Margaret Thatcher: How PM was briefed on Sex Pistols

Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten in 1977Image copyright PA Image caption The Sex Pistols had a string of hits between 1976 and 1980

Margaret Thatcher was briefed on the Sex Pistols and other punk bands in preparation for an interview with Smash Hits, newly released papers show[1].

The PM was told she "may not enjoy" the 1987 interview but must show she was "still in touch with youngsters".

Her officials described punk as a "very basic musical style featuring a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts".

The papers also reveal Mrs Thatcher's closest aide urged her not to fight another election after her 1987 win.

In the aftermath of her third straight victory, Charles Powell urged the Conservative leader "not to put herself through it again", saying her "place in history" would soon be secured and he did not want to see her subjected once more to "unbelievable" levels of personal abuse.

"In two or three years' time, you will have completed the most sweeping change this country has seen in decades and your place in history will be rivalled in this century only by Churchill," he wrote.

"That's the time to contribute to some other area!"

Image copyright PA Image caption The prime minister received a detailed briefing ahead of the interview

Although Baroness Thatcher ultimately won a third term in 1987 with ease, the latest batch of her private papers - whose phased release is being overseen by the Churchill Archive Centre at Cambridge University[2] - shows tensions among her close advisers over campaign tactics, as Labour appeared to gain ground in the polls.

One of the more unusual interviews that the Tory leader did in the run-up to the election was with the best-selling pop magazine, Smash Hits.

In advance, she was warned that she may be asked "superficial questions which betray a lack of understanding" but the title had a huge circulation and she must appear "confident and relaxed".

"You may not enjoy this interview," the briefing stated."The challenge of the interview will be for you to demonstrate that just because you are not part of the pop scene, you are still in touch with youngsters and understand their needs."

In preparation, Mrs Thatcher was briefed about current chart acts and also given a short history of punk music, despite the fact it had long petered out as a commercial and cultural force.

"The punk era which hit the music world between 1976-1978 was a very basic musical style featuring a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts, most famous of which were The Sex Pistols with songs such as God Save The Queen and Anarchy In The UK," the note read.

"Other punk acts such as The Clash and The Damned were popular for a while but when the Sex Pistols split up in 1978 the style died out, to be replaced by the current technological musical era featuring computers, synthesizers and videos."

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Media captionNick Robinson looks back at the life of Margaret Thatcher

Historian Chris Collins, from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, said she would have known about the Sex Pistols, as the band rose to prominence in the late 1970s when she was leader of the opposition, a period in which she had more time to follow "what was in the papers, on TV and so on".

"I think she was fairly clued up," he said."No 10 probably prudently estimated her knowledge of these things as zero and they wouldn't therefore get it wrong."

Baroness Thatcher eventually quit Downing Street in November 1990 after 11 years as prime minister, following a revolt by Conservative MPs.

Reflecting on his "unusual" letter to the PM in 1987, her former private secretary and foreign affairs adviser Lord Powell said he did not recall the prime minister indicating at the time whether she intended to fight another election following the gruelling 1987 campaign.

But he said she told him there was "as yet no suitable successor" to her "although several thought they were".

Speaking on Tuesday ahead of the official release of the letter - which was co-written with his wife Carla - he said he was distressed at the toll that a third election had taken on the prime minister's health and performance and he "wanted to discourage her in her own interests from any inclination to go 'on and on'".

He added:"In light of subsequent events, my advice to her looks pretty sound."...


  1. ^ newly released papers show (
  2. ^ Churchill Archive Centre at Cambridge University (

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What does the future hold for the Greens?


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Media captionGreens told to look on the bright side after disappointing election

At a meat-free conference in the pretty surrounds of Harrogate, Green Party members have been digesting their disappointing election result in June, when they polled around 525,000 votes - half their previous tally - and ended up with a vote share of just 1.6%.

But while the mood among the few hundred delegates gathered in Yorkshire is reflective - it's certainly not despondent.

