Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Apr 27 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for West German TV (ZDF TV)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV
Editorial comments: 1625-1715 set aside for MT’s recorded message on the 750th anniversary of Berlin and for the interview with ZDF. The interview was embargoed until advised by No.10.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2269
Themes: Autobiography (childhood), Women, Leadership, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Middle East), Terrorism, Executive, European Union (general), Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Social security & welfare, Health policy, Housing, Society

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Prime Minister, was your own family background, your upbringing, your father's influence the very basis for your political convictions? Do the roots of the Thatcher years go back to Grantham?

Prime Minister

Oh yes, I think so very much. My Alfred Robertsfather was very prominent in local politics and was very anxious to give my Muriel Robertssister and myself all the advantages which he had not had. He had to leave school at the age of twelve thirteen and was very conscious that he had not had a very good education and yet he was one of the best educated men I ever knew, because he read very widely and taught himself almost everything and would discuss everything with us and he taught us always, very strongly, never to follow but always to make up our own minds in finding the facts and discussing them and then go the way which we thought was the right way. He did that very much himself and was really a marvellous inspiration.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Did he give you any straightforward guidelines? [end p1]

Prime Minister

I think he gave us one very important guideline: he said “If you see something that is not right, it is not enough to get up and make a speech about it in the market-place as to what Governments or other people should do; just try and do something yourself” and that was very much the way in which he carried on his own life; he was very helpful to anyone who had a problem.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Do you think, Prime Minister, that it is more difficult for a woman at the very top of British politics; is a woman at No 10 more lonely than a man would be?

Prime Minister

Well, you know, I am often asked this question and I scarcely know how to reply because I have only had my own experience. I think it is always lonely at the top because the decisions that come up to you, in which you have to take part, are often the difficult ones which other people have not been able to solve and you always have to give a lead through difficult issues. So yes, that is lonely but it is really, I think, one of the most rewarding jobs in the sense that you feel - if you are fascinated with politics and being at the centre of things - a sense of excitement, a sense that you are having some effect upon both national and international affairs and somehow there is just nothing else like it. I would not have any other job. [end p2]

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

You have been described as uncaring, as lacking compassion, Denis Healey even spoke of you as having a rather chilly indifference to human sufferings. Does criticism like that hurt the “iron lady”?

Prime Minister

The “iron lady” is a name - I think it was given to me by the Soviet Union. In some respects it is correct because no-one in my position can be soft, if you were you would not succeed. Yes, you have to make tough decisions. You have to look at all sides and then come to tough decisions which are right in the long run. Yes, some people do accuse one of being uncaring but when you look at the people who accuse you, it does not really bother you that much because, you know, people who talk most about caring are not those who do most; that is what I was taught in my early years.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Prime Minister, 1986 must have been a rather difficult year with Westland, British Leyland, the Libyan raids, the Commonwealth conflict; have you ever thought of resigning when you were in trouble or do you find problems rather stimulating?

Prime Minister

There are some problems, of course, that you could do without but they are there and you have to face them and I think the characteristic of what we have done in Britain during the last eight years is that we have faced our problems and we have found solutions [end p3] equal to the problems and we have never run away from anything and we have never tried to fudge any problem; we have spoken about it openly. Yes, the Libyan raid was very difficult, very difficult indeed because democratic people do not easily give those facilities, and yet if nations who practice terrorism go on feeling they can do so with impunity then you are doing your own people and the world's free people a great disservice and that is why we said that provided those raids were on specific targets that we would give facilities. Westland, to some extent, was a personality problem. You come across those in politics; you just have to live through them. Westland came through it and is now fully recovered and is continuing on its way as a private sector company.

What were the other ones you mentioned?

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Have you ever thought of resigning?

Prime Minister

No, no, you do not resign, you do not run away from problems. How dreadful that would be! You would never live with yourself afterwards if you did.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

How much of a European are you, Prime Minister? There are quite a few people on the Continent who feel that you seem to be more comfortable, for example, in Mr Reagan's company than in theirs? [end p4]

Prime Minister

Why do you put the question as if being friendly with America is incompatible with being a very strong European? If you put the question that way, then I think one needs to enlarge one's ideas. The future of the free world hangs together. America is in Europe for defence purposes because it is in America's interest to be in Europe. It is in our interest that America is in Europe because the free world has to be prepared to defend itself together. If our European partners are very friendly with the United States, that is to our advantage that we are all friendly together, but please never let me hear you put a question as if to be the one makes it impossible to be the other. If you value freedom, you want everyone who believes in freedom to stand together for a sure defence or the very freedom and justice which we fought to preserve would soon slip from our grasp.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Has Britain made a special role to play between Washington and Europe?

Prime Minister

I think being part of the English speaking world does give us a special advantage. The English speaking world is not only the United States and Canada but also you will find that English is spoken more frequently as the universal language in places like India. Of course it is spoken because people can be in Australia, New Zealand. You will find it is spoken in a number of African countries and that does give one some kind of special link that is [end p5] very, very valuable and when we are talking between America and ourselves, there is no need for interpretation. When we are talking in the Commonwealth conference, there are 47 countries, there is no need for any interpretation at all; that does make discussion a good deal easier. It is an advantage.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Prime Minister, what was the state of Britain when you first took office in 1979, or what do you feel to be the most important achievement since then?

