BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lady Thatcher, can you tell us how you wrote this book?
MARGARET THATCHER (Author, "The Downing Street Years"): Yes. I had to decide first if I wanted to do it in one volume or two. I had already thought that the first thing I must do is to tell the story of the years when I was in 10 Downing Street. They were exciting years. They were purposeful years. We changed the entire economy; we had the Falklands War to fight; we had the Libyan raid; we had the end of the Cold War; we had the Gulf -- how should I do it? And so I thought, instead of telling it in enormous detail, as some people do almost a diary of every day, I would take the main themes and follow them through and try to put them in a time frame of the three elections which I fought.
So the first thing I had to do was to get the whole structure of the chapters right, and then I sat down and wrote as much as I could remember about each, without, in fact, referring to documents, making a note of what I needed to look up. And then, for accuracy, there were masses and masses of documents which must be consulted. Every meeting I had with a foreign statesman or, indeed, with an internal minister was documented, and what was said in the interview and what was concluded. Also, we had to look up, where there was an archivist, some of the reporting in the newspapers the times that we had exciting question times in the House and the times when we had exciting debates. So the volume of paperwork was enormous.
Gradually, it came down to writing each and every chapter, partly dictated, partly written and then assembled and then rewritten and rewritten and rewritten to get it to flow. I was very lucky with some things because after the end of the Falklands it had been such a deep, agonizing experience that the following Christmas I sat down and wrote it up while all the memories were very fresh in my mind. So that is perhaps particularly vivid. And then as I went I wrote up some other special occasions -- if we had a particularly difficult one, in negotiating finance with Europe; if I had a particularly difficult problem when someone resigned -- all of these were written up.
But apart from that, I was on official records, the sort of thing that a biographer would have.
But I knew as I went through them -- I looked at all of these rather clinically, beautifully phrased and drafted minutes and cabinet minutes and conclusions, but no biographer could have gotten, really, any flavor from that -- of the sense of battle we had in some of the meetings, the sense of debate, the sense of argument. So I became an absolute convert to the person themselves who had gone through all the experiences writing the book. It's now in the one volume so it can be read without too much difficulty. It would be a little bit much to read in bed -- a little bit heavy, perhaps -- but otherwise it can be read as one volume.
LAMB: One of the first things that caught my eye when I read the book was that you can exist on four hours of sleep a night. How do you do that?
THATCHER: You can, provided that about one day a week you do have a night when you can just have longer if you wish. But you know, it becomes so much a habit that you find you can't sleep very much longer.
LAMB: You talk about one of your trips to the States when you addressed the Congress, and that you were up until 4 o'clock in the morning working with what you call in Britain an Autocue -- we call it a TelePrompter -- working on your speech. And you were on an early-morning television show.
THATCHER: About half past 6, yes.
LAMB: How did you do that? How do you do that and stay clear-headed?
THATCHER: I did it because it had to be done. Whatever has to be done, you somehow find the energy to do. To address Congress was the biggest thing that had happened to me, and I knew that Ronald Reagan, when he did it, was absolutely superb, a real professional, and he used the Autocue, or TelePrompter. It is so much better to use it; otherwise you are looking down at your notes. If you've got a TelePrompter, then you are looking up and you may go from one TelePrompter to another, but your eyes never leave the audience. I wasn't as skilled at it as he was so I had to practice, and, in fact, we borrowed his Autocue. But I arrived from the VC10 quite late at the embassy, and they had set up the Autocue.
And you know, when you actually read through a speech for speaking, as distinct from for drafting, you frequently find you have to change it. For drafting, for reading, you've got the sentences too long. For speaking they must be shorter, and you actually change the final version quite a bit while you're actually doing the rehearsal with the Autocue. It was very, very late, and I got one or two very complicated sentences which had to be just honed down, and we did it. I think I had only about an hour-and-a-half's sleep because it was more important to have my head on than to have an extra hour's sleep. Then we went and it went quite well, so I was quite pleased.
LAMB: When you used to do the House of Commons "Question Time," was that scripted?
THATCHER: Scripted -- no, it couldn't possibly be because you didn't know what the questions were going to be. The original questions to the prime minister would run something like this: "Will the prime minister give the House details of her official engagements today, one after the other." That developed as the question to ask of the prime minister, and then it couldn't give you any clue to the supplementary question, which was the real sting: "Will you find time today to look at my hospital" or see about this particular complaint, to deal with some particular international incident. You know, for every "Question Time," which only lasted under 20 minutes, I would take about four hours' preparation, trying to spot what the questions would be, because they liked to catch me up with the latest topical question. Then immediately you had to think of a response -- question, immediate response -- so it really is what we would call being quick on your feet and having a quick response time.
LAMB: In the preparation of this book, did your publisher ever say anything to you like, "You've got to put personal things in there or this book won't sell"?
