Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Italian TV (Channel 5)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Jas Gawronski, Italian TV
Editorial comments:

1705-1800. The interview was embargoed until 18 November 1987. The opening question is missing.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4893
Themes: Economic policy - theory and process, Monetary policy, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Commonwealth (South Africa), European Union (general), European Union Budget, Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Arts & entertainment, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Northern Ireland, Monarchy, Executive, Conservatism, Leadership, Autobiography (marriage & children), British relations with Italy


Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Question missing


Prime Minister

I think Mikhail Gorbachevhe is quite different from any other Soviet leader I have ever known or come across.

When you meet him, you can discuss with him just as you and I are discussing together, easily, with [sic] strict reference to briefs. So often, you know, when you talk to ministers from the Soviet Union, they have to follow a brief in detail. It is very dull. You ask questions and they do not answer them. Mr. Gorbachev does. You can get involved in a real discussion, a real argument, and that is very very valuable.

You asked if you can trust. I think you build up some kind of trust. I choose my words carefully: I think when he tells me that he will, for example, try to let certain people out of the Soviet Union, then he will in fact do it and in fact he has— [end p1] particular names that I have put to him. And so I have, in personal cases, a good deal of trust in what he says, and when he told me that when I went to the Soviet Union that I could broadcast and that it would go out, it did. Now that is all very good and certainly it is much more trust than one has ever had before with any other person.

One has to remember, nevertheless, that he is constrained by the communist system. There is a big bureaucracy and even in the Soviet Union he has to carry a lot of people along with him in the changes he wants to make.

He does want to make changes; they are bold, they are courageous, and that I greatly admire, and I hope he succeeds.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Actually, the problem is if he is going to succeed or not. Do you think this new course will last, will outrun the difficulties, the obstacles, in his way and especially, what consequences that could have on the Eastern European countries?

Prime Minister

If ever any politician embarks on a fundamentally new course, there are always obstacles, there are always difficulties. There are always people who want things to stay as they are because it suited them that way.

In the Soviet Union in particular there is a great vested interest in a bureaucracy and in membership of the Party. And [end p2] then, there are people in the Soviet Union who, bearing in mind they have not dared to do anything until they were told and unless they were told what to do, it is a quite a change to turn round and say: “Now, you must use your own initiative and take some responsibility!” So yes, there are obstacles, but they will have to be overcome if the Soviet Union is to have much greater production and a much better standard of living. I hope that they will stick to it long enough to achieve that.

You ask about the consequences on the Eastern European countries. I too am fascinated by that, for two reasons: because I do not find much change in the Soviet Union external policy to match the internal changes that they are trying to bring about, but in particular, I think that the Eastern European countries—the satellite countries—are in a unique position. A number of their rulers will not wish to free-up the grip on their peoples at all, and it will be very very interesting to see what they do. Of one thing I am certain: they will have to stay within the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviets will insist on that.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

On 7 December, there is a Summit—Reagan-Gorbachev. You know them well, you have met them both.

How could you compare them as negotiators? [end p3]

Prime Minister

That is very difficult! They are fundamentally different personalities, but then, they come from fundamentally different systems.

I do not think the Soviet system is ever going to change in my lifetime, I think, to be a real democratic system. It is not. They admit that.

Of course, President Reagan, like us, comes from a truly democratic system, which is quite different, but we have an interest in common—the whole of the West and the Soviet Union—that we never have another conflict in Europe of the kind we have had before; that we are able to keep our defences secure at a lower level of weaponry, and on those things we negotiate, but we negotiate toughly—very toughly. You do not give anything unless you get something in return, because you do not judge anyone by what they say but by what they do, and as I indicated a moment ago, I think the Soviet Union external policy is still the same. She still wishes to extend her sphere of influence by all the usual methods.

So, going into a tough negotiation, you go in very carefully, very well prepared, having thought out all of the arguments with which you might be faced and knowing how you will counter them, how you will deal with them; knowing just how far you can go and no further—and both sides will do that, but I think it will be all right, because that summit is really to sign an agreement, the main clauses of which will already have been drafted. [end p4]

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

You just spoke about the arms agreement which is going to be signed at this summit in the United States.

