Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1989 Nov 22 We
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Times

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Robin Oakley, The Times
Editorial comments: 1640 onwards; published 24 November 1989. Charles Wilson, then editor of The Times, was also present.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 9444
Themes: Social security & welfare, Family, Economy (general discussions), Employment, Monetary policy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Media, Transport, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Northern Ireland, Executive, Executive (appointments), Parliament, Law & order, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative (leadership elections), Leadership, Religion & morality, Autobiographical comments

Interviewer

How did you feel about yesterday, Prime Minister, do you think it made a great deal of difference?

Prime Minister

I was really glad when it was over because it is an ordeal enough when you are speaking in the House of Commons or for Question Time in the House of Commons without television but when you have got television cameras there, if you are not careful, you freeze—you just do—and that is why the first bit of an interview on television is always the worst because you are nervous and it is a different media and there are a whole lot of people out there, behind formidable cameras, and it takes you a time to forget them. The moment you forget them you are all right because you are just back to your normal routine.

Interviewer

I remember you saying that it was not going to be this House of Commons which will be televised and you reckon that is borne out by events?

Prime Minister

I think that is borne out, yes, I think that is borne out. It may get back to it, I do not know, but I think not, because I think people have seen that really they can be in shot the whole time and certainly the people around you and what happens is that the people just immediately beside you and around you may think: “My goodness me, we have got to be up and alert” . But then you get a camera angle right diagonally across that way, or diagonally across this way, and a whole set of different people are in shot.

So it is going to be a different House of Commons but that is that, they are in, and that is that. I think we just have to try to carry on as normally as possible. There is no way in which if you do my job, which is you have to make speeches, you have to make statements, you have to be cross-examined on statements and you have no Junior Minister to help you through your own Question Time, no Junior Minister that you can sit down and say: “This is not my question” .

It is as much as you can do to think on your feet and get the right answers and you really just cannot think about the cameras at all, you just cannot.

Interviewer

I noticed that you did not take what we were told was Harvey Thomas 's advice to wear red, as some Tory ladies did. This was to show that advisers do not rule, was it?

Prime Minister

Oh no, Harvey Thomas did not give that advice at all.

Interviewer

Turning to more serious subjects, Prime Minister, Eastern Europe first of all if we could. How worried are you by the prospect of the reunification of Germany, both politically and economically?

Prime Minister

Look, I do not think it is on the agenda at the moment and that was why the Paris meeting really was so significant because Francois Mitterrand raised the question right at the beginning, “Now what questions ought we to be asking and what answers ought we to be giving?” and one of them was: “Do we discuss borders?” which is a way of putting it and we said: “No, we do not discuss borders, they are not on the agenda at the moment” .

I think that when you have big things happening you have to keep your eye on the main ball, you have to keep your eye on what matters most. You have to decide what is the most important thing and the most important thing of all is to try to get democracy in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, I do not know about Romania, and you must do nothing that will make it more difficult for that.

Now, I think if you started to talk about borders there are all kinds of minorities right down central Europe that are in other people's countries. There are the Moldavians, the Macedonians, there are those German minorities, there are Serbs and Croats and Albanians in different countries, and you do not raise that.

And if you go and look back at the Helsinki Final Act you will see that we agreed not to violate one another's borders and in a way that was a sort of understanding. They were not made de jure borders, they were de facto. And then we said: “But nevertheless we do have a right if we do that too, we have all undertaken human rights” , so therefore that gave us—that Helsinki Agreement—the right to inquire about human rights in other countries and it is best that we honour that agreement. So the question of borders does not arise, it is not on the agenda at present and that is by far the best way to deal with it.

We then went on to say therefore you would rely for your defence, which is very important, on your NATO and your Warsaw Pact. Now against that background, if I might put it this way, when you have got great changes, which you have, it is best to have something really stable as a background against which change can take place. If everything goes into issue at once you will get nothing out of it. If you say right, the most important thing is democracy, all over, and when you have got democracy established and when it has been established and backed up by what I would call economic democracy, because political liberty does not long last unless you have got some economic liberty, it just will not, then you will have—maybe ten years, maybe twenty—a very different picture.

But things then will evolve and people then, if that happens, will have the confidence which comes from liberty, backed up with economic liberty, backed up with democracy, then you have a different position and then perhaps you can look at these things.

But if you put those things into issue you risk the larger aim, the larger task.

Interviewer

Part of that larger aim you seem to have been concerned with is Mr Gorbachev 's position. You have been urging people to do nothing to destabilise Mr Gorbachev in talk of the break-up of the Warsaw Pact, changing of borders. How precarious do you think his position actually is?

Prime Minister

I do not think it is precarious at the moment. I have seen him now six times and sent various messages. There are two things: first, Mikhail Gorbachev he had the reforming ideas and his early speeches were really fantastic in their vision and the vision is still there, and then the political ideas went enormously f* but secondly, he really has got a personality and a largeness of mind with it and I think that that is a big enough combination to take him through the difficulties which inevitably will occur, and of course they will occur.

