntary sector & charity, Women

Interviewer

Prime Minister, can I ask you first, have you been aware throughout your political career of any problems that have cropped up that might not have happened had you been a man?

Prime Minister

Well, I do not think I have. I think what I have noticed is that when problems do occur, they really rather affect men and women equally in their impact upon your emotions and on the family. I mean, if all of a sudden, a child is ill. I remember one of Mark Thatchermine had to go in and have an emergency operation for appendicitis—then, both of you feel equally anxious and it is understood at work that whether it is a man or a woman, you are anxious if that happens. [end p1]

Interviewer

You do not hold truck with the theory that women are more emotional and therefore perhaps not so suited to politics?

Prime Minister

I less and less attribute a whole range of emotions to one particular sex. You know, really, a father feels just as anxious as a mother when something dreadful happens.

Interviewer

This popular image of you as the Iron Lady. I think that is, if anything, tougher than the men around you. How does that come about?

Prime Minister

I think it came about originally because I saw that the Soviet Union was spending far more on armaments, a far bigger proportion of its national income, than we were, and I had spent my early years looking at the Communist doctrine and beliefs and I also noticed that the West perhaps was not as aware of the dangers as it should be and so spoke up, and really, the name the Iron Lady, I think came from beyond the Iron Curtain. [end p2]

Interviewer

You do not feel at all that as a women you are at a disadvantage and you have got to be proving yourself?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think that one is at a disadvantage, that I have constantly got to be proving myself, and all my life I have been used to discussing, arguing one's case. I enjoy discussion, I enjoy argument. I work very hard at reading and trying to find out all the facts and really then, I know that before you come to a conclusion you have got to talk about things, not only the emotions but the practical effects, and so I have always enjoyed that, and I have not noticed anything like other people; I have not noticed so many differences as those you present me with.

Interviewer

What about in the House of Commons? Sometimes it goes very heated, listening to it. Is it more difficult for a woman to stand up in the ranks of baying men? [end p3]

Prime Minister

I think you have hit upon one thing. It is not so much in the House of Commons. I do not think women like very much getting up and making speeches. I think they are very shrewd. It is known that women are very shrewd; it has been known throughout history that some of the wives of men in power have had a tremendous influence upon them; that they are perceptive, that they are shrewd, that they are good observers of human nature. I do not think many women like getting up and doing public speaking and I think that is a natural drawback.

Now, when it comes to the House of Commons and they shout and shout—it seems to be much noisier than it used to be—certainly, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, you have an advantage that a woman's voice often can be heard if it is among men's voices—it can go through, cut through, and be heard, but it does tend to sound a little bit strident for a woman. That is a problem, but it can be heard.

Interviewer

Can I ask something that just occurred to me actually? Does it get on your nerves being surrounded by men all the time? [end p4]

Prime Minister

No. You do not kind of think like that. I have as many women in the Government as I possibly can. We have, I think, a bigger proportion in proportion to the number of women we have got in the House and I complain because there are not enough to choose from, but do not forget, when one is working here in government there are a lot of women you are working with, a tremendous number the whole time, so it does not come out like that. I mean, I am working among a lot of women a lot of the time.

Interviewer

Do you enjoy working with women?

Prime Minister

Yes, I do.

Interviewer

Do you discern any difference between men and women as politicians? [end p5]

Prime Minister

No, because I think we are usually in a mixed crowd, but yes, I do enjoy working with women. I suppose we think very practically. I am not quite sure that is just because we are women, but it is because we are women who are thinking and believing in the same thing, and then, when we are trying to get the work done here, when you are dealing with women who are helping you with taking down the speeches, typing them, they are very efficient and their dedication to the job is total, it is total, and we are very lucky with the quality of staff we have. Really, every minute of the day they are working extremely hard and when you get that kind of dedication it is absolutely marvellous. We could not do the volume of work we do here without it, a colossal volume. Sometimes, I would have twelve engagements a day. Well, I have got to get through them the night before or perhaps the week-end before. I have got to get in my mind all the briefing for it, the relevant questions, how we need to move the situation forward, what we need to do. Everything there has got to be ready for me and if I send it back and ask for more information, the whole system has got to operate, and it does—not officiously, not efficiently in an iron way, but smoothly, quietly, unobtrusively, but it works. [end p6]

Interviewer

Going back to a point you made earlier about a lot of women being in government, being a bit sneaky, I had a piece of tape of you in the 1960s and you said then that you thought the reason there were not more women ministers was the prime minister was a man.