THATCHER: He did say, "Look, try to put personal recollections because that makes it human." Anyway, you don't need urging to do that, because so many of the things occur because you either get on very well with some one or you've had a breakthrough in negotiations or you've had a difficulty or a problem. This is the very stuff of politics. It's the very stuff of negotiations.
LAMB: This isn't politics, but let me read to you something that is in the book: "Being prime minister is a lonely job. In a sense it ought to be; you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend."
THATCHER: All of that is true because, yes, it is lonely and there are times when you are down in the dumps. There are times when things don't go right, particularly in politics, and you've just got to have your husband there, whose loyalty and affection are just unquestioned, and also can give you quite good advice -- "Don't get things out of proportion," which is very, very important because sometimes a small thing can get completely out of proportion. And so at the end of the day I might have returned from the House of Commons at about 11 o'clock, and he perhaps would be up in the flat. There is a small flat at the top of Number 10 -- not a grand flat at all, nothing like the White House -- small, in the rafters. We had no housekeeper, no cook; we just had a daily help in -- help in the morning.
So in the evening I just used to go and get supper ready if neither of us had it -- a very light supper. And we'd just sit down and talk for an hour or so, to let one's hair down and perhaps to get an outside view. He was in industry himself, very well known. He was in the oil and chemical industry, in contact with all industries -- frequently, his services called upon to either give advice to others or to speak at the industrial dinners -- and he always kept off politics and spoke about what he knew. He never had an interview. He wouldn't. He never had a political secretary. He wrote himself between 30 and 50 replies every week to letters he'd had from the public. And after the "Dear Bill" letters which appeared in Private Eye, from Denis to Bill, though Denis hadn't written them, but that's the way the newspaper played it, he seemed to be the nation's favorite correspondent. So, really, I was terribly lucky. He was always there.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
THATCHER: We were married in 1951 -- 42 years.
LAMB: Has he given an interview since you stepped down from being prime minister?
LAMB: Do you think he ever will?
THATCHER: I doubt it.
LAMB: I've got a lot of little things I wrote down, and I'm just going to read them to you and get your response. "Mrs. Gandhi," meaning Indira Gandhi, "was also -- perhaps it is not just myth to see this as a female trait -- immensely practical." Are only women immensely practical?
THATCHER: I think that we tend to be much more practical because, in addition to doing the job as prime minister, there is usually a house to run, a lot of decisions to be made and, therefore, you come to make the practical decisions quickly, keep everything tidy and keep everything within a pretty tight time-table. I notice exactly the same things with Mrs. Gandhi, and she would get up and do quite a lot of things herself. She would get up and fetch and carry things and so on. If she wanted something, she would go and get it. She also, I think, was very lonely, as she hadn't a husband. She had two sons, and one was killed, as you know, in an air accident. Then her other son, who hadn't been so interested in politics, really had the mantle of politics falling upon him.
Mrs. Gandhi, as you know, was assassinated one terrible morning. I'd had a letter from her three weeks before -- because three weeks before her assassination there had been an attempt on me with the Brighton bomb; not only on me but on my cabinet too. She wrote such a charming letter saying, "It's absolutely terrible that these things should happen in democracy." And three weeks later she herself had been assassinated. And then, of course, Rajiv came to be prime minister. I knew him well, and he was assassinated in an election campaign. So I just feel a special bond with that family. They did wonderful things for India, and Mrs. Gandhi really cared about every single thing she did. She was such a charming woman, as well as being a very effective prime minister.
LAMB: You mentioned Brighton, in 1984. What happened?
THATCHER: What happened was that Thursday night I am always up very late because my main speech -- the end of the conference, the big rally speech -- is on the Friday. You can't turn up with the speeches being carefully drafted before you arrive, although some sections will have been drafted, but the thing changes, the atmosphere changes, some of the issues perhaps take a different turn and you always have a very long evening on the Thursday. First, you've had to go out to a special ball for the funds for the agents who look after political affairs in the constituency, and you get back about half-eleven and then do the final run on the speech.
It was a particularly difficult one that year, and it was about quarter to three when I had finished. One or two people who had been helping were just dispersing from my room, and my civil service secretary came in and said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but there is a decision I simply must have by 8 o'clock tomorrow morning, and therefore I think you must look at these papers now." I looked at them very quickly -- I knew what it was about -- and gave him the decision he needed. That was quarter to three. At ten minutes to three the bomb went off, just as he was leaving and taking it back to his room. I thought at first that it was a bomb in a car outside. Denis had already gone to bed. I dashed into his bedroom, and he was already up and wondering what had happened.