Prime Minister

I think Britain now has a new confidence in itself because the economy has turned round from being a centrally controlled Socialist economy to being a much freer economy which produces very much more possibility of initiative and enterprise. Industries are now competitive and are meeting the competition from our rivals in other countries. We have followed our fundamental belief that property must be spread more widely among people: that everyone has a right to own property, everyone should be able, not only to own their own houses if they wish, but to have a certain number of shares, a certain number of savings of their own, to give them independence. We have taken away power from some of the Trade Union bosses and put it into the hands of the members; that was because of our belief in the ordinary person. If you put more power in their hands, the great majority will use it well. We have been staunch in the defence of everything we believe. We are staunch and reliable allies and we have played our full part in Europe and our full part [end p6] in the defence of NATO and so yes, Britain has a new confidence, a new confidence in our economic capacity: to catch up with others, to rival them in world markets, and it has a new confidence in international affairs and that is very important. People want to be proud of the country in which they live and we are.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Talking about foreign affairs, Prime Minister, you have called your trip to the Soviet Union, the most fascinating one you have ever made. Have the long hours with Mr Gorbachev changed the outlook on Communism and on East/West relations?

Prime Minister

My outlook on Communism? No! It has made it very clear to me that those who operate, and have operated the Communist system for a very long time, and those now who look back over seventy years of Communism have seen that it does not produce the prosperity which a big country like Russia should produce for its people and it does not really produce the dignity or initiative which a free society produces on the part of its people. They are not going away from Communism but they are trying to get a more open society, and there is indeed far more discussion than I have ever known, far freer movement of ideas and more open discussion and they are trying to replace their previous doctrine of no incentive to a doctrine which does permit incentive and which therefore says “It is from each according to his ability; to each according to his effort for introducing initiative and incentive into the system for the first time”. They are accepting some of the obligations of the Helsinki [end p7] accords that there should be freer movement of people and ideas. It is in its early stages yet. I most earnestly hope that it will succeed. I believe that it is in the interest of all mankind that it does - particularly the mankind within the Soviet Union - and I believe that it is in the interest of the free countries that the Soviet Union should have a little more freedom and more prosperity and I hope that Mr Gorbachev succeeds in all his endeavours and that the Russian people succeed in having that more open and prosperous society.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Prime Minister, a final question which I think you are not going to like: there is a lot of talk about the two nations in Britain; the gap between the well-to-do and the &oq;have nots’ widening all the time. Some people say that this is the very essence of Thatcherism: improve the conditions of the majority at the price of neglecting the underdog. How do you react to that criticism?

Prime Minister

Very strongly, very strongly indeed because those who are on supplementary benefit - that is to say if someone is unemployed - they have a weekly income so long as they are unemployed and that is very similar to some of the wages that are paid in our society. They also have gained from the increasing prosperity. If you look at the National Health Service, the day I walked into No 10 Downing Street, we spent on the National Health Service each year seven and three quarter billion pounds; this year we shall spend on it nearly twenty billion pounds - an increase way above the rate of inflation and [end p8] we have far more doctors and nurses than we had. The allegation you have made does not stand up if you look at the facts. There is a difference in income between the north and south on average. There are prosperous places in the north as there are in the south. There are some deprived areas in the south as there are in the north. There has not been a single other Prime Minister of this country that has tried to get the wider spread of ownership - no matter what your background - you can enlarge the number of people who own their own home: 64 homes out of every 100 are owner occupied. It is my ambition to get it up to 75 out of every 100. The numbers of people who own shares have gone up enormously from just a few million, now up to about 8 million. An enormous number of people have building society accounts - their savings in particular accounts; there are 52 million such accounts. Some people have two. No, my great ambition is one nation so that everyone has their own independence built from their own efforts, being able to save from their own income, because we do not over tax them, but we allow them - indeed encourage them - to have what we believe is their right: to build up their own independence, their own property, whether in bricks and mortar or in shares or in savings and that is going wider than any other Government has ever taken it. That is the way we are building one nation, to enlarge opportunity and increase economic freedom.

Uwe Kroeger, ZDF TV

Prime Minister, in a few years, in Dulwich, looking back on the Thatcher years, what will you be proudest of? [end p9]

Prime Minister

That we turned round this country of Britain from a controlled economy - over-regulated by the centre, too little incentive, too little initiative - that we turned it round to be in tune with its characteristic British character, that freedom incurs responsibility and that people were prepared to rise to that freedom and accept their responsibilities, not only within our country but to our partners within the European Community, to NATO where we are a reliable ally, and to people in the Third World. Yes we are proud once again to be British and everyone knows that during the Thatcher years, Britain can be relied upon to defend freedom and justice.