No-one in the world has attempted what he is attempting because we came through to having wider ownership of property, business widely distributed, the ownership of industry widely distributed, commerce. We came out of an agricultural society long before society was sophisticated so you could start up small businesses and they grew bigger, you could start up small commerce and it grew bigger. You had the financial things, the financial and banking things, but we developed what I might call the whole middle-class system and a whole new kind of people in society with the industrial revolution, with the rise of things like a Stock Exchange. We developed that, with the industrial revolution, as the sophistication went on.

First you started simply, then you came to mechanisation, then you came to automation. So as you got each forward step your people who started business had mastered the beginnings of business. When you are in business, as you know, you are always looking for the next step, at least you were except in newspapers, you had to wait for your next step, you got your linotype it took you years to get to the automation, but most businesses had to develop faster than that. We got development of restrictive practices.

But am I making the point clear? People came to their economic independence, to use their initiative and enterprise on a smaller scale, a scale which the human mind and one family could comprehend, and then to bigger and bigger, and then to the modernisation, the mechanisation, and then to the automation.

So the whole of this great burgeoning grew up before we had the sophistication and people were already commercially-minded, already adventurous, they knew how to do merchanting deals.

Now he is trying. They have had no history of that kind in the Soviet Union, they did not even have the history of yeoman farmers. Had the Tsar Alexander II Tsar, when he enfranchised [sic] the serfs, given them enough land then you would never have had Marxist-Leninism. But he did not.

At least if you have your own land you have to make your own decisions. Mikhail Gorbachev He has not got that and so he is having to do a bigger task even than they have to do in Poland where some people remember, Hungary some people remember, Czechoslovakia quite a lot of you remember, and Germany, he has got the bigger task, no-one has tried to do it and he is going to try to do it against this degree of sophistication and it is quite difficult and do not forget that he has had to do all the administration—and they have in the other communist countries—through the Communist Party.

They have not had the structure of local government as a government structure, it has been through the Communist Party, they have got to set up their new structures. And so it has been the Communist Party bureaucracy, and of course it got ossified, it could not move.

There are no minds big enough in the world to say just precisely what should happen in a planned economy. But you see I am making the point, he has got the bigger task, and therefore you cannot suddenly go from the broad bureaucracy to a market economy, you have got to start to build it steadily.

Interviewer

Any chance of your getting that opportunity which was discussed of going on Soviet television to explain all this?

Prime Minister

I am not sure that you can necessarily explain it. Last time I was there, I did just a little bit in the interviews; I did just turn to the television cameras and said: “Look! Your Government can give you political freedom by responding to your needs and arranging elections, as they have, by arranging free discussion which you have seen, and it has been fantastic; it has been remarkable and the atmosphere is different. But a government cannot necessarily bring you economic prosperity or reform. That is the government giving opportunity and you responding to it.” Yes, it means harder work, it means more responsibility, but they do not know how to start! So many of them will be asking how to start and as you know, they are flooding over here and elsewhere, but it is one thing to come to a market economy and learn how to work it. When you get back there, how do you do it?

Mr. Gorbachev told me long ago that a lot of their food never gets to markets—they have not got facilities for storing it—or the trains do not arrive or they get on the wrong train or it stays in the marshalling yard or it stays not loaded or it stays packed and not unloaded because they operate only on instruction and whereas our people say: “Here! That train has come in! We have got to get it unloaded, it has got something perishable on it!” it does not happen that way and so it is easier for them to come and learn and stay here than it is to go back and so you cannot just plug it in. I think you have got to start in a smaller way.

Interviewer

Turning back to the European Community end of things, do you see all this talk by some people of the need to bind-in Germany as basically a bit of a plot by the federalists to push us on towards economic and then on towards political union? Do we really need to bind-in Germany in this way? Is this going to come up again at Strasbourg?

Prime Minister

No. … a lot of talk designed, I think, to try to get us to go into an end point which I do not think ordinary folk want and I am an ordinary person and I do not want it. Neither did de Gaulle want it and when you go and see the French Bicentennial, you realise how nationalist France is.

Spain is a completely different country, with her own background, also with her own particular characteristics.

Italy is one of the most individualistic countries in the entire Community, with their own way of dealing with tax, their own way of dealing with all sorts of things.

I do not necessarily buy these arguments. What I do buy is the argument that the principles, the history of Europe was … at one stage with Christendom—democracies, human rights were founded there, so you had Christendom, democracy and human rights; you had in Europe the whole idea that science was not just knowledge, it had to be harnessed to the well-being of people so you got that Industrial Revolution starting here; you had the artistic Renaissance, the most marvellous literature, the most marvellous music and you had the history of liberty.

All of this comes not from trying to impose a superstructure on it but by taking all the various diverse countries, each with their own pride, and getting them gradually to work together and if you try to go against that grain—because countries do matter; it is not as a nationalism, it is as a patriotism, as a pride—you go against the grain and try to put them together when they do not necessarily want to go together, with artificial reasons, you will not get ahead as fast as you could otherwise.

Germany is a fundamental part of the European Community—she is already, so are we—but you work together.

Interviewer

Against that background, where do you see the struggles coming up at Strasbourg? There is going to be, obviously, considerable talk about the Social Charter, there is going to be an attempt by the French to get a date set for an Inter-Governmental Conference on taking things further on, presumably, Stages 2 and 3 of Delors. What have you got to get out of Strasbourg?