Then it sounded as if there was a second one, which you can quite often get. As I knew later, that wasn't so. What had happened was, it wasn't a car bomb outside; it was a bomb in a bathroom directly above our suite, three or four floors above, which in fact had taken out a whole section of the hotel above us, which had gone right up into the air. The second apparent bomb was just the whole thing collapsed and came down with enormous thuds on top of the existing building. Fortunately, the lights in my suite stayed on, although the windows came in and one or two other things happened. I went across the corridor where my girls had been doing the finish-typing on my speech to see that they were all right. One had gotten a shock from one of the electric typewriters; the other one said, "I've got the speech, Mrs. Thatcher. It's all right. I've still got the speech. I'm just typing it" -- instant reaction, you know; the thing that matters is tomorrow's speech. Marvelous, wasn't it?
Gradually, the people who had been in my room earlier came down again to my room, and we began to find some people missing. We were told to stay where we were by my detectives and then told that we could try to find a way out. We tried one way, and very soon came across some firemen in a staircase that just had gone. We couldn't get out that way, and we were told to go back where we had come from, which we did again and waited. And then we were told we could try another way, and we did, which took us out through the main hall. Then for the first time we saw the enormity of the damage. The whole of the front part of the hall was filled with rubble, just where the main entrance was, and we naturally wondered then immediately as to whether we had lost some lives.
We began to look for people whom we knew, hoping that they had already gotten out of the building and gone to the police station. The air was full of cement dust -- you know, you could taste it in your teeth and everything else -- and a kind of fog hung on the air. I was still in an evening dress. I hadn't changed. Denis had put a suit quickly over his pajamas, and we were driven at breakneck speed from the back of the hotel to the police station. Gradually, people began to assemble there, and then we saw the some that were missing. I went out to say something to television and to inquire whether we could still carry on the conference the next morning. We didn't know then whether the main conference section had been affected or not.
By about 5 o'clock they were urging me to get back to London, thinking the better if I were out of the place. I said, "No, I am staying. I want to carry on the next morning, if we can." We went over to a police college, which had had a conference there which, fortunately, had ended, so there were several rooms where we could just have about an hour-and-a-half's sleep, and then I got up. We hadn't any night clothes or anything. As I got up the next morning someone had turned on the television, and we saw Norman Tebbit being lifted out of the rubble, and then we knew how many people there were missing.
Of course, there were five people killed and many severely injured. Margaret Tebbit, Norman's wife, is still paralyzed to this day. I found the police and said was there any hope of starting the conference, and he said yes, the conference hall was all right. I said, "We must go in immediately back to Brighton" -- we were about seven or eight miles out -- "because I simply must walk on that platform at 9:30, which is the time the conference starts." In the hotel next door that had also been cleared because they thought there might be another bomb there, people had been in their night clothes. I was lucky I was still in day clothes, or evening clothes, and I had seized a suit before we left the hotel.
So, Alistair McAlpine was our very able treasurer and had a very bright idea. At 7 o'clock he rang up the local manager of Marks & Spencer's, among our famous chain stores, as you know, and said, "Look, you know what's happened. People haven't really got any respectable clothes to go into the conference. Could you open up the store?" So all the officials and the voluntary side of the party went, and all turned up on the platform, beautifully turned out in Marks & Spencer's outfits. I walked on the platform from one side at 9:30, and they from the other, and at 9:30 the conference restarted -- everyone determined we weren't going to be put off by terrorist bombs. Democracy would prevail, and so it did.
LAMB: Let me ask you two little things. In the middle of your discussion in the book about that, you say that you and your aide Crawfie -- and I want to ask you about her -- "knelt down and prayed." The reason I want to ask you about that is, did you think that there were other bombs coming?
THATCHER: We knew that we had a lot of people missing. We didn't know there'd be other bombs coming in the hall or anyone -- we knew there were a lot of people missing. That's why we prayed. What else can one do under those circumstances?
LAMB: Who is Crawfie?
THATCHER: Crawfie has been with me for a very long time. She is more than a personal assistant; she is just so indispensable. She also works for Lord Wolfson, because Lord Wolfson came to work for me when I was at Downing Street, and then Crawfie works also for me and for him. She's really a great friend of the family. She is just absolutely indispensable. She knows exactly what to do under almost all circumstances. She's always cheerful; she can always encourage; she can always keep a due sense of proportion; she is always welcome wherever in the world she goes.
LAMB: You write often in the book about Chequers. What is Chequers?
THATCHER: Chequers is the name of the prime minister's country house. It was given to the nation by a gentleman called Lord Lee, who had an American wife, and they had this beautiful home. He was in the cabinet of the World War I cabinet, and when Lloyd George was made our prime minister during World War I, Lord and Lady Lee realized that it was a different kind of prime minister. For the first time there was a prime minister without a country home, and they thought a prime minister should have a country home. They had no children, so they actually refurnished the house with nice antiques. There were some beautiful things there, but they had extra things moved in and nice pictures. Then they themselves moved out and gave it to the nation as a place of rest and recreation for prime ministers forever. It's a lovely country house and beautiful grounds. You do a lot of entertaining of other statesmen there. George and Barbara Bush stayed one weekend with us. It tends to be sought after by other prime ministers and chancellors. They like to come to Chequers. It was there, of course, that I first brought Mr. Gorbachev and Raisa Gorbachev to meet them, because it's the atmosphere of a country house -- in winter, big log fires -- and just lovely.
