Chris Bullock: This is Background Briefing, I’m Chris Bullock.
The most recent images of Margaret Thatcher as a physically and mentally frail 87-year-old are hard to reconcile with those of the Iron Lady at her peak. In the 1980s Britain was most emphatically Thatcher’s Britain. She had stamped her indelible mark on her nation and beyond. By the end of the decade though, her political powers had peaked and were about to slide into terminal decline. After years of deep social division, the introduction of an unpopular poll-tax accelerated the slide, and she finally resigned in November 1990, making way for John Major, a much less charismatic and divisive Conservative leader.
In today’s program, which was first broadcast on Background Briefing 24 years ago in 1989, Nick Franklin and Tony Barrell chart the rise and rise of Margaret Thatcher. As RN listeners will know, Tony Barrell has since died, as have several other people featured in the program; Peter Jenkins, Hugo Young, former Labour leader James Callaghan, and of course Maggie Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher: I don’t think there’ll be a woman prime minister in my lifetime, as far as I can see. I think if you look about the world you’ll find that women have become prime ministers really for one of two reasons; either because they joined in the pioneering movement that made the nation, or alternatively because they were very close to some of the main men politicians of the day, either by being related or, unfortunately, by being the widow. And that I think is the way in which women become prime ministers, rather than through their own career.
Margaret Thatcher: They say that a Thatcher government…and I must say I like the sound of that [applause], I like it a little more each time I hear it and they use it quite a lot, they must believe it. They say that a Thatcher government would be reactionary. If to react against the politics of the last few years which undermined our way of life and devastated our economy, if that’s reactionary then we are reactionary and so are the vast majority of the British people.
Tony Barrell: If the grocer’s daughter from Grantham surprised herself by becoming the nation’s leader, she’s been surprising everyone else ever since. Transformation has been her trade. And these days everyone does something many were once reluctant to do, and that’s take her seriously.
Margaret Thatcher: Can we go around? Because I don’t want anyone not to have a question. Are you wanting anything? Now, next? Yes?
Question: Do you think people expect too much of a woman in parliament?
Margaret Thatcher: No, I don’t think they can expect too much of a woman.
Question: What really keeps you at it? It must take enormous stamina.
Margaret Thatcher: I just don’t know but I think if many women sat down and thought how they got through the day they wouldn’t be able to get through it, but if you just tackle it as it comes along, you can cope.
Question: Mrs Thatcher, do you think you could solve England’s ills?
Margaret Thatcher: I don’t think anyone can solve ills for all time, it’s a job you have to go at each and every day afresh for the short-term and there is a long-term effect, and you must take both of them into account.
Question: But certainly not as heavy as doing the washing up, right?
Margaret Thatcher: Do you know, you men always get stuck on the washing up. There really are more important things in life, and it’s just a thing that you have to do.
Tony Barrell: Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Australia as leader of the Tory Party in 1976. It would be unthinkable for a journalist to ask her crass questions about the washing up today. But is this because she’s transformed herself, or the British nation?
Both transformations are the subject of this program. Here’s Nick Franklin, who spent the first Thatcher decade as a journalist in Britain, and for a large part of that time he lived and worked within a stone’s throw of Margaret Thatcher’s birthplace.
Nick Franklin: Ever since her childhood, Margaret Hilda Thatcher has been able to change her life and her environment. What Margaret did first was remake herself .But what was Margaret? What, or rather who, made her?
It’s impossible to understand her without making the pilgrimage back to her roots, to Grantham, a small market town in Lincolnshire where the conservative values of Victorian England persisted long into the 20th century.
And when we try to identify the ideological ingredients of what we all call ‘Thatcherism’, it isn’t to the dry economic theoreticians but to her father, the grocer, mayor and JP, Alderman Alfred Roberts we must turn.
Kenneth Harris: If you don’t know the father, you don’t know Margaret. She is her father’s daughter and, in a sense, her father’s son too because he never had a son, and she has done all the things he would have loved his son to have done if he’d had one and he would have liked to have done himself. He was always very interested in politics. If life had turned out differently for him he would have become an MP.
