Commentary (The Times)

South Africa: "Cameron disowns Thatcher's policy on apartheid" (ANC not terrorists)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 28 Aug 2006
Journalist: Philip Webster, The Times , reporting
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 299 words
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Conservatism

Cameron disowns Thatcher's policy on apartheid


DAVID CAMERON has provoked anger among traditionalist Conservatives with an attack on Margaret Thatcher’s policy towards the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

He said that she was wrong to have branded Nelson Mandela ’s African National Congress as ‘terrorists’, as he sought to put further distance between himself and the Thatcher era.

Writing in The Observer, the Tory leader praised the former South African President — who he met in Johannesburg last week — as one of the greatest men alive. “The mistakes my party made with respect to relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now,” he wrote. “The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC, it is because of them — and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.”

Mr Cameron, who has already contradicted Baroness Thatcher’s claim that “there is no such thing as society”, irritated her allies. The Observer quoted Sir Bernard Ingham , her former spokesman, as saying: “I wonder whether David Cameron is a Conservative.”

Lady Thatcher’s policy was also defended by Lord Tebbit , her former party chairman, who said that Mr Cameron had failed to understand what had happened. “Because of his age, Mr Cameron is looking at these events as part of history. Others of us who lived through them and had input into the discussions at the time see things very differently,” he said.

In the 1980s Lady Thatcher caused controversy when she refused to back sanctions against South Africa. In 1987 she said that anyone who believed the ANC would ever rule South Africa was “living in cloud-cuckoo land”.

Note by site editor

The widely-quoted “cloud-cuckoo land” remark attributed to MT at the end of this article is apocryphal. As far as can be traced she never made a public comment even similar to this.

Rather the origin of the quote appears to be a response by her press spokesman, Bernard Ingham, on 16 October 1987 at the Vancouver Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. A Canadian journalist speculated that the African National Congress might overthrow the white South African regime, to which he replied: “It is cloud cuckooland for anyone to believe that could be done.” (See Washington Post, 17 Oct 1987.) Something similar can be found in an article by Hella Pick in The Guardian, 16 Oct 1987, reporting the comment in indirect speech and focussing on the role played by Bernard Ingham during the CHOGM. "To expect the ANC to overthrow apartheid by force is cloud cuckoo land".

Years later the words were modified and attributed to MT by Hugo Young, who claimed that she had said at Vancouver: “Anyone who thinks that the ANC is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”. (See The Guardian, 26 Apr 1994.) In that form they became part of the journalistic record.