LAMB: How far is it from London?
THATCHER: About an hour-and-a-quarter driving time.
LAMB: Let me read you something that I wrote down: "Our advice at this time was that Mrs. Gorbachev was a committed, hard-line Marxist; her obvious interest in Hobbes' Leviathan, which she took down from the shelf in the library, might possibly have confirmed that." Did you notice her picking ...?
LAMB: No, my husband was up in the library with her while I was talking to Mr. Gorbachev. But you know, she is a great philosopher herself. She read philosophy, and I think Denis took her around and showed her the treasures of the library, and some she was very interested in. Perhaps we attach particular significance to Hobbes' Leviathan. It did seem at that time that she was a very, very hard-line Communist and more so than Mr. Gorbachev. As I wrote in the book, it was much later that I learned that she had reason not to be a hard-line Communist. Her grandfather was a farmer -- what is known as a kulak. They were quite big farmers -- not enormous farms; not landed estates -- but they had bought other farms and were farming very well. He had quite a good-sized farm, and Stalin came, as his officials went to other people with land, to dispossess them of it at gunpoint. Mrs. Gorbachev's grandfather refused. He said, "No, I have a wife and four children. I employ many people on this farm. We farm this farm well, and I am going to continue to do that." And in accordance with Stalin's communism, he was therefore shot. Mrs. Gorbachev's mother was one of the four children, so she knew the awfulness of communism.
LAMB: Did either one of them speak English?
THATCHER: Mrs. Gorbachev understood some English, Mr. Gorbachev didn't and I didn't speak Russian, so we spoke through interpreters.
LAMB: You remembered two Russian proverbs that came out of the mouth of Mr. Gorbachev. I want to read the two of them. I don't know if you remember this from the book: "Once a year even an unloaded gun can go off."
THATCHER: That's what he said in connection with nuclear weapons, yes.
LAMB: How did you remember that? Did you go and write it down after you heard it from him?
THATCHER: Oh, but it was not a thing you would forget. But don't forget, I was through interpreters there, and the interpreter wrote everything down. There was automatically a report of the conversations, because they are official conversations. That was about armaments, that was the official conversations, so there is a full account, yes, to refer to afterwards.
LAMB: Another proverbs was, "Mountain folk cannot live without guests any more than they can live without air. But if the guests stay longer than necessary, they choke." Do you remember that one?
THATCHER: Yes, I remember that one, because he had stayed much longer than he had intended, which was of great joy to us because we were all getting along very well. He was quite a different kind of Communist. You've seen him on television; you've seen that he's ebullient, effervescent, that he loves debating. He is a very active person. He's full of bonhomie, and it was just a delight. He was quite different from any other Communist we'd ever met.
LAMB: Are you different in a setting like Chequers, where you're there with a Mr. Gorbachev or a Ronald Reagan, than you are, say, when we see you out in public? If so, how are you different?
THATCHER: I think you're more relaxed. You're at home and you're in a country house, and you welcome guests to the country house. There is just something very special about that. It's much less formal than 10 Downing Street, just in the same way as Camp David, which is a different kind of country house, is much less formal than the White House. I've been to Camp David many times. Camp David is several log cabins, and they're rather beautiful log cabins, whereas Chequers is a traditional country house built in Tudor times in the 17th century.
LAMB: You do, though, point out in your book that at the first G7 in, I think, Ottawa, that President Reagan was so amicable that he used everyone's first name.
LAMB: But they called for informal dress, and you didn't like that.
THATCHER: No. We were at what is called a very big log cabin hotel, Montebello, not far from Ottawa, which was lovely. They had done everything possible to make it very nice for us, and it was. But I think that when you're going to a summit of heads of state in government, your own people expect you to be formally dressed. And so, though we were asked to be informal, I much, myself, preferred to be wearing a suit, just as I would normally.
LAMB: "His style of work and decision-making was apparently detached and broad-brushed, very different from my own" -- Ronald Reagan. Those are your words. What's the difference in the style of working between you and Ronald Reagan?
THATCHER: Ronald Reagan knew exactly the broad general direction in which he wished to go -- so did I -- but I had to do things in much more detail; first, because I was concerned to see that policies stood up not only in the general terms but would stand up in the particular detail. They can often fail in the detail. So I often did a lot of cross-examination of the ministers about that. Second, unlike the president of the United States, I was answering questions in the House of Commons twice a week, and I would be asked about details, so I had to know it. The president of Congress doesn't go down to be asked questions -- not in full, open session. He goes down to address the House. He doesn't then have a leader of the opposition getting up and criticizing or anything like that. So it's a very different system, and it was necessary that I knew much more detail in order to carry on the job.
