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Remembering Margaret Thatcher; Interview with Frank Donatelli; Congress Faces Gun Legislation

Aired April 8, 2013 - 11:00   ET


KAREN CAIFA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was a grocer's daughter who became the first female prime minister of Great Britain. Margaret Thatcher was called "The Iron Lady" for her personal and political strength. The Tory leader swept into office in 1979, with the promise of transforming the British economy that was suffering from strikes and inflation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We decided there was no alternative to tough medicine, which would have to be sustained for some time, and it was accepted because there was alternative.

KAIFA: She cut taxes, privatized state industries, and deregulated financial markets.

Opponents accuse the prime minister of widening the gap between the rich and poor.

Thatcher also restored Britain's clout in world affairs and built a special bond with her American counterpart and political soul mate, Ronald Reagan.

The leaders had their disagreements, but shared similar conservative world views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was closer ideologically and warmer personally than any relationship between any other British prime minister and any other American president.

CAIFA: Thatcher convinced Reagan that Mikhail Gorbachev was a Soviet leader that could do business with.

MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: He was willing to admit that some things were wrong in the Soviet Union, which was very unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Reagan backed the prime minister in Britain's 1982 Falkland's War with Argentina.

The conflict cost 255 British lives and cemented Thatcher's reputation as a resolute leader.

THATCHER: A prime minister never expects to send people into battle. I was agonized over it, but you couldn't leave our people captive of a military junta of the Argentine.

CAIFA: Thatcher was the only British prime minister to serve three consecutive terms.

In 1990 after a leadership struggle within her own party, Thatcher was forced to resign.

Though no longer on the frontlines, Thatcher still had political sway as Baroness Thatcher, sitting in Britain's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Later in life as her health deteriorated public appearances became rare, but Thatcher's reputation was already set as a dominant figure of the 20th century whose influence is still being felt today.

I'm Karen Caifa, reporting.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm joined on the phone by CNN's Piers Morgan, and in just a few moments, we'll be joined by Thatcher's successor, Prime Minister John Major as well.

Piers, let me just ask you your initial reaction. This is not as though it wasn't expected at some point soon, but still it's overwhelming to hear this.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, I think it's a huge day for Britain, and it's a huge day for the world. Margaret Thatcher was one of the great political leaders of the last 40, 50 years without any doubt.

John Boehner said that she was the greatest peace-time prime minister in British history, and I think many would say that.

She was also the most divisive, so the reaction in Britain, I think, has been very split those who are genuinely mourning the loss of a great leader and many who felt that she was detrimental to Britain. Very few had ever been divisive as Margaret Thatcher.

I stand on the side of people who thought she was a magnificent leader, someone who didn't court popularity. She never read the newspapers famously, didn't care what people said about her.

She was the first woman to rule since Elizabeth I. She was the first female prime minister.

She survived famously on three hours of sleep a night. This was a remarkable, remarkable woman, and somebody who came out with one of the great quotes, I think, which is, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

BANFIELD: So, Piers, I think if I'm doing the math, you and I are about the same age, and I think we started our careers about the same time, about 25 or so years ago.

You would have been a cub reporter, my guess, as she was in sort of her highest element

What was it like covering her back then, and how much did you have to get your head around the notion of a very powerful woman like this in politics where a woman had not before been?

MORGAN: The thing I liked most about Margaret Thatcher. Was a newspaper editor for Rupert Murdoch in the mid-'90s, which is after she was out of office, but that's when I got to know her personally.

And I remember meeting her at one of Rupert Murdoch's parties in London and she was utterly formidable.

She once said that she used to make up her mind about all men within 15 seconds, and within 15 seconds of meeting me, I remember she had this huge tumbler of whiskey, massive. She used to love a large glug of whiskey.

And she began prodding me in the chest very hard with a very large, boney finger, putting me right about all things economic, and it was fascinating to watch.

I remember thinking this is obviously exactly how she's treated male politicians for the last 15, 20 years. You know, she was a tough cookie, and she was somebody who famously over the Falkland's war in the early 1908s I think showed true courageous leadership, and she survived an IRA bomb that killed members of her administration, nearly killed her. She was really, really tough.

But at the same time to try and revive the British economy, she was very tough on some of the manufacturing industries.

There are many coal miners and printers in Britain who saw their industries decimated by Margaret Thatcher's policies who will never forgive her. And that's what I mean about her being so divisive.

But I think on the global stage, you know, you have tributes from people like Mikhail Gorbachev and others, seeing the impact that she had on the world stage was absolutely enormous.

BANFIELD: Your wife, Celia, her father was in Thatcher's cabinet. Do you talk at length about what those days were like?

Was there as much -- when you say divisive, there was a lot of talk about the divisiveness in her own cabinet.

Has your wife weighed in on what their dinner table conversation was like?

MORGAN: I've talked to my father-in-law about this. He was a junior education minister under Margaret Thatcher and remained a huge fan of hers.

And he said the thing about it was that she was the first female prime minister, and predominantly her cabinet was male. But she ran it with a rod of iron, and she didn't suffer fools.