Nick Franklin: Kenneth Harris. He’s based his official biography of Margaret Thatcher on hours of personal interviews with her, and he’s convinced that if we want to understand Margaret, we need to understand her father.
Kenneth Harris: He was an austere, hard-working, Victorian kind of person, Methodist, chapel four times on Sundays and choir practice in the middle of the week, that kind of thing. A very upright man, didn’t believe in borrowing, didn’t believe in lending. He was a man of principle, believed in principle, believed in doing what you thought was right, and this made a great impression on Margaret and on her sister.
Nick Franklin: Was there a strict Victorian atmosphere in the Roberts household in Grantham?
Kenneth Harris: Oh yes. No games on Sunday, no Ludo, no Snakes and Ladders on Sunday. They were allowed to read books, and apart from that all they did was go to chapel.
Nick Franklin: And Margaret went on those four trips every Sunday as well?
Kenneth Harris: Oh yes, yes.
Reading: They were neat and tidy, always as well dressed as they could afford. The kind of people who even if they only had one shirt or blouse would get up a few minutes earlier every morning to put an iron over it.
Nick Franklin: Margaret Thatcher’s assessment of life in the grocer’s shop, as reported by Kenneth Harris. Even though it would clearly suit her much better than Edward Heath, the man she replaced, no one uses the nickname ‘grocer’ for Margaret. But according to Harris it was in the shop that she learnt her politics and her economics.
Kenneth Harris: The sugar came in big boxes and the butter came in big boxes, and a typical chore for Margaret was to weigh out the sugar into half-pounds and pound bags in the room behind the shop, the room below where she was born incidentally. And then she would weigh out the sweets into packets, penny packets, twopenny packets. She could slice the bacon. There would be a big side of bacon, none of your packets of bacon in those days, and Margaret would work the slicer, slice up the bacon, put that into half-pounds and pounds, that kind of thing. Very much in the shop all the time. And because of his political interests, lots of his fellow councillors used to come into the shop, partly to buy things but partly to have a talk, to sit around, have a cup of coffee, eat some biscuits and talk about local politics. So, you see, from being a very little girl of ten she was brought up in an intense and really, in its way, very sophisticated atmosphere.
Nick Franklin: In your book you refer to her early charity work. Can you explain what was happening then?
Kenneth Harris: Yes, the mother used to bake, she was a very good cook, and she used to bake cakes, as lots of people did in those days, and she would always bake more than she needed and then Margaret would be sent out to deliver these extra cakes and biscuits to the poor and needy and sick.
Nick Franklin: Margaret is well remembered by her contemporaries in Grantham as being hard-working, determined, and imbued with a conviction that she needed to improve herself and stand on her own two feet.
The reason she escaped being assassinated by the IRA’s Brighton bomb in 1984 was because she wasn’t in bed asleep but working on her papers in another room. Such dedication and commitment to getting on meant that Margaret had to do without fun and friends.
Kenneth Harris: A lot of her contemporaries at school, especially because she was so able and got on so well, were jealous of her. There is no doubt about it, I’ve talked to some of the school mistresses. They could see that Margaret tried to behave in a special kind of way. She was always very well turned out. She was always neatly dressed, everything was pressed. And everybody knew that she was ambitious to go to Oxford. And so some of them called her ‘snobby’, ‘Snobby Roberts’.
Nick Franklin: ‘Snobby Roberts’ set out on her struggle for achievement in the disheartening context of the Great Depression. But as the 1930s drew to a close, the prospect of war made an even greater impression on her. Margaret’s own brand of populist patriotism, the gut zeal which convinced her that she could lead Britain to victory in the Falklands, was learned on the roads of Lincolnshire. As the war became a certainty, the 14-year-old Margaret Roberts spent many an hour touring the local villages reciting the great English poets. Her favourite was Kipling.
Reading: God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
beneath whose awful hand we hold
dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
lest we forget, lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
the captains and the kings depart:
still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
a humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
lest we forget, lest we forget!
Nick Franklin: Margaret’s dedication to homework paid off. She went to Oxford and studied chemistry, a practical subject she thought would lead to a career and financial independence.
