Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Reader’s Digest

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Chequers
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Kenneth Gilmour, Russell Twisk and Paul Johnson, for Reader’s Digest
Editorial comments:

1200 onwards. Reader's Digest told No.10 that the interview (in edited form) would be published in their May editiion, translated into15 languages and read by around 100m people. It also ran in full in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on 19 April, in the form of a two page ad paid for by Reader's Digest (see THCR 5/2/330).

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 10722
Themes: Social security & welfare, Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade union law reform, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union (general), Media, Defence (general), Defence (Falklands), Terrorism, Northern Ireland, British Constitution (general discussions), Executive (appointments), Judiciary, Parliament, Race, immigration, nationality, Conservatism, Labour Party & socialism, Leadership, Religion & morality, Autobiographical comments


Prime Minister, you are the leader of a great nation, but you are also a world leader. As such, what do you view as the most pressing international problem to be resolved?

Prime Minister

The big one is the East-West, because the great unknown is whether the bold reforms which are now in hand will be able to be taken through to completion, which to us would be a very much freer society with a proper rule of law, a genuine respect for human rights and something so different from everything for which Marxist-Leninism stands. [end p1]

It would be one of the biggest things that could happen in the world today because it would have an effect on so many other nations as well and upon how people saw the fundamental structure of socialism which is not about human beings at all - it is about systems - and that is by far the biggest single thing. It is really about the nature of government and the rules of living in a society together, about economic plans and people having to conform to plans, or about whether government is there to serve the fundamental dignity and freedom of the individual.

Freedom of one person can only be reconciled with another under a rule of law, but a rule of law is not merely the law which the state happens to impose or decide - it is a law which is founded on respect for the dignity of the individual, so that is by far the biggest thing which faces us at the moment. I say “faces us”, the fact that we are considering the possibility of that change is an enormous step forward.

You will be best at condensing this. I am very conscious that unless I say enough to make my view clear, that you cannot get the kernel of it in the condensation. [end p2]


What do you feel are the chances that Gorbachev can succeed in these reforms?

Prime Minister

I have no doubt that Mikhail Gorbachevhe will persist. He believes in what he is doing. It is the boldest decision to do it. I think the most difficult time will be the next two or three years because naturally, people who have always been told what to do and that they must not do things unless they are told, are wary; they have no practical experience of their own initiative; and they want to know that the reforms are going to succeed before some of them are prepared to go for them whole-heartedly.

So there are two things: first, they do not know quite what to do - there is no experience of management, of initiative; and secondly, some of them are a bit fearful and would say: “Well, at least we knew where we were under the old regime!” You have those two things to cope with. And so I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that everyone there is enormously enjoying the greater freedom of discussion. I think one does not quite realise - because we have it automatically - what a joy that must be. [end p3]

I well remember someone saying on television during the Prague. … “You have no idea what it is like to be able to discuss freely and without fear with other people!” and it is the next step that is the difficult one. So I think that if one gets over those two or three, that is the most difficult time.

I think, myself, it is being handled in a remarkably perceptive way, bearing in mind that the basic initiative, management, attitude of each person being a self-starter is not there.

Did I answer your question? Would you say it again? What was it?


How you rate the chances that he can achieve this against what a lot of people feel are overwhelming odds?

Prime Minister

I, myself, have no doubt that he will persist and go through and I think because this is an inspiration and a vision and a resolve, he has a good chance of getting through. [end p4]


Shifting a bit, it is easy to institutionalise the Welfare State, more difficult to inculcate self-reliance.

To what extent has your Government really succeeded in permanently turning the British people away from the socialist dependency?

Prime Minister

Not yet permanently, because there are quite a number of people with a vested interest in socialism.

Let me say this: socialism did not come from the people. Socialism came from a theory of the intellectuals. Socialism is not a creed of the people. Socialism is a doctrine of the intellectuals, a particular kind of intellectual who had the arrogance to believe that they could do it better than other people because they could plan everyone's lives.

That means that there are quite a number of people who like to have the control, who have a vested interest in it and you will see it in left-wing Labour authorities in this country now; you will see it in some groups in universities. There is quite a vested interest in those who wish to control people's lives. [end p5]

Again I repeat: socialism is not a creed for the people - it is a creed for those who wish to take power for themselves for the sake of exercising power, but there are quite a number who have that kind of vested interest.

So it has not yet gone and also, you know the way throughout the ages that those people have put their case to the people. They have not revealed that all freedom would go. What they say is: “Vote for us, who will control your lives, and you will have a better time - you will have far more without doing anything very much about it!”

Some people are still bewitched by that - not a lot, but there are some - and there are some people who would go to a job and do the job well and they are given a house and that suits them, but what they forget is that it does not stop at that. Socialism does not stop at that. It finishes up with direction of labour, progressive diminution of freedom, and that is why they turned away from it, but the vested interest on the part of some of the people and a superficial attraction to others because it is not explained properly. [end p6]

What has happened now - and again, I say please forgive me for answering at length, but it is necessary to get the meaning - is that in my time in university people still, I think, on both sides of the Atlantic, obviously had their minds on the difficulties of the Thirties because the Thirties were very difficult indeed in terms of unemployment and you had them worse in the United States even than we did here, and they therefore were looking for a time to see whether this other creed might possibly work, whether you could make people good by diktat or you could produce - like T. S. Eliot - a state system which would work and there was no need for people to be good, whether you could do that, and so they were turning to look at this other creed and they could turn and they could turn and look at the Soviet Union and they did not know - how much we did not know at that time.

So they had then the creed of democracy, of freedom, deeply rooted in this country; the creed of freedom under a rule of law much more deeply rooted than the actual technicalities of democracy, because we would have called ourselves a free people long before we had “one person, one vote”. But the free people, the [end p7] growth of the Common Law - common to you and us because of our marvellous judges - based on fairness and equity and the history of Britain is the history of the enlargement of freedom gradually coming down to a larger group. So they had that basic belief and its practice and they were looking at the practice of the Thirties and it seemed to them to produce some considerable difficulties and they had an untried theory or doctrine that maybe you could plan everything in this much more sophisticated society and maybe it would work.