Does this worry you? Do you think, as a consequence, Europe will become weaker and will have to re-think, reorganise its own defence?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think Europe will be weaker but, of course, the whole of NATO, to which we both belong—which is the shield of our defence—has what is called a doctrine of flexible response. That means that you have to have a range of weaponry, both in nuclear and in conventional and to some extent in chemical as well, though we have very little. And you have to be certain that at all stages your defence is sure.

So we shall look to see whether we have the weaponry that gives our generals a flexible response.

We must look to see that we have sufficient nuclear deterrence. It is the nuclear deterrent that has kept the peace in Europe for forty years. There is nothing so powerful as that, and I agreed very much with General Galvin when he said it is not a nuclear-free Europe that we are after; it is a war-free Europe—and in order to attain a war-free Europe, you must have an effective nuclear deterrent. [end p5]

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Do you expect any other results from this summit and what would be the next stage in disarmament that you would like to come up next?

Prime Minister

I think to some extent that is already agreed: that the next stage should be the reduction of the intercontinental ballistic missiles owned by the Soviet Union and the United States; that the French and the British ones are left wholly untouched because they are an independent deterrent, and I think it is generally agreed that they could go down—the Soviet and the American ones—by quite a large amount, up to 50%, and still have an effective nuclear deterrent. So that I think is next.

We have made it absolutely clear that after that we think there should be no further reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe—no further reduction—and I hope no further reduction in the United States, until such time as we have got something more like parity in conventional weapons because, as you know, the Soviet Union has an overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons, in men, in tanks, in aircraft. That puts us at a great disadvantage.

Every bit as significant, they have an enormous overwhelming superiority in chemical weapons. While the world has had its eye on nuclear weapons, they have not given enough attention to what the Soviet Union has been doing with chemical weapons. We destroyed our stockpile in Britain. The United [end p6] States has a very small stockpile of rather old-fashioned chemical weapons.

The Soviet Union has been doing the latest modernisation, the latest up-to-date chemical weapons, and great big stockpiles. That is an enormous danger to the West and therefore, the next stage after the reduction of the intercontinental ballistic missiles—absolute top priority—is to get down their conventional weapons to something more like parity with us and to persuade them to abolish their chemical weapons and to seek verification for both. You know, it is very difficult to verify with the chemical weapons because they are so easy to make, but it is important that we do because they are quite devastating in their effect.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, since you moved to No. 10, many things have changed in the country: privatisation, more efficiency, less bureaucracy. Are there some parallels to be drawn between the Russian perestroika and what many already call the “Thatcher Revolution”?

Prime Minister

In the sense that both are freeing-up the system, yes, there are certain slight parallels, but really very slight indeed.

We are one of the oldest democracies in the world, founded on freedom and justice and, of course, to keep those things you [end p7] need economic freedom.

The Soviet Union is not going to anything like that degree of economic freedom, nothing like it. It is just freeing-up a little bit. They call it “making socialism and communism work more effectively”.

We are trying to get capital distributed much more widely—capital and wealth—so that people have true independence, the independence which comes from having built their own security by their own effort and having the ownership of capital.

I must stress that while what Mr. Gorbachev is doing is very bold, it is nothing like the creation of economic freedom or political freedom.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

You were talking about economic problems. I would like to ask you if you think that the economic crisis of the last week, what are the causes, and where do you see a solution coming from those problems?

Prime Minister

The economic problems as reflected in the stock market and in the currency market have been very very disturbing indeed because of the speed with which they came, but I think that it would not have happened unless people had detected that there were certain underlying problems and they have detected that where [end p8] there are substantial deficits and that has gone on for a considerable time, it cannot really go on very much longer, and therefore that those matters have to be dealt with.

But it is not only that. We cannot ourselves take very much action unless and until the Ronald ReaganPresident and Congress decide what kind of package they are going to have. I believe they are negotiating very strongly and they will decide and that they will come out with one which is reasonable under all the circumstances and which will restore confidence to the markets. As soon as we know what that is, then the seven major economic countries—the seven of us—have to get together with finance ministers and bank governors to see what together we can do.

You know, now we live in a global village. What happens in the United States affects us all, but we too have to rise to our responsibilities. We too have to do our bit to keep growth going without inflation, the kind of growth that you can maintain—growth without inflation. We too have to look at our interest rates. We too have to look at the way in which we run our economies because you know, if you want to keep your exchange rates stable you have got, all of you, to run your economies in a sound way. So each of is involved and we must rise to our responsibilities and we—and I am sure the other members of G7—are quite prepared to do so.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, what do you think is the secret of your durability? [end p9]

Prime Minister

Oh, goodness me!