She was a very, very good debater, very, very intelligent, always on top of all the briefs, famously. And you had to be a very, very smart guy to survive under Margaret Thatcher. And she was a real trailblazer. She smashed many a glass ceiling in her time. She won three elections. She was extraordinarily successful.

And, remember, (inaudible) she could talk about anything. She would talk to you about the economy or billion world peace or about the state of the manufacturing industry around the world or the privatization of water companies. Whatever the subject was, Margaret Thatcher was incredibly well informed.

And that to me was very impressive. (Inaudible) Jimmy Carter about it, and he was the president for one (inaudible), but he said the great thing about Margaret was that -- (inaudible) as long as you were basically agreeing with her, everything was fine.

The problem came when you disagreed with her, and that was certainly my experience is that she would chew you off as soon as look at you if she felt you were talking nonsense.

BANFIELD: I would have loved to see her talk to you when you were editor of "News of the World: as well. That would have been fascinating.

I want to bring in my CNN colleague, Richard Quest, as well, who is outside of 10 Downing Street, her long-time residence, obviously the office of the prime minister -- the home of the prime minister.

Richard, what is the scene? Obviously this news just having broken in the last couple of hours, what's the scene there? Are people paying their respects?

Do we expect a turnout there? And what side of Margaret Thatcher are we likely to see more of highlighted in these days as we go towards her memorials?

RICHARD QUEST, HOST, CNN INTERNATIONAL'S "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": And that's a really fascinating question which we'll come to in just a second.

Downing Street is a closed-off street, so you wouldn't expect any crowds. At the end, it's still the tourists that are there. There have been no people gathering or anything like that.

What we are expecting in the next couple of hours is the prime minister, David Cameron, will return to Downing Street. He has been in Spain and in Europe. He is cutting short his visit.

He will come back to Downing Street, and then shortly after 6:00, that's 1:00 Eastern time, the prime minister is expected to come into the street and he will make another statement.

What we know about the funeral arrangements is that they will take place at St. Paul's. In fact, the funeral will take place at St. Paul's Cathedral. That's incidentally is where, of course, Charles and Diana were married. It will be a ceremonial funeral, not a state funeral, the difference being that you will have military honors, but Baroness Thatcher will not lie in state.

As to your most interesting part, in many ways, what will people remember? It's as Piers was saying. It's that divisive quality that she had in Britain. You either loved her or hated her.

You admired her, or you reviled her. You thought she brought the country to its knees, or you thought she raised it high again. That was how people will regard her even many death.

BANFIELD: Richard, I want to just read something that came out shortly after the news broke of her death from the stroke today, and that was from the former Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.

It's not the kind of accolade that you've been seeing elsewhere around the world. Instead Gerry Adams said this, and I'm going to quote him.

"Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister. Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies.

"Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering."

I think that speaks volumes to what you just said, the divisiveness outside and inside her cabinet.

I want you to just speak further to that and how much more of that we may hear.

QUEST: Oh, I think you're going to hear an enormous amount of it in the days ahead not just from Northern Ireland. You're going to hear it from northern Britain where coal mines were shut, wholesale. You are going to hear it from the former steel industry, the former manufacturing industry.

This is a woman -- look, there were companies, if they had the word British in them, they were nationalized and she privatized them -- British Airways, British Gas, British Telecom, British Steel, British Petroleum. They all went into the private sector.

In doing so, this revolution in the industry that took place threw millions out of work.

Now, you can arguably say, and many do, that it transformed Britain into the machine that it became and became so productive. The other side is all those people in those communities.

And it's a very similar argument that you hear in the United States as regards Ronald Reagan.

I think the difference is, in death, the critics will still be as vocal about Margaret Thatcher than perhaps they were, say, for example, after President Reagan died. BANFIELD: I just want to read for a second, if you would indulge me, Richard. Meryl Streep, who so famously portrayed the Iron Lady in the movie, "The Iron Lady," has put out a statement.

I think obviously she's probably been deluged with requests for her reaction to this. She poured so many months of her life into researching Margaret Thatcher, not only her history, but her mannerism, her family, all the rest.

Here she says, "Margaret Thatcher" -- and Meryl Streep, quoting here -- "Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer willingly or unwillingly for the role of women in politics. It is hard to imagine a part of our current history that has not affected by measures she put forward at the end of the 20th century."

" Her hard-nosed fiscal measures took a toll on the poor, and her hands-off approach to financial regulation led to great wealth for others.

"There's an argument that her steadfast almost emotional loyalty to the pound sterling has helped the U.K. weather the storm of the European monetary uncertainty."

This is fascinating. This is an actress. Here she is portraying Margaret Thatcher.

But she was so involved. I recall hearing an interview about how much she wanted to bring to the role on the screen of the life of the Iron Lady, and I could continue reading, but it would take me several minutes, Richard Quest.

QUEST: The point is, I remember hearing Meryl Streep when the Thatcher film came out. She made it quite clear that she would have been one of those people that would have been protesting or was one of those people protesting against many of the policies of Margaret Thatcher.

My understanding is she was not a supporter of Thatcher during the Thatcherism years.

And here's the other thing about Thatcher and women. She may have blazed that trail, but she was by no means a great supporter in terms of raising women up through the ranks.