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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Lady Thatcher, the video star

By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter

This probably wasn't what the doctors had in mind. Lurking in the shadows stage left, clutching her handbag close to her as ever, Lady Thatcher prepared to make her entrance.

The former prime minister is, of course, under orders from her physicians never to speak in public again.

Lady Thatcher was greeted with a standing ovation

Perhaps they forgot to add: "Oh yes, and no appearances before capacity crowds at one of London's most prestigious venues."

We were at the Royal Albert Hall to see the living legend in the flesh, to hear words of wisdom, to be awed by astonishing commitment and remarkable achievements.

And after Sir Steve Redgrave had finished, we were to be granted a few moments of Lady Thatcher's time.

It was the Institute of Directors' Centenary Convention. Sir Richard Branson and Sir Terence Conran had already been and gone.

After a bite to eat, Buzz Aldrin was due on stage, followed later by the BBC's own Andrew Marr.

It was the pre-lunch agenda, however, which was most enticing. Olympic medallist followed by record-breaking prime minister. Even though she's not allowed to utter a word.

But they'd got round that. Instead of making a speech and then being ushered onto the Ikea-style red settees for a cosy chat like Sir Steve before her, Lady Thatcher had recorded an interview to be broadcast to delegates.

She would then make a brief appearance on stage.

Message

The interview was, we were told, her first for two years. And, said proud interviewer Andrew Main Wilson, the institute's chief operating officer, it might even be the last she ever grants.

It was, to be fair, more Richard and Judy than Jeremy Paxman, but it'd have been a little ungracious to give the increasingly frail ex-PM a real going over.

Anyway, as hapless interviewers have so often discovered, she's the one who does the going overs.

In essence, Lady Thatcher's message was that she'd duffed up the unions big style, saved Britain from the socialist plague, won a war and transformed the economy.

There was classic Thatcher too. The miners' strike - that "last gasp of militancy" - had been a victory, she said.

Mr Blair and the Labour Party sound too much like us
Lady Thatcher

And then she lowered her voice in the way she does when she really wants to stress her point: "You could say that by the end of it the extremists had lost. But I prefer to say that ... Britain ... had ...won."

As for Tony Blair, he won brickbats and bouquets. His handling of the war, for instance, was top notch.

He understands business too, she suggested.

But his wider philosophy took a drubbing. You can't have a "middle way" - Tony prefers to call it the third way, but we all knew what she was talking about - between capitalism and socialism, she said.

And as for those people who flounder around scratching their heads wondering "what works", well really....

Problem

"I have always known what works - free enterprise works, limited government works, encouraging initiative and responsibility works," she said.

It's all OK, though, because Tony Blair is pretty much following her creed.

Indeed, the transformation of the economy by her government had also transformed Labour, she said. On that, many Labour supporters will agree and you don't come across that sort of alliance very often.

"Indeed, that has been a bit of a problem for the Conservatives - Mr Blair and the Labour Party sound too much like us," she said.

But the danger within is still lurking, Lady Thatcher warned, citing "irresponsible" policies of tax and spend as showing Labour's true colours.

Public spending is growing too fast, taxes are being raised, Gordon Brown's forecasts are dubious.

Trade unions are finding their feet again, Europe is imposing red tape. As for the euro, joining would only make matters worse.

Concern

"This does not signal a wholesale return to the 1970s, but it does mean that Britain is now moving in the wrong direction towards the failed European model and high spending, high taxing and high regulation," she told Mr Main Wilson.

"So I am very concerned for the country's future if those trends continue."

That said, she didn't think the government would take the plunge and recommend euro membership.

After suffering a stroke, the 77-year-old former prime minister is looking frail these days, but as Mr Main Wilson will no doubt testify, she can still bark out her point with a degree of passion.

She was saddened, she said, that she'd not had time to see out the first Gulf War or play a part in working through the UK's relations with Europe.

I take the greatest pride in the fact that by nineteen hundred and ninety Britain's reputation in the world had already been transformed
Lady Thatcher

But she had been successful to a degree, she argued.

"I take the greatest pride in the fact that by nineteen hundred and ninety Britain's reputation in the world had already been transformed.

"We were no longer the sick man of Europe."

The video over, Lady Thatcher emerged from the shadows and on to a stage bathed in red and blue and a standing ovation.

Smiling, bowing and nodding to the audience, she was there for less than a minute, pale but elegant in a light blue suit.

Indeed, the order to refrain from speaking in public only added to that certain regal air she has perfected over the years.

And as she left the stage, Lady Thatcher paused briefly, half-turning again to the audience as if to defy her medical team and say a few words.

It was almost as though she really didn't want to leave just yet. But then she was gone.

How she must curse those pesky doctors.




SEE ALSO:
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