Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Finchley Times

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: 112 Ballards Lane, Finchley N3
Source: Finchley Times, 25 February and 3 March 1988
Journalist: Robin Stacey, Finchley Times
Editorial comments: 1700-1740.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2850
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage & children), Executive, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Environment, Housing, Local government, Leadership, Transport
Part one


My Finchley past and present … by PM Margaret Thatcher, first lady of Barnet

In an exclusive interview with the Hendon Times Newspaper Group, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher talks of her constituency and explains how the stresses of the day are forgotten after a few hours with the friendly, smiling faces she knows and loves so well.

“My connection with Finchley will last for the rest of my life. It has been the longest part of my life, such a big part of my life. I could really not think of a time when I would not be connected with it.”

But Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Member of Parliament for Finchley and Friern Barnet since 1959, was not giving any clues how that connection will be sealed.

What title she will take when she leaves Number 10? Didn't she agree Dame Thatcher of Finchley has a certain ring to it?

“I have no plans to resign as Prime Minister,” she imparted with a nod of the head for emphasis; and no, she most certainly had not thought about a title.

But Mrs Thatcher was more forthcoming when it came to thoughts about Finchley. All MPs make it their business to be seen in their constituencies but few do so with as much gusto as Margaret Thatcher. When the going gets tough in White-hall, Mrs T goes back to Finchley.

“When you have had a particularly difficult time, or desperately busy time when things have been a little bit fraught, you immediately want to come home to people you have known and been with and worked with for years,” she said.

“Happen what may, you know one another so the loyalty and the affection are always there. You just talk in a different way because they're part of your life and you are part of theirs. We might have a coffee meeting here, or we might be going out to a reception, but you know most of the people and you see smiling faces and it just revives you and regenerates you completely.

“As you go round you will start talking about problems which are very personal and very real, like the very real problems that affect mothers with handicapped children, some of them with two handicapped children. Then you see that the problems that you are faced with do not touch your life at such a deep level as the real tragedies.”

Finchley is never far from the Premier's mind when it comes to small talk after negotiations are over for the day in Washington, Moscow, or Nairobi.

“People often ask me ‘Where's your constituency?’ They don't always know where Finchley is, but they know when I say it's just north of Hampstead. Quite a lot of foreign politicians have taken higher education in this country and they may have lived in parts of Finchley. They'll say ‘Oh yes, I had digs, I had lodgings, I had a small flat there in East Finchley, or North Finchley’.”

Her first recollections of Finchley hark back to when she was just another hopeful aiming for the nomination to be Conservative candidate for the Finchley seat.

“The selection committee was in the Conservative Party premises in Ballards Lane. I remember very vividly coming down once to be interviewed before they got to the short list. Then we addressed a large meeting of rather more than the whole executive, about 300 people.”

The selection contest won, and then the seat, Mrs Thatcher found herself representing a Finchley very different from today.

“Bertie Black [sic: Bertie Blatch] was our chairman and he played a tremendous part in the life of Finchley. He was a very great Rotarian and so we immediately knew all the Rotary people and so many of the organisations that did really very good work around the area.

“The whole organisation of local government was different because we had our Finchley council and our Friern Barnet council, and we were very proud of both. Friern Barnet especially was a very proud place, full of local spirit. They were smaller areas than today so we knew all the councillors and aldermen very well.

“It was much more intimate. If we had a housing problem we knew the housing manager and we'd ring him up. If we had an education problem, we knew the education chief officer so we'd speak to him. These people were leaders of the community in a much more pre-eminent way than they are today. Those memories are very vivid.”

Physically, the face of Finchley has changed little.

“Finchley was already very well built up so there was not a lot of land on which to develop. Everywhere changes but it doesn't change by jolts and jumps. It grows. In Finchley it has been redevelopment rather than development.

“Planning applications then as now were always very prominent in the work we did. I remember a suggestion that there should be an office block or block of flats on the big open space by College Farm in Regents Park Road. That was a great local cause celebre. There were cows grazing there and it was kept as an open space. Who was it who said open spaces are the lungs of an area?

“Many of the terraced properties in Finchley are in very much better condition than they were then. The county roads in East Finchley, for example, were rent controlled and the rent did not really give enough to look after the property. Gradually they have been sold off and people have done them up and they are in very much better fettle now.

“The big, tall blocks of flats in East Finchley had just been put up. We did not know then some of the problems that we might get with tall tower blocks. They were the fashionable thing at the time.”

As for the voters, they have not altered much either, in the view of this Finchley expert.