Prime Minister

The Delors Report, as Nigel Lawson spotted right at the beginning, is not about economic and monetary cooperation—it is about getting European federalism in by the back door.

I think that quite a number of people in Europe know that if you took federalism at full toss, people would say no. Jacques Delors He is trying to get it in by the back door by that system and then saying: “Well, we have got now the fundamental powers, you have to go to a federalist state!” and I think you will find more and more doubt being raised about it.

The Social Charter, when we discussed it at Madrid, I took across our own details—the Green Book that I think you had—and I started to talk about what we had, about the Health Service, about redundancy payments, about national insurance, about the fact that everyone had to have two pensions, about what we had done for the disabled, about the report on community care and so on. They listened and they were amazed so I said: “You can never accuse us of not having a social dimension to our life, but I can only say this to you: that in order to do your best on the social dimension, you first have to create the wealth; then part of the sharing in it is the social dimension; another part of the sharing is you will not get it created unless a large part of what is created goes back to the people who have created it for them to spend it themselves. What your Social Charter is going to do is stunt the creation of wealth; it is going in fact to put extra burdens on business!” It would suit some people in the Community quite nicely to hoist their high costs on to everyone else—then you do not get competition within the Community! I said: “This is absolutely absurd! Here you have a rule in the Social Charter: anyone else comes in and puts in a tender for construction in another country—say Poland [sic: Portugal?] tenders for a construction contract in Germany—she is not allowed to have her own tender. She has got to pay German rates of wages, German national insurance contributions, German hours of work, German holidays and, of course, Portugal cannot afford it!”

The mystery to me is why Portugal and the other countries are agreeing with it because when I speak to them they say that is absurd. I say: “Don't you realise they are stopping you from pulling yourselves up the way the rest of us did, by hard work, it is absurd!”

The other fear is that if they succeed in doing that, then all the costs of Europe will go up so much that the work will go outside and so they would have to put up a really big protective barrier around Europe which is what other countries fear and they are right to fear it.

We talked about this. I said: “Look! This is the way we do things: we have about 150 unions, Germany has 19; we have about 50 percent of our people who belong to trade unions—France has only 15 percent! It is not for me to tell Germany what to do—this is the way her post-war record has gone. It is not for me to tell France what to do, but please, therefore, do not tell us what to do.”

Interviewer

So the battle will go on?

Prime Minister

Yes. There is a doctrine of subsidiarity which the Commission pays lip service to and honours in the breach.

But subsidiarity means that you do not in fact have the Commission doing directives on what is best left to the individual states and you will find that that view is stated very well in Leon Brittan 's Granada lecture.

But they all agreed with this when, in fact, we had the debate on it and subsidiarity was a fairly strong thing, but I tell you what happens sometimes in Europe:

You get a package coming up, nicely wrapped, beautiful bows, got a label on it: “European” and no-one dare argue with it if it has got that label on it and me, I unpack the package and look and see what I am buying.

And yes, Leon has made his view quite clear and I think some of the things we are gradually knocking out.

Interviewer

So you could see some kind of Social Charter emerging which we could accept at the end of the day?

Prime Minister

It is possible to get a Social Charter: one that keeps the creation of wealth; one has a look at health and safety for employment—you have got to have basic standards at work—and for training, because we already do that, but most of the rest really should be left to the different history and traditions. We have got a national insurance system. Ours has grown up by contributions over the years. We have a different pension system from Germany. I did not have time to explain it all in the House yesterday. We have a basic pension, everyone has to have a second pension—it is either SERPS or an occupational pension—so you cannot compare our basic system with their pension system because theirs tends to be very different and all in one.

That argument will still go on but there is something to argue about. It is an argument as to social dimension—we have got it—we are doing rather well with it!

Interviewer

Can I move you on slightly from Europe, Prime Minister, to your talks with Mr. Bush !

He himself has been talking of the importance of unity and integration in the Economic Community. It looks as though he is trying to nudge you to be a better European? Do you resent that?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think so because as you heard me say yesterday in the House, it was we who were the first to say: “Look! One of the reasons why we joined Europe was for a common market, but you have not got any barriers down yet! You have on the agricultural policy, but that has its other problems!” In 1984, in my Presidency, we did over forty of the first directives because we began to realise that that is what it was about—it was about a common market.

Now, if I might say so, on many things in the Common Market we are streets ahead. London has the freest, open financial services of any place. For example, in our ports, any country in the Community could pick up cabotage—we could not do that with any country and so I had to close some of it down and say: “Look! Unless you play fair with us we are not going to play fair with you!”

Lorry quotas: they love their lorry quotas. That is not free competition!

Interviewer

So Mr. Bush has really been addressing such remarks to others?

Prime Minister

We have freer movement of capital than Germany, because she has got certain controls. For example, her pension funds have to invest 95 percent of the funds in Deutschmarks or Deutschmark securities—they cannot even do it in ECU. That is not very Communautaire, is it?

Also, of the sixty-eight directives that should be implemented by June, there are only three we have not implemented; nine in France; the others all have more they have not implemented—Italy thirty-three—and there are only seven actually in operation in all of the countries and we are the best, we have the best record.