She discovered student politics. In 1946 she became president of the Conservative Association, and only four years afterwards she fought her first election battle. She lost by 20,000 votes in a safe Labour seat. That same year she began a law degree, specialising in taxation, another move calculated to help her political career.
She met Denis Thatcher at a Conservative Party meeting in 1951, and their twins were born in 1953. Her parliamentary career got going in 1959 when she won Finchley, a safe Tory seat in North London.
During the ’60s she held a succession of shadow portfolios covering Treasury, Fuel, Transport and Education, and when the Tories won in 1970, Edward Heath made her Education Minister. She earned herself another nickname when she presided over the decision to stop giving free milk to primary school children, ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’. The Sun newspaper called her ‘the most unpopular woman in Britain’, the paper that was to become, under Rupert Murdoch, her greatest champion.
Heath’s government fell after the disastrous dispute with the miners in 1973. Two years later Margaret Thatcher became the leader of the Conservative Party and she immediately defined herself a national mission.
Margaret Thatcher: What I want to do is to lead the people of this country away from the quicksands of Socialism. I don’t think they want a Socialist society as fast as they can, or even as slow as they can. I don’t think they want a Socialist society at all.
So I say now to all our people, and particularly those in the Midlands and the North, and to my friends in Scotland who welcomed me so unforgettably the other day, but who may have felt in the past that there was not all that difference between the Parties, that it didn’t really matter who was in office, I say to you: come back into the fight. There’s all the difference in the world. Join hands with us in the Conservative Party and help us rid the nation of this Socialist albatross.
James Callaghan: As you know, during the last few weeks speculation has been building up about the possibility of a general election this autumn. Some time ago, in the summer, I said that I would make a statement on the future after the summer holidays. So, I shall not to be calling for a general election at this time. Instead I ask every one of you to carry on with the task of consolidating the improvement now taking place in our country’s position. Let’s see it through together.
Nick Franklin: James Callaghan, Britain’s Labour Prime Minister, staving off the inevitable in September 1978. What followed was the ‘winter of discontent’. The unpopularity of Labour’s prices and incomes policy led to a rebellion by low-paid public sector workers. Their campaign of stoppages and strikes created mayhem across the board. When the election was called in ’79 the Tories walked in. And yet the nation as a whole was still in some doubt as to exactly how and why they had a woman prime minister.
Political commentator for the Independent, Peter Jenkins, has written an unauthorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, The Thatcher Revolution.
Peter Jenkins: She was very much an outsider at first. She had won the leadership from Edward Heath in 1975 by what was in effect a coup d’état. Nobody expected her to emerge from that election except some people around her who had a very clear plan and were very determined that she should. But she did, and the Conservative Party woke up one morning to find that it had elected Mrs Thatcher, the first woman to lead it in its history, but also somebody who was really quite outside not only the ideological consensus which had prevailed in the Conservative Party for the most part since the war, but a completely different type of person. She wasn’t recognisable as a Tory ruler. Mind you, Edward Heath himself had come from a humble background and was a somewhat different kind of Tory, but Mrs Thatcher the more so.
Kenneth Harris: She did not dispossess the old guard, she maintained most of them in her first cabinet. They did everything short of denouncing her in public. Most of them thought she wouldn’t last the ’79 – ’83 period. They tried to resist the very strong measures she took in the budget of 1981 which was really the watershed when she insisted on carrying out her anti-inflationary methods, and even though this meant increased unemployment and was virtually condemned by half her old Cabinet, she pressed on and on and on, and gradually got rid of them. Some of them got rid of themselves. So that by ’83 she was in charge of her own Cabinet, and then that whacking great victory in 1983 put her in an unassailable position as Prime Minister with her Cabinet, leader of the party with her party, and indeed with public opinion in the country.
Margaret Thatcher: When I first walked through that door, and many of you were with me photographing me then, I little thought that we’d become the longest-serving Prime Minister this century. The eight years and 244 days have gone very quickly indeed and there is so much more still to do.
Tony Barrell: She’s the only one to have given her name to a political creed. Its simple, straightforward elements were well in place long before she became Prime Minister, and the tone and style of Thatcherism were never better expressed than at that meeting with the Australian media in 1976.