Community life

“No, the people haven't changed. You will still find a tremendous number of local organisations very much involved in community life. You will still find the Chrysanthemum Society, always very active, you will still find The Finchley Choral Society, and Mencap. Then there is this great spirit in the churches like St Mary's, and St Lukes Mountfield.

“There has always been a lot of activity for elderly people, like the Evergreen Club. Both in the churches and in the synagogues there has always been this sense that you live not by what you talk about but by what you do. Finchley always was a place which had a community spirit and very generous in raising money for good causes.”

Mrs Thatcher recalled with nostalgia her Remembrance Sundays in the constituency.

“Nowadays I have to be at the Cenotaph, but then we always had our service outside the United Services here in North Finchley, then we went to one of the churches, and then we went down to the British Legion in East Finchley for the reception afterwards.”

In those days, a small part of Garden Suburb was in Mrs T's patch—and her constituents there made sure she knew it through the time-honoured practice of … writing to your MP. [end p1]

“It was a very active part of the constituency. The most concentrated correspondence was from Garden Suburb. They wrote about political matters but in particular about a scheme to widen Falloden Way. You still get schemes from time to time to widen this road. Then as now any scheme for widening roads causes a great deal of interest and then as now people want good roads but if it is near where you are then you look at it with different eyes. Most major roads are fought against.

“In a built-up area like Finchley where the roads came after the houses there are bound to be problems. Finchley was built up when the railway came right out to here, when the whole town rose up around it. The great motorcar revolution and the widening of the roads came later and obviously it causes quite a lot of problems for people for whom the value of their houses is changed by a major road.


Watching Mrs Thatcher busy chatting in a hall of wellwishers, you can see why the Prime Ministerial memory for faces has earned a reputation for infallibility. But Mrs Thatcher DOES make mistakes.

“I think I do quite often. What happens is you always remember the names and faces of people you have known a long time or known many years ago. It's the people you meet much later and certainly in the last four or five years. You meet such an enormous number, maybe a couple of hundred or more at a reception. Somebody will say ‘Don't you remember, we met at so-and-so’, and in fact you don't always remember.

“But the people whom one knew many years ago, those names you don't forget, or the people you come across quite frequently. Sometimes when we are driving through the constituency I recognise someone on the pavement but you can't just stop in the High Road—you'd hold up the traffic.”

• Next week: How to become Prime Minister. [end p2]

[Part two]

The PM makes time for the Times—and Robin Stacey reports on the exclusive interview

Record-smashing Maggie is refusing to tempt fate

Here is the news: Mrs Thatcher is NOT thinking of resigning as Prime Minister.

For the time being at any rate, she would be lost without it.

“I find politics is in my bloodstream,” she told me. “It is not an acquired thing. It is just that I could never escape from it.”

You would have to be living in Timbuktu and have a bush radio for the aptness of these words to be lost on you. Mrs Thatcher is a through and through, 100 per cent politician. She is a natural politician in the same sense that Maradonna is a natural footballer. You do not have to be a Conservative to agree she makes being Prime Minister look easy. In the past nine years there has been nothing bar the odd handball allegation to mar the picture. Just ask the Opposition front bench.

Mrs Thatcher was speaking to me in the little office at 212 Ballards Lane, North Finchley, which shows not the slightest hint of the grandeur of its present incumbent.

There were a few signed photographs on the wall, like any constituency office anywhere, and a fading map of the borough of Barnet divided into constituencies and wards (available from the Town Hall for £3.50). On a nearby table was a bundle of current editions of the Hendon and Finchley Times.

Number 10

Outside in the corridor a dignified mayhem of umpteen Mencap mums and their disabled children was dissipating through the front door with the help of an obliging plain clothes policeman and a secretary from Number 10.

Mrs Thatcher was seated behind the desk wearing a velvet jacket, tie necked blouse and large diamond brooch.

“You know, some of these Mencap mums have two disabled children, not just one. Isn't that terrible?” she began with a welcoming handshake.

Yes, it is terrible, but I had other questions to ask, so I took a deep breath and we were off.

The first thing I discovered was that record-busting Premier Mrs Thatcher never set out to be PM.

“I don't think I ever had an ambition to be Prime Minister at all. It came. I did have a personal ambition to be a Member of Parliament and when I found Finchley it was just ideal.

“Some people set out for a particular target, to be the chairman of some great company, or to be a great movie star, to be chairman of a football club or a fantastic football player or build up a big business. Others take their opportunities as they come, always work extremely hard, and always try to enlarge their ideas and understanding. As an opportunity comes past, they seize it, they don't hesitate.

“When I was young I knew an awful lot of future Prime Ministers who did not hesitate to say what their ambitions were.

“Life doesn't always go that way. If you know what you really want to do in life you are very, very lucky, you really are. All you have to do is to try to find a job in it, or take your training in it, and work at it, and in a way your work is also your pleasure.”