Now we are well through that. What we have now is our belief and how it works in practice and their belief and how that worked in practice, so there is no shadow of doubt which actually works and which is best for people.

The difference is that ours - the freedom under a rule of law - is something which you can really believe in, because it goes to the deepest roots of personality and dignity. As I tried to say to David Frost when we did the interview the other morning, do you know the book by Maurice West, “The Devil's Advocate”? A fantastic book, and you know that last chapter, when the communist - and my goodness me, the communists believed in their creed in the immediate post-war days - and the priest, who was the protagonist of liberty, come [end p8] together and the communist says: “Yes, and when I die there will be millions to take my place and I shall not matter at all!” and the priest says: “And when I die, there will be millions to take my place, and the difference is that each and everyone matters and knows that he matters!”

You now have both the creeds and the practice, but Marxism is a superficial creed, ours is deeply-grounded in the belief in human nature and in religious belief.

What was your original question?


I think you have covered it very well.

Prime Minister

Yes, but let me see if I can encapsulate the answer!


Whether the British people have truly moved away from this socialist dependency. [end p9]

Prime Minister

The answer is yes, they have truly moved away. They have truly moved away from it.

You never eliminate this, because you are always up against the demagogue who preaches false tidings - you always will be - but they have truly moved away and the young people are moving away, in my view fast, because they are beginning to understand that each of them has God-given talents and they want the chance to display those talents and they also have what I would call the true social instinct of Man, which does not come from socialism - it comes from your true feeling that you are immensely grateful for the use of your own freedom and the rule of law and the value of this to yourself is so great that it means that you must try to extend it and help others to whom that opportunity has not extended and therefore, part of the use of that freedom must be to help others who are not yet enjoying it in full. That is the deepest social instinct of our belief and it is a genuine one.

So yes, it has, and they have the two things: they want to use their own initiative, they are glad to be able to start up on their own, they are glad of the opportunity, they value the help they get from others to whom they can go and say: “Will you help me?” and they also know in the deepest religious way their duty to help others and they are doing that too. [end p10]


And that philosophy is really spreading, is it not? Have we not in recent times had a really historic change, that governments - even communist governments - seem to be moving away from socialism and has not Britain really played an important part in this process?

Prime Minister

I hope so! I remember, right at the beginning, we had a very difficult two years because we believed so much in what we were going to do and we were not going to be deflected by the difficult problems that emerge at the beginning - that is why I have great sympathy with Mr. Gorbachev and ours was a small task compared with his. Some other statesmen - politicians - used to come and say to me: “We will watch you very carefully, Mrs. Thatcher, because if you can roll back the tide of socialism other people will be able to do it too!” But you see, they always talked about rolling back the tide of socialism. To me, it was the restoration of freedom and liberty and I think, in a way, that even the Soviet Union realises there is a divine spark - they perhaps would not quite put it that way - there is something called a divine spark there and if you ignore it, you really just cannot come to the right answer. [end p11]


What would you see as the fundamental lessons that are applicable to other countries, that have been tested and carried out here?

Prime Minister

I will tell you one of the difficulties in the way in which we conduct our affairs.

I think that there is a tendency in democracy sometimes for those who represent the people in the Parliamentary Chamber to think that they hold their seats by promising their own constituents more hand-outs from the government without telling them that it will come out of their pockets. That is the real fundamental. They tend to say: “I will give you more! It will not cost you anything, someone else will pay!” and a person who will rob Peter to pay Paul will rob Paul to pay Peter - and neither is just.

The only true thing is to say that in a highly sophisticated economy which we run now, it is our task to uphold freedom under a rule of law, to run the finances soundly, to run the defences soundly, to give as much opportunity to people as we can - which is why education is so important and why what you teach in education is so important - and in a highly sophisticated economy which is quite different from the [end p12] village economy when you knew what other people were doing and automatically helped them, there are many people whom we would like to help but do not know about, but we all believe that it would be wrong if they were hungry or without a reasonable basic standard of living. And therefore, we have a kind of mutual insurance scheme, that we will look after you under those circumstances because you would look after us under the those circumstances, and that is why basic social basic [sic] services are a fundamental part of our modern life. But you do not in fact get those social services so high that you cease to have any incentive to look after your own family or that those who choose not to make an effort do as well as those who do.

The difficulty in social services that we are coming to is - both in the post-war reconstruction of this country and I think in modern democracies - you simply must help and see that people who are unfortunate because of no fault of their own are looked after and are given a chance and an opportunity to use their own talents and there are some of course who are unfortunate and cannot because they are sick or they are just not able to do so. [end p13]

The difficulty is that there are some people who take those rules, which were created and implemented because we all wished to help the people who are unfortunate, and twist those rules to apply them to people who could do more to help themselves, and that is one of the difficulties which we face, because you simply cannot devise a set of rules where someone who is a genuine conscientious employer of the [word missing] can say: “I am not going to give you that money because I think you are not deserving because I think that person is!” You cannot devise subjective rules.

We have now just changed our rules to say: “Yes, of course you get help if you are unemployed, but you must be actively seeking work. You do not get help because you choose to be unemployed. You get help because you positively are actively seeking work and cannot find it.” It is a problem that we are finding but if you do not tackle it you will find that your welfare state gets bigger and bigger and not everyone would choose to work.