It is not an easy question to answer, is it?

First, I think political durability: that the policies that we set out to achieve were policies in tune with the character of the British people. They set out to tackle longstanding problems, such as trade union power, such as far too much government control, too high tax rates, not enough spread of capital and ownership among the people. They set out to tackle those things and although it was difficult, we stuck to the task we had set ourselves. People know we had to do it and I think they like it when we do that.

That, I think, really has been the secret of it—that we have never never given in. We have believed that our targets are attainable and now we are going on to widen opportunity for people who so far have not been able to have enough.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, in the June summit in Brussels and at the Commonwealth summit in Vancouver, you were the only one to disagree with all the others.

How does it feel to find oneself often in a minority of one?

Prime Minister

Yes. Well, we disagreed with all the others because I was putting forward sound and reasonable policies and was prepared to [end p10] discuss them policy by policy.

In the European summit, some of them wanted to agree things without even discussing it and I confess I was really rather shocked by it. We do not do that. I am not going to agree things on behalf of my country before I have examined them thoroughly and also we find sometimes that in the European summit some colleagues will say: “Well if France and Germany agree, the rest of us ought to support them!” but we are there to give our own view. We are there to see whether what we are agreeing for the whole of Europe is sound for the whole of Europe and I find that quite often it is known that I will take a lead on things and quite often other people who would like to speak up wait for me to go forward and speak up first. I am quite used to it now. Then sometimes, they will also come in and sometimes they will just leave me to get on with it.

But you know, we were right at the last European summit. I think that was generally agreed. Other people do not want strong financial discipline. I do. I do not believe you can conduct any community or any country except on the basis of sound financial discipline—and so I said so and insisted that we have it and have it enforceable.

You know, I have been here before. At Fontainebleau, they said, yes. They agreed we had to have financial discipline and they would see that we did it and we would have a resolution in the minutes about it—and that was the last we heard of it! It was not put into practice so it will not do. This time we have to make it enforceable. [end p11]

At Vancouver, in the Commonwealth, people wanted comprehensive economic sanctions on South Africa, if I might say so, a policy that would harm those one was trying to help.

There is no way in which you are going to get rid of apartheid in South Africa, get the standard of living for all peoples there (better?) if first you are going to create an economic desert.

South Africa is the most successful economy in Africa. Many black South Africans go to South Africa from the front-line states in order to work, in order to get paid, to remit.

It is ridiculous to sit in a nice hotel in a nice conference room, in a four-star hotel, conveyed in nice cars and discuss how many black South Africans you can throw out of work. To me it is utterly repugnant.

They had a long nine or ten page communique, said a lot of words. Are they going to do anything about it? Oh no. No. Nothing extra. So there, yes, one was right.

You have to put your view—and we do—and frequently you will find that quite a number of people quietly agree with you behind the scenes but they do not like to speak up as publicly as oneself does and that is why one has got this reputation. Whether it is an advantageous reputation for speaking up or not, I do not know, but I could not go and represent my country unless I took with me my judgement. [end p12]

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, do you think that United Kingdom has become more European during the eight years you have been in power?

Prime Minister

Well, it is not as if we have been non-European in our history. Our history has been bound up with Europe, particularly in this century.

After all, we were foremost in two world wars and, as you know, we stood alone in the second, when no-one else in Europe stood, and right now, we have some 66,000 of our troops right on the central front in Germany.

So our history is a European history as well as a more worldwide one.

Certainly, our trade has become more intimately bound up with Europe. I think about 50% of our trade now goes to Europe and increasingly I think that that will be so and inevitably, with the large number of meetings one has, yes, we become steadily more and more bound up with Europe.

But you know, sometimes I find myself more European than some of my partners. I will say to them: “But look! We, in theory, have a common market in the whole of Europe! Not so. You have quotas on lorries. We cannot sell insurance in some countries as easily as we can here. You expect to be able to sell your goods in Britain but we cannot sell services in Europe, at which we excel!” [end p13]

And, course, we all have different agricultural problems in Europe. Italy has her own very special position with regard to agricultural problems and so do we, but I do not think you will find another country now more European than we are and, of course, we are still the second largest net contributor to European funds.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

But sometimes in the European Parliament I hear members—even from your own party—accusing you of not doing enough for the construction of Europe and even sometimes of obstructing it.