But then, people say to us: “We play by the rules! Are you sure that if they agree the rules, they are going to play by them?”

Actually, we do what we say we will do. We are that kind of people. Others may take longer to do it. Our future lies in Europe—that cannot be in doubt—but that is not the question; it is what kind of Europe.

Interviewer

Presumably, Eastern Europe in particular will be a major part of your talks at Camp David. What are your objectives in this meeting? Do you feel you have to warn the Americans to slow down in their reactions?

Prime Minister

No. I do not think we shall find that much difference in view.

You know that I have quoted several times the United States Librarian— Billington , isn't it?—that when you get great empires which have lost their faith but still retain their outward power, that is a time of danger. Now, you apply that to the Soviet Union, you take Communism as a faith, and they have lost their faith in Communism because it has not produced either the liberty, the dignity or the goods—but they still have their outer power. That is a dangerous time.

I just had it put to me in a very different way—a rather vivid way. When the ice thaws and breaks up, that can be a very dangerous time. It is a very vivid thing. You can see it. The floes can jam into one another, an iceberg can break up, so that is the time when you really have to keep your defence strong—you do not know whatever will happen.

But I believe myself that you must always keep your defence strong because you just do not know where a new threat is going to come from and I passionately believe that if we had had a NATO in between the Wars and kept it alive the whole time, we would not have had a Second World War.

Interviewer

But against that background, does it not worry you that the US Defence Secretary is now calling for pretty hefty cuts in their arms budget?

Prime Minister

It is 5 percent and their budget was going up like that! It is a 5 percent cut. It is not next year, it is the year after. By that time, we should in fact have got the Conventional Vienna talks agreed; the United States, I think, will have got START agreed; and I think that we have always known that with time, the United States might want to withdraw a few troops from Europe and, of course, she is going down from 300,000 to 275,000 on this arrangement.

It does not mean that Europe can likewise reduce her commitment. You could say that we really should take a larger burden of the responsibility.

Interviewer

So you will not be looking for a 5 percent cut on our part in 1991?

Prime Minister

No, I will not and also, do not forget, as I indicated earlier, saying that you want democracy and economic reform is quite different from achieving it and that may still take quite a long time and you do not play about with your defence or security ever—not if you appreciate liberty and justice.

The United States carries a tremendous burden across the world, as you know, and she might be entitled to look to Europe to shoulder a little bit more, but I do not think there will be any difficulty about keeping the United States in Europe. President Bush gave that commitment at our last NATO meeting.

Interviewer

What sort of advice will you have for President Bush , looking forward to the meeting in Malta, the Summit with Mr. Gorbachev ?

Prime Minister

Can I talk about it with him first before I say what I am going to say to him?

Interviewer

Right!

Prime Minister

I do not expect that we shall be of a very different mind.

Interviewer

Right!

What about your actual relationship with President Bush ?

Prime Minister

I think one of the great advantages is that George Bush he takes a very measured view. Do not forget he has similar beliefs to those of the last Administration because he was a part of the last Administration. You must remember that. He also has enormously wide international experience and he does take a very measured view of these things and I think that you will find a very great continuity.

But we are in a different era and all of a sudden, the last decade of this century has assumed an importance which none of us could have anticipated—but that is life isn't it? It is how you react to what you have not anticipated and it is how you find your way through it. It is how you shape it. You do not let events shape it. When unexpected things happen, you try to shape the events in the way that you want them to go.

Interviewer

President Bush , obviously like every person taking over an office, is having to differentiate himself to some degree to show how he is different to the previous Administration. One of the ways in which he seems to be doing that is having a less close relationship with you than President Reagan had. Is it partly because he fears alienating some other European allies if he is seen to be too friendly with you?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think you have got quite the right analysis, if I might say so. I think you are confusing style with principle.

I think that George Bush believes the same things as Ron Reagan did because they both worked together and I am sure that Ron Reagan profited enormously from George's wide international experience and George came across here quite frequently and had very successful international tours and so I think the beliefs are the same. I think the style is different, but we each have our own style. I have seen George several times; he came over to Europe, he has been here, he came over to NATO, we have messages, telephone messages, we have messages written because I am a great believer in writing down what you believe, as you know. It is only when you have got it written down that you know you have got it thought out.

Interviewer

Yes. So there is nearly as much contact as there was?

Prime Minister

There is quite a lot of contact. I do not think there is that much difference because George has not been there yet for a year and there has been quite a lot of contact. Background Comment? (PM's Adviser?)

You also met him a great deal when he was Vice-President.

Prime Minister

Oh yes. But let me put it this way:

We think very similarly so he has not go to pay a great deal of attention to us to convert us but the style is different and that is good, because each person has to have their own style. Heaven knows, you are always telling me I have mine. I do not know what it is!

Interviewer

Could we turn now to the domestic economy? John Major has said that 1990—I think possibly a slight understatement—may not be an easy year. How bad are things going to get before they get better? There was no mention, as a lot of people have noted, in The Queen's speech this year of tax cuts. Could we actually see an increase in taxes next year?

Prime Minister

I do not think I would attribute too much to that. We wanted to have it put in The Queen's speech our forward movement for this year and I think that for the first time we did not necessarily automatically want to bring things forward that had been in previous Queen's speeches.

