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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK

Life on the Tory battlebus: Week 2

By campaign correspondent Tim Hirsch

The world's most famous Conservative dominated the campaign this week. Unfortunately for William Hague, it wasn't him.

One phrase in Lady Thatcher's speech at the Tory rally in Plymouth on Tuesday evening will be remembered long after the dozens of town centre visits and soap-box speeches from Mr Hague are forgotten.

"I would never give up our currency," the former Prime Minister mischievously added to her prepared text, contradicting the party line that the commitment only applies for the duration of the next Parliament.

For the rest of the week, Mr Hague has been pursued by questions about Lady Thatcher's comments - they were even raised by fifth-formers at the Manchester girls' school he visited on Friday.

He always tries to laugh off the remarks, saying that Lady Thatcher's views on Europe are well-known, and reminding people that she is not a candidate in this election.

Division on Europe

The trouble is, of course, that plenty of Tory candidates who are standing in this election agree completely with the former prime minister, and have said so.

And it is pretty clear that Mr Hague agrees with her as well, but can't say so for fear of re-opening the splits on Europe which dogged the Conservative Party throughout the 1990s.

"Last chance to Save the Pound," is the Tory leader's refrain at every rally, stump speech and town hall pep talk of his campaign tour.


" The latest routine from the Labour demonstrators dogging the leader's every step consists of one wearing a Thatcher mask caning another dressed as a schoolboy Hague "
Tim Hirsch

We are still waiting for him to say, "Last chance to save the pound for the duration of the next parliament!" Somehow it does not have the same ring, and would probably not get much of a cheer.

So Mr Hague seems happy for people to get the impression that the pound would be safe with the Tories for ever, even if it is only the likes of Lady Thatcher who are able to say so explicitly.

But the Iron Lady's latest broadside has provided plenty of ammunition for the Conservatives' opponents to make fun of this awkward nuance in the party's policy on the euro.

The latest routine from the Labour demonstrators dogging the leader's every step consists of one wearing a Thatcher mask caning another dressed as a schoolboy Hague.

Cries of "Thatcher's poodle" and a lot of barking greeted the Tory leader as he arrived in Bury on Friday.

But the real heroine of the week has been Ffion Hague, whose wifely devotion runs to laughing heartily at her husband's jokes at each campaign stop, even though she has now heard all of them at least a dozen times.

If she's still laughing by 7 June, it will have been a superhuman effort.


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