In a 1978 television interview for current affairs programme World in Action, Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher claimed that British people feared being 'swamped' by immigrants from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan. Racial tensions had been brewing in the UK and Thatcher brought immigration and race to the forefront of the political debate in the year leading up to the 1979 general election.
When asked by the interviewer how severely she would cut the immigration numbers if she got to power, Thatcher replied, 'If we went on as we are then by the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.'
She went on to say, 'The British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in.' Following the interview, Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP infamous for his 1968 'rivers of blood' speech, expressed his 'hope and relief' at Thatcher's comments.
Though Thatcher was widely condemned and criticised by Labour politicians and Cabinet colleagues, her statement had an immediate effect on the British public. After her comments, a survey by National Opinion Polls showed the Conservatives holding an 11-point lead over Labour (just before Thatcher’s comments, Labour had led by two points in a poll by the same organisation).
Thatcher concluded the interview, 'If you want good race relations, you have got to allay peoples' fears on numbers. […] We do have to hold out the clear prospect of an end to immigration...'
Thatcher was elected Prime Minister the following year and her government maintained a hard-line attitude towards immigration.