Mrs Thatcher not only did not covet the job before she had it. She also refuses to take it for granted.

“People ask me ‘What arrangements have you made for the tenth anniversary in 1989?’ and expect great big articles written about it. Let me tell you something. I was asked to arrange for interviews with television and radio on January 3, the day we had been at Number 10 Downing Street for longer than any other Prime Minister this century.

“I said ‘I am certainly not going to give you any interviews in advance. I am not going to tempt the fates. You wait till we get there. Then I will come out and give you an interview.’ You take each new record as it comes.”

One event the Prime Minister has said she eagerly awaits is the day she becomes a grandmother. Was there any news on that?

“No, and every mother will tell you it is a thing you do not ask your son and daughter-in-law about. It is a matter for them, it is not a matter for anyone else to pry or inquire.”

Not so long ago when the Thatchers bought a brand new home in Dulwich, many local voices wondered why Mrs T and Denis did not go house-hunting nearer “home” . For the first time, the Prime Minister explains her reasons.

“We were not looking for a retirement home. We sold our house in Chelsea when the children flew the nest. That house was not going to be quite right for us, but what I had to have was one within about 15 minutes of Westminster. We have always had that. I looked much closer than the one I've got. I was looking round Westminster, I was looking in Knightsbridge, but I couldn't find what I wanted at a price we were able to pay.

“Then I looked to see if I could find one within 15 minutes of Westminster but almost a third of the way here and we looked around the Regents Park area to the north of Oxford Street. What we found there was leasehold, and having had a freehold house in Chelsea I did not want to get a leasehold one. So then we had to look the other side and we found this one in Dulwich. Had we been looking for a retirement home we could have looked much more widely, but I must be close to Downing Street and the House of Commons where my life has been for some time and I hope will continue to be.

When it does come to retirement, the Thatchers may choose to move nearer to Finchley. Mrs T certainly knows what she likes in a house.

“The houses in Garden Suburb are lovely and who wouldn't want to live so close to Kenwood? It's beautiful. And of course the houses in Totteridge and many, many houses in Finchley. Some you could buy and do up. You don't want too large a garden. You want some garden but you don't want too large a garden. It's too much work.

“The garden at Number 10 is common to Numbers 10, 11, and 12. We are lucky to have a gardener but it is laid out not to be too much work.”

Some people say the decade of Thatcherism has been the decade of the yuppy too. Did she think yuppies were essential to popular capitalism?

“I don't think its been a decade of the yuppy. I think it's been a decade when we have enlarged opportunity for anyone who likes to take advantage of it. And we are constantly enlarging opportunity ever more widely with our education reforms, with people who may not always want to be the tenant of a council. We have enlarged opportunity for people who want to own their own homes and people who want to do well by their own effort, people who want to do better for their own families.


“I don't mind who you are. What is important is that we try to help everyone to achieve their own way of life assuming that it's legal and laudable and honourable in their own way. Achievement means different things for different people. Some will wish to put almost everything they have got into their work and spend many many long hours working and thank goodness some people do. Others will do an 8 or 9 hour working day for a 5.5 day week and will find fantastic satisfaction in their voluntary work and hobbies, or in their church work.

“Life has infinite variety. It's an all-sorts world. It is not for us to say what people should do. It is really for us to try to set the framework to enable people to earn more and to use their earnings in the way they choose.

“Some people will make the home the main centre of their lives and say it matters to them more and more. They may build an extra room and make it nicer and nicer.

Top priority

“When we were younger, our top priority was always our home. I remember saying ‘We can't have a holiday this year, we really must put in central heating’. And then by the time we had done quite a lot of improvements to the home all of a sudden I remember saying ‘Look, we have got to build in some happy memories. Let's take the children away for a summer holiday, or shall we try to take them skiing one year’? You've got to build in happy memories.

“Now, you can't spend your money more than once. It's for you to sort out your life. It's for you to decide how much in addition to your home goes to your work, and how much goes to your hobbies. Different people will chose differently. But it's having the opportunity to create that extra, and then you decide how to spend. Some people will raise fantastic amounts of money for others overseas with Oxfam or Christian Aid. Others thank goodness have been working or the NSPCC for years, or Mencap, or John Grooms.”

I asked Mrs Thatcher how government could best be improved, and the answer was: better co-ordination.

“One of the most difficult things still is to get full co-operation between departments. We know the problems, we know the difficulties, but that is still a problem and one is constantly having to remind people ‘Look, have you worked this out with that department, and, with that department’. Government has to be divided into departments like education, like the social services, like trade and industry.”