Prime Minister, may I ask you what has been the most difficult time during your years in office? [end p14]

Prime Minister

There have been difficult times, because you had to do what seemed to people the reverse. People still think that the politician's job is to give them an easier life and a higher standard of living, and it was difficult to turn it round and say: “Look! You should look for your standard of living, not to how many protests you can have against the state, how many lobby groups you can have; you should look to your standard of living primarily to your effort! Secondly, if in fact you do things which are fundamentally lacking in common sense, for example if you demand more in wages than the company of which you are a part can afford to pay so that it puts up the prices and therefore you cannot sell your goods, you must be prepared to take the consequences of putting yourself out of a job. You must be presumed to know the consequences of your own action. If you demand too much, that on the one hand you are saying you must have more investment and on the other, you are taking out so much that you cannot have that investment for the future, you must take the consequences of your own action.” It is bringing people to what they fundamentally know in their own hearts and minds is common sense. [end p15]

And yes, it meant we had to get inflation out of the system because inflation is honest money [sic] and no government should ever try to monkey about with it because it is dishonest. Inflation is honest money [sic] and it meant we had to take quite a lot of fundamental difficulties.

We also did something else. We thought the state was spending too much and that is a diminution of people's freedom. If you are denying them a lot of the fruits of their own labour beyond what you have to for the reasons I have indicated, you are diminishing their freedom - and we wanted to enlarge it. But we could not get public spending down as much as we wished and so we therefore had to take a decision: “Do we finance it honestly or do we go for more and more borrowing?”

We took a decision to gradually get our borrowing down and to finance it honestly, but there came a point when we had the crossover, that we were able to take down the direct taxation enough to give the extra incentive - that meant putting up the indirect taxation, which actually did not put up inflation but puts up the apparent inflation because it puts up the cost of living - and for the first two years we were absolutely pilloried about it. [end p16]

But you simply cannot run a sound government if inflation is any part of your policy. Once it starts to get out of hand, down you have to come, as we are now. Where did you start on this question?


Really, we were looking for your most difficult times.

Prime Minister

So those were difficult times. Our most difficult time was 1981 because we had to hold on. Unfortunately, in order to get things right in the long term, you often have a difficult time in the short term, because you have to get the difficulties &dubellip; For example, until we came into power, when a big company got into difficulties, in came the government, big subsidy to bail it out. That meant that you were going down on a long-term decline.

So the first thing is: “No! We are not going to bail you out! You are fully adult, you live in a democracy, you must be expected to presume and intend the consequences of your own action, the consequences of your own irresponsibility! So right! You have not got the right products, the price is too high? Out you go! [end p17] We are not keeping yesterday's products! We are not using the subsidies of the efficient to keep in existence those who are not prepared really to get their own outfit right, their own efforts right, their own company right!” So the first thing is up goes unemployment.

You had to get out restrictive practices. There were many places where the unions had two people doing the job of one and nobody is efficient in that way. So to do that, we had to put the power from the union bosses into the hands of the ordinary chap, believing he has got more common sense.

We had quite a big increase in unemployment. Part of it was due to a world recession, but what we had to do came at that time and “What is this Government doing? Increasing unemployment?” Because we had to switch taxation, we were not being able to get the cost of living index down as fast as we would wish, so it was “Increase in unemployment, inflation as well! What are you doing? Don't you think you have done enough damage?” [end p18]

We had to spend more on defence. We had to spend more on law and order because it was needed, and we had in fact to sort out the general finances, so that was very difficult, but there were people who knew that what we were doing represented the long-term common sense and that we had to go from the old wrong system to the new and that what we were doing was trying to say to people: “Look! Freedom incurs responsibility. You must rise to your responsibilities and we must give you incentives to work harder and that means we must withdraw and try to cut down the proportion which the state is taking!”

Because we had a recession, in fact for a time it looked as if the state was taking more because the state's obligations go on even though your income goes down and all that came at once, so it was difficult. It was a very difficult time.

The other thing that was difficult later was when we had a decision to take such as using the bases here for the strike against Libya and we did that, as you know, because we believed it was right and it was self-defence because in the end, if you have got a state which is deliberately helping state terrorism, encouraging it and boasting about doing so and believing [end p19] that you will never turn to defend yourself in the only way you can, then you are helping terrorism to flourish. So in the end, I did not have much difficulty. I did have difficulty because I had to be certain that you are not using the methods of the terrorists, that your targets are military ones, that they are specific and that you are making every effort to keep it that way. Then it seemed to me that this was our task - really to be seen fighting someone who was openly and avowedly going for state terrorism, which is a negation of liberty. So those were difficult decisions.

The Falklands one: it seemed to be that both the freedom of our people had been violated and the integrity of the sovereignty of the land. They are the two things, and therefore it was in the world's interests that we upheld both of those things because if we did not, other people would do the same things.

In the first place, in Libya, we were upholding in the end our fundamental freedoms and striking at the people who did not have any respect for those; and in the Falklands, again we were doing that - the freedom of self-determination and the integrity of sovereignty. [end p20]

They were outwardly difficult decisions, but if you work them back to the fundamental principles they were all right. Then, it becomes a problem of are you able to present your fundamental case in a clear way and, you know, in the end we were. But in the end, the going to freedom incurs responsibility and cutting out some of the functions of the state and going over to you, over to the people, is working.


If it is not too painful for you to speak about it, I wonder if you could tell us about your reactions to the Brightom bombing and what thoughts passed through your mind when you first realised the enormity of what had happened. Did it have any long-term effect on your thinking?

Prime Minister

Do not forget that we were not immediately wounded or anything like that, but we heard the first one and it was obviously pretty close, then it seemed as if there was a second one - that actually, although we did not know it at the time, was the bomb, the first one, going … the storeys immediately above us - and the second one was as all of the debris came down, which sounded like a second explosion. [end p21]

Your first instinct, well your first training, is immediately to keep calm and you you go immediately to see if everyone is all right. Denis ThatcherDT was asleep and he obviously awoke and got up and just quickly got something. Neither of us went into the bathroom. We just simply went across the other side to see that our own people were all right and then gradually, other people were coming to see that we were all right, so we collected in our office. Then, we could not get hold of Geoffrey Howe who was in the next room. We were going along the corridor. The dust was getting big, but the lights did not fail in our part, for which I am eternally thankful, and we just could not get Geoffrey Howe's door open. His sitting room was next to our bathroom and that was actually where some of the stuff had come down, but he was in his bedroom and he and Elspeth dressed quickly and then came out. Then, John Gummer came and he had been actually with us talking and Penny who was upstairs came down quickly.