LAMB: You referred to a hot line between you and the White House. Is there a telephone or is it a teletype? How do you communicate in times of crisis?
THATCHER: There are two. There is a telephone, and also, if you want a document over in detail, there is a written hot line.
LAMB: Did you use it very often?
THATCHER: No, I don't think these things ought to be used very often. But I sometimes received a very welcomed call at difficult times from Ronald Reagan, who was very, very thoughtful.
LAMB: Did you ever have a strong disagreement with Ronald Reagan behind the scenes?
THATCHER: No, I don't think so, though at times when, as in Falklands, he wanted me to do something and I said, "Certainly not." But there was never any tension between us.
LAMB: What was it about the relationship that created that atmosphere?
THATCHER: The fact that I knew and he knew that we were working for the same purposes and for the same ends and often by the same methods. That's just a great thing to know, that the greatest nation in the world has the same view of the philosophy of life, the philosophy of liberty, of justice and of democracy that you do.
LAMB: You say, "Looking back, it is now clear to me that Ronald Reagan's original decision on SDI was the single most important of his presidency." Why?
THATCHER: Because that was the one which made the Russians understand that they could never keep up with the technology of the United States. They just hadn't the computer capability, and they knew full well that we then were going into a level of technology which they couldn't emulate, so there was no point in them trying to pursue their ends by being the strongest superpower in the world and by threatening others with their powers. That was the end of that particular dream.
LAMB: When did you get a sense that the wall was going to come down and that the Russians were going to back off the communism and the whole thing would fall apart?
THATCHER: In '89 the wall came down. I don't think that one actually had the sense that it would come down until you saw those remarkable people crumbling it down with their hands and hammers. It was just fantastic. You know, in most kinds of revolutions it is all of a sudden there is a wave of something and the people do it, and there is nothing that can stop that flood or that tide of feeling. It was just fantastic. I had been to see the wall some years before and was really rather horrified -- totally horrified. You got up and looked across, and there were dogs patrolling the interim part. You went to see the river where many people tried to swim across to safety and some were shot. It was everything that one has come to associate with the tyranny maintained by force which had no respect for human life, dignity or liberty. That wall was full of drawings, marks, messages and everything, and when it was actually clawed down it was just marvelous. We really, one felt, ought to have stopped it from going up in the early '60s when it did, but it wasn't done. It was the people who brought it down, and that's the wonderful thing about it.
LAMB: What do you think of the future?
THATCHER: The future of what?
LAMB: The future of the world. In other words, based on all the stuff that we went through and the experiences of the last 40 or 50 years since World War II, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
THATCHER: That depends how we approach it. After every war -- and this was a cold war which sometimes was hot, as you know, in Korea and in Vietnam, but the final battles were cold; they weren't open military battles. After every war, whether it's a hot war or a cold war, there tends to be a euphoria. We've learned the lessons that it must never happen again, and therefore it will never happen again. We let down our guard, and we tend to disarm. But tyrants and dictators have been born throughout the ages. They're not going to stop being born now, and they're not going to stop trying to get power for themselves and their own sake. Since the end of the Cold War, for example, Milosevic in Serbia has invaded Bosnia and has not been stopped.
There is a euphoria after the end which makes you say, "Let's disarm." After World War I we disarmed too quickly. The Americans left Europe. Had they stayed in Europe there would never have been World War II. We mustn't make that mistake this time. There is already a war in Bosnia. The Gulf War came after the end of the Cold War. On the other hand, the end of the Cold War has facilitated some peace processes, like the one in the Middle East between the Palestinian people and the Jewish people. But in the whole of my life in politics, the unexpected happened, whether it was the invasion of the Falklands, whether it was the invasion of Kuwait, whether it was the Libyan raid we suddenly had to do. Thank goodness we'd had the wise foresight to see that we had all the right weaponry, whether it was in the navy, in the army or the air force; the right aircraft, the right ships, the right missiles, the right and latest technology. It's that which helped the Cold War to an end without a shot being fired -- that and SDI.
So we must not go into a euphoric phase now. At the end of the collapse of great empires, new dangers arise. Of the 15 countries that formed the former Soviet Union, there are civil wars in some of them, as in Georgia, as in the Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia -- Azerbaijan. We must not let our defenses go down too far. There'll be new threats, and we must know that whatever your prime minister or president decides to do, the requisite weaponry is there to do it; otherwise we shall once again be in retreat and find it difficult to recover the full liberties and democracy that we have known.
LAMB: What's the difference in the way you're treated when you come to the United States and the way you are treated in your own country these days?
THATCHER: You do know now I've been out of power for nearly three years. I think I'm treated the same way in both. I'm almost hailed as a heroine, as people look back and see what we did -- how purposeful and exciting it was. A fantastic number of young people come to buy the book. They didn't always like what I did, but they knew that it had purpose and direction. I found it as I went on in a tour of the United Kingdom. Of course there are some people who are against one. The Socialist Workers Party will demonstrate against you. But by and large the appreciation is enormous, and I think the thing they say to me most often in Britain is, "Thank you for what you did for our country," and that matters to me a great deal.
