The newly released archives from 1979 give an insight into Margaret Thatcher’s thinking. They also show that, in private, Tories are even more reactionary than they are in public.
Within a month of becoming prime minister, Thatcher told Geoffrey Howe, her chancellor, that the public spending cuts he put forward for their first budget were “not nearly tough enough”.
Her handwritten notes in the margins of the files repeatedly reveal her desire for deeper cuts.
“This will not do” and “too small” appears whenever public spending cuts are discussed.
The papers also reveal her racism.
Her response to the “boat people”, refugees from Vietnam, was initially to resist a United Nations request that Britain take 10,000 refugees—on the grounds that they would be given council housing ahead of “white citizens”.
Thatcher pointed out to the cabinet that she had “less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians”. Or, more simply put, white people.
Thatcher even proposed to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, that they jointly buy an Indonesian island to resettle all the “boat people”.
And when vetoing a suggestion that foreign office negotiators should meet Robert Mugabe before the agreement which created independent Zimbabwe, Thatcher scribbled in the margin of one letter: “No—Please do not meet leaders of the ‘Patriotic Front’. I have never done business with terrorists until they become prime ministers. MT”
Her approach to Northern Ireland was laid out early. Beyond bizarrely briefing US president Carter on Irish history, Thatcher considered taking the vote away from Irish citizens living in the UK and bringing them “fully within the UK’s immigration laws”.
The government even discussed the possibility of sanctions against Southern Ireland unless it offered better cooperation. And planned “administrative action against Irish immigrants to the UK”.
The one thing that Thatcher did bring was “more vigorous use of the SAS” leading to assassinations and a shoot to kill policy in Northern Ireland.