My guest today on the Cheshire Olga channel is Edwina Currie.
An Oxford University alumna, she was an MP from 1983 until 1997, and was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government in the Department for Health.
She is the author of eleven books, a well-known radio presenter and TV personality. Here we discuss Russia, Brexit and Margaret Thatcher.
You can click the button below to watch the full interview on Youtube.
It is in two languages (Russian and English) throughout and subtitled for the other so anyone can watch it. A transcript in all English appears below.
I’ve lived in the UK for over a decade, and when I return to Russia, people often ask me what British people think of Russia and Russian people. So let’s ask one…….
My guest today is Edwina Currie. An Oxford University alumna, she was an MP from 1983 until 1997, and was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government in the Department for Health. She is the author of eleven books, a well-known radio presenter and TV personality. She even runs a business club and is the president of a male voice choir! Edwina, good afternoon……
Olga: Unlike most British people, I know that you have visited Russia. Can you tell me a little about that visit?
Edwina: I’ve been to Russia several times. The first time in 1994 as part of a parliamentary delegation, we were invited to the first meeting of the new Duma when Yeltsin was president. It was fascinating. I could see it was a hard time for Russia, but we were made very welcome.
We went to the first session of the Duma and I was surprised by how well behaved everyone was! They weren’t shouting at each other like they do in the UK House of Commons.
We were taken around Moscow, to the Kremlin and to various special events. It was very interesting.
I visited Russia again in 2002 and 2009, but this time on a bicycle! I helped to organise a group of 70-80 amateur cyclists for charity events. The first event was Saint Petersburg to Moscow in July 2002. The second one was Tallinn, Estonia to Saint Petersburg in 2009. I think I know every pothole in the roads around St Petersburg now! It was a wonderful experience.
Usually when a visitor goes to Russia they see the great cities like Saint Petersburg and Moscow. I did, and I also saw the Hermitage too. But the visitor seldom gets to see the countryside. Riding a bicycle I did. Beautiful old carved wooden houses, babushkas sat outside wearing headscarves were waving at us as we rode past. We felt very welcome. It was lovely.
Olga: As you have visited Russia in the past, what is your impression of Russia, the Russian people and the current leadership? Feel free to be candid.
Edwina: Russian people are similar in many respects to people anywhere. They’ve had a very hard time in many ways. The impact of WW2, Stalingrad, etc., is still there. You still feel it, especially among older people. There was a lot of hardship and the changes that happened after Perestroika and Glasnost put a burden on people who had never experienced a different kind of life.
For a while [at that time] there were some people making a lot of money and many other people suffered hardship – that was the impression I got. There was also a yearning for stability, we understand that.
I saw Russia before President Putin came to power around 1999-2000 and also afterwards. Now it’s a lot brighter, cleaner and richer. One of the things I admired Putin for was he fixed low tax rates but everyone had to pay tax. This means steady government income and thus funding exists for necessary things. The element of chaos we once saw has now largely vanished. People are working hard and seeing the benefits.
Putin is a very interesting man. It’s easy to say he is strong and in control, and I’m sure that is true. From a western perspective, we would like to see more democracy, and the growth of a political opposition so different arguments can be heard. But Russia doesn’t have that as a history, so people have to find their own way to live a good, prosperous and safe life.
Olga: It is no secret that the British media frequently carries negative commentary about Russia. Do you believe all the negative media is justified, and do you see an improvement in relations between the UK and Russia in the future?
Edwina: The British media habitually report bad things. If you turn on BBC News, its all disaster, death, murder or plane crashes. As an audience, we have developed a taste for negative news. That is a pity as there are a many good things to talk about as well.
The successes of Russia which particularly attracted attention, admiration and envy in the 1950s and 1960s, for example Sputnik, the first dog in space, Yuri Gagarin, etc., hasn’t happened recently. There is always going to be great rivalry between the non-Communist west, particularly the USA, and Communist (FSU) countries. The USA is “macho” and doesn’t like competition.
That said, we would feel more secure with Russia if there were a freer media and if people felt secure making comment about what the government is doing without fear. Whether that will come or not is up to the president.