LAMB: I don't know if you saw, when you first started your trip to the United States, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal called "Living Large."
THATCHER: I did see it. It was a lovely leader.
LAMB: They talk about Thatchermania, that the young people today view you as a celebrity and the people that saw you in power viewed you a lot differently. But they liken you to Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. Did you see that?
THATCHER: That's a big responsibility. Both of them could marshall words as if they were soldiers. Both had great flights of oratory. But both had a sense of purpose and direction, and they never faltered. That is the similarity.
LAMB: They led off the editorial by saying you were going to be speaking or interviewed 70 different times in 13 days while you were in the United States, and I know by the time this runs that you will have gone on. Why are you going through all this? What's driving you to sit still for all these interviews?
THATCHER: I believe there is a message in that book. There is a message that if you chart your course and know the compass of values which will lead you through the future, then you will get through. You will be true to the very best of your country; you will be true to the challenges and the strenuous life of liberty, to its responsibilities, to justice and to democracy. And it's all so positive. It's not just "let things alone." It is liberty is a marvelous thing, particularly if you've not had it and people haven't known it. It is not just sitting back; it's using your God-given talents. It's having a sense of responsibility for your own family, a sense of obligation to your neighbor. I think it's building the kind of society that most people would like to live in if they have the chance. In the end what you're trying to do in government is to have a framework of law and a background which encourages all that is best in people and which is tough on all that is evil and worse and that is for the sake of a better future.
LAMB: Is there any way to describe what question is most often asked of you as you make this round?
THATCHER: When are you coming back?
LAMB: And when are you coming back?
THATCHER: No, life doesn't happen like that. You don't go back, not after you've been in it eleven and a half years. Winston did, because he'd never won an election, and it must have been terrible for him when, having won the war, he was rejected. But he came back in another election and was gladly accepted and embraced by the people again. I've been there for three elections, and I've never lost an election. If John Major decides eventually to leave office, there will be many others who want to be prime minister. Just as I was young and had the chance, so they must have their chance.
LAMB: In the book you talk about a fellow by the name of Gordon Reece, an American from the 1983 campaign, who was advising you on television.
THATCHER: Yes. He was English, but he came and had a career in America. Gordon had worked in television. He did advisement on television and stopped one from making quite a lot of mistakes. But Gordon had something else. When things were very bad, Gordon came in and looked on the bright side, and he was always optimistic. That's a terrific quality.
LAMB: The thing that I picked up, though -- and I wrote this down -- "British prime ministers have never accepted challenges to election debates of this kind." Did you ever debate during a campaign?
THATCHER: On a television program with my opposite nominee, no. I will tell you why. I believed passionately in what I was doing. I wasn't going to put the whole thing in issue through two or three television programs which some would regard more as a matter of entertainment than of illumination. And so I said to the interviewer, "No, you're not going to judge the whole of my record and the whole of my future on how people perform in a particular debate. If you want to know, you just ask me for an interview. I will give you an interview for two hours or, if you like, for four hours continuously. You can ask anything and everything. Do the same to my political opponent." That's when you'll soon find that the electorate will sort out who can do it and who can't.
LAMB: Do you think future prime ministers will eventually have to debate?
THATCHER: I don't think they'll need to. You see, in our case I was debating twice a week in the House of Commons at "Question Time," so the people knew precisely I could stand up to the leader of the opposition.
LAMB: "My experience is that a number of the men I have dealt with in politics demonstrate precisely those characteristics which they attribute to women: vanity and an inability to make tough decision." Why did you want to write that?
THATCHER: Because it was true. I often found them much more vain than we were. I think I was very practical, and so were my women colleagues. It wasn't things that mattered for my reputation; it was what I could do which mattered to our country. They say to women, "You are vain," but I don't think we were. I think we were much less vain. And they often attribute to women the incapability of making tough decisions. It was they, I found, who weren't able to make the tough decisions, and often they couldn't bear it when I made it.
LAMB: In the book you talked about one of the early meetings you had with President Reagan, and you said, "It was a little more awkward on this occasion, for I had brought Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine with me for the meeting -- a working lunch for the presidents -- which made for a much more stilted and less satisfactory conversation than other occasions. I did not bring them again." What happens in a meeting when you bring others with you? What changes?
THATCHER: It was artificial. Each of them wanted their own say. Each of them wanted to make their own mark, and I felt that the atmosphere was sort of verbal minuet about it. You didn't get to grips with the issues, because I go very directly to the issues in the way in which Ron Reagan and I usually could get to grips with them.
LAMB: How often in the dealings you had with foreign leaders did you meet one-on-one, with no one in the room?