What is your real feeling about the need to build a united Europe?

Prime Minister

First, they accuse us of not doing enough for Europe but, as I indicated, after Germany we are the second biggest financial contributor.

They accuse us of not doing enough although we are trying to force the pace on having a true common market.

They, I think, tend to talk in rather vague terms about a united Europe. I sometimes say to them: “What do you mean precisely? Because you know, that phrase used in Britain could mean something like a United States of Europe, which I do not think will ever come about. The whole history of Europe is [end p14] totally different from the United States of America. We have our own different language, our own different history, and we have to learn to work together and merge so many of our systems together—our trading system, our agricultural system, our safety standards, the standards of goods and services. All of those, we work more steadily together and we negotiate as a unit of trade. All of those we are doing, but we are doing it as twelve countries who willingly enter into a community, still being twelve countries and willingly entering into something as friends one of another.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, Terrorists have just struck Northern Ireland, unfortunately.

To what extent are these IRA terrorists linked to Gaddafi and the Palestinian terrorists?

Prime Minister

It seems to me a characteristic of terrorism that the different groups tend to help one another and sometimes to train one another, and sometimes to help one another to get the requisite arms and weapons.

As you saw, the latest shipload, the weapons there appear to have come from Libya and it has been said before, that we knew before that previous weapons have come from Libya to help the IRA, [end p15] but the cooperation in the countries of Europe to try to defeat terrorism is very very good and getting even better the whole time. We are all resolved to do everything we can to help one another to defeat it and our Home and Interior Ministers meet together from time to time and month by month the cooperation improves, and I would like to say thank you to the French officials for their rapid action, for the efficiency with which they carried out the action in boarding that ship and in discovering what was there. It was outstanding. They were marvellous, and we are very grateful.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, next year there are going to be elections in France and in the United States.

Does this give you a certain feeling of uncertainty, unstability (sic)?

Prime Minister

Elections are just a natural occurrence in democracies.

One always wonders just exactly who is going to win. Doubtless people wondered that in Britain when we won a third term.

Yes, there is some uncertainty, but we shall get through. We shall get over that all right. We are quite strong enough to do that. [end p16]

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, I just open the parentheses a little bit more personal.

Not many journalists have had the honour of interviewing you, but it seems that with your husband it is even more difficult.

Is it true that he has never granted an interview?

Prime Minister

Denis ThatcherHe does not like being exposed to public interview or publicity.

When I came here first, in my first year, I think he gave one interview to “The Times” and he has never given any other since.

I think it is wise. He prefers it that way and he has built up his own reputation, his own personality, his own style, which is absolutely marvellous. I think he is wise to take that view. Once he gave an interview and gave any more, he would be inundated. He would have no life of his own at all.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

And what kind of influence does he have on you?

Prime Minister

In the evenings, no matter how late we return, we just tend to sit down and discuss the day's events and week-ends when I have [end p17] a few hours off, which is not every often, again the nicest thing is to have a meal in, a very simple meal. We do not have a staff at No. 10 at all. I will just go and cook anything. In Chequers, in the country, we are fortunate; we do have a staff. But I think our greatest …… is just to sit down and talk.

I can profit greatly from his experience in industry. It keeps me very much in touch. He has his own interests and frequently will tell me what people are saying, what they are feeling, what their worries are, what their hopes are. That is immensely valuable.

And we have always had so many interests in common. It is very important and very valuable.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, some people say that you do not consult enough and that you are surrounded by people who tend to agree with you.

What are your comments on that?

Prime Minister

It is an accusation that is often made. It is totally and utterly false.

The Cabinet which I have contains a variety of views. Certainly, we manage to get through policies on which we stood for a very long time. There are certain minor differences, but they are only very minor. But yes, we have very vigorous discussions. [end p18]

I have always worked that way. We sort out the problems by vigorous discussion.

I usually know what the issues are and the way in which I would like to go. I take the view that a chairman is not just to conduct a discussion. That may be a chairman's role, but it is not a Prime Minister's role.

But you know, it has not done so badly. It has done well for Britain, and we had a third term granted to us, which is a great honour, but I assure you I consult and we argue as vigorously in Cabinet as we do in the European Council and in the Commonwealth Council.