Instantly, you are going immediately to see what the damage is, to see whether it is all right, and then it was quite clear that we could not get out one …, by which time the firemen came along and said: “Please wait here!” Immediately, frankly, I can tell you what I thought: “If we are going now” - we had decided that we had got as many as we could in our immediate area - [end p22] “Now which way are we going to go out?” because knowing that these people are pretty terrible, it is quite possible that they might have bombed all ways out.

The firemen then came along - our detectives were there, and so we were all trying to get everyone together - and said: “Wait here a moment!” and we did; and then we tried to get out one way that was blocked. Then eventually they said that it was actually all right to go out down through the main part of the hotel and then, of course, we could see the entire blockage of the front and frankly, we knew that some of us were all right and assumed that more were all right than was the case. We did not know quite what had happened upstairs because we thought it might have been an outside bomb. Immediately, our first concern was for the staff, because we knew there was a night porter and people there.

But gradually, at that time as many were being moved out as possible and we got to the police station and then the Charles PriceAmerican ambassador came. Then, of course, we said: “Now, who have we not got?” We still did not know fully what had happened. [end p23]

We then came out and spoke to television and I had to decide that, if it was possible, should we carry on?

What I am saying to you and describing is to illustrate the point I want to make: that when these things happen, immediately there is so much to think about that is not your own danger that you think about, but it is getting on and doing things and making the requisite decisions and finding out who is there.

So we had got our immediate group and as many as we could from upstairs and then we ourselves, after fifteen to twenty minutes, were told to go out and, you know, the dust gets in and we realised the enormity of what had happened. We got to the police station and the police were marvellous, and we gradually waited and said: “Well now look! Who is not here?” Leon Brittan was there, so he was all right. So our floor looked as if it were all right. We were waiting for other people to arrive or had they gone elsewhere? The press in the hotel next door also moved out, so we all waited for information, but because our group was all right, we were worried about the staff from that part and I think that we did not know at that time just how bad it was and after we had been at that police station - they were obviously very busy - we were moved over to a training area not very far away where the police trained and they [end p24] had dormitories and so on, and so we were bussed over there but before we left, we did say: “Look! If it is possible, we would like to carry on tomorrow morning because it is vital that we do!” John Gummer, who was Chairman at that time, and I and Leon BrittanLeon were very anxious that we should, and we got over to the other place about five o'clock in the morning and just had a little rest for about an hour and a half and then immediately awake.

Then, of course, we turned on the television and the first thing we saw was Norman Tebbit being pulled out. We did not even know he was missing. By that time they had known that people were missing.

But all this is to show you that you have to get on with certain things that you have to do immediately and your whole mind actually is concentrated on doing that and concentrated on: “Now, can we carry on tomorrow?” provided the police could possibly do it, because you simply must be certain that the terrorist does not think that he has got your morale, he has got your spirit. He might have got some people, but he must never get your spirit.

After that, our greatest concern was for those who were missing and to make certain that we were taken back in time to walk on that platform at 9.30 - dead on - and as we had to got back to see the other people who were in charge, to bring us together with the people who had gone elsewhere. [end p25]

From the many tragedies I have seen, in the immediate thing (sic) there are certain things which you must do.

First, you try to keep calm. Obviously, some people are deeply wounded and in great pain and of course will cry out. First, you must to keep calm and do as much as you can to help others as possible, and then, insofar as you cannot do any more, you must try to keep people's spirits up. What thrilled me was everyone had the same instinct and they came in! They were not all there at 9.30 because of the security checks.

We went on the platform. Ironically, the first debate was on Northern Irish affairs, I thought marvellous! Actually I left the hall because I really felt that the speech I had got ready to make would have to be different, so we had to go back and change it. Some of it was all right, but we had to change it fundamentally.

We carried on and the bishop, Peter Ball, came - he is marvellous - some of the clergy came and they were wonderful. We had to get on. From that time, our main thing was to do the speech right and to see if there was anything we could do for the people in hospital and then I had to go immediately to the hospital to see people. [end p26]

And then, frankly, the police wanted me out of Brighton, for reasons you can understand!


I remember seeing a film of you at Evensong on the following day.

Prime Minister

The following morning we went to Chequers. It was quite extraordinary.


When did it first hit you that you nearly died?

Prime Minister

I really did not know until we went back. Later, on the Friday, one of my people went back to see if we could pick up any more clothes. Was it all right? Could we go in? And they did and then, of course, they looked through to the bathroom and saw the ceiling down and it was then that I did realise just how bad it had been. [end p27]

I will tell you why it struck me, because I had just finished at a quarter to three - we go on for a long time - if I say “refining” the speech, it is wordsmithing the speech because you are writing for writing and then your last thing is to do it for speaking and all of a sudden you realise that what you have written for writing, the length of the sentences, does not give the clear speaking, because you have got two things to do: most people will read it, but the meaning has got to go over. We did not finish that and Norman Tebbit who is marvellous at wordsmithing had gone at midnight and I was just carrying on with two or three - John Gummer was there, Ronnie Miller - through the final clarity, and we finished it just at a quarter to three. They had then just gone from my room into the office because that was going to be taken over for its final typing and inevitably, when it is finally done, a little bit of tension goes - you have got it right and we have read it to see that it speaks as well as it reads and just made certain that we have got the meaning right - and they were just really almost laughing in the office with the relief of tension. [end p28] Sir Robin ButlerRobin came in and said look: “I am very sorry. I know you will be busy tomorrow morning looking at it again. There is a decision I simply must have from you, we leave at eight o'clock tomorrow morning”, thrust a set of papers in my hand, and I just sat down to read some of them and then, of course, while I was reading them the windows went, the explosion went, the glass went and everything, and had that not been so when they had all gone into the office, I would simply have gone through the bedroom and straight into the bathroom and would have been there you see. It was just quite remarkable because those seven minutes in I would have just gone, also with relief, realised that I simply must get some sleep and gone straight through - Denis ThatcherDenis was asleep - gone straight through quietly to the bathroom and I would have been there and it would have been very much worse.

