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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2005, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Do Thatcher's words still matter?
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

It may be 30 years since she was elected Conservative party leader, and she may be under doctor's orders not to speak publicly.

Baroness Thatcher
Lady Thatcher wants party to get on with it
But Margaret Thatcher's voice still echoes around British politics.

At a dinner to mark three decades since that fateful day, she continued her occasional habit of offering advice to her party - albeit it through a proxy speaker.

This time it was on the confusion surrounding the drawn out leadership contest.

In words that have been widely interpreted as a snub to Michael Howard and his timetable for a leadership procedure that will last until Christmas, she said: "Get on with it".

There may be other interpretations to that remark of course, but that is not the point.

The very fact that the words of someone who has not led the party for 15 years still causes any stir at all speaks volumes - British politics has probably still not entirely moved on from the Thatcher era.

No surprise

Only two days before her remarks, European Commissioner Peter Mandelson was gently warning Tony Blair that too much of the government's rhetoric on the EU sounded neo-Thatcherite.

And he said that because the latest bust up between Britain and France centred on the EU budget rebate negotiated with much handbag swinging by Lady Thatcher in 1984.

European Commissioner Peter Mandelson
Mandelson spoke of neo-Thatcherism
None of this should really be a great surprise. There are very few politicians, or probably even voters, who will not agree with the statement that Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain to an extent not managed since the post-war Labour government and certainly not seen since her reign ended.

Successive Tory leaders have, to varying degrees attempted to move on, while Tony Blair has more often than not appeared to glow every time he is favourably compared to the former Tory leader.

What it all amounts to is that every Conservative and Labour leader since 1990 has still been judged to some large extent against the Thatcher standard.

But perhaps her influence is finally starting to wane.

Great leader

When she appeared to anoint John Major as her successor, declaring she would not be a back seat driver, every time she leaned over his shoulder to grab the steering wheel the party veered in her direction. It certainly took notice.

Now, however, it appears any attempt by her to express a preference for any one of the candidates might have little influence on the party.

It is even likely that any attempt to mark out one of the candidates as the natural heir to Thatcher would do that individual more harm than good.

On more than one occasion, Michael Howard has appeared to suggest it is high time the Tory party stopped looking over its shoulder at the great leader who has gone to that other place (the Lords).

And all the talk about the need for a new, more inclusive face for the Tory party suggests a desire to cast off some of the image still sticking to the party from the Thatcher era.

After all, some of the newest Tory MPs were still at school when the Iron Lady was at her peak.

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