Margaret Thatcher: My politics are that the individual matters more than the state and the state should be made to serve the needs of the individual and not the other way around. From that the individual has many, many relationships in the family, in the community. You have to learn to live together in freedom, and to do that you need a rule of law to protect the freedom of the weak from the strong. That’s all in a nutshell and you really have got it absolutely in a nutshell and you should be very pleased.
Chris Bullock: Margaret Thatcher talking to the Australian media back in 1976. And on RN you’re listening to Background Briefing and a program first broadcast in 1989. The reporters are Nick Franklin and the late Tony Barrell. I’m Chris Bullock.
Freedom through individualism was the consistent rhetorical theme of Thatcherism. Policies may have changed or been re-directed, but they are always presented as fitting within that unswerving framework. And this allowed Margaret Thatcher to constantly transform her policies and to remake herself or her image.
Margaret Thatcher: If, as I hope, the minority parties join with us next Wednesday we shall not only be able to set the wheels in motion, we shall also have reasserted the historic right of the House of Commons to say to the government of the day enough is enough.
Man: [unclear]…’enough is enough’, it’s a lowering, not a raising…
Margaret Thatcher: Enough is enough…
Man: No, it’s…
Margaret Thatcher: Enough is enough…
Man: That’s it.
Margaret Thatcher: Enough is enough…enough is enough…yes…enough is enough…
Margaret Thatcher: Enough is enough…enough is enough…
Man: Yes, that’s it.
Tony Barrell: Margaret Thatcher on the steep learning curve of the 1979 election campaign.
The first decade of Thatcherism has transformed more than Mrs Thatcher’s own personal style.
Reading: In 1979 just over half of the population were home owners.
Nick Franklin: After ten years the government’s policy of selling off council houses means nearly three-quarters of the population now own their homes.
Reading: In 1979 only 7% of the population owned shares.
Nick Franklin: After the massive privatisation program of selling off the British public sector, more than 20% of Britons are shareholders.
Reading: In 1979 the annual inflation rate in Britain was 16%.
Nick Franklin: In 1989 it’s nearly 8% and rising.
Tony Barrell: In her first decade, Mrs Thatcher has slashed government spending and cut taxes, weaned the British away from socialism towards enterprise culture. To do it she had to tap a latent well of national zeal.
As well as being her official biographer, Kenneth Harris is an avid supporter. Why?
Kenneth Harris: Guts. Guts. She comes to power in 1979 and she says, ‘I’m going to reduce inflation, it’s killing us.’ Every Prime Minister had been saying that for 25 years. None of them had succeeded in doing it. She succeeded. Even if she’d failed, the very fact that she tried so hard, the fact that she tried so hard to keep her promises meant a great deal to people in this country because they’d seen so many prime ministers of different parties breaking their promises, but Margaret kept hers, and not only did she keep the promise to try and do something about it, she did it.
Peter Jenkins: There was a sense in Britain of failure, of persistent economic failure by 1979. Maybe this was not endemic to us British, maybe it was the product of the oil crisis of 1973, the inflation which afflicted not only Britain but most of the Western developed countries, so perhaps it was in part the product of things which were not wholly within our control. But nevertheless, I think that there was a sense of failure. Mrs Thatcher addressed it and she addressed it by saying we can’t go on in the old way. All of the old conventional wisdom is now, she thought, bankrupt. And so she had her own new and distinctive form of politics to apply. I think that it certainly made this psychological break with a failed past and given the country some degree of new confidence.
Margaret Thatcher: We must now bring life in the islands back to normal as quickly as possible, despite the difficult conditions and the onset of the Antarctic winter. Mines must be removed, the water supply in Stanley is not working, and there will be other urgent tasks of repair and reconstruction. Our purpose is that the Falkland Islands should never again be a victim of unprovoked aggression.
Tony Barrell: It’s the Falklands war that provides the galvanising factor. From a military perspective it was an absurd little war that nearly cost the British its blue water navy, but its timing in the context of national politics was devastating.
