For the 500 or so at the Thatcher jubilee dinner it was, if not the high point, certainly one of the more important. Having cheered themselves hoarse at the entry of the lady herself, and roared their joy at a gem of a speech by Norman Tebbit, the diners applauded Michael Howard. He said he was a Thatcherite, and that the party would follow a Thatcherite direction. They loved it, for they believed it was necessary.
They could be right. Certainly, when Tony Blair had the previous day accused Mr Howard of being a Thatcherite, many Tories felt the Prime Minister had given them a huge boost. Now Lady Thatcher is flavour of the month again, there is no longer guilt by association. The old doctrines of reducing the state and empowering the individual are acceptable once more. Mr Howard confirmed this. All that remains is for reality to match the rhetoric.
To do this, one thing is especially needful. It concerns, as much of Thatcherism did, the economy. There are, to quote Mr Blair again, hard choices ahead, but little sign, so far, of the Conservative party making them.
The Tories may lead in an opinion poll. However, until they regularly register well over 40 per cent they haven’t a prayer of power. It is a view now common both to leading Tories and to those close to Mr Blair that, as things stand, a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the next general election. The failure of the Tory revival to penetrate urban areas where the party had seats until 1997 is the main problem. Ironically, this fact provides the party with both its main opportunity and its most deep-seated source of fear.
The first Thatcherite wave, in 1979, bore her to power precisely because it offered something to the working and lower-middle classes.