Prime Minister

Well, there was a tendency, I think, for men politicians to think: “Ah, now we must have some women in and put them into welfare.” Now that is how I started. Pat Hornsby-Smith, who unfortunately has now died, she was a marvellous politician, a wonderful, forthright, practical, kindly, firm person; she resigned to go into business. She had been a Parliamentary Secretary for quite a long time and she had been in Health and she was also Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions, and when she resigned Harold Macmillan asked me to take on her job. Well you see, there the thing was working. A woman in pensions. That is right, a woman should be in pensions, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit—a disability, so put a woman in—and that is where I started, and I was there for three years, and it was quite a long time I think before they thought of putting women in some of the other things.

Now, I have two Ministers of State, two ladies at the Foreign Office, one at Agriculture. Yes, I do also have them at Welfare, but that is part of it—it is not the whole of their lives. [end p7]

Interviewer

But you would like to see more women?

Prime Minister

Oh, I do wish we could get more women into Parliament. First, it would make those of us who are there less conspicuous, and that would be a great advantage, but you know, there are not any more really than there were in the 1930s, and it is a great disappointment because women, as I say, are very able. It is partly, I think, that they prefer getting things done rather than making speeches about it and I notice that when women are in Parliament they are extremely practical about how they can move things forward, extremely good constituency members, extremely good on committee work because there we are dealing with the detail, and they are very good at getting down to their homework and knowing all the facts, and really saying: “But it is no good talking general principles, it is how this applies. Look at how it applies to my constituent.” And yes, we want double, treble, quadruple, the numbers. Let us make a target first of having a third of the House of Commons consisting of women. That would be terrific and it would alter things, I think, quite a bit. [end p8]

Interviewer

What do you think we can do then?

Prime Minister

I have often wondered how it is that we do not get more women in. I think partly because, as I have indicated, they are practical and do things and they think that quite a bit of politics is in making speeches, and certainly you do have to do that, but it is not quite such a big part of your life.

Then I think geography plays a large part in it and I am always the first to say that had I not lived in or about London and had a London constituency, I do not think that, had we lived in Yorkshire, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, that I would have left my children when they were young on, say, a Monday, come down to London and not go back until Friday. I do not think I could have done it. I would have missed them terribly. Yes, I would have felt guilty about not being with them. I would have felt guilty about it, and I think affects a lot of other women, and therefore there are a number of years in their life when they are out of the political arena unless they are doing voluntary work locally in it. [end p9]

Now I was just dead lucky. Our home was in London and I have a London constituency, and therefore, I always knew that I could get back if anything went wrong and that just eased my mind tremendously, that I could get back before they went to bed in the evening and be with them, and so I never let go, but I think there must be a tremendous lot of women like me who think: “Well, I cannot do it now, maybe when the children are older I will,” but you know, in those early years, you miss a lot and it makes it much more difficult to take it up again.

Interviewer

Do you have any regrets then about missing some of those earlier years?

Prime Minister

No. As I say, I was lucky because everything gelled for me, just because of home in London, constituency in London, so I did not miss them very much. I kept going. Always kept in contact, always kept in touch and the gap for me, because we lived in London, was not very long. [end p10]

Interviewer

Looking back at old photographs and things, you obviously take a lot of care of your appearance and are a very feminine person. Is it hurtful when the media keep trying to portray a masculine figure?

Prime Minister

I often wonder why they do it—I simply do not know why. I do not take that much time on one's appearance. I suppose I am just lucky. I think if you keep working hard, it helps you to keep in touch and that just helps you with everything.

Interviewer

It is certainly something I have found though, that you know, people think that if a woman has made it in politics it is because she has a male quality to her. You know, she is not making it as a woman; she is making it as a surrogate man. [end p11]

Prime Minister

Oh yes, you know, you will quite often hear people say: “Well look, she is the best man in politics,” and I say: “Oh no, much better than that; she is the best woman.” It is extraordinary you still hear that, but look, I never know, I never quite understand why. Running a family—supposing you have a large family, women have to be very firm; they could not do it otherwise. They have to be very decisive; they could not do it otherwise. Those are natural qualities in women, natural, and a woman who helps with the family business has to be very firm. A woman who becomes a widow has to be extremely firm, but no-one suggests that she is masculine. No-one suggests that because she has to make tough, difficult decisions that she is not kind. I think it is because we have not yet got enough women getting to the top and therefore people tend to think it is unusual. It is not unusual, and many of the qualities which we display quite naturally in our jobs here are just those very same qualities that a woman who is running a home, who is after all a good manager—that is what running a home well means—a good manager, has to display in the home. [end p12]

Interviewer

What about this fuss that was made more of in the past about your image, your hair style, your voice being too high or too low? That is not something that male prime ministers seem to have been subjected to so much. Do you resent that?

Prime Minister

I do not know. Maybe they were right, you know. Maybe when people say these things about you, you look and you think: “Look, are they right?” and maybe they were right and maybe one did make corrections that come over more easily. You know, but they do sometimes say it about men. I have heard them say: “Oh, so and so looks a shambles and when he goes abroad he simply must, you know, represent Britain.” I remember it in the past. I cannot remember it so much in the present.

