FREEDOM: THE BELIEF THAT MOTIVATES MRS THATCHER
Last month’s “tough” immigration speech - dubbed by her opponents as shameless political expediency - was not, she believes, too tough. “I have consistently tried to limit the inflow of immigrants, as has my housing spokesman, Hugh Rossi, whose London constituency has a high immigrant population.
“Because a high proportion of them are young and likely to have families, we must expect an increase on present numbers as it is. How can we meet our obligations to those already living here unless we restrict the entry of fresh immigrants?”
Speaking as she later admitted, “with unusual frankness”, she discussed her attitude to unofficial strikes, school literacy, the National Front, egalitarianism, the Budget and, on a more personal level, her feelings about her public image and about journalists.
In clothing the bones of political debate with a personal vision, the Opposition Leader’s views, taken together, constitute a singular statement of faith; of a future Thatcher government.
The iron in her speeches was as vital to the nation’s political health as it was to its corporate bloodstream. Appeasement as distinct from serious negotiation - emasculated domestic no less than foreign policy; an axiom that applied as much to managements as to politicians. “Because unofficial strikes do such damage, an employer should make his maximum offer to the union officials and NOT to the unofficial strike leaders.
“If, after making such an offer, management gets an unofficial strike and gives in to the militants, they will have made the union leaders lose face and will forfeit their trust. It’s very important that we work with the official trade unions. Good trade unionism is an integral part of Tory policy”.
It was in the home and the school that a child had its first opportunity to acquire the team spirit and sense of fair play that characterised the good trade unionist - civic virtues that were hardly fostered by falling educational standards. “We haven’t had nearly enough visits from school inspectors to monitor progress”, said Mrs Thatcher.
“We need to increase choice and have smaller schools where the staff know one another and know their pupils. Education would also be improved if we got parents more interested in what is being taught in our schools. Let’s have more of them in parent-teacher associations and on school governing bodies. They pay, after all, £8 thousand million a year for their children’s education, and the politicians must remember that they are accountable to parents as to how that money is spent; they must never ride roughshod over people’s feelings”.
“Free choice is ultimately what life is about, what ethics is about. The whole of the case for freedom is a moral case since it involves choice. Do away with choice and you do away with human dignity. That is why I hate all forms of political extremism.
“Communism and the National Front both seek the domination of the individual by the state. Because they both crush the rights of the individual, they seem to me to be parties of a similar kind. Not that I would ban them; we’ll beat them into the ground on argument.
“Ours is a positive creed; in its philosophical beliefs it is a very ancient creed. We seek to promote, not destroy, the uniqueness of the individual. Marxism, based on a false notion of egalitarianism, promotes class conflict and an economic system into which people have to be fitted. It’s not for Britain. Egalitarianism, what does it mean? Does it mean that we must all have equal incomes? If so, who would work to produce more for themselves?
“From saying we are all equal, it’s only a small step to saying that we can’t make choices for ourselves, and that the Government must make them for us. What’s egalitarian about that? It produces the worst inequality of all. It produces two classes:the politically powerful and the politically powerless, the class that has to do as it’s told. Ours is the creed for Britain; we return the choice to the people.”
Which, said the Tory leader with quiet passion, was precisely what the present government had failed to do. “People should have more of their own money to spend as they wish. In Harold Macmillan’s time the government was taking about 40 per cent of the national product. On the same calculation, this lot are taking about 55 per cent. That’s a tremendous slice and means that the state is deciding for us how more and more of our money is spent, which is leaving us with fewer decisions - fewer choices - than ever.
“Wherever I go, people say to me: ‘look at the beginning of my payslip; it’s quite a good wage. But look at the end and see what I’ve got left’. They want less of their money to go to the Government, and would rather have a lower social wage - what the government gives in benefits and kind - and a bigger spending wage left in their pay packet.”
Was that why, within the present budgetary framework, she would use giveaways to reduce tax rather than, say, the Land Commission? “Yes, but don’t forget they’re going to have to borrow the money for every single hand-out they’ve made to us. They’ve put up their borrowing to ‘give’ something away. That doesn’t make any more sense for a government than for you or me.”
What, then, would she do to stimulate the economy? “You bring home to the people that they can only have more in real terms if they produce more. You tell them there is so much to be allocated to the wage costs in their organisation. So, if they want a lot of people employed there, they must each have less, restrictive practices lead to restricted wages. But, if you avoid overmanning, you must have a parallel policy of expansion to take up the unemployment.
“But how are you going to have expansion when there’s no incentive for anyone to make things grow? The stories your father used to print were: ‘Local Boy Makes Good.’ But these days, if he does make good, he’s taxed out of existence and goes elsewhere! That’s why we’ve got our small businesses section and the CBI working on the legislative changes they need to enable them to go faster. Once you’ve made room in public expenditure, you can cut taxes and give people the incentive to go.”
How, on a more personal note, had Britain’s second most talked-about woman coped with the image, project by her political opponents, of a lady who would only appeal to the flower-hatted middle-class part of the electorate? “By just not being that sort of person. I had a very ordinary background, probably a lot more ordinary than many of their own Front Bench. They’ve never been able to forgive me for it, and therefore tried to put out a totally false picture of me.”
But what was the correct view of her? Was she always as self-possessed as she seemed? Was she afraid, in public, of showing too much emotion? “No I’m not”, Mrs Thatcher answered disarmingly, “but I do tend to naturally keep cool.”
Was she a feminist? “No I think they’ve become far too strident, and have done great damage to the cause of women by making us out to be something that we’re not. You don’t say: ‘I must get on because I’m a woman.’ You should say you must get on because you have the right talents for the job. The moment you exaggerate, you defeat your case.”
She was reputed to have no particular love for journalists - was that perhaps an overreaction? “I don’t think so”, she said, laughing. “When I was Minister of Education, several educational journalists made it abundantly clear how much they disagreed with my views. In the event, they were proved wrong and I was proved right. No one likes that, do they? Still”, she said “we’re over that now. We still live in an open society, and my concern is to retain press freedom, not to limit it.”
If she were in power today, what would be the two most important innovations she would make? “First, we would go for an incentive economy. If you have an extra skill, if you take responsibility, if you can innovate, you’re the person we need to keep here; otherwise, the rest of us won’t get an increased standard of living. Second, we would strengthen the forces of law and order. Unless we can move about without fear, all the prosperity in the world won’t help us.”
And, if Labour were still in power in 1984, how would she see the country being run? “My fear is that we should have such a socialist state by then that people would be almost afraid to vote for another party for fear of losing their jobs. I would still have enough faith in the British people to surmount that. “I think most of them are fed up with a Labour Government, not only because of tax but because it is draining our initiative and damaging the spirit of Britain. People want their children to have the best of their inheritance. And so do I.”
By Robert Eddison