That, really, was when I said: “Can we go back?” and they told me the extent of the bathroom, but the fact was it did not happen to me. You see, we not only had that. John Wakeham took the longest to get out and some of course we never did and I went to see [Jean] Shattock. We then knew actually where the bomb was. She actually had gone into her bathroom which was directly [end p29] above - not immediately above - that is where it happened. She had actually been in there when the bomb went off so I am afraid she was virtually blown to bits.


Prime Minister, do you think it has had any effect on your long-term thinking, on the way that you tackle problems?

Prime Minister

No. It reinforced it, that having been through that, the terrorists must not win. That is what motivates one. When some people say: “Troops out of Northern Ireland! This, that and the other!” you say: “Look! You must never let the terrorist win!”

There is something that I must get over to you, particularly anyone who has American contacts:

Northern Ireland terrorism is not anything like PLO terrorism or like African terrorism. In Northern Ireland, every single person has full civil rights, has equal voting rights to vote people to Westminster, to their local authority. They have full democratic rights. The reason they turn to terrorism is because they do not like the results which democracy gives, so they are trying to oust democracy, to impose their law, [end p30] their will, because they do not like the results of democracy. Now that has to be made clear in the United States.

Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom - not belongs to it, it is part of the United Kingdom - because the majority of the people there wish it to do so. If I might say so, I think a considerable part of the minority do not like the intimidation but, you know, intimidation unfortunately is a very powerful weapon. It is the enemy of democracy and it is one of the problems we have to deal with in the world today.

But Northern Ireland terrorism is because they will not accept the results of democracy and that is why Charlie Haughey is just as “anti” the terrorist movement as we are, because he realises that they would then turn round against democracy in the Republic.

I have gone from your point. Please go on!

I again apologise for the length, but it is important to me, to get the meaning clear. [end p31]


Could I ask you one or two questions about governing?

You obviously enjoy governing. What is it? Can you tell us why you get such fulfilment out of being in charge of a great nation like Britain?

Prime Minister

It is not fulfilment about being in charge. It is fulfilment because of this enormous - I think it was a visionary task - this enormous thing upon which we are embarked.

You know my belief in the British character. In the end we believe there are more people who are decent and honourable than there are who have the other things. We are all imperfect, we all know that. There are more people who are decent and honourable and have the decent and honourable instincts and who know what they are doing is right, want their children to be taught what is right, want to do good to others as well as taking responsibility for yourselves. This is the British character and I remember being taught from really that high by my parents the one thing about Britain was you did not have to be told what to do - you could take the initiative, you were prepared to rise to your responsibilities and take the initiative. [end p32]

This is part of our character and it was really our character that shaped our history, the freedom, the Common Law, the equity, the fairness and our character eventually created our parliamentary institutions, and the fact was that after years of either pink socialism, getting pinker and pinker and redder and redder, that people were rejecting it or wanted to reject it because it was against this fundamental character, and I would say that part of shaping that character was a fundamental part of religious belief, because whether you take the Old Testament or the New Testament, it is the only religion which I know in the world that puts the emphasis on the dignity and responsibility and accountability of the individual, and you are accountable because you have freedom. It puts the emphasis on that and because it puts the emphasis on that, it looks at the accountability of two things: the accountability of a person because each person is precious, and it also has the accountability to nations. You have got them both, but it does not come from the New Testament only, it comes from the Old, and I believe that it is not necessarily that every person goes and practises their religious belief; it is what they accept is true and correct and right and that, in fact, was accepted, and it came out in its ordinary secular [end p33] manifestation as a sense of fairness and decency and rightness.

That whole thing had been overcome by this “The state will take care! The state will provide! It will mean taking more from you!” but they did not say that, “Taking more from someone else and the state will provide for you!”

I knew that was not right. I put it as deeply as that. It was not right for Britain. To me, it was not right for the dignity of the individual because it is only freedom and responsibility that will give you two things: first, dignity and meaning to life; and second, out of that freedom and responsibility yes, it will bring greater abundance in the Biblical term or higher prosperity in our term, and do not run away from higher prosperity or abundance because that, in part, is what life is about. You have life and have it in abundance. That is not materialism.

I had a job to do - not a job, a task. A task is more than a job. A task I have to keep. I had a task.


You have been given that task by the people. [end p34]

Prime Minister

Well, the task had fallen to me and my whole purpose has been to bring that to fruition and now I see it coming to fruition. No, I have not got rid of socialism permanently. We are getting there. In the same way, it is going to be difficult for Mr. Gorbachev to get rid of it permanently. My task was a small one, but I just did not have a job and liking for the use of power. I had a task - and I still have - and I will have to hand it on to someone.

My concern for the future is I believe so much in that task and I believe what I was trying to do struck a chord in the hearts of most people. Yes, they would grumble and grouse, don't we all? Yes, they would feel resentment, don't we all, when some smaller things go wrong? But what I was doing struck a chord.

Yes, they are distorted, of course they are, that is how I have to overcome it, but I did not just have a job and power - I had a task and it was a task founded on the things in which I fundamentally believed, and that is why I just carry on with the next and when you have a task you automatically turn to do the job next in hand, but all is furthering that and that is why now, in this Parliament, we are trying to enlarge opportunity, enlarge the liberty. [end p35]

Yes, the tax is still going down. We are taking always powers of government in many ways and the agencies of government. We are putting the schools more further to the people. We have to be doing that - the next thing as we go on - in the hospitals, because if you believe in the responsibility of people you are gradually delegating and diffusing and dispersing the power so long as people are prepared to take the responsibility for it.

