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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 05:05 GMT 06:05 UK
Thatcher ovation at 25th party
Lady Thatcher on Tuesday evening
Lady Thatcher arriving for the Savoy celebration dinner
Margaret Thatcher won a standing ovation as Tories marked the 25th anniversary of her becoming Britain's first female prime minister.

Baroness Thatcher was the principal guest at a dinner at London's Savoy Hotel on Tuesday evening.

The event saw Tory leader Michael Howard call her the greatest British prime minister since Winston Churchill.

Lady Thatcher defied doctors' advice against her speaking in public and responded to the tributes.

Guest list

She stressed the importance of strong government, firm beliefs and urged the Tory party to stick to its principles.

Earlier, as she arrived for the event, Lady Thatcher smiled and told reporters she was feeling well.

Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague were among other former Tory leaders among the 500 guests at the dinner, where salmon terrine and leg of lamb were on the menu.

But Sir Edward Heath and John Major, Lady Thatcher's predecessor and successor as premier, were not among the guests.

The event comes as Labour used its local election launch to accuse the Tories of being wedded to Thatcherism.

Conservative aides say that criticism will have little impact with voters.

Iron Lady

A new portrait has also been unveiled for the anniversary by artist Richard Stone, better known for his pictures of the royal family.

The portrait is the fifth Lady Thatcher has sat for with the artist.


Lady Thatcher, a grocer's daughter from Grantham, Lincolnshire, first rose to prominence in the Conservative party during the 1970s.

She became prime minister on 4 May 1979 and went on to earn the nickname 'the Iron Lady', becoming renowned for her strong response to the Falklands crisis, her programme of privatisation and her disputes with British miners.

Such policies as the sale of council houses and the acceptance of the free market, bitterly contested as she drove them through, have become common currency among British parties.

While Lady Thatcher's supporters credit her with salvaging the British economy, her detractors argue that her policies destroyed British manufacturing.

As unemployment rose above three million in the early 1980s, she became one of the most controversial prime ministers in history.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Standing up to unions was necessary as their greed was out of control
Harriet, Ipswich, UK

Nevertheless she celebrated her third election victory in 1987, in which she returned to power with a 101 majority.

Her final administration saw the introduction of the community charge, a tax on people rather than property, which became known as the poll tax.

Anti-Europe

The policy saw some of the worst street violence in living memory, with a demonstration against the poll tax in London's Trafalgar Square in the spring of 1990 turning into a riot.

Many of the Cabinet also fell out with the prime minister over her determinedly anti-Europe stance.

Differences over the issue finally led to Geoffrey Howe quitting the government in November 1990 - and making a valedictory resignation speech from the backbenches which fatally holed her premiership.

A fortnight later Lady Thatcher resigned, convinced that after 11 years in power she had lost the support of her own party.

But her legacy has been an undeniable influence on the Tory Party and British politics for the past 25 years.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Carole Walker
"There was no shortage of tributes to her legacy"



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