Yes, party members admit, the snap election caught them off guard and they were squeezed by Jeremy Corbyn's resurgent Labour party, whose agenda encroached on territory previously claimed by the Greens.

And there has been considerable debate about whether the party was right to stand aside 22 candidates in marginal seats to give Labour or the Lib Dems a clear run at trying to beat the Tories.

One of those candidates told me she thought Green voters should have been able to choose the party they wanted to, and that anyone prone to making tactical choices would have done so anyway.

Another described the decision as "surrender" - seeing as there was no real payback from Labour or the Lib Dems by coming out strongly for electoral reform.

There are others though (including the leadership) who believe the hung parliament was, in part, a consequence of the Greens not fielding candidates in certain seats - and that it demonstrated a spirit of co-operation among parties.

But generally - across the conference, there is a sense of optimism that the Greens do still have a place and a role.

"Speaking truth to power" was the slogan of co-leader Jonathan Bartley's speech.He said that from opposing fracking to being anti-austerity, the Greens had consistently set the agenda and their ideas were now "common currency".

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Green Party stood aside for other candidates in 22 constituencies at the general election

On issues such as tackling climate change, he said the Greens' "voice of truth" had never been more important.

And there was his commitment to a second Brexit referendum - on the final deal agreed with Brussels, a passionate defence of free movement of people and a claim that Britain's future was better in the EU.

But the party also wanted to make a case for a new economy - a Green economy - with people and the environment at its heart.

His speech on Monday was a morale-boosting address - to rally the troops and reassure them the Greens are still relevant....


  1. ^ Greens to stick up for 'the little guy' (

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Minister to review law on illegal Gypsy and traveller sites

Alok Sharma Image caption Minister Alok Sharma has launched a review

The government is to review the effectiveness of laws designed to tackle illegal encampments set up by travellers and Gypsies.

It will also look at whether planning legislation is properly enforced against unauthorised developments built by members of travelling communities.

In a Commons debate, some MPs said constituents believed there was one law for travellers and one for the rest of society.

Others warned against prejudice.

Communities Minister Alok Sharma said everyone aspired to "peaceful and integrated communities" but people must be treated equally under the law.

"Within the settled community the view is that if they were flouting the law in the same way as a small percentage of Gypsies and travellers they would be treated more harshly by the authorities," he told MPs.

MPs from across the UK, particularly the Midlands and South-East and South-West of England, claimed illegal sites were on the increase, along with the anti-social behaviour they said was associated with them.

Human waste

Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley, said he had no criticism of the "law-abiding majority" of travellers but parks and community facilities in his constituency were being damaged by illegal encampments every summer.

"Some of the sites have been left with huge amounts of rubbish and waste.In some cases, unbelievably, human waste in children's play areas," he said.

"I think this is completely unacceptable and I want the police and the council to be able to deal with these sites much more quickly."

Image caption Labour's Laura Pidcock called for tolerance

Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson claimed illegal encampments had doubled in five years in his Coventry constituency and "action not words" was needed from the government.

James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East called for a "three strikes and out rule".

"If they park on council land or private land more than three times, can we give police the power to take those assets and sell them for the good of the community and clear up some of the mess it's left behind?"

'Nomadic' lifestyle

Labour's shadow housing minister Tony Lloyd urged people not to "stigmatise" those from the traveller and Gypsy communities, who he said faced the highest levels of prejudice and discrimination.

Labour's Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, warned that prejudice against Gypsies and travellers had become "the last respectable form of racism" and their communities faced serious health and education problems.

Her Labour colleague, Laura Pidcock, the new MP for North West Durham, accused some of the MPs taking part in the debate of "judgemental snobbery" against people with a "nomadic" lifestyle.

Mr Sharma said he had reflected on the views expressed by MPs.

"I can therefore announce that the government intends to consult on the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments.

"And we want to seek views on whether there is anything that would ensure existing powers can be used more effectively.

"But let me be clear, this is not a signal to local authorities and the police that they should wait for the outcome of such a consultation - they have the powers to act and we expect them to act."...

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