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Thursday, 8 October, 1998, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Back to front - Thatcher and Heath
Hague and Thatcher
Tory leaders past and present
By Nick Assinder in Bournemouth

The hairs on the back of Margaret Thatcher's neck must have been standing on end throughout the crunch Tory conference debate on Europe.

Thanks to a seating plan clearly designed by someone with a wicked sense of humour, the Baroness was perched just feet in front of her arch enemy Sir Edward Heath.

Never before has an IKEA chair been filled with such malice.

In the past, Ted has had to resort to all manner of cunning tricks to send a message to the woman he loves to hate.

Thatcher and Heath
Margaret Thatcher and Sir Edward Heath sit back and listen to Michael Howard
Most famously was when he sat alongside her during her keynote conference speech, his head resting in his palm as two fingers accidentally offered her an obscene salute.

On Wednesday he didn't have to resort to such tactics. All he had to do was be there.

And it must have taken all the formidable willpower Lady Thatcher possesses not to spin around to check whether he was pulling faces, aiming a dagger or even pinning a "kick me" sign to her back.

A picture is worth a thousand words

If the plan was to show how the Tory party was finally united on Europe, it couldn't have been more ill-conceived.

Every time a delegate made a pro-European speech, the cameras snapped onto Sir Edward - only to catch a glowering Thatcher in the foreground.

And every time a Eurosceptic contribution was made, the same shot saw a beaming Maggie with Ted apparently perched on her shoulder like a bad-tempered goblin.

And Denis Thatcher didn't make matters any better. He fell asleep during the debate and, when gently woken by a neighbour, appeared to mouth "thank you" before falling back into a deep slumber.

A triumph of image making this was not. And, despite all the demands to move forward, the Euro row continued to rumble around the conference, with some unexpected contributions and even more personal backbiting.

Stirring the pot

Veteran trouble maker and Euro hater Lord Norman Tebbit failed to ignite the blue touch paper but instead called on the party to "calm down".

Speaking at a Conservative Way Forward fringe meeting, he said the party's view on Europe was now clear.

There was "nothing wrong with argument within the party" he said, and added that the ballot of party members on the shadow cabinet's policy on the single currency had given the party "breathing space".

But the former party chairman still couldn't resist a sideswipe at Europhiles like Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, declaring: "I do not object to those who take a different view on EMU or a federal Europe. But it is not for the minority to call themselves 'mainstream' and call the rest of us 'out of touch bigots'".

Professional maverick Alan Clark tried to cool tempers, by insisting it was high time the debate became less personalised - and then went on to launch a scathing attack on Michael Heseltine.

But the day was set to end on an ominous note for Mr Hague when pretender to the throne Michael Portillo attends a Conservative Way Forward dinner - prominently supported by none other than Margaret Thatcher.

BBC News
Nicholas Jones: Another day of infighting over Europe
BBC News
BBC Political Editor Robin Oakley reports
See also:

07 Oct 98 | Politics
07 Oct 98 | Politics
08 Oct 98 | Politics

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