Newsreader: The BBC’s Nicholas Witchell continues:
Nicholas Witchell: The road from the airport into the town is in very bad condition, five miles of ruts and potholes, and the Prime Minister could be seen bouncing up and down on the back seat of the vehicle, her husband Denis on the taxi’s jump seat opposite hanging on determinedly. In this fashion the convoy bumped along past minefields and missile sites and astonished British servicemen going about their duties at the side of the road who suddenly lined up, came to attention and saluted.
Margaret Thatcher: We are really very thrilled and very excited that we’ve come to talk to the people here, to support the armed forces here, and to pay tribute to those who liberated the island.
Nicholas Witchell: There is a danger I suppose that the Argentines could interpret a visit by you as a provocative gesture.
Margaret Thatcher: It would be very strange if I did not come to the Falkland Islands, very strange indeed.
Hugo Young: Again, I think the Falklands War was very important, and I think in many ways, in sort of naked political terms, the key event of the ’80s in the sense that it sealed her in office for a long time afterwards, and that war could so easily have gone wrong.
Nick Franklin: Hugo Young, author of One of Us.
Margaret Thatcher: And in case the news hasn’t reached you, Britain is also doing very well, with a growth rate higher than any other country in Europe, wider ownership, lower taxes, and unparalleled prosperity which enables us to spend more than ever on education and the social services. So it’s not at all the picture you used to have in the days when people spoke in hushed tones of the British disease. Now we are known for the British cure and people look to us to see how it is done.
Colm Kearney: If Margaret Thatcher did not become Prime Minister in 1979 and if monetarist policies had not been put in operation, the British government, of whatever political party, would have had a lot more money to expend on infrastructural developments and on social welfare developments. As it turned out, the 30% reduction in the manufacturing sector resulted in a lot of North Sea oil money going to redundancy payments in that sector. That was a once-off benefit of North Sea oil, and it’s now lost. If it had been used on infrastructural development, Britain would continue to have the benefits of North Sea oil today and in the future.
Tony Barrell: Dr Colm Kearney. He made a study of the Thatcher economic revolution at first hand.
Those early years of economic hardship were supposed to be the short, sharp cure Britain needed to banish inflation, curb the unions and revitalise private enterprise. ‘There is No Alternative’ it was called. A once-and-for-all transformation. But unemployment doubled, and at the beginning of 1982 the horrifying figure of three million was reached. Instead of going to fund social infrastructure for a 21st century economy, the precious oil revenues were used to pay the running costs of monetarism, the dole queues.
Colm Kearney: It was a well thought out policy. To begin with the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher first abandoned the commitment to achieving full employment. Instead they focused their attentions on permanently reducing inflation. Traditionally in Britain during the post-war period and more recently the two governments prior to Thatcher’s government it was a commonly adopted policy to use fiscal deficits to make the economy grow faster during bad times and to offset that by using tighter fiscal policy to slow down the rate of growth of the economy during good times to prevent inflation from taking off.
The idea here was to stabilise the unemployment rate while keeping inflation at a low level. These policies began to fail, and one of the reasons was emerging high interest rates, because on average governments were running deficits more than surpluses. So a high level of government debt was growing up over a three-decade period. And the high interest rates were increasing borrowing costs to private firms, so that private investment was, to coin the phrase, being crowded out by government expenditures.
This resulted in an antipathy to fiscal policy by the emerging Conservative government. They deliberately sought to minimise the role of government in the economy in order to allow market forces to operate in a more efficient way and hence hopefully to encourage the private sector to take up the gauntlet of more investment.
The policy of monetarism by raising the exchange rate in the order of 40% over a two-year period from ’79 to ’81 resulted in a restructuring of the British economy which amounted to a decline in the size of the manufacturing sector by almost 30%. Given that Britain has traditionally been a net exporter of manufacturing commodities since the Industrial Revolution, it is now for the first time in a position of importing net manufacturing products.
Nick Franklin: Britain’s balance of trade deficit blew out to an all time record of £14.7 billion. Instead of continuing with monetarism, the government u-turned to reflate the economy with a consumer splurge based on easy credit.