You should not conclude too much to that. He will not be able to begin to look at it until in the New Year. But do not forget, the Autumn Statement did see some growth you know.

Interviewer

Yes, pretty small by comparison with recent years.

Prime Minister

Yes, but let me say, it saw some growth, so it saw more than in this year, it saw some growth. The amount of growth we get will not totally depend upon government and the danger now is that we get uncompetitive because the wage claims are higher than the extra productivity.

Now as far as our competitors are concerned, their productivity is going ahead faster than their wage claims so it means that their unit labour costs are going down and ours are going up. That is bad. A lot will therefore depend upon how management deal with this matter and I think they they have to go out, heaven knows we are trying to get rid of the two sides of industry and make every earner an owner, they have just got to go out and explain this because that is when you really can get problems developing.

But there is a colossal amount of demand still in the economy and there is going to be and it is up to British industry to fill a bigger proportion of that demand.

If you go through, as I am sure your Economic Correspondents do, go and look, because they are published, go and see what the classes of imports are. About one-third is investment, which is good but the tragedy is that quite a lot of the sophisticated engineering we have not got in this country and we have to import it. Of course the automated machine tools are imported either from Japan, the United States or Germany—about one-third of it is in the investment machinery, which we have to have, that gets your productivity coming up. Then quite a lot are just ordinary consumer goods and in the middle you have got a whole lot of intermediate things for the construction industry, not highly sophisticated things—chipboard, bricks, cement, televisions, radios—not highly sophisticated things. Obviously quite a lot of textiles, but thing which we could make, a lot of kitchen equipment, all sorts of small cosmetics. I picked up some cotton wool the other day which happened to be done in a form which I find convenient, I suddenly looked and it was made in France and I thought why are we not making it here?

So there is a fantastic amount of scope for filling the demand with supply from here and I hope that will happen.

Interviewer

What about inflation itself, what would you regard as a tolerable level of inflation with which to face the electors next time round?

Prime Minister

Well, we got down to below 3 percent, you know, and I thought was going very nicely and then growth got going too fast. It is when your growth goes too fast, if you look back historically, when your growth starts to grow too fast that is when your inflation comes because in fact you are paying yourself more than you are producing and you are too satisfied with what you are doing and sometimes people are not making sufficiently strenuous efforts to export. When you grow too fast you get that problem.

So we do not regard any level of inflation as acceptable. But when you have got it above 7 percent, it is going to take a time to get it down but you must not let up on those efforts and you must keep the purse strings of public expenditure tightly held, you really must.

Thank goodness we have been very conservative, with a small and big ‘c’, about the Budget and if you look at the United States it has had its double deficit for years—enormous adverse trade and enormous adverse budget. It is meeting its trade deficit, as we are, by heavy inward investment and that too will actually help us in the end to get more exports. But at least we have not got a budget deficit.

Indeed, the fact that we have been redeeming debt this year meant that we had to pay out £2 billion less in interest and so that explains why we have been able to do quite a number of extra bits of expenditure because it is just the same as when you have paid off your mortgage, or when you are paying off your mortgage you have got other free money.

But we have small growth. How much more we get will depend upon how British industry responds.

Interviewer

Talking of mortgages, there are, as you know, with high interests at the moment, a lot of people suffering badly on their mortgages. You have appeared to be sympathetic in the past with the idea of an increase in the ceiling for mortgage tax relief. Would you like to see something more done on this?

Prime Minister

Please, Robin Oakley Robin, do not get on to the Budget.

Interviewer

It was worth a try! And what about the role of the pound in all this, should the pound now go where the markets push it or should it be a weapon to bear down on inflation?

Prime Minister

Look, you cannot have two priorities in life. Our top priority is to bear down on inflation, therefore, your interest rate is at 15 percent. People think it is at 15 percent because of the exchange rate. Your interest rate is at 15 percent because monetary conditions are too loose and that is why it is at 15 percent and that is the predominant factor, you cannot have two top priorities.

Interviewer

Will you now be seeking a replacement for Sir Alan Walters or are you happy enough with John Major as Chancellor not to need an Economic Adviser?

Prime Minister

Alan Walters Alan is unique. I say he is unique, there are one or two others in the world like him— Alan Greenspan is another person to whom I am devoted.

You know Alan , he is one of the most modest, kindly people with something that gives you that extra, someone not merely capable of analysing all the statistics and so on but capable of seeing them in terms of human nature and capable of seeing the effect of those things rippling outwards. And so he, as well as this fantastic analysis, has a great instinct for human nature and he also has an instinct to get the unlocking idea. You will understand how you can get it in science, you never know where it comes from, it is a kind of inspiration. But he has been right so often that he just has this thing and I would not seek to find a replacement for him.

I think he has been very unkindly treated. I do not like anyone who has ever worked with me to be unkindly treated. He is a very unusual and very valuable person and please do not wound and where you have wounded, please heal.

Interviewer

You clearly disapprove, from the brochure you were holding up in the Commons yesterday, of elements of the credit card society. Is there anything you can do about it?