Perhaps I should say I thrive on argument!

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

We will put that in!

Which was one of the more difficult decisions that you had to take?

Prime Minister

I am not sure that I can give you a quick answer to that one. Life is full of difficult decisions!

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

In the film we have, we see this red box leaving Downing Street and going to Buckingham Palace. What does it contain usually? [end p19]

Prime Minister

Well, the red boxes, both the ones which go to Buckingham Palace and the ones which I have, really contain the state documents. They contain all of the matters which come to one every day, which come to one either for information or for decision. They contain the Cabinet papers, the Cabinet Committee papers. They contain an enormous amount of proposals of what other Ministers are thinking of doing or the statements they are making to Parliament or the correspondence or international telegrams. All the state documents. You have seen those.

At the week-ends, I will usually have four of those to get through and in the evenings usually two, so it is very close and concentrated work and one is daily handling a massive amount of material.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

I can imagine. And what could you tell us about Elizabeth IIthe Queen, how often you see her, if sometimes you call her on the phone or when do you talk to her or whatever you can?

Prime Minister

The custom of our country is that the Prime Minister has an audience of the Queen, usually once a week, usually on Tuesday evening. I usually announce it in the House, that I am going to have an audience, because I am usually answering questions in the House on Tuesdays. What goes on is totally confidential. [end p20]

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Prime Minister, from the British point of view, how has Italy changed during the past few years?

Prime Minister

I think, like most of us, she has become much more prosperous. We have all had considerable growth during the last few years and I think we have certain things in common.

I have watched here fantastic advances in design in various industries, both design in function of the products and design for appearance. Italy has always been superb in design.

We have all got a higher standard of living. We have all cooperated more. More and more people come to Italy, but then we always have. We love coming as tourists. We love the Italian culture. We have known so much about it for so many years. The art is marvellous—we love it.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

And Italians believe that they have surpassed Great Britain, becoming the fifth industrial power in the West.

Do you agree and if so, how do you explain this repositioning?

Prime Minister

We vie with one another in the calculations and they vary according to the statistics we use, but if Italy has grown and [end p21] got more successful, I am delighted. Perhaps she could become the second biggest net contributor to the European Community and relieve Britain of that? That would be very nice!

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

In your opinion, which are the major strengths and weaknesses of Italy today and of our leaders? If you do not want to answer that question ……

Prime Minister

I would not dream of answering it really.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Just two final questions, very general.

If you look back at when you moved into No. 10 in 1979, do you see the world today as a better one, a more peaceful one, and if yes, what was, do you think, your contribution to make it better?

Prime Minister

Yes, it is a much better place than it was eight years ago. It is because we are all cooperating more closely together and because we have become more prosperous.

As far as our contribution is concerned, first I would put we are absolutely sure in defence. Everyone knows that. We are a reliable ally. We believe firmly in NATO and we have never let [end p22] down our friends.

We have our troops in thirty countries in the world by request of those countries. They are in great demand for training others, so we have been very firm on that front and, of course, we were the first to send minesweepers recently to the Gulf.

Secondly, we cooperate much much more closely in financial affairs. The G7 works closely together, and we recognise now that we have to cooperate more in the future.

And thirdly, we realise we must work more together to keep the world's trading system open. Free and fair trade, that is vital to our future.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

The last question, which is a bit similar to the other one:

We are on the eve of a very important anniversary—the year 2000.

If you look ahead at Europe and the world in that year, what do you see? How do you see it?

Prime Minister

It is very difficult to look forward in the way you indicate, but I think most of us would say that we believe we are working on the right lines now. We do recognise that foreign affairs are no longer foreign affairs—they affect our domestic affairs and they are all part of the same thing. [end p23]

As far as Britain is concerned, we hope to see a world in which we shall continue to be a reliable friend and ally. People will know they can rely upon us when they need help. We shall continue to work for free and fair trade.

At home, I believe our economic growth will continue, but above all, we shall work more and more for greater educational opportunity and for wider and wider spread of capital ownership, so that we become a true property-owning democracy—not only property in the sense of bricks and mortar, houses, businesses, but also shares in business, so that everyone has their own independence and their own security.

I hope, too, that more and more citizens will realise that if they enjoy freedom they must also accept responsibility, because that is the way to a truly wonderful country.

Jas Gawronski, Italian TV

Thank you very much.