THATCHER: Quite often, particularly if I wanted to get something really thrashed out. Quite often it would be with President Mitterand, or often it was Ronald Reagan. I don't this it was quite so often with Chancellor Kohl.
LAMB: What changes when you have an interpreter? And, by the way, did Chancellor Kohl speak English?
THATCHER: No, but he understood some. His lady wife was a very fluent English speaker. What was the other question you asked?
LAMB: What changes when you have an interpreter? Do you miss something when you're trying to negotiate something?
THATCHER: It depends very much on the interpreter. Now, the one that I had, Richard Pollack, who used to come with me on all tours to Russia, he would listen very carefully not only to what I was saying but to the intonation of my voice, as though he would follow in his interpretation the precise intonation which I had used. That was marvelous. Mr. Gorbachev would get not only the meaning of the words but the emphasis which I placed upon them. Otherwise, if they just do what I call a deadpan interpretation, you miss the emphasis and you miss the real importance of what your Russian counterpart is saying.
LAMB: Let's go back to your book and how you wrote it. When did you start it?
THATCHER: I started it about a fortnight before Christmas -- not last Christmas, the Christmas before.
LAMB: Did you have a staff that worked on it with you?
THATCHER: Yes, I did. I needed a historian; I needed an archivist. I had to look up a great number of the papers myself. I had to dictate a great many of my impressions. Also, I had quite a number of papers myself, and I wrote a lot down.
LAMB: And then how did you put it together? Did you spend all your time on one chapter and go to another? How did it all come together?
THATCHER: First, you've got to get a lot down. Once you've got it down and in the right order, you go on refining and refining and refining. Then you've got to get a next lot down, so in the end you've got about three lots -- the one you've done the latest bit, the second one that you're revising and the third one that you're going back and doing a final revise. So it's quite exhausting and exacting.
LAMB: This book is 914 pages long, I believe. Were there things that you wanted in there that you couldn't get in because of space?
THATCHER: No. I think we got most of the main things in. There are several detail things that I haven't got in, but most of the main things are in.
LAMB: What is the next book going to be about and when is it going to come out?
THATCHER: The second book is going to be about my early life -- how I came to have the views that I held, how I first became interested in politics, and my early political days. I was in Parliament from 1959. That book starts from 1979, so there is quite a big story to tell there.
LAMB: Is there anybody in your past that made a big difference and was responsible for getting you in this?
THATCHER: Yes. There was Keith Joseph, who was a parliamentary colleague, and he was very, very active in redrawing up the whole philosophy of the Conservative Party after we'd lost three elections under Ted -- very active, indeed. If Keith had decided to stand for the leadership, I should have loyally supported him and not have served myself. As it was, Keith came to me one day and said, "Look, I really don't think I can stand. I couldn't take some of the things that are said about a leader, so I'm just going to be an ordinary back-bench member of Parliament," which he proceeded to be. I said, "Keith, if you're not going to stand, I am going to. Someone who holds our political view, someone who wants to go in the direction we want to go, has got to stand against the incumbent leader of the party" -- that was Ted Heath, and that's how I came to stand.
LAMB: In the book you talked a lot about all-day seminars that you had at Chequers. How did you put those together and why?
THATCHER: If I wanted a seminar on a particular subject -- for example, perhaps the most interesting one was, I wanted after 1983 to have a seminar on what we could possibly do to have much more contact with the Soviet Union and also much more contact with countries like Poland and Hungary. We worked out a plan of action, which was to try to look for younger people in the Soviet Union who would be a bit fed up with communism because it wasn't working, and we found Mr. Gorbachev. That was absolutely fascinating. Then I also visited Hungary because I wanted to get to know some of the younger people, again, who were running businesses in that country.
LAMB: You wrote this in your book: "I am accused of not listening. My experience is that a group of men, sitting around a table, like little better than their own voices and that nothing is more distasteful than the possibility that a conclusion can be reached without all of the men having a chance to read from their briefs."
THATCHER: I couldn't stand just the reading from the briefs at all. You can always tell it. You can always tell when they have their own particular views. Often they would come to a meeting, open their folders, and so often the civil servants were rather different from the politicians, and that shows how the minister deals with it. The good one won't read from his brief and will give you his own view. He might then say, "But I'm advised to do differently."
LAMB: At the end of your prime ministership, you talk in the book about how each of the ministers came to you. You saw them at what point -- where were you, and where did they come to see you?
THATCHER: That was on the evening of the day I had returned from Paris. I had a series of meetings. This was after the first ballot, and although we got a majority of the party, it was not a big enough majority, by two votes only. They'd all lost their nerve. I'd been away in Paris and didn't come back until the next day. What was I doing in Paris? I was signing some of the disarmament agreements we'd reached with Russia. There were 34 heads of state in government there. I got back, and this thing had fallen apart. I realized we must have a much more active campaign.
