Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Mar 13 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Standard

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: Breger and Gibson Ltd, North Wales
Source: Thatcher Archive (THCR 5/1/5/456): COI transcript
Journalist: Charles Reiss, The London Standard
Editorial comments: 1700-1750.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4548
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Health policy, General Elections, Labour Party & socialism, Conservatism, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Education, Local government finance, Housing, Industry, Science & technology, Leadership

Charles Reiss The Standard

I would like to ask you about today's tour, certainly, and just looking at you going through, you do seem to enjoy it. Do you find it invigorates you, getting out of Downing Street?

P.M.

Yes, I do. All of those dry statistics that I give every Tuesday and Thursday, they live when I come out on tour on Friday.

It was really the people. You know all the things, for example. You hear about the Health Service. You know, we hear nothing but criticism sometimes from where we stand, and then you come out and see it. Absolutely fantastic! Of course, they want more money! Who would not? Who does not? But you have got to live within a certain budget and everyone knows that and it struck me very much there that everyone is very much aware that really, we live in a very different, much more advanced, much more beneficial world than we used to twenty years ago. [end p1]

Charles Reiss The Standard

And what happened to the problems? It did seem a hospital with an incredibly happy atmosphere.

P.M.

Incredibly happy. The administrators were backing up, doing everything they should and I think there you saw very vividly the reason why you do not have nursing sisters and doctors doing the administrative work. You have them doing the medical work and you have really very efficient administrators doing things which they can do.

I thought it was superb. I liked the layout of it. They have quite a lot of land there.

The Welsh Office has had the sense to provide money for a large car park, because that hospital is quite a way away from some of the people who use it, so the relatives have got to have some place to park when they bring in their people to the hospital.

The other thing which interested me: I did just ask, when we went into the big canteen and saw so many of the staff, how many? It is 534 beds, just over 1200 staff. Isn't that interesting? It is very interesting.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Moving back, I suppose, into the main stream of it, you are on record as saying that you do not like [end p2] election fever and you think it starts too early, but would you accept that whether one likes it or not, election fever is what we have got?

P.M.

Yes, I think it is and I think it is going to go on, and it is going to go on until we have an election. I just think that it is a pity that it seems to start earlier and earlier. I now starts after about three years into a parliament, which I think is a pity.

I think it is fair game to have election fever any time between the fourth and fifth year, but when you have got a really good majority I think it is absurd for it to start so soon.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Is there a case for saying, as you did at the start of 1983, for instance, that there will be no early election?

P.M.

But I did not say that.

Charles Reiss The Standard

At a Brian Walden interview, he said: “Prime Minister, you have said there will be no early election.” Then he asked you what “early” meant. [end p3]

P.M.

Oh, and then I said: “Not before four years!” I have usually said that and repeated that many many times - not before four years.

First, I do not think people like it. I think they reckon that they elected you with a good majority and they expect you to carry on. Somewhere between four years and five years, you have to judge when it is best to go.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Whenever it happens, do you like campaigning? Does it elate you or is it a distraction from the matter in hand?

P.M.

You are in a totally different period. So much of my life is spent, really, in trying to get the long-term plans or deal with the longer-term problems. Then you are in a period where you are explaining the long-term plans that you have worked out, but you are not working out any more. The day, in a way, is all concerned with the short-term, winning the election, albeit talking about long-term things, and that is very different from the way in which one runs one's life.

Also, at the back of your mind the whole time is the feeling: “I just wonder if all is well” or if something is going to come up in the middle of campaigning. [end p4]

Charles Reiss The Standard

Do you have a feeling of enjoying the combat of it?

P.M.

Oh yes. Last time, we did quite a number of things. We went back to old-fashioned electioneering. We did more things in the market place. We had a fantastic meeting in Leicester Market Square and in Salisbury Market Square, and then we went round … and somehow, we got far bigger crowds than I had known.

We used to do this in my first two elections 1950 and 1951, because there was not very much television, so people came to see you and hear you and I thought that they were back to doing that now.

Charles Reiss The Standard

So is that a pattern you would like to stick to?