So we are taking it away. Whether it is in taxation, whether it is education, we set the framework because we all have to agree on the rules by which to live. We set the framework and we set the minimum framework. Yes, it is more than it used to be because you have to have certain safety regulations in the highly dangerous technological world, certain respect for others and you then delegate the task of carrying it out nearer and nearer to the people and you give them more than responsibility. You give them the power to exercise that responsibility by saying that you can build up your own security because frankly, you have more security, more faith, when you have got the power to stand up against a government; the power that having your own home gives you; the power at having your own independence in money, that you build up your own [end p36] security and that power gives you responsibility, so it is all of a piece and it is only ten years and this is one reason why we denationalised. It is not an economic shibboleth - it is part of this. Governments do not know how to run industry. It is not their job to do it. People know how, so out! The moment you get governments sitting around doing that, they are running away from their more difficult tasks. So the industries out from government power, out! Shares to the people, out! I say to those people in Europe: “Stop talking about worker participation in decision management! Once they have got the opportunity, the talent, they will find their way up! Our worker participation is that we are each equal before democracy, we each have equal rights before the law. That is where you exercise your political participation, the rest is merit and our worker participation is giving them a chance for ownership. You are back in the Marxist era!” [end p37]


Can I interrupt you there, because I want to ask you a difficult question?

You say ten years. That, by world standards, by historical standards, is a very long time for a democratic prime minister to be in power and unfortunately, we know from history that power does tend to corrupt, it does tend to erode one's judgement, it does tend to make one get out of touch.

Do you consciously take any steps to try and avoid that erosion of power?

Prime Minister

You are going to the root of what I believe in. We are trying to get it out to the people but I consciously am in my constituency, I think, more than previous prime ministers have been. Yesterday, I was there. I will be in and have a very very busy day.

Let me just tell you, for example, what I did yesterday:

I went to open an old people's residence, not a home; it is for people who have come out of their own houses and they have a small flat and we are going to have to do more and more of this - an excellent one - and they were all there, forty-four of them, and their relatives [end p38] were there and in addition too, they are having a new smaller home so that people can come in who are looked after by their families. They can come in there for about six weeks, there is medical care, etc. That was the first thing. So I met there a lot of the old folk and their families and some of the people who look after them and some of the doctors.

We went from there down to something in my constituency which is a new software company. It has only been in existence for five years. It now has a turnover of £2 million. It is employing eighty people. It is right up in the modern technology. They employ a lot of people who actually have changed their jobs and been retrained and I was thrilled because I am told that we are still net importers of software. There they were, ordinary folk, started up, got new young people, training them, absolutely keen, full of enthusiasm.

An insurance company has come to my constituency, Abbey Life. It is the one originally started up by Mark Weinberg and started up only twenty-seven years ago and really helping us to say to people: “Look! While you are prosperous, you must make more provision for your retirement and these are the policies we have. You have seen what tragedies can occur. Just supposing that all of a sudden you had one of the terrible things like [end p39] multiple sclerosis or a tragedy and you had to retire early, then there is a policy for that. You can make provision for that, all kinds of policies!” and they are doing very well and I went to that. That has come and started up in my constituency.

It is in a series of new buildings where we had land previously that was not being used - the local authority was keeping it for some things that might arise. They have now sold it and it has had both flats on it and two new office blocks, so we were getting nice living accommodation and we had got more rateable things, all private enterprise. So that was three things.

Then I went up to my own constituency office and had my own surgery. Our surgery is an interview evening when constituents - I only take constituents - come either with their problems or they are lobbying for something is going on either in planning or in transport they come to see you about.

Then, I went from there to a very small reception where we had all the editors from our local papers - there are about five now - and the photographers and the reporters, so that I spent about an hour talking to them. [end p40]

And then, I went from there to where we opened a new Hindu cultural centre which has started in my constituency, because we have many many different groups in our constituency and they have got together. The Indian community are re-teaching our communities the reality and importance of family life, the excellence of teaching the traditions, of teaching excellence, their belief that good will triumph over evil, the tradition of excellence and the importance of family life, and they have now got their premises. They have got together, they have bought the lease of a building and I was there for the opening and I stayed there for well over an hour going round there.

That was one day in my constituency and that I do about once every three but sometimes on the fourth Friday. That is keeping in touch, being a good MP. It is deliberately keeping in touch and going round and I have a very heavy constituency correspondence.

Next Friday, we will be doing a regional tour and I will be going out and doing that.

I also keep in touch in many other ways. I keep my own contacts with industry. We have our big general receptions. We have people in from time to time. I am usually available for people who want to come and see [end p41] me, having got a particular message to put and if I might also say, because it does not happen to other prime ministers, not to many: the greatest way of keeping in touch is answering questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In Australia and in Canada the prime minister may be there every day at Question Time, but he can hand on the questions, every question, to someone else and say: “Well that is an education question, I will ask the Education Minister to take that! That is a health question, I will ask the Health Minister to take that!” I am there and I am penned there. It is only about a quarter of an hour to eighteen minutes. The only question I am going to be asked and given notice of on the Order Paper is: “What are your engagements today?” and then I have eighteen minutes. I do not know what they are going to be.

It will take me about four hours preparing for that the night before when have to think, if it is Monday night, what has been in the week-end press, what are the things on television because everyone wants to be topical, or radio, and there are certain figures which you automatically carry in your head and they are revised. And then each time there are about 25 percent which can be new. [end p42]

So the day before and the night before we will be going over it to see what we want and what extra information we need. That will take quite a lot of time. Early morning, I will be starting to listen, papers, radio, what is coming up, what are the complaints. I listen to that and then at nine o'clock we assemble, having done a digest of the papers, what extra information we are going to need.

Do you know, I learn more about what is going on in the other Departments and about the impact it is having! And then at 9.30 we carry on with the work of the morning. No lunch - just a bowl of soup or sandwiches on laps - and we go through from one o'clock going through again until I go in at 3.15.