Then I decided that I would see each and every one of my members of the cabinet, alone, in succession. I called them in, and the results you'll see in the book. It was all just so artificial and so hurtful. There were one or two who were distraught, and others had lost their nerve, but mostly, even from my very great friends -- there was one or two exceptions -- it ran like this, "Now, look, you know that I'm a friend of yours, but I feel it's my duty to tell you as a friend that although I'll support you if you stand again for the second ballot, I don't think you can win, and, therefore, I think it will be better if you stood down and let someone else in the cabinet stand against Michael Heseltine," who was also running at that time.
One after another this happened. I don't think they knew the effect on me, because they clearly had had a kind of caucus meeting and decided what they were going to say. I knew that I could win if I could get all of the cabinet going out there and saying that we must get a couple more -- three or four more -- votes for Margaret. You'll win if you've got all guns blazing, but my guns wouldn't blaze. I just rocked backwards and thought, "Well, this weak lot. I really don't think I can carry on with them."
LAMB: When you left, did you think at that time that you would take a peerage? Would you go in the House of Lords?
THATCHER: I didn't think at that time what I was going to do. I had been in the House of Commons for 33 years. Thirty-one out of those 33 years I had been on the front bench; that is to say, I had been in government when we were in power, or when we had been in opposition I had been a lead member in the opposition team and, therefore, always in a lead position to criticize existing government. So, in other words, I had always been what we call "on the front bench" -- a full minister or shadowing a minister or marking a minister. After I resigned or after I had had that famous debate in the House, which was very exciting -- the last one I did from the front bench -- I then had to go back into the House for the first time for 31 years, walk onto the back benches.
I didn't like it. It wasn't for me, because when I got up to make a contribution from the back bench, as an ordinary member of Parliament, everyone would murmur and there would be a roar as I got up. It was a highly charged and artificial atmosphere. I found it difficult enough for a time not to make the decisions. I had been used to making decisions, and it took me a time to get into the understanding that I was not making the decisions. I could influence them, but I couldn't make them. And so I didn't want to carry on in the House of Commons. It would have been easy to do that, and then people said, "Well, you must stay on because you can come back." I said, "No, life doesn't happen that way. I've been here eleven-and-a-half years. I had to go sometime. I think the prime minister will find it easier if I'm not in the House of Commons and in a position to return. So I will accept the offer to go up to the House of Lords. It's so much more gentle in there, and you don't get the quick flash of the quick wit and the give-and-take of debate, which you'll get in the House of Commons."
LAMB: You say in your book that if you don't understand the House of Commons, you don't understand British politics. What did you mean by that?
THATCHER: Just exactly what one says. I think when many people come to look at our House of Commons, they come with the idea that it is a very dignified body that does things in a dignified way. Certainly we wouldn't throw things, and certainly we wouldn't get up and fight, but the verbal attacks are very considerable. It's very, very fast-moving debate. You're often interrupted, and you've got to have a ready reply to anyone who challenges you.
LAMB: Do you think that the American-British special relationship will continue?
THATCHER: I most earnestly hope so. We are the two nations that have more in common than any other two. The Pilgrim fathers went with a whole background of English and the Biblical ethics. They knew and took with them our system of justice, a very famous one. When Jefferson came to write that remarkable Constitution, which is the best expression in the English language, the best expression of liberty, he wrote like a genius, which I suppose he was. It was quite clear from that Constitution that it is -- it's the first constitution in the world and possibly still the only one -- that it is the people who give the powers to the government for a limited time to govern them, not the government giving power to the people. It's very different.
LAMB: How could the British system benefit from taking something from us and vice versa? In other words, what did you have as prime minister that the President of the United States doesn't have, and what would you like to have as prime minister that we have here?
THATCHER: What I had was regular meetings in the House of Commons and regularly taking part in the debates in the House of Commons and in "Question Time." What I also had was, I was prime minister because I had a majority in the House of Commons, so we had a good chance of getting through any legislation we put up, and we had a good chance of getting the budget through, because I wouldn't have been there without a majority. So we don't have the conflict of interest that sometimes arises with your president when he can't get a measure through the House -- a very, very different atmosphere completely.
LAMB: You refer in the book to "the hyperactive Washington media world." Is Washington more hyperactive in the media than it is in London?
THATCHER: I think so. I think that automatically everything here is considered as what is the presentation going to be, almost before you consider the other aspect of it. I regarded my job as to get the policies right. When we got the policies right, we would think about the presentation but not the other way around.
LAMB: Do you think we ought to worry about that?
THATCHER: Because you could listen to a speech, and sometimes you'll say, "That's a rhetoric speech. He's just talking. There's nothing really well-known underneath it. The person hasn't got to the heart of the matter." Or you can listen to a speech which might be a bit duller, but a person's really got to rock-bottom solid and knows the heart of the matter and is trying to deal with is. They're very different kinds of oratory.
LAMB: Lady Thatcher, author of "The Downing Street Years," thank you very much for joining us.
THATCHER: I've enjoyed it. Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.