Prime Minister

Listen, I always have, you have heard me on this before, you have heard me say: “You ought not to be lending so much money to people who cannot afford to borrow, that is not your role and you ought not to be tempting people” . And I have had a go, yes I have a go at them: “What are you doing having advertisements: Take the Waiting out of Wanting” ? That is wrong.

There are certain things like buying a house which unless you can borrow money you cannot begin to bring it within your ken and it has been our great pride that as some people save so other people can borrow that money to enable them to buy a house and that is worth doing.

And then sometimes if when you are paying off your mortgage you can afford to have something else but you must always keep your capacity to repay within what you can very reasonably expect to earn.

It is wrong, in my view, to tempt people to borrow too much, I frankly do not like it. That is substituting my judgment for other peoples' but I do not like it when they put masses of advertisements on— “Borrow to go on a Holiday” .

Interviewer

But you would not restrict it?

Prime Minister

No, I cannot restrict it though the interest rate in the end will have to restrict it. But what I can say is that you simply must let people know what the rate of interest is because this is a bad way to buy for ephemeral things.

The idea that you should have to pay for an asset after you have eaten it or used it or had the holiday is not one that I like. It is one thing merely to use your banker's card as a chargecard, as a matter of convenience, and I do see that 40 percent of people do not use it as a credit card, they use it merely for convenience for charging so that you do not have to take cash around—which is quite a good thing, quite a good thing—so the moment it comes in, they have paid for it before any interest accrues. That is perfectly good and it is wise and it means that you are not carrying cash and therefore you are not liable to have it stolen in the streets.

But to tempt people to really borrow more money than I feel they should, and they did it, some of the banks, they lent more money to some Third World countries than they should and you know you do not expect this of bankers.

They have a go at me, they say: “Look, we are in a business to lend money” . I said: “You are only in business to lend money, you can well afford to repay if they work jolly hard, but you are not in business to lend money to people to whom it would be too much of a burden.”

Interviewer

Prime Minister, you would not expect me to interview you at this stage without talking a bit about leadership style and the question of stalking horses and the like.

Prime Minister

We are not going to talk about stalking horses at all. Talk about my leadership style if you wish.

Interviewer

You used to say that you could not spare the time for internal arguments. Can you now spend the time on that and be more of a team player?

Prime Minister

We always thrash out a policy, we are always thrashing out policy. Heaven knows, you hear me from time to time when we have had a seminar on this, we had a seminar on that, we have a seminar on the scientific world, we have a seminar on flexible response, and so on. We have a seminar on many many things, of course, that is the way in which I work. You do these things by discussion until you get the ideas coming up, people have a different viewpoint, but that has always been the way we work. Argument for the sake of argument—no. Argument to find a way through—that has always been the way we work, it is the way we work in Europe.

What I cannot stand is when you actually put the arguments people say: “Isolated” or “Clash” . It is not. If you are ever going to something which you buy just because it has got a label on you are not doing your task as a Cabinet Minister or as a Prime Minister.

Interviewer

Commentators have written that after the last reshuffle you are boxed in by a group of unsackable senior Ministers. Is that how it feels to you?

Prime Minister

Oh my Dear, you were writing that in my second and third year, you write it about every third year!

Interviewer

So it does not feel that way?

Prime Minister

I was boxed in about trade union reform, I was boxed in about this, I was boxed in about that. I have got out of a lot of boxes, that is all I can say. If I were to listen to you, I must have got out of a lot of boxes. Mind you, I did not necessarily find myself in a box.

Interviewer

Touché. A year ago you were not sure when I interviewed you that there were enough leadership candidates around for you to consider handing on the torch. Now apparently you are more willing to consider that, what has changed?

Prime Minister

I have been trying to bring up leadership candidates, it is part of my job, it is part of anyone's job at the top of an organisation to bring young people on. It will never be for me to choose my successor—never—but I think we have got a lot of very able people.

I may say that the question the Sunday Correspondent put to me was: “Was it likely that I would fight …” , was it likely? And I have had so many protests about my answer that by popular acclaim I am quite prepared to carry on.

Interviewer

Quite prepared to carry on and fight a fifth election?

Prime Minister

Quite prepared to carry on, yes, but let us get the fourth one over first. I am quite prepared to carry on. But you see “Was it likely?” and I thought well, gosh , you know if I give this answer that will mean at least about another six years and I thought people will think maybe that is a bit long.

But by popular acclaim—the number of complaints I have had—they all thought it meant I was going after the next election. So let me make it quite clear, I am very happy to carry on.

Interviewer

Well, that is excellent, we needed to get that clear.

Prime Minister

Yes.

Interviewer

Can I just tempt you to say a little on this question of if there is a challenge to your leadership?

Prime Minister

No dear, you cannot.

Interviewer

Not at all?

Prime Minister

No, I am not going to discuss that. You can talk about my style, I have said I am quite prepared to go on, by popular acclaim. No.

Interviewer

You would not even wish to confirm that in any circumstances you would go on …

Prime Minister

You are trying to get me into it, you are very subtle.

Interviewer

I did not think it was terribly subtle.

Prime Minister

What is a stalking horse?

Interviewer

Yes, it is an expression that does not mean a lot really, but …

Prime Minister

Good, then you cannot ask me about it.

