What Did Margaret Thatcher's Foreign Secretary Remember?
Please tell me if you find it unseemly to promote these interviews on Ricochet. I don't want to be annoying. They're so interesting to me that I can't help but think they'd be interesting to any red-blooded conservative, but if you're getting sick of hearing me tell you about all ways you can put money in my pocket, I'll understand and I'll stop and I won't be sore.
You can now download my completely unedited interview with Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher’s key foreign advisor, for your Kindle.
And here's a free extract: a bonus to patient Ricochet members for putting up with my self-promotion:
CB: How significant do you think she was in bringing about the fall of Communism?
Charles Powell: I think she was certainly significant, of course the United States had by far the bigger role, but she thought as one with Ronald Reagan, there was no distance between them, they both discussed this when they came to power, and they knew what they wanted, and they worked on it together, and I think, she had a role, first of all in the Iron Lady role, the tough rhetoric and the opposition to Communism, but also in her cultivation of Gorbachev, and she really was the first one to spot him, to develop him as it were, and to build a dialogue with him, and then pass him on to President Reagan, saying here’s a guy you can really deal with …
CB: Do you remember anything she said after the first meeting with him, apart from that famous line about “I can do business with him?”
Charles Powell: Yeah, Bernard and I both claim authorship of that line. No, it was just a recognition that here was a Communist leader entirely different from all the ones we’d dealt with before, I mean, we’d had this succession of, uh, geriatrics, Chernenko, and before him, Andropov and Brezhnev, who could barely stand up, and just sort of read from bits of paper, here was a man who talked and argued like a Western politician, didn’t need briefs and notes and advisors, and sat there and slugged it out with her, and she knew, this was somebody you could really engage with. She thought he was fundamentally misguided in his belief that you could reform Communism, and turn it into a successful system. And she kept telling him you couldn’t, that this was a complete waste of time –
CB: Did she use those words?
Charles Powell: Oh, yes. She was absolutely outspoken with him. We had this famous meeting in the Kremlin in 85 or 6, which, with one break when she had a lunch engagement, it went on for 13 hours, and I was the only other person present—
CB: Thirteen hours?
Charles Powell: Yes. A day of meetings which lasted a total of 13 hours with him, yeah. And I spent my whole night dictating my notes of it to a secretary in the soundproof cellar at the British Embassy …
CB: Do you remember any of the dialogue?
Charles Powell: She launched into a coruscating attack on the record of the Soviet Union, at home, abroad, its failures and so on, what it needed to do to bring itself into the civilized nations, and he actually responded in similar fashion, I mean, he talked about social inequalities in Britain, and the miseries of the miners, and the way Northern Ireland and all the other problems we had, and it was a real irony, we reached a stage where I was thinking of packing up my briefcase, thinking we were going to get slung out of the Kremlin, we wouldn’t even survive, so we might as well have a statement ready for how we were going to explain to the press that she’d been virtually expelled from the Soviet Union …
CB: Were you really thinking that, or are you exaggerating now for effect?
Charles Powell: Well, I’m exaggerating now a bit for effect, but it really was to the point where I thought, you know, that this was going to end in disaster, this meeting.
CB: At what point were you thinking that, exactly?
Charles Powell: Well, quite early on, because it started like that. But Gorbachev himself was very good at breaking the tension, and after about a sort of hour and a bit of this, he sort of suddenly, you know, broke into smiles, and sort of relaxed the tension, and moved on to something else, and after another couple hours again it sort of built up, it was rather like British weather, really …
CB: You don’t remember what he said that had everyone smiling, do you?
I'll have print versions of these coming out in a few weeks, too, but they'll be a lot more expensive. There doesn't yet seem to be a way to produce a really inexpensive print-on-demand version. But it's all a big experiment, so we'll see--maybe people still like printed books enough to pay that much.