Interviewer

It still does not seem to be so concentrated on men. I mean, you were elected as Prime Minister of this country on your merits as a politician. Why should people start moaning on about your hair or your voice? [end p13]

Prime Minister

I do not know. Usually I say: “Well, if that is all they have got to moan about, they have not got very much to moan about about the policies that we are carrying out.” One tries to turn it to advantage that way.

But if there is anything grates or if there is anything that is stopping the message from getting across, well then, you have to say; “If they are right, then I must try to do something about it” and in that sense a criticism is helpful. You never see yourself as others see you, do you, because you are behind your face; you are not in front of it; because the voice in your head is different from how other people hear it, so maybe they have a point.

Interviewer

Talking about that, as a women in politics, have you noted any particular disadvantage or indeed advantages attached to being a woman?

Prime Minister

I think it has one advantage, in that wherever one goes one is recognised and that happens abroad. You can go to the most lonely [end p14] places, lonely far-away places, and they will recognise you. “Mrs. Thatcher, Mrs. Thatcher. Strong leader, Mrs. Thatcher strong.” This is most extraordinary, almost in any language.

Interviewer

What about dealing with people?

Prime Minister

In Italy: “Mama Thatcher, Mama Thatcher.” Isn't it lovely?

Interviewer

Yes, it is nice.

Prime Minister

What about dealing with people? [end p15]

Interviewer

Yes, does that make a difference as a woman? Do you have a different approach?

Prime Minister

I do not know. I do not know whether I spend a lot of time doing my homework, whether I spend a lot of time briefing because I am a woman or because I am that kind of person. I think it is because I am that kind of person.

Interviewer

But you do not think it has affected your style of leadership?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think so at all. You find leadership amongst both women and men. You have done throughout history. I do not think it affects your style of leadership at all. [end p16]

Interviewer

Obviously it is a ridiculous question had you been a man because you could not possibly answer.

Prime Minister

I cannot tell you what it would be like to be a man prime minister.

Interviewer

You are yourself. One thing that occurred to me: thinking of other great female names in politics, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, they have got a sort of “mother of the nation” —type image. Is that natural for a woman?

Prime Minister

Mrs. Gandhi and Gold Meir had something which I could not possibly have—they were both in at the birth of independence of their country, they had that pioneering image and therefore, Mr. Nehru in a way became the father of his people and Mrs. Gandhi as his daughter carried on. She was in, working with her father, at the birth of independence of India and, of course, Golda Meir had been [end p17] working for years and so therefore, they did have this pioneering and “mother of the nation” image which, by the time you come to a nation like ours just is not possible. I think perhaps you might get as one gets perhaps older.

Interviewer

You said people saying “Mama Thatcher, Mrs. Thatcher, strong leader” . Does that not conjure up that sort of feeling?

Prime Minister

Mrs. Gandhi was a strong leader, Golda Meir was a very strong leader, a very strong leader; had to take some very difficult decisions in Israel in the early days. They also came through wars. A very strong leader, Golda Meir, very strong, and so was Indira Gandhi.

Interviewer

I do not know if they were castigated for, you know, being sort of very very firm in the way that sometimes you are criticised. [end p18]

Prime Minister

They had to be very firm. But look, if you come in politics, you come in because you believe things need doing and because you have the kind of personality and the kind of will which says: “If they need doing, I must set about trying to get them done” . You cannot achieve everything, but you come in knowing what you want to do and setting about trying to do it. Of course, you cannot do everything alone. We do not live in the sort of society where governments do everything. We live in a free society, where quite a lot is over to the responsibility of the people and therefore our task is persuasion, but you do not come into politics just to sit around and be someone. You come into politics to try to get something done.

Interviewer

Given that we have got twenty-six women in the House now, I think.

Prime Minister

Not very many. It is pathetically few. Quite a lot in the House of Lords where we can nominate them. [end p19]

Interviewer

Yes, but you are an exception. What do you think is special about you that made you make it?

Prime Minister

I do not know. I was chosen very young because, again, I had always been used to debating my case and to arguing and, as so many women do, I started off in a very very difficult seat and fought that twice. Sometimes I say to people who are trying to get a seat in Parliament: “Look, if that is what you want because you believe in something, do not give up.” It took me, when I decided to come back into politics—I was out for a short time—it took me quite a long time to get a seat again, but one did not give up and I suppose in the end it was being able to persuade selection committees that one had something to offer and something that they also wanted to put forward. I do not know. There is not much point in going on trying to analyse it. It did happen and I just wish it happened to more people that do not give up; if that is what you want to do, do not give.

Interviewer

You do not think women should be given extra help? [end p20]

Prime Minister

I would do anything to try to give them extra help

Interviewer

In terms of positive discrimination then?