P.M.

I found it very stimulating because you got your hecklers.

You cannot really give: this is the basis of your philosophy, this is what you believe, this is why you are going to do this and that. You cannot do the logical sequence speech. You can do the assertion and you can do the future, but it is not a thing in which you can put together a totally cohesive argument. It is completely different. [end p5]

Charles Reiss The Standard

What, in fact, do you think what Labour calls the “London effect”, the extraordinary left in London if you like, will have on &dubellip;

P.M.

It is not so much the extraordinary left. It is today's left, but it is absolutely in line with the fundamentals of socialism. There is nothing unusual about it. The fundamentals of socialism are that socialist rulers believe they can make better judgments about the future than the people who elect them, and that is a fundamental difference between conservatism and socialism.

We believe that we are there to have a framework in which people can live their own lives and profit by their own effort. That framework consists in doing things which only governments can do and have to be strong to do; that is, strong defence - and you must never make a mistake on defence policies because these days, if anything happened, there would be no time to reverse it - strong on law and order, that is to say you must have the police, the facilities, and now, you must make people realise that they too have to cooperate with crime prevention; strong on a prudent financial policy. That we have and that continues. Strong to set a framework of law within which business can effectively [end p6] operate. Strong to allow incentives so that you really give incentives for people to develop their talents and ability. A good Health Service and opportunities for education, and I would also say the philosophy that runs through our entire belief is that you are not trying to dominate people, you are not trying to control them; you are trying to enable them the better to be independent, to live their own lives, to create their own standard of living, to have the right to private property and the right to let their own families profit by their efforts and pass on something to future generations of your own family.

All of that is totally different from the control economy. Socialism is a control economy, which only works by controlling people's lives, so therefore they want more people in big council estates so that they can control them - therefore they do not want to sell them - and they want more and more people in the public sector, so they control their lives and say: “You depend on us for your job” and so on, and they want more taxation because they do not trust the people who elect them to spend their own. It is the total difference between controlling your lives and between “we will do the things which governments have to be strong to do and therefore be strong enough to let you live your own lives in freedom under a rule of law.” [end p7]

Charles Reiss The Standard

Sticking with one side of that &dubellip; you have painted for a moment, Labour does seem so at odds with itself. I wonder if, looking at it from your end, you feel they can pull back before an election?

P.M.

I do not believe so. You see. It will take me a time and you will probably have to edit it down because you are more a wordsmith than I am.

All my life in politics, before the SDP split off, everyone thought that some time the Labour Party would split.

I came into Parliament in 1959 - the Gaitskell Parliament - and he was trying to make the Labour Party reject the socialist side of its nature; trying to stop Clause 4 and they reaffirmed it; trying to keep a strong defence and the nuclear deterrent.

Now, in those days, we thought that the split would be - and it would have been had Gaitskell stayed there - that they would have split off the extreme left which then was not a large part of the Labour Party, but had worked through the trade unions for years because they knew they could never get elected as communists, so they went to work in the trade unions, and they had gone to work in the Labour Party but the degree of success they had, although showing, was not enormous. And so it was beginning to be talked about intellectually, [end p8] politically, journalistically, the Labour Party will split, when will they split?

Now what should have happened was that they should have insisted that the Left split off. Instead, they took the opposite course - that parties that had been proscribed, forbidden to the Labour Party, membership of the communist party, membership of a lot of extreme left organisations, became a part of their doctrine, and the extreme left, instead of splitting up, started to infiltrate further and further into the Labour Party until the fact is now it is too big a part of it in the constituencies.

Added to that, you have got the split the wrong way. The moderates split off and that split of the moderates delayed the realignment of British politics for at least one generation and possibly two, because as a conservative passionately believing in freedom under the law and believing that socialism cannot stand for that, the realignment - you hear me say my job is to stay in long enough so that everyone knows that socialism and the British character do not mix, so socialism has got to go - is to get the fundamental realignment which I think is in keeping with the British character, which is two parties, a free enterprise party, because if you have political freedom under the rule of law you have got to have economic freedom as well. It is to bring about that can only be done really by eventually the Labour Party splitting off the [end p9] the Left and rejecting the Clause 4 and the command economy, and then we really should get a realignment, because your liberals are far more to the left than they are to the right. When the Liberal Party split, the National Liberals joined us - do not forget that! Left Liberals left in the Liberal Party!