Putin has a remarkable personality; very tough and capable. We envy that. There is no doubt. We would like strong leadership as well. But we would like strong leadership alongside awareness that things might be different; that the other side of the argument may have validity.
Does that make sense?
These are the questions that seldom get asked in Britain. We don’t think about how relationships might improve with Russia. We tend to blame Russia and assume anything that goes wrong is Russia’s fault. We don’t think about what we can do. Where it would be helpful is if the UK and Russia could work together to help resolve some world issues.
At the moment, things are a little soured by speculation about Russia interfering in elections. These are our very precious things. Elections are dear to us – we don’t want anyone to interfere with them. Not least because we say: interfere at your peril. Be careful what you wish for.
Olga: Russian people ask me about Brexit. The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, and it isn’t finalised yet. Do you think the UK will actually leave the EU or will it be postponed indefinitely or diluted?
Edwina: Brexit is Britain’s nightmare right now. It’s an extremely difficult time. The last 6 months where we have had vote after vote in the House of Commons where nobody can agree has put 10 years on my face!
It’s a hard time for us in several ways. For business, we don’t know if we are in the EU and obeying their laws, or out of the EU and not obeying their laws, or if we have an agreement – we simply don’t know! We don’t know what the future will be.
As I speak, we have no agreement. Everyone wants an agreement and to know what certainties they have. Business is relaxed about if we are in the EU or not. Once they know the new rules, they can adapt.
I have confidence our country will prosper whether we are in the EU or out.
I campaigned to remain in the EU. I was always a fan of the EU. But I admit it has changed. When we joined, it was a trading area. Now it has become more political. It feels a bit like we are in the Russian Federation without any choice, and the British are rather difficult about that.
When we voted in June 2016, everybody promised to abide by the result. As we speak today, that hasn’t yet happened. I hope we see a resolution soon.
Olga: As a well-known, and at times, controversial person, you have had to deal with much negativity over the years in the media and online. I have met you a few times before, and for me you are a positive, energetic and very warm lady with a big personality. May I ask how you deal with negativity and negative people in your life?
Edwina: Well, I think you have to have a vision. You have to have a set of values; you have to have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. The political world is one of possibilities. It’s one in which things can be encouraged and enabled to happen.
If you hold on to what you believe to be the best way of doing things, you can be positive and hopeful. In my lifetime certainly, things have got better in many ways. There are many ways in which life gets better.
The modern media is wonderful; I love Facebook and the other social media sites, but they can be difficult. If I’m on Twitter and someone is rude to me, I either mock them or block them. If you show you’re not a victim, and they are not part of your life, you have won. That’s the best way forward.
The answer to anything, on a day when things are not going well, is to get some work done. Do something. If you’re at home, tidy a cupboard. If you’re at work, do that pile of work you have been delaying. When it’s done, it’s finished and you’ll feel better.
Olga: What inspires you?
Edwina: I’ve been inspired by looking at the work of great people. Particularly Margaret Thatcher, who I knew and worked for. I had noticed her when she was a young, married woman MP, a scientist and a mother of small children. Her children were only 6 years old when she went into parliament. I went into parliament when my children were 6 and 8 years old. I knew it could be done because Margaret had done it.
You cannot aspire to be that person, but you can aspire to their way of life, ideas and attitudes. And try to continue the pathway they showed.
I was in elected office for 22 years. Each time I had the opportunity to administer some power I tried to do good things that would be durable. We introduced free breast cancer screening for everybody. We brought in cervical cancer screening for women. We were the first country in the world to have both.
Sooner or later we are judged. And I hope the judgement is kind.
Olga: Do you believe in God?
Edwina: I don’t visit church. I was raised in a religious household. I recognise the great value and strength that belief and church-going gives people. I respect that. Who knows, maybe when I’m 95 or 96 and I think I may meet god soon, maybe…..
Olga: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Edwina: Thank you. Is “thank you” spoken as “spaciba”? [exchange of pleasantries and thanks]
Olga: Thank you for watching, please like and subscribe to my channel, and feel free to comment below.