Briefing Margaret Thatcher on punk and pop music (1987)

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(picture from Buzzfeed)

In early 1987, as Red Wedge was underway calling for young people to support the Labour Party, Margaret Thatcher conducted an interview with Smash Hits magazine. The interview was published in March 1987 and featured such exchanges about The Smiths and The Housemartins (who had both been vocal in their criticisms of Thatcher):

Tony Hibbert Smash HitsI do not know if you are aware of groups like the Smiths and the Housemartins …

PM: Yes, I know the Housemartins, yes.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: …who are very left-wing groups, not so much in their songs which are about men and women like all pop songs, but in their interviews they are very left-wing and say “We must get Mrs Thatcher out of No 10.”

PM: Do they? I remember when I went down to Limehouse Studios once, there was a pop group who I was told I would not get on with at all well. Well, I was absolutely fascinated because they were rehearsing for television; it is a highly professional business. The cameras have to come in on certain shots, there is a fantastic amount of energy and of course their voices, and I have watched Elton John too who was highly – I am so sad that he is having this difficulty with his throat – highly professional. I think it has become much, much more professional in the technique you use now. You just had echo chambers in our time but now it is much, much more professional. I do not mind. Most young people rebel and then [end p262] gradually they become more realistic and it is very much a part of life rebelling.

When they want to get Mrs Thatcher out of No 10, I have usually not met most of them and it really is lovely to have the chance to talk to them.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: It is nice to be mentioned.

PM: Yes, it is nice they know your name isn’t it?

The rest of the interview is fascinating about Thatcher’s attempts to relate to the young people of the day. The Margaret Thatcher Foundation has just released some of her private papers from 1987, including the briefing notes prepared for this interview. The briefing notes have several gems in them, such as stating that the average Smash Hits reader ‘feels closer to Socialist policies than to your Government’s policies’ and that ‘You may not enjoy the interview’.

However the best part of the document is the brief note that Thatcher got on the history of punk. Here it is:

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In the interview she refers to punks in the following way (obviously having taken in something from her briefing notes):

PM: …So good luck to your pop groups. They do very well for us for export – they do a fantastic job and if some of them want to have yellow hair, pink hair, long hair, short hair, blue jeans, yellow jeans, or these days, my goodness me, there are some smart ones. Marvellous. When I go and look at some of the clothes for young people, gosh, they are pricey but really I think that the sort of informal period has gone, you know, people much more want to live by rules.

Tony Hibbert Smash Hits: Well, we have got rid of the hippies and the punks.

PM: I know we have got the punks. The punks spend a lot of time and money on their appearance.

Tony Hibbert Smash HitsOh yes, what I am saying is that we have got the hippies and the punks more or less out of the way and they are looking much smarter these days.

PM: Yes, that is right because it is better, because they like it better that way. One young person said to me the other day. “Oh” she said, aged eighteen, “there are not any rules these days, I wish we had more rules” and you know, some of the rules are coming back. Life is much better when you have rules to live by. I mean it is really like playing football isn’t it? If you did not have any rules by which to play you would not be able to play the game; you have got [end p274] to have rules to live by. Everyone knows where they are. Of course you will have the whistle blown sometimes because not everyone lives by them but life is better when you have some rules to live by and you know what the accepted rules are and that is coming back and that is good. The 1970s I think was not a very good time. Everyone tried to flout the rules and now they are saying “Look, you cannot live unless you have some rules to live by”. Freedom requires some set of rules as well to live by, so all right we have freed it up and you have got to have rules to live by to respect other people’s freedom so if we are remembered that way I think we will have done a reasonable job for young people the world over.

The document can be found here.

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