This is an annual series on BBC Radio 4 that looks at some of the newly released government papers from 1981 – they were previously secret and are now made available to the National Archive after the “30 year rule” has elapsed. This series is always interesting, especially now as they are getting into an era that I remember.
The Prime Minster at the time – Margaret Thatcher – is a person reviled by many, and the documents do not help improve that image. Some of the issues highlighted in the programme include:
• she was personally involved in discussions with Irish terrorists despite misleading parliament and the country by saying that her government does not deal with terrorists. This is a lie, pure and simple, although it is naive to make too much of an issue here as this is something that still occurs, and is just part of the political game
• she had no issue with selling arms to despot regimes around the world – in particular the Pinochet regime in Chile – even though it was clear that they would be used to quell internal dissent. Her argument was that it would be good for employment in Britain. She was forceful, even bullish, in this regard
• during the Iran / Iraq war, Thatcher was urging arms sales to Iraq, and this included ministerial meetings with Saddam Hussein. Steps were taken to avoid bad publicity by routing these arms via Jordan. When minsters recommended that “lethal” armaments (eg ammunition) should not be supplied, she said that the definition of “lethal” should be as narrow as possible, so that Britain could bring in as much business as possible.
Perhaps the behaviour of dictators towards the UK and the West can be explained to some minor degree by the fact that they have been in power for decades and remember the positions taken by previous administrations. No doubt that there were many issues that our modern day governments don’t remember or would rather forget. I’m sure it is convenient for some governments that certain secrets died along with Gaddafi and Hussein.
Another point that comes through loud and clear is that politics is a two-faced and corrupt battle of personalities, and politicians are in power for their own interests and advancement rather than the good of the people. This was the case then, it is the case now and no doubt always will be. No wonder that people are protesting in the streets at what the politicians are doing and what they have allowed to occur. It’s sickening.
A final point is that Margret Thatcher should not be remembered as she is portrayed by a Hollywood superstar in some biographical film. I have not seen “The Iron Lady” yet, so I can’t comment fully, but it should be the image of the lady that is portrayed in this radio programme that should be recognised as the truth. It is not pretty.
I look forward to coming years of the programme, but now won’t be surprised if I get so enraged that I simply have to sit down and write about my feelings. That is what inspired this post.
* The National Archive: Newly released files from 1981