Prime Minister

What does one mean by “positive discrimination” ? You go before a whole group of people and in my case, first of all a committee and then before a whole executive and then addressing whole meetings. Often, you see, so much depends upon how you address a whole meeting and that, for a woman, is quite a tough test and particularly it is a lot of work these days; a much quieter turn-out on television. Oh I long for more, long for more. It is wrong really that there are not more. As I say, we do nominate quite a number to Their Lordships' House where they are very active.

Interviewer

As the Prime Minister, then, do you think there is anything that you personally could do to help more women into Parliament? [end p21]

Prime Minister

Well, I hoped very much when I was chosen it would naturally help selection committees to choose more. We do not really get enough women coming forward. That is one of the problems. Far fewer women come forward than men, and so, if we had a larger selection of women coming forward we might get more in.

Interviewer

If we did succeed and get more women, do you think it would make a difference to the way politics was conducted?

Prime Minister

I think if we had a lot more, yes. I think it would. First, I do not think it would be quite as noisy as it is.

Interviewer

What other sort of differences would you envisage? [end p22]

Prime Minister

I just wonder if we might sometimes be very practical in what we propose, talk less generalities and say: “Well now, how is this going to apply in fact?” because women are very practical. That is our experience, that is our nature.

Interviewer

Do you feel that you still have an affinity with the ordinary woman in the street?

Prime Minister

Good Heavens, yes. Good Heavens, yes, because I do a lot of the same things. You know, we have the same problems in running a house. I do not do as much of it as they do, but nevertheless, it is never far from one's mind and anyway, I like house-keeping.

Interviewer

But do you think, as a female prime minister, you have women in the back of your mind in terms of policies you make? [end p23]

Prime Minister

Yes, very much so, very much so. I remember in my very early years in politics being very thoughtful the whole time about the task of a widow, a person who is widowed with a young family and has to manage alone, or any woman with a young family who has to manage alone. They really do have immense problems, immense problems. They have to both turn round and often earn the family living and be very close to their family, and you often find—which always struck me very forcibly—they are some of the closest-knit families that there are.

Interviewer

You speaking on that level, one criticism that is made of you is that you are insensitive and uncaring.

Prime Minister

But that is just not true. You only come into politics because you really care about the whole future of your country. It is something they have tried to hit out about but it just is not true, it just is not true. It is not true either personally. Heaven knows the thing which really gets my goat is cruelty to children, which I [end p24] simply cannot stand and therefore I worked for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for years—nor can they level that when they see what we have managed to do for the National Health Service, which is far more than any other government has done. Of course, more is always needed.

Interviewer

You are aware of being a caring prime minister?

Prime Minister

Good Heavens, yes, but do you always say that people are most caring who proclaim that they are most caring? People who talk a lot about being caring are not always people who do most you know.

Interviewer

Can I ask you on a personal level, was there ever a time that you doubted that you were capable of being Prime Minister? [end p25]

Prime Minister

A difficult question. I remember when I was elected Leader of the Party and therefore became Leader of the Opposition, thinking: “My goodness, how am I going to manage Prime Minister's questions? Hitherto, I have only known what it is like to be Head of a Department, not to have to answer across the whole range.” But you see, in this country, you come to it steadily. You do not leap into it. In other countries, they can leap into it. But first, you have been a Member of Parliament for a long time; then in my case, I have been a Parliamentary Secretary, and I am eternally grateful I have been a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Pensions, because you learn a lot about it there that you cannot learn any other way. Then I was a Secretary of State for Education, so that was a Head of a Department and a member of the Cabinet. So I learned about how to be Head of a Department and how a cabinet works. It was only from there that one came up to be Leader of the Opposition and then to Prime Minister. So you did not go from the ground to the top of the ladder. You got your foot on one rung, and then looked down and see was it all right to go to the next rung, and experience is cumulative and even now experienced is cumulative. As you go round and visit several countries, you know more statesmen. As you have experience in several Departments or, as you in Opposition are shadowing several [end p26] Departments, experience is cumulative, and so it builds up your confidence and with the basis of that confidence behind one, and a reasonable number of qualifications, one thought: Well, if other people could do it with that, then I had a reasonable chance of doing it.

Interviewer

You never thought: “Oh, I am a woman, I am never going to do it.”

Prime Minister

No, you do not think like that. You certainly think: “Well, can I do it?” but you do not start to think: “Now look, I am a woman prime minister, I am different.” You think: “I am a Prime Minister. What do I want to do as representing my country. How am I going to get it through?” You do not think in terms of being a woman prime minister or a woman minister or a woman member of Parliament. You think in terms of: “This is my job, how am I going to achieve my objectives? How best can I do it? What is the best way to do it?”