Interviewer

But one thing that does puzzle people about you, Prime Minister, is your use of the expression “We” — Neil Kinnock mentioned this yesterday. What does it mean exactly when you use the expression “We” ?

Prime Minister

I can tell you exactly why. I am not an ‘I’ person, I am not an ‘I did this in my Government” , “I did that” , “I did the other” . I have never been an ‘I’ person, so I talk about ‘We’—the Government. I am not an ‘I’ person, never have been. ‘I did this” , “I did that” , “I did the other” —I have never been an ‘I’ person and I cannot do things alone so it has to be we, it is a Cabinet “We” . It is not I who do things, it is we the Government.

That is the antithesis, it is a silly stupid thing, and it just shows the smallness of mind. Do they not talk about “We” ? If they do not, it is a very revealing factor. You are not in politics to say “I do this” , you can do very little alone.

Yes, you can lead very firmly but in the end the point of leadership is that you get a whole lot of other people with you. So is that clear?

Interviewer

Absolutely clear, crystal clear.

Prime Minister

I have never been an ‘I’ person, some people are I might tell you, but not me.

Interviewer

A wrong impression seems to have been given from that Sunday Correspondent interview. There is something else that came up in the papers the other day which I suspect you might be able to correct an impression on, Prime Minister. It was said that the 1922 Committee and the Party Chairman came into you and told you, or some of them told the press they did, “to get your act together” . Is that really what they said and what was your response?

Prime Minister

No-one ever used that expression, I was astounded. Of course we had a very good general discussion, as we do frequently around that table. I do not think anyone has ever accused me of not having my act together. No, they were very helpful, that had been arranged a long time since. I thought I simply must have some of them across to lunch so that we could sit down.

There is something I must tell you, you have lunched round that table, it is quite a narrow room, there is something very conducive to sitting down and talking about things, it is intimate and it is relaxing and frequently I have used that room to come and have a meal after we have had talks, with Heads of Government or with other people who come to me. So we will talk in here or in the White Room, which you know, and then: “Come on, let us go and have lunch together” , and it works and it is a very intimate atmosphere and then the barriers go down and you can get down to what matters without any difficult feeling of any kind.

Now there was not going to be much difficult feeling with the 1922 Committee, but sometimes people see difficulties that really do not exist and you only get it by talking them through.

Interviewer

I would like to have a brief section, if we could, on social policy because you have shown some concern in this area yourself, that perhaps you have not achieved everything that you wanted to. Why, after ten years of Conservative Government, are we such a violent society and is there now a basic discipline missing in society which you can as a government do something to correct?

Prime Minister

It will take me a long time to answer that, I will try to make it very short.

We all have good and evil in us and a choice and responsibility to choose between them. No amount of good social conditions can eliminate that choice. I think years ago many social workers thought that by the time we had, and felt it their duty, as indeed we all do, a reasonably well paid job, good housing, good education, good health, that many of the other problems would disappear.

It is often said and I have had it said to me in the House that unemployment is the cause of crime. I have said: “No it is not, it most certainly is not” . And so they felt that once we had all of those things the worst of our problems would be solved. They are not.

If I may say so, the most difficult ones to solve are the problems you are left with when those are solved and they are the problems of human nature, the problems which I said at the beginning, we have all got good and evil in us.

And if I might put it this way, we are democrats not because we believe that voting by majority makes things right, because three of us could vote to take everything else from the fourth—it would be a majority vote, it would not be right. But you are democrats because you believe, you believe in democracy because you believe that actually there is more good than bad in most people, and in a majority that will show.

We are also democrats for another reason because you know that all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely so you have constantly to disperse the responsibility for the decision.

But it means that you can have a person with everything in life who will take to drugs, to violence, to not being a good, upright citizen. You are up against the problems of human nature.

I think there used to be a kind of structure, an agreement between people, regardless of their religious views, as to what was right and what was wrong. I think there was a certain fundamental belief and there still is in many parts of the country. But I think that that had to be quite clearly manifest by all people in positions of authority or leadership and I think you had not to be afraid of teaching people what was right and what was wrong.

Sometimes I have heard people say: “No I cannot, it is not for me to make that judgement” and I have said: “You simply must teach the children all that is best and all that is good and warn them of dangers because if you do not you will have put no mechanism in their minds, no means of them judging later in life” .

If, later in life, they wish to take a different view, so be it but unless you have built-in that and they see it upheld—and children will be the first to tell you if someone is fair or not; they do not mind discipline, children; what they do mind bitterly is unfairness; they are quite right. And I think that young people are actually seeking that kind of discipline and I think that many people wish to have a kind of set of values; some, they want to be able to prove it objectively—you cannot, but you can prove it by experience, which is really where Tory philosophy comes in, that you must take experience into account.

So yes, you need every single structure in society and you will still find it, you will still find many in society, but you do have some kind of opting-out of the sense of responsibility to others and yet they would still expect to be helped materially when they are down or helped by the Health Service when they need it, but these are the real problems.

This is what I did off-the-cuff for the “Good Housekeeping” thing. You help enormously. All of the newspapers help enormously. They can help enormously.

There are always people who have difficulties. You talk about family life and you have got to understand that there are some youngsters who do not come from a family that looks after then; that the home where they should have comfort, refuge, help is a home from which they are ill-used …

Interviewer

Yes. And does the main welfare system look after those?

