Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1997 Onwards - Sir John Major’s Interview following the death of Baroness Thatcher

Below is the text of Sir John Major’s interview with the BBC on 8th April 2013 following the death of Baroness Thatcher.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked about the news of Baroness Thatcher’s death]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I think it’s a very sad day for this country. She was a remarkable Prime Minister and she did some extraordinary things. In many ways she was exactly the right Prime Minister for the time she achieved that office. I think as a result of that, and what she did, that we owe her a great deal.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked if she would have been the right Prime Minister for a different time]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Well, I can’t say that. But I can say that her particular abilities, her capacity to fix single-mindedly on a desirable objective, and achieve that objective despite the odds which were against her was exactly what was needed at the time.


I think Margaret was at her best when she had a definable enemy and a definable goal. And in the 1980s there were a rich selection of those, and she pursued them and we are the beneficiaries of that.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked what the impact of Thatcherism was on Britain]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I think she changed it in many remarkable ways. Self-evidently the recovery of the Falklands did an enormous amount for British prestige and British morale and that was a very remarkable thing for her to achieve.


But I think even longer-term than that were the structural changes she and her colleagues made to the economy. The economy was in a frightful mess in the 1970s, nobody believed it could be reformed, nobody believed we could move from a neo-socialist economy to a free-market economy, and that’s effectively what she achieved in the first eight years of the 1980s.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked if Baroness Thatcher had been a divisive Prime Minister]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


She was divisive in public, that is certainly true. There are many people who will speak enormously warmly of her, and others who, frankly, won’t.


But in private she was very different from her public image. I mean she could in private be extraordinarily kind to people who were in difficulty or in trouble and I never heard her speak harshly to anyone who couldn’t answer back. She had very rough discussions with her colleagues, she liked a row.


My relationship with her began with a really fierce row, and she enjoyed that, provided you answered back and you had something to say. But for people in a subordinate position who weren’t able to answer back I never heard her treat them harshly, ever.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked about what his argument with the Prime Minister had been about]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


That was in the whip’s office, I was the Treasury whip in the early 1980s and I was asked to report at a whip’s dinner with the Prime Minister what the party thought of current economic policies. So I told her, I set it out very robustly, the party didn’t like them, we were losing support, they thought it was divisive. And she attacked the messenger rather than the message, and I responded, and we had a really furious row.


I remember the then Chief Whip putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, “that’s the end of your career then”. Two days later, no – the next day, she came and sat beside me in the House of Commons on the bench and said we’d better talk further about what you said. And three weeks later she made me a Minister.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked what Baroness Thatcher was like as Prime Minister during his own period in her Cabinet]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I joined her Cabinet in 1987, after the 1987 General Election, and she was a dominant figure then, she had won three successive General Elections. She was a very dominant figure with a very clear view of what she had to do. But I think that perhaps she didn’t think through the consequences as carefully after 1987 as she had done before.


Several things happened after 1987 that were remarkable. Firstly, her role of course in the collapse of communism. She wasn’t alone in that, but she played a significant part in that. But also of course the economy went sour and the poll tax caused her great difficulty.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked if there was a betrayal in the 1990 leadership election]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Do you mean by colleagues voting against her?


INTERVIEWER:


[The interviewer confirmed this]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


No, frankly I never saw it. Margaret, as you indicated a moment ago, could be very divisive and she had been very divisive within the Conservative Party. And the Conservative Party, the backbenchers, I think were very worried about two aspects of policy, particularly the poll tax, and I felt strongly about that too because I had been at the Treasury, and the Treasury had warned continually, under Nigel Lawson the Chancellor, that the poll tax was a mistake.

So there were big issues at stake, it wasn’t a personal opposition at all, it was an opposition to policy within the party.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked about her impact on the Conservative Party]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Her shadow is very long, and a great deal of it is very beneficial. She brought conviction back to politics. She persuaded people, she showed people, by her own example, that the will of somebody can prevail if it is stern enough, and if it continues to be stern. She did that, and that’s an important lesson for politics and she brought it back.

It seemed for much of the 1960s and the 1970s as though Governments were inevitably blown apart by the wind, whatever happened. She changed that, she made the wind instead of being bent by it.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked if the Conservative Party struggled to come to terms with her leaving]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Matricide is always difficult to overcome. Of course, the way in which Margaret left, rather than being defeated in a General Election, left a big scar on the Conservative Party and no-one can deny that. And that scar continued to impact upon the party internally for a very long time.


INTERVIEWER:


[Sir John was asked what Baroness Thatcher’s legacy would be]


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I think her legacy is that she was absolutely the Prime Minister who changed Britain’s perception of itself. Britain that I remember, as I ran up to being elected at the 1979 election under her leadership, was a country without confidence and a belief in continuing decline. The Britain she left felt quite differently.


That is a very remarkable legacy.