Margaret Thatcher: The advice I give is the advice which enabled me to proceed to three victories. It is quite simple; re-enunciate the principles in which you believe. You formulate the policies from those, which are policies that it’s not government’s job to do everything, it’s government’s job to get the finances right and to provide a framework of law in which free enterprise can operate. So our job is to get the finances right, get the framework of law right, but remembering always it’s not government’s job to run industry but government’s task to allow industry the better to run itself in free and open competition, and by getting down trade barriers because unless your industry is capable of competing it will soon be inefficient industry. And you stick to that policy through thick and thin.
Man: I think Britain is very prosperous with Mrs Thatcher ruling the government. I think that as long as she stays in control or the Tories are in control this country will prosper.
Question: Have you ever had a job?
Young woman: No. The job centres are all the same. It’s either people over 20, 21+, or too many qualifications.
Question: What would you like to do?
Young woman: Anything.
Man: My friends I talk to, they are very happy with their mortgages and…you open the Evening Standard every evening there’s a thousand jobs. I would say if you really want work there is work there. If you don’t want work then you can sleep on the streets. I don’t think any of it is down to Mrs Thatcher. There’s plenty of work about. My mother and father were buying their house, they were with Council, and Labour wouldn’t let them buy the house. When Mrs Thatcher came in, Conservative, they bought their house, they sold the house, and now they live in California.
Man: A lot of people who have got money have got more money than they have ever had in their lives, and those people who haven’t got money have got less than they’ve ever had, so you see that north/south divide within your own community. You can walk through town and you can see people with £300 suits on driving fast cars and having the time of their life, driving by somebody whose life is in a bag of chips.
[Music: ‘Loadsamoney’, Harry Enfield]
Margaret Thatcher: We haven’t divided the nation between north and south, there has always been a difference between north and south. That actually oversimplifies it because there are some very prosperous places in the north and there are some places of considerable difficulty in the south. But in the north we’ve got more self-employed, more enterprise allowance, houses are cheaper, salary for salary you do far better in the north on standard of living than you do in the south. And if anyone has tried to bring about one nation, it’s this government.
Nick Franklin: If supplementary benefit rates are taken as defining the level of the poverty line, then at the beginning of Mrs Thatcher’s third term more than eight million people were living on or below it. They include two million children which is 72% more than when the decade began.
Economic forecaster, Paul Ormerod of the Henley Centre at Cambridge.
Paul Ormerod: If we take the bottom 30% of the population in terms of how well off they are, since ’79 their income hasn’t risen any faster than inflation, so in a real sense you’ve not got any better off. If we take the top 10% their incomes have risen by 50% more than inflation, so there has been a massive widening of inequality in the UK, which of course Mrs Thatcher argues has been desirable to economic progress. And it’s this which I think causes potential problems. You could see it positively like Mrs Thatcher does and say this will actually generate jobs and generate wealth for everybody, or you could see it as creating severe social problems over the next decade as, if you like, the dispossessed, the underclass start to do something active about it rather than accepting it passively. Although I should say on that, I’ve personally taken the precaution of moving out of inner London south of the river where I used to live, a very crowded area with many social problems, out to the desirable pastures of Kew Gardens in West London where there is no question of any social tension arising.
Yasmin Alibhai: She has been very honest about one thing, she said she wanted us to go back to Victorian England, and she has taken us back to Victorian England.
Nick Franklin: Yasmin Alibhai, Race and Society Editor of the New Statesman and Society.
Yasmin Alibhai: What you have now is a serious underclass which we’ve never had before, and a large proportion of that underclass consists of women, single parents, often locked in a poverty trap, where their existence depends on patronage, not on rights, where supplementary benefit which you could apply for when you had a certain set of problems, by right you applied for and you got your supplementary benefit. Everything is needs based now, everything is a much harder process because the myth is that the poor are poor because they want to be poor. So, you know, we’re not a million miles away from the workhouse ideology.