Prime Minister

… and you have got understand then that they will look tremendously to their church, any voluntary organisation, the British Legion. It may be your trade union, it may be your British Legion, it may be your NSPCC, it may be your Women's Institute or you know someone next door who is having a rough time so you get them in. It is everyone. You cannot wait for a policeman to walk down the street if you think some child is being abused next door.

Interviewer

But in terms of teaching children, apart from at home and at school, do you have other people in mind?

Prime Minister

Look at all the things you learn from!

You learn from the newspapers. Now, if your newspapers or your television—which is why we are having a Broadcasting Standards Council—so treat the exceptional case that it becomes the norm for behaviour for children, they are doing a great disservice. So if all they see is the behaviour that is the less than good—I am not saying you only print the good obviously—if family life no longer becomes the norm, then you have lost your building bricks of society.

Interviewer

What about what Government can do in all this?

Prime Minister

And so one looks at this and says: “How many things are we doing policy-wise that are conducive to the break-up of family life?” and therefore you start to change your policies, so you start to change your taxation system so that obviously it is not a penalty to live as a family.

You know really what I am saying. If people think that the breakdown of marriage is the norm, then that will have an influence on them and they go into it thinking: “Well, it does not matter if we get out of it!” .

I will never forget having someone in my surgery one evening a long time ago when I was a young MP coming to me and saying: “Look! I am alone. My wife has walked out with the children. I blame you. She knows that if she walks out she can get another house and she can get an income and if she had not known that we would have stayed together and we would have got over the difficulty!” and you could have knocked me down with a feather, because I thought if you find a wife and two children you have got to do something to help. And so there are great conflicting interests.

What I think is a cause for concern is when you see that one child in four is born out of wedlock and so what I am saying is: of course, there are reasons why marriages break up—I can tell you many where it has been better because of the sort of conditions which we have never known or fundamental incompatibility or where things have gone fundamentally wrong and it is better. I am not saying what any barrister, any MP, any person who does social work will always tell you. What I am saying is, I think you have got to keep the normal position clearly before people because it is on that that society depends and have it quite clear that it is normal that you have a family, you bring up your family, you go on with grandchildren and this is your future. Of course, you will have a lot to whom that does not apply but it is the fundamental things, which is where I started: the good and the sticking to things will in the end transcend the things which … . it is not necessarily bad a breakup of marriage … but the best shall continue.

Let me say that I do not want to sound priggish in any way. It is not! It is what I am facing now.

Can I put it another way? I remember talking to someone at a women's meeting about young people and putting it this way: that young people these days have far more money and far more freedom than we ever had and therefore they have far more temptations and too little protection from those temptations and the temptations come before they are old enough to be able to cope with them and therefore, we have got to build-in the protective mechanisms, but do not necessarily blame them. We were in a society which had a much more easily-recognisable framework and when there were certain taboos because that is what everyone in the locality believed and people set up their own taboos and their own standards. I am sorry! That is very difficult! You will be able to telescope it! But those are the problems which you get up against.

And why do people? Some have had everything and turn to crime because there is a certain amount of evil in them and it is not a question that they do not know what is right or wrong. Do not think because we all know what is right and wrong we all act in that way—the whole of life is the extent of one's imperfections and it is just that if you believe certain things you are very remorseful about the things and you will try again.

Interviewer

One very specific little point, Prime Minister, I had in mind when asking you about violence: an awful lot of it these days seems to be related to alcohol which we as a nation do not seem to handle well. Children: it seems to be so easily available to them. Is there not a case now for increasing the cost of alcohol? Youngsters seem to have to go and drink to excess and are not prepared just to go and drink.

Prime Minister

They have more money and more freedom and this is partly example but I do not think that necessarily increasing the cost would do it.

It is a problem, but you cannot put it all down to alcohol and you cannot use that as an excuse either. You know the effect alcohol will have on you and therefore you must be presumed to intend the consequences of any action.

Interviewer

So that is back to good and evil essentially?

Prime Minister

Yes, but everyone is not going to turn out to be 100 percent perfect or even 90 percent perfect or even 80 percent perfect, or even 70 percent perfect.

But really, what it comes down to is thought and consideration for your neighbour, it really does. It is really the sort of “do as you would be done by” but for that you do need everyone to pull together. But at the same time, there are people who have enormous social difficulties and as I say, may just have to fly apart because for some of them it is better for the children that they do. But others fly apart far too easily because they think it is the done thing.

Interviewer

And it is made so easy for them in financial terms and so on.

Prime Minister

And it is always the children who suffer because security matters a tremendous lot when you are a child.

Interviewer

Going back to the economy, do you think that interest rates are at their ceiling now?

Prime Minister

I am not making any comments on interest rates. As you know, I cannot.

Interviewer

One that I should have thrown at you and forgot, Prime Minister, is were you happy that one of your Ministers suggested the other day that the IRA could not be beaten militarily? Was this helpful to the Government's cause?

Prime Minister

I think Peter Brooke he has made his view quite clear today—that the IRA cannot win, will not be allowed to win. Cannot win—and that is right. Having been to the Marines Service today … .