Peter Oborne

Tories at Westminster are filled with optimism, much of it misplaced

Tories at Westminster are filled with optimism, much of it misplaced

There is a substantial monograph to be written on the relationship between the Prime Minister and Margaret Thatcher. It began with abject, one-sided adoration. Colleagues recall Tony Blair, as a youngish MP, meeting Thatcher. They say it was embarrassing, the look of dog-like devotion he gave her.

The second stage came when Tony Blair was leader of the opposition. He did everything he could to suck up. He told her ardent supporters on the Tory Right — above all the group of Eurosceptic death-squadders whose hatred of John Major was so intense that they favoured anything else, including a Labour government — how much he admired her. These conversations were part of a conscious strategy to give out the impression that Blair was Thatcher’s real successor.

This was not quite as cynical as it seemed. Tony Blair really believed it himself. So, come to that, did Margaret Thatcher. Once New Labour was in power, Tony Blair invited her to Downing Street, and sought her opinion on how to govern the country. In due course, Peter Mandelson gilded the lily, pronouncing that ‘we are all Thatcherites now’.

Then, as Tony Blair’s fortunes weakened, he changed his mind. The pivotal moment came in July 2002 when the Prime Minister denounced his former heroine in response to a parliamentary question from the Labour MP Stephen Pound. From that moment on, Tony Blair has judged it more profitable to ingratiate himself with the Labour party by damning Thatcher than be true to himself and praise her. This strategy reaches its logical conclusion in this summer’s local and European elections.

So far as can be judged from Tuesday’s launch, the Labour campaign is based on the proposition that a) Margaret Thatcher was monstrous, evil and malevolent, and b) she is still in charge of the Conservative party, through her faithful instrument Michael Howard.

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