You are getting inner-city areas, the really deprived inner-city areas producing some mini millionaires from these groups, and then for her this proves the point. That’s all it’s about, that Thatcherite economy, Thatcherite politics works for everybody, but it doesn’t. So what Britain is now is it’s okay to be selfish, it’s okay to be hard, it’s okay to care about yourself and nobody else, morality is connected with moneymaking, with affluence.
[Audio: Sounds of unrest]
Man: I’ve just come from a shop now down Park Road there where they’ve just been running out with arm-loads of stuff, you know. And I’m pleading with young people, 12- and 13-year-olds, put it down and go home.
Young woman: I’ve seen them get a young boy about 12 or 15, get him, about ten policemen get him and kick him in the head and everything.
Woman: The only one that we have to thank for this is Margaret Thatcher.
Woman: Bring the army in, that’s what I said.
Man: Aye, bring the army in, get these lads off the street, bring the army in. What you want is the army in.
Journalist: Law and order, as evidenced by this election broadcast, is one of the issues the Conservatives have started to push as the polls show their lead slipping to around 5%.
1979 election campaign material: Every day vandals strike 800 times, and 238 people are violently assaulted.
Every week there are 11,000 burglaries and robberies. That’s 66 every hour.
Nick Franklin: The 1979 Tory election campaign. In 1988 the figures for all those crime categories were up: vandalism to more than 1,600 a day, a rise of 100%; violence against the person by 75%; robberies and burglaries to over 800,000 a week. Or, as the admen like to put it, 90 an hour, one every 40 seconds, up 50% from ten years ago when Margaret Thatcher came to power on the law and order ticket.
Hugo Young: The police force has increased by many thousands of people. Police pay was the very first thing, way back in ’79, the very first executive act that government took was to increase the police pay by a very large amount in line with a report which had been published and had been qualified by the previous government. And in the hierarchy of people who have done well out of the Thatcher government, hardly anybody has done better than the police. But I don’t think that you can say, I don’t think anybody would say, I don’t think even ministers would say, that the fruit of ten years of heavy investment in law and order has produced law and order.
Kenneth Harris: At least she has established the preservation of law and order and the extending of law and order as the prime objective of the Conservative Party.
Nick Franklin: Well, the prisons in Britain are overcrowded, it’s got a higher percentage of people in prison than anywhere else in Europe, and these days the message coming from the Thatcher government is for the judges and magistrates not to send so many people to prison, which seems a strange thing for a law and order government to do.
Kenneth Harris: I don’t see that that is necessarily a strange thing for them to do. Our prisons are overcrowded, and what the government is saying to magistrates is let us see if there are other ways in which we can deter criminals and prevent crime than by sending them to already overcrowded prisons. After all, it’s a devilish problem, it’s a very great problem.
Nick Franklin: Kenneth Harris, author of Thatcher. And before him, Hugo Young, author of One of Us.
The social transformation of Britain as envisaged by Margaret Thatcher’s personal morality has seen some extraordinary contradictions. As you’d expect, with more poverty there’s more crime. There is also more wealth, and with it a new criminal class. Yuppies, it seems, have been afflicted by the strain of carrying all those loadsamoney.
David Furness: It’s not unusual to arrest people earning £20,000 upwards into six-figure numbers, on occasions up to £150,000, £200,000.
Journalist: Chief Inspector David Furness of the British Transport Police. He detailed the kind of behaviour a growing number of yuppies are engaging in.
David Furness: Vomiting over each other and other passengers, urinating on trains, throwing objects out of train doors, and on some occasions resorting to violence. They are full of remorse after they’ve been arrested and charged. Their excuse is I think that they are working extremely pressurised jobs within the city. As far as I’m concerned, that means they should have more responsibility. Everyone has a pressurised job it’s up to everyone to control themselves and act in a social way when they travel by train.
Margaret Thatcher: We have a great deal of work to do, so no one must slack. You can have a party tonight, you can have a marvellous party tonight, and you can clear up tomorrow. But on Monday, you know, we’ve got a big job to do in some of those inner cities.
Chris Bullock: Margaret Thatcher at her political peak after winning the 1987 British general election.
Today’s Background Briefing was first broadcast in May 1989. The presenters were Nick Franklin and the late Tony Barrell. I’m Chris Bullock.