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Los Angeles Times Interview : Margaret Thatcher : The Lady's Not Made for Ducking a Tough Question

November 28, 1993| The former Briti s h prime minister was interviewed by Times editors recently in Los Angeles

Lady Thatcher has a presence.

When she enters a room, one realizes--as one might say in England--that one is in the presence of a formidable personage, the first woman prime minister of Britain whose reputation not only precedes but accompanies her.

She had served as prime minister for 11 1/2 years, one of the longest-serving prime ministers in British history. Margaret Thatcher, the greengrocer's daughter turned "Iron Lady," led her Conservative Party to three consecutive general-election victories, only to be brought down, three years ago, not by the ballot box but by her own parliamentary colleagues.

Rising from obscurity, from a relatively minor Cabinet post, she became a power in the land. She displayed no hesitation in tackling the trade unions, fighting a war over the Falklands, attacking high taxation and state ownership, and in vigorously devising and shaping other conservative policies that were pushed through Parliament to transform the political and economic landscape.

She pulled no punches and, in political terms, she threw many more rights than lefts. And she had no peers in parries.

Once to a Labor heckler: "The honorable gentleman suffers from the fact that I understand him perfectly."

To those who once speculated that she would be forced to make a U-turn and change her economic policies: "I have only one thing to say--U turn if you want to, the lady's not for turning."

Indeed, she isn't. She is making that clear in her just-published book, "The Downing Street Years," in interviews and in little chats with the folks she is now meeting along the way. But will historians treat her kindly? Will they think of her when they speak of the Gladstones, Disraelis, Lloyd-Georges and Churchills?

One will just have to wait and see, won't one?


Question: What adjustment have you had to make in your psyche from powerful prime minister to famous author?

Answer: When you have to make an adjustment like that, the important thing is to accept it, right from the beginning, and I did. (Second), I was never left without any work to do. The correspondence poured in, the requests poured in, to lecture, to speak, to write, whatever. As I go around the world, one makes one's views known. One has no power, but one has influence, and one is still in the House of Lords, so you can make a speech there from time to time. . . . I think the most difficult of all things is that the structure of the week has gone. I knew--Monday morning--when we had the internal meetings. And there were certainly a number of them. And Tuesday and Thursday were question days. Wednesday I take out in the country. Friday I talk to the constituency. . . .

So you have to make different arrangements. And you must keep in with the intellectual community . . . the writing community, the thinking community, the ideas community, otherwise you die.

Q: Many of us in America are quite puzzled about Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He seems sort of an enigma. Is he a democrat? Is he a fraud?

A: I don't find anything enigmatic about him. When he first came to see me--before he was elected president of Russia--he said: "First, we have no dispersal of power. Secondly, there's still too much power in the hands of government. And, no freedom will survive unless you have a market economy." And, he said, "I'm going to try to become the elected president of Russia to do all these things."

. . . When he became the elected president . . . he tried to work with the system. The structure was still communist . . . and they weren't going to change the constitution, they weren't going to take much notice of the fact that Yeltsin was elected president. So he was stymied . . . He, nevertheless, tried to work with (the system) until he couldn't any more.

When I was last there, in July, and he asked me what ought to be done, I said: "You have to dissolve your Parliament to get a new constitution and a new Parliament." And that's what he's done. . . . Only when he had no option did he send in the tanks . . .

So I don't find him a non-democrat. . . . He genuinely wants a true democracy--one he knows could only be backed up by dispersal of power, a limitation of power, private property, the market economy.

Q: What has surprised you about developments in the world since the end of the Cold War? Had you anticipated some of these chaotic events?

A: When any empire breaks up, there are always great problems--more so with an evil empire, because it suppressed so many feelings. It's hard to suppress all national feelings or identity feelings other than the identity of communism. So I wasn't the least bit surprised over the problems they've had in the (former) Soviet Union. Moreover, Stalin made 100 border changes during his time. They caused great problems. They were meant to cause problems. . . .

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