Charles Reiss The Standard

But do you think that that objective might be partly achieved if Labour goes down really badly after the next election? That that might remove the possibility of their again becoming the sole party of government?

P.M.

It has been my strategy, believing passionately as I do in what we stand for, to take a different direction, to make people see that was the better direction; for us to stay in power long enough to make the Labour Party realise that their policies will never be re-elected and they must do a fundamental reappraisal of their policies and start two generations later what Gaitskell wanted to do but failed.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Do you think that one more push, in terms of one more severe defeat - I mean, 1983 was a disaster - might bring that stage about? [end p10]

P.M.

I myself do not think one more push will be quite enough, because the fact is that however many of them get back next time, if you look at the people whom they are putting up as candidates to follow existing Labour members, the whole tilt is leftwards, and I do not think it can be brought about by one more. I think you are likely to have it much more up nearer towards the year 2000, then you will have the fundamental realignment that should have been brought about half a century before.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Last question on this point. Do you ever feel sorry for Neil Kinnock?

P.M.

No. I do not feel sorry for leaders of parties. We all have to set our course on what we believe and make our own decisions. I do not feel sorry for people. I know that they go through difficult times and the thing is how you tackle a difficult time and whether you are prepared to make the decisions which other people have ducked. Feeling sorry for anyone does not do anything. If you come up to this kind of level in politics, you never waste time feeling sorry for yourself or anyone else - there is too much to get on with. [end p11]

Charles Reiss The Standard

Can I just take it forward. You have said you are very confident of winning with a solid majority.

P.M.

No, I have not. I have said I believe we shall win with a good majority. I am never over-confident. It would be disastrous. I believe we shall win. I believe we shall win with a good majority.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Let us take it to the point where you have won and you are therefore five more years and we have talked before - and others have talked - about your long-term aims, so could I ask you instead what you think your immediate priorities might be?

P.M.

Just as a background to that, the big policies, the reformation of trade union law - there is a little bit more to do - , the fundamental financial soundness, the fundamental defence, the fundamental law and order - those continue to flow through British politics like great rivers, and one must continue in that same direction.

You then at each new Parliament will have to pick out your fundamental priorities for that next Parliament. It will not have escaped your notice that [end p12] we are giving fantastic attention to education, which although we have more teachers in proportion to pupils, better-trained teachers than ever before, more spent for every pupil and so on and so forth, we somehow are not getting the results in some areas in some schools, and let us be absolutely clear: in some local authorities the schools are excellent; in others, the children are not getting education which they need to tackle the problems of life. They are not getting the basic foundation from which they can go in many different directions according to the jobs available, according to the next tranche of training, and we are going through education really from the beginning right up to polytechnics and so on, both in curriculum, syllabus. I am trying to give people who I feel sometimes just have practically no choice of school and do not know how to get their children out of a particular set &dubellip; I am trying to give them more choice and Kenneth BakerKenneth is starting up his schools.

You want schools which you get mixed groups of pupils going to, mixed in the sense of background. The grammar schools were a marvellous mix. You were there because it was not your parents, it was not your background; you were there because you had a particular aptitude and you went there and in a way, it was a kind of equalizer of opportunity, and the technical colleges must do that. We are looking very carefully at some of the syllabuses. Can I say why? [end p13]

The 1944 Education Act in a way ducked who should be responsible for the syllabus. It did that because of the needs of those times and the feeling of those times. We had seen Hitler brainwash a generation. We were not going to have any government brainwashing any generation. Therefore, children must never be indoctrinated. Therefore, the only powers the Government took was to say you must be taught religious education, but it was not quite clear who was to do the syllabus. In some cases it was the governors in voluntary aid, in some cases the local authority, but the point of it was no-one must ever be politically indoctrinated. That was the point. It is not now being carried out, because some children are, because it is happening at the local level and we have to get away from that and make a syllabus up that is not government political indoctrination. We are having to do it even though one had never thought we should have to do it.

