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Margaret Thatcher tried to scrap AIDS awareness campaign as new papers reveal secrets Tories have tried to keep hidden

The Aids advert did eventually go out after ministers twisted Thatcher’s arm with warnings that a failure to inform the public could lead to half-a-million deaths

MARGARET Thatcher tried to sink a public information campaign about the threat of an AIDS epidemic.

The Tory prime minister repeatedly raised objections, warning that alertingteenagers to the dangers of “risky sex” could backfire and cause “immense harm”.

Papers released by the National Archives at Kew show she only backed down after a series of stark warnings by advisers that half-a-million people could become infected with HIV.

Gay men and intravenous drug users were at the highest risk and the campaign would particularly target them.

There was no known treatment for the disease at the time of the row in 1986.

Health secretary Norman Fowler proposed a newspaper ad campaign setting out advice on “safe sex”.

But Thatcher was horrified by a section called: “What is risky sex?”

“Do we have to do the section on risky sex?” she scrawled in a handwritten note. “I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it.”

She suggested the advert could breach the Obscene Publications Act and proposed a more limited campaign based on those about “venereal disease”.


She wrote: “I think the anxiety on the part of parents and many teenagers who would never be in danger from AIDS, exceeds the good it may do.

“It would be better in my view to follow the VD precedent of putting notices in surgeries, public lavatories etc. But adverts where every young person will read and hear of practices they never knew about will do harm.” Fowler stuck to his guns, writing: “Given that there is no vaccine and no cure, the only option open is public education.

“No one is condoning these practices. But they exist and are one of the ways by which AIDS spreads.”

Cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong warned: “If there is no change in practices, particularly but not exclusively among those most at risk (homosexual and bisexual men and drug misusers), there could at the end of five years be half-a- million infected carriers … and that is a sober estimate.”

Thatcher gave in when deputy PM William Whitelaw told her no ministers supported her objections.

The revelations about the AIDS were not the only buried Tory secret revealed by the release of the National Archive papers…

Douglas Hurd: Minister’s hangover in Dublin


DOUGLAS Hurd had to be walked around a Dublin park to shift a hangover the morning after his first ministerial meeting with his Irish counterparts.

State papers from 1985 revealed the newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was left wondering what sort of impression he had left after the summit.

Tory Hurd’s political adviser Edward Bickham confided in Noel Dorr, the Irish ambassador to the UK, when they met at a dinner in London a few months later, according to the papers released yesterday.

In a letter to then Irish PM Garret FitzGerald, Dorr wrote: “He confirmed that Hurd thought that he had not really ‘jelled’ at his initial meeting with our minister in Dublin on 25 October, 1984.

“(Bickham mentioned that Hurd had had quite a hangover after that visit and had to be taken out and walked around the park the next day.)”

Moon Dust: Nixon gift lay hidden


FOUR fragments of moon dust collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts were found languishing at the back of a Downing Street cupboard.

And the Science Museum “was not over-enthusiastic” about taking them off No10’s hands, documents released yesterday said.

The rocks, encased in clear plastic with a silk Union Flag the astronauts had taken to the moon, were given to then-PM Harold Wilson by US president Richard Nixon in 1970.

They toured UK museums before returning to Downing Street but Wilson’s successor Ted Heath could not find an “aesthetically suitable” spot for them.

Margaret Thatcher ordered them rooted out after a talk with Science Museum director Dame Margaret Weston. But when it was suggested the museum might like to display them, they got a chilly response.

An official reported: “As a curiosity (ranking with a toothbrush once used by Napoleon which they have at the museum) they would always be very willing to give it a home if we no longer wanted the exhibit at No 10 but more significant specimens of moon rock are apparently available from Nasa if required as part of a scientific display.”

City Riots: Letwin’s slur after the violence


DAVID Cameron’s policy chief Oliver Letwin blamed “bad moral attitudes” for riots in black inner-city areas.

Letwin – then an adviser in Margaret Thatcher’s No10 policy unit – said poor white communities had endured urban deprivation for decades without rioting.

Papers released yesterday show he also dismissed proposals by ministers to foster new black entrepreneurs, saying they would simply set up in the “disco and drug trade”.

The riots in autumn 1985 – in Handsworth in Birmingham and Brixton and Tottenham in London – were among the worst disturbances to hit mainland Britain last century. High unemployment, poor education, slum housing and distrust of the police were widely blamed.


But Letwin wrote off attempts to solve the problems. In a guidance note, he said: “Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes.

“So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.”

The Cold War: Reagan’s novel take on Russia motives


PRESIDENT Ronald Reagan told Margaret Thatcher to read a Tom Clancy novel – to brush up on Russia’s Cold War thinking.

He recommended the Hunt for Red October author’s Red Storm Rising. It’s about an Islamist terror attack sparking World War III.

Reagan said it painted an “excellent picture” of Soviet intentions, papers out yesterday revealed.

The recommendation came after Reagan’s Reykjavik summit with the USSR’s premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to a ban on short and medium-range nuclear missiles and helped thaw the Cold War.

“The president strongly commended to the PM a new book by the author of Red October called (I think) Red Storm Rising,” Thatcher’s foreign affairs adviser Charles Powell noted in his record of their telephone call.

“It gave an excellent picture of the Soviet Union’s intentions and strategy. He had clearly been much impressed by the book.”

Thatcher was more concerned about Reagan’s proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons within 10 years, saying it would leave the Russians with larger conventional forces.

She was not reassured by the president’s “vague” reply, as he told her: “The Russians don’t want war, they want victory by using the threat of nuclear war … I think we could have a strategy to meet that.”

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