I do not know of anyone else, any other prime minister, who has that. When I went to Spain and went down to Parliament to see them and of course I had seen all the Government so I did not need to see the Government, I needed to see the Opposition. So eleven leaders of the Opposition came in to see me, the other side, because there are eleven parties. Each came and made a little speech, each asked me three questions. I was there about two hours answering the questions and they were all there. When we came to the last person, [end p43] he finished up after his little speech and questions, just before I answered and said: “May we thank you for coming. For us it is very rare to have the chance to question a prime minister. We do not have much opportunity.” So I rocked backwards and said: “But, I am sure, don't you have it every week?” “No. In our system” - and one has to remember it is a new democracy - “the prime minister will come about three times a year, make a statement or a speech and go!” so they had never had the chance of questioning a prime minister.

When we get back after a European Council or after an Economic Summit, I not only go and make a statement, I am questioned on it for about fifty minutes to an hour, and I am out and about, as you know. When we have a terrible tragedy, of course I go; of course I do regional tours and so I do not find much difficulty in keeping in touch.

You know we live very modestly, of course we do. You are all right, you have come to our grand place which is marvellous but at home you know the flat is modest and we do not have anyone to cook. If we are there, all right, one just goes and grills something. [end p44]


I accept that you do make terrific efforts to keep in touch and no prime minister has ever worked harder than you do, we all know that. Can I ask you the other part of the question?

You have been enormously successful, you have won three elections in a row. No other prime minister has done that since Lord Liverpool.

Prime Minister

But Lord Liverpoolhe was a good prime minister!


Yes. Don't you sometimes think: “I must not let this go to my head! I must retain the spirit of humility!”?

Prime Minister

Oh, but I am not the heady person. It is not going to and I will tell you why it is never going to my head: because you have only got to look at the press - and they jolly well see it does not go to your head. I have far too much to do! And again, my creed is just to get things out. There is no danger of it going to my head. [end p45]

What I am concerned about is that I bring up enough young people and give them enough opportunity and experience so that when the time comes and I think: “Now look! People will be saying is it not time the old girl went?” I think I will know when that time comes. I am not likely to cling. I do not want office for the sake of power. I want it to make certain that the things which I believe in passionately will continue and that other people believe in them too and therefore I know - and I have been already thinking of it - I must see. It is not for me to put a mantel on any particular person, it is not for me to choose. It is for me to see that there are enough people there who have quite broad experience who I hope will carry on with the task which still has to be completed.

You see, we did not have the economic performance for years. Once Germany recovered from the post-war period she went ahead fast. France under de Gaulle went ahead fast. They did not have some of the problems that we had. And we are coming up fast, but we have still got to run faster than them for quite a number of years to come up to Germany and eventually overtake them. [end p46]

So I am constantly looking to see. In my mind, you know, there must be four or five who other people could choose from, and there are, but it gives me an extra problem, Paul JohnsonPaul, which you will know about. It does mean that because young people are always coming in, because they must have the chance that I had, you have got to move people out who are doing a really good job and they resent it sometimes and some understand.

But do not worry, it will not go to my head. It just will not!


I am not suggesting for a second, Prime Minister, that you ought to go, God forbid!

Prime Minister

I will be very wary of it and instantly if someone says “Why don't you go and do something?” it is almost my instinct “Oh no, no! That would be misinterpreted!”

But I do not have that kind of desire. [end p47]


No, I do not think you do, but I am just saying that as a historian, one does study long-lasting regimes and there is this process of fatigue and erosion that takes place. I just wondered if you were consciously taking steps to try and avoid that because I think it is very important.

Prime Minister

I am conscious of it, conscious of it in that I am constantly rejecting it if ever it comes up, but can I again put this to you:

First, our tradition has not been to have prime ministers for very long but on the Continent, you know, they have and Mitterrand will be there for fourteen years. That is only one. Austria kept Kreisky there for a very long time. Helmut Schmidt was there for quite a long time. They have a longer tradition, I think, than we have. Not tradition, but the point I was going to make to you and the reason I do not think it is so likely - I say in a country like this, because basically, beneath this sort of British character and sense of humour and tremendous courage and fundamental decency and rightness, there is quite a sensitivity. We are not a hard people and I do not know anyone in power who has built an armour around themselves because it is not possible. The media today is more intense than [end p48] it has ever been, more unbridled than it has ever been, more cruel and distorting than it has ever been, both sides of the Atlantic, and I do not think those tendencies therefore are anything like so dangerous as they used to be.

I think there is another thing which worries me, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic: that I think that the unbridled and sometimes distortion that you get and the probing that you get, whether it be after a calamity or the probing you get into every 42nd cousin or 142nd friend of anyone who is in power in fact is meaning not probing, but cruelty. “Cruelty” is not quite the right word. Distortion and the limelight that comes is, I think, stopping some people from coming forward.


In terms of press criticism, not long ago there was some considerable disappointment expressed by members of the press reflecting other opinions, that you had opposed any military action to destroy the chemical poison gas plant in Libya, a state that you referred to as being a terrorist state. [end p49]

Prime Minister

From where did you get that?

I had a question put to me by David Frost after the Pan-Am disaster. “Do you believe in eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth?” “No, of course I do not!” and therefore, if that had been a manifestation of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth following the Iranian plane, I would have said it was totally wrong. I would have said it was totally wrong to go and do something similar just because of that. That is what an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth means.

David Frost then went on to say: “Would you rule out completely …” and I have forgotten what it was … “if you were asked to do your bases?” I said: “No. I look at it in all of the circumstances at the time and I look at it then!” and I specifically kept that possibility in that answer … that is what we did over the Libyan …

Now, you can only have got the question which you put from a total and utter distortion of what I said. Now, you have made my point for me! I do not rule out these things. I did not. [end p50]


So there could be some circumstances under which …

Prime Minister

I do not rule out these things. If a request comes to me, I look at the request at the time. Is it, under all the circumstances, a reasonable request? Will it come within a legitimate self-defence? But you never go and hit out for the use of power. You have a reason to do it and the reason you would marshal under those circumstances, as came under the circumstances of Libya. There is no international law. We have a national law.