So we are going through the whole of education, to try to see that the opportunity, where it is not being used, is much much better, and where the things which every child after eleven years compulsory education should be sure of having. Eleven years compulsory education and some of them cannot express themselves sufficiently in reading and writing. They are afraid of ordinary arithmetic. They do not know the basic sciences and they do not know the basic … that is what we have to get. So your education is one. [end p14]

Now, we have also to tackle some of the local authority things. As you know, in the first session of Parliament after the election, we shall bring in the Rates Reform and the Local Authority Financial Reform - major that is, absolutely major Bill and taking a lot of time to prepare.

We also have to look at some of the inner city areas and also at some of the housing. It is causing us very great concern. We have come to the end of the first tranche of our housing policy. At least we have got the first million owner-occupied. We really still have immense problems in housing. Ironically enough, so many of them come from the post-war generation - the council houses, the way they were built, some blocks are having to be pulled down; we have to have different ways of renovation, we have to have different ways of getting more out into the private sector, different ways of getting more into the hands of people and people having a bigger say, again, in their own lives.

The housing, inner city area and the education, local authority housing and education I think will be the great moves forward.

On the Health Service, we are looking, if I say basically this way: to try to be certain that more people more quickly get the attention they need, by having a system where if you have a big waiting list in your area and in the next-door area there is not a big waiting list and they could take more people, that you [end p15] are going to try to make money go with the patient or make arrangements between districts. It ought to happen. Or as the hospital we visited this morning had a joint private sector-public sector kidney dialysis unit. Or sometimes you will find in a BUPA hospital that in parts of the year their beds are not full. I am concerned we should try to get as efficient use of all resources as possible, whether it is in the private or public sector - not the dogma, but the efficient use. The basic structure is making it work better and Roy Griffiths is doing a lot for that.

So the big streams go on. I do think that industry and commerce really have taken off in a way, because what we have got now is an enormous number of highly successful competitive industries and whereas in the Sixties and the Seventies - I see Willy Rees-Mogg wrote a very interesting article the other day - we were always falling further and further behind Germany, France - the gap was enlarging. It is not now. We are coming up and this is because the enterprise and initiative is once again working because we have got the framework right.

We also have to look at the arrangement of science. There is a report from Their Lordships. I am very conscious with some of the demands that are coming to us now that we have an allocation of money but I am not sure - indeed, what I am concerned about is that we have not, I think, got a sufficiently good system for [end p16] deciding the priorities in science, in research and development, as far as Government money is concerned. The priorities will change. You see, I knew what they were in my time at Education and Science. On the basic research, they were the nuclear physics because we were doing the structure, the nucleus, and they were strong then.

We now see that there are some things in molecular biology that are very exciting and we now see that we have great demands for different sorts of research and it seems to me that we really must have a system - with the scientists and with industrialists - of reassessing our priorities, and that also is beginning to concern me. It is partly involved in education and it is partly involved in getting industry and education - although we have started this. You know the jargon: we have switched money, we have linked money, we have pulled through money, but it is not quite happening well enough yet.

So those, I think, are the three sort of things that will occupy our minds.

There will inevitably be some other things, quite a lot, but those I think are three of the main things.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Can I follow one specific out of that on education and then perhaps one more general thing?

When we last met, the GLC was on the point of [end p17] going and we spoke about ILEA and you said: “Well, ILEA stands for the time being …” I cannot remember your exact words - you have only just reminded me of it - but you said something about individual boroughs may want to secede and you said something which suggests it may not be there for all time.

P.M.

We will also have to consider that, but there are other possibilities in mind. You see, we have the whole of the Direct Grant Legislation in place, so there are possibilities enabling particular schools, with a certain of legislation, to opt out, and there will be other possibilities with ILEA. I think a number of people are very very worried. ILEA has more money poured in and a number of people are very very worried about the indoctrination and certainly we will have to consider whether the possibility of some schools opting out is enough.

