Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK
Tories dismiss Major row
John Major's joy at reaching Number 10 soon ebbed
The Conservatives have attempted to play down the furore over John Major's description of Lady Thatcher's behaviour during his spell at 10 Downing Street as "intolerable".
The single remark put out in advance by the programme's makers earned front-page headlines on Wednesday in many newspapers, with commentators predicting it would open fresh Tory rifts.
But Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude dubbed the row "history" and insisted it would not be hugely damaging to the Tories.
"This is all people who have been leaders in the past."
"The great thing is we're going on to the future," he said. "I'm a lucky man - I'm the first leader of the Conservative Party who has good relations with all of his predecessors."
The programme reveals he lost patience with Lady Thatcher - who had promoted him to the job of chancellor in her own government - when she claimed to be a "very good backseat driver."
Mr Major said: "In retrospect, I think her behaviour was intolerable."
But his waned when he took decisions of which she appeared to disapprove. Mr Major told BBC her comments "drove a wedge between us".
Spectator columnist and Mr Major's biographer Bruce Anderson put it still more harshly.
"When she ceased to be prime minister, she almost became the leader of the opposition," he said.
"John Major was Margaret Thatcher's heir apparent. She advanced him, she supported him and then she started undermining him.
"If Margaret Thatcher stood for anything, she stood for counter-inflation and yet her record at the end was one of failure. He had to clear up that mess and there was no way of clearing it up without recession."
But Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher's press secretary during her time as prime minister, said he believed she had acted with "amazing, stupendous restraint" once she had been forced from office.
The makers of The Major Years said the former prime minister spoke with "devastating frankness" when looking back at his period in the highest political office.
He gave 15 interviews of two hours each for the series, roaming over a range of subjects, including the Tories' splits on Europe, the disloyalty of some of his Cabinet and Black Wednesday when the UK left the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Other interviewees for the series included Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke, Douglas Hurd, Chris Patten and John Redwood.
Lady Thatcher herself refused to take part.
UK Politics Contents
A-Z of Parliament