There is no international law and if we had not agreed to that then we would have been saying in my view to Gaddafi “You can go on and on with your state terrorism and there is no-one who dare defend themselves against you!” That was why I agreed. That is why I do not believe in an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I believer if you have to defend yourself against evil, you are entitled to do so under certain circumstances, but because you are using force and you are using force when you are imposing law at home - it is force of a different kind. It is only the state that can go and arrest a person, which is a kind of force, but you are doing it to keep a law. [end p51]

Yes, there are times when it is right to do it. War is a time when you have to resort to force and it is right to do it because, it is the lesser of two evils and that is why I went on and was asked that question and David Frost assumed what you would have assumed and asked me. I deliberately kept open the possibility.

Now, that distortion did not come from me! It is what we are up against, people jumping to a false conclusion because they have not examined everything.

Let me again repeat: what we did over the Libyan thing I believe was right.


The hostages that are being held by Middle Eastern terrorists, how satisfied are you that Western governments, including your own, are pursuing the right policies to secure their release?

Prime Minister

I am absolutely certain that we are right never to pay ransom in any from for them. Those people are acting in a totally uncivilised way, and we must not resort to doing anything which would give them any reason for taking more hostages whatsoever. They just must be pilloried for doing it. [end p52]

You have touched upon a question which is common both to that and to how we have to fight terrorism in Northern Ireland and this is the fundamental question: that when you are only on your national law, you have a means to fight terrorism. You do not always succeed because you cannot always find them. You have a means in a way of when you get the evidence you can arrest and bring them to trial and you can, if they are found guilty, put them in prison.

There is not an international law to enable you to do that, but you also come up against a difficulty in national law because the intimidation practised by those people is so great - and you get intimidation in other spheres too - that they dare not give evidence, so you are stopped from letting your national law operate properly.

That is acutely difficult. We have had some difficulties but how far are you going to go on to fight terrorism by taking further means, and my belief is that it is our duty is to fight terrorism.

The reasoning you use is this: that the people who fight [use?] terrorism recognise no law, recognise no right of their fellow human beings. They therefore cannot expect to be treated in precisely the same way as [end p53] a person who does uphold all those rights and that is why in wartime with certain people here you did not operate under your national law, you went outside it and took an emergency power to intern those people outside the normal law of the land - it became the law of the land and the reasoning was that people who recognise no sanctity of the human being, who are prepared to take away all people's liberties, life, must not necessarily expect to be treated in the same way as others when they are such a danger to others that you have to make special rules about them.

That is why we have special courts in Northern Ireland and that is why we went and said to the television electronic media - because the electronic media are the most powerful media ever known to man - that those people should not have the right to appear fully to explain their case on television themselves. You can listen to them and report it but not have this most powerful &dubellip; most people fully understood what we were doing. [end p54]

It was in defence of the liberties of people who uphold liberties, and others will go further and say we should go to internment. I say that is quite a long way down the road. I will do other things as much as I can first. But do not forget they use intimidation and murder to stop evidence and the way in which they treat their own people has nothing to do with freedom or a rule of law.

Internationally, we all have to pillory those nations and make it quite clear that any nation who does that … on Libya we had the evidence of state terrorism, on the others it is much more difficult &dubellip; and I am afraid in the Lebanon you have no law and practically no country.


This is going wonderfully. I do want to just perhaps briefly shift to Asia.

Do you have any misgivings about the handling of Hong Kong, looking to 1997? What does make you feel, I assume, that it will remain free and democratic thereafter, that there will be press freedom under the new arrangement? [end p55]

Prime Minister

First, can I say we had no option but to do what we did because 95&pcnt; of the territory was under a lease which expired in 1997, so unless we had done what we did we had absolutely nothing.

The Chinese, as you know, said the old treaties were done under a kind of duress which I think was not technically possible. Never mind! The lease expired in 1997 of all but 5&pcnt; of the territory and unless we had negotiated when we did, we would have had no power to help to keep the way of life which has been so fruitful both to them and also for China.

I think the first thing is that I have noticed this about the communist nations: when they negotiate internationally, they like to be seen to be upholding treaties that they have reached internationally. Arms, weapons, are a different thing because you have got all sorts of technicalities there. Here, they have freely negotiated.

It took a long time. We went into things very deeply and tried to teach them what we believed about how things should be run, but I believe that unlike the last treaty, they freely negotiated this; they were willing for it to be accepted in the United Nations and I think it is a very important point for China that her integrity and respectability can be manifested and can be seen. [end p56]

Second, it is in China's interest that the prosperity of Hong Kong be retained.

You have got two very different things and they are both powerful. One goes to reputation which is important; the other goes to the actual interest.

Thirdly, Deng Xiaoping's genius in saying “One country - two systems” and we are all very much aware that it is one country with one system with a tiny little extra system there and that that he can take from Hong Kong and Macao and it can be useful, and it is not really a threat to the whole lot, but eventually I think that they are having a number of economic zones, they are extending this to the coast but put it intellectually all right for the rest of them.

And fourthly, because we have a liaison committee at the moment and all of a sudden during those negotiations they suggested - which we welcomed - they either agreed or suggested, one or two of the others they agreed, that that liaison committee with us on it should continue for three years after 1997.

And the final one, because we have quite a lot of time going up to that during which I think they are learning a different thing and I asked Deng Xiaoping [end p57] this and I do not think his staff had heard the reply before - it is one of those things that comes out when you are cross-examining “Why fifty years? Could we not have a hundred? Why fifty To us, if you think it goes on for fifty, you would think that it would persist afterwards!” He said: “Look! After fifty years, there is some chance that in our economic zones behind or in our bigger cities, that we might have some chance of coming up to a much higher standard of living, particularly the way that we are going with enlarged freedom so that there would not be such a difference between the standard of living in Hong Kong and in the adjacent territories or big cities and therefore you would then almost have achieved a smooth transition without any kind of provision for it!”

So what I am saying is we did the very best we could and it was a good “best”. I do not think it could have been done without Deng Xiaoping, but all the others were there. The younger ones were part of the negotiations, Xichang (phon) very very good, part of the negotiations, and for that reason.