Charles Reiss The Standard

I was just going to say a very few schools opting out would only sort of marginally tackle the problem.

P.M.

Yes, but do not forget we are also considering having a model syllabus and we have got the GCSE in now. You can have both a model syllabus working in the GCSE, [end p18] which makes jolly certain that your youngsters are going to be taught some of the proper things.

If I put it this way: more and more, the pattern must be in the great services run by the State and Local Authorities that there must be more response to the consumer. People pay for education. They do not pay individually, but they pay out of their tax-payer&slash;rate-payer pocket. We are all the time working on systems where we can go to a system where the money goes with the pupil so if mother says that pupil at school is not doing well then you can opt out of that school and go to another one of your choice and the money will move - not on a voucher system - the money will move.

Charles Reiss The Standard

There is going to be nothing that you would describe as “dismantling” in any sense of the word?

P.M.

We have looked at a number of things but, you see, I do not think things would necessarily be improved in Lambeth and Islington if they could opt out of ILEA, so I have to think of different ways. I cannot go any further than that. We have to think of different ways of ensuring that children can get the education for which their parents are paying.

The average family of four pays every week in taxation of one sort or another £25 a week to education, [end p19] £26 a week to health, £55 a week to social security - that includes pensions, supplementary benefit, war pensions, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, maternity benefit. Now, the thing is people call them free. Those services are not free. People are paying for them, and we have to learn to be as responsive to their needs as shops are responsive to their needs. Not the same variety, but to say: “Look! We are here to serve your purposes and your needs and to give the very best quality of education we can possibly deliver to every child regardless of background!” In some places it is happening, in others it is not. It is not my task to upset things where they are happening well. It is our task to find varied ways of enabling different things to happen where they are not being properly delivered now.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Finally, on a different point, you said to the FT - it may be a couple of years ago - that after five years it would be time, I think the phrase you used was “to hand on the torch” and more recently I think you have indicated that you could well see yourself serving a full third term.

I think I am right and I wondered what &dubellip; the change of heart? [end p20]

P.M.

It is very difficult for me to say to you, because it sounds quite how I do not mean it to sound.

I think that it is necessary for me to try to serve the whole of a third term. I think it is necessary for the continuity of the policies, but it is necessary for the knowledge that the policies will be continuous, because I think, although there are many ways in which without me the policies could be continuous, to have the confidence that the policies will be continuous I think it will be necessary for me to carry on to a full third term, and I certainly do not feel any less energetic now than I did. Indeed, I think having got this far, one really feels very passionate that one wants to go on and make certain that the things that have been achieved are kind of entrenched, because I feel they are so much in keeping with the British character and which has done so much.

It is the British character that founded British institutions, British freedom, British reliability as an ally. There is something about us that is really rather different, that took the English language all over the world, took law to parts of the world they had never known it. It is that character which founded the institutions. It was that I felt that the things that were being done were out of kilter with that character. We have done a great deal. I do passionately want to see it go far enough so that it becomes almost a part of the [end p21] habit and custom of British people - so deeply entrenched that it cannot for many generations be overthrown.

Charles Reiss The Standard

I am very hesitant to ask this, but I think it almost follows. There is an inference there, is there not, that you cannot see any one individual &dubellip;

P.M.

No. That is why I was hesitant in how I should put it. That is not the inference. It is that people know that I drive that way and I am seen to drive that way. They know that as long as I am there, there will be no doubt that I will drive that way. Do you see? It is a confidence factor. No possible doubt about the way they are going. People know where they stand with me. They know the way that we are going and I just feel that another term, and maybe then I am sure that after that there will be several people who it will be seen not that they can, it will be seen that a lot of people could, but there will be no doubt about the direction in which the policy is going.

In the things we do, there is always a reason why.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Onward to Moscow then? [end p22]

P.M.

Onward to Moscow? Well we shall be going to Moscow.

Charles Reiss The Standard

Thank you very much at the end of a rather long day.

P.M.

That is all right. It is not the end yet. More work to do!