Willie kisses rival Maggie by the sea
Maggie and Willie and the great Tory Party leadership race came today to this most sedate and self-effacing of south coast resorts. And a lovely time was had by all on the prom.
Good will abounded. Willie kissed Maggie (‘spontaneously,’ said Willie, and not for the first time, he said later) and then several times more as they walked along the front. ‘Shall we both gaze into the future?’ asked Maggie. ‘Why not?’ and they gazed past the photographers out to sea and along the pier. ‘Looking to Europe,’ said an aide.
The two chief challengers for Mr Heath 's old job were fulfilling long-standing engagements to attend the morning session of the Young, Conservatives' national conference. Within the hall attempts to raise the leadership issue were ruthlessly crushed by the chairman, Clive Landa, a TV executive—sometimes to disappointed cries of ‘rubbish’ from the floor.
But this was lunchtime, the sun was out, and Maggie, going for her second-round win next Tuesday, had bent the conference rules ever so slightly to slip in her political credo at the end of a well-received speech. The mood was on her, and she walked the half-mile to a lunch date with her rival.
Nothing was too much trouble. Children were chatted to, pensioners smiled at, and the flowers admired. She promised the photographers anything—except to go into the sea. Poor Willie, waiting hungrily for his lunch had to do with a quarter of the exposure. And so it had been in the hall.
There were no votes, but there was an obvious psychological advantage to be had. Maggie had a good start: the only lapel stickers for any of the candidates proclaimed: ‘The Rt Hon. Maggie for Leader.’ Others obscurely invoked: ‘Stop the Rot, Vote Hamilton’ (Willie?). A few anachronistic ones demanded: ‘Say No to the Blasted Heath.’
Suggestions that Mrs. Thatcher might have had a rough ride for unseating Ted Heath—the first choice of most YCs (remember ‘Vote for the Grocer, not the Grocer's Daughter’?)—proved totally unfounded. Wearing a bright turquoise dress and no hat, she sailed serenely through her hour on the platform.
But Willie, in one of his rather crumpled grey suits, came first to take part in a question-and-answer session on devolution and party organisation—scarcely the stuff for flights of oratory. His applause on arrival lasted a mere 20 seconds, and only the middle of the hall stood. He sat with his questioners in an armchair (casual presentation, pioneered by Mr Heath in October) and gave the 1,350 delegates a relaxed teach-in on devolution. His only moment for some personal philosophy came with a question of party affairs.
‘We have lost the support of young people: this is a very serious matter indeed for our party,’ he said. ‘Do not forget that in the 1950s we captured idealism and a sense of mission.
‘I believe the mood today is that much of our British way of life is being threatened by what we have to accept is the most left-wing dominated Labour Government there has probably ever been in the country (first real applause). There will be great efforts to change our British industry, our whole society and way of life. Our principles are that we conserve what is best in our way of life, and seek to adjust it to modern circumstances.
His only indirect reference to supposed weaknesses in Mrs Thatcher's make-up came when, smiling amiably, he called for a broad base to the party. Could it have been a dig at flowered hats and suburban garden parties? ‘There is an old saying that the party which wins Lancashire, wins the country. It still has a great deal of truth in it, and we neglect that view at our peril. We have to pay great attention as a party to making sure we can identify with those people in the north.’ (His constituency, of course, is in Cumberland.)
His biggest cheer was, ironically, partially vicarious. It came for a firm pro-European statement coupled with the name of Ted Heath, whose spirit was never totally banished from the hall.
Maggie was ahead on the clapometer reading from the moment she entered (front and rear stood for her). The initial applause lasted 37 seconds, and the cameraman had no doubt who was the subject of the moment. Maggie smiled beatifically through her ordeal by photograph.
Her role was somewhat different. The armchairs were whisked away and she sat behind a platform listening to an economic debate, on which she then commented.
There were a couple of jokes. ‘By this stage of the week,’ she said, ‘I'm beginning to think “That was the week that was.” But it looks like next week will be another one. If Willie can be photographed scouring pots and pans who knows, I may be photographed on the golf course.’
She surveyed the speeches she had heard. Then, in no uncertain terms she gave to the conference—and the television cameras—her political raison d'être. [end p1]
‘Our challenge is to create the kind of economic background which enables private initiative and private enterprise to flourish for the benefit of the consumer, employee, the pensioner, and society as a whole. But that isn't everything. You can get your economic policies right, and still have the kind of society none of us would wish. I believe we should judge people on merit and not on background. I believe the person who is prepared to work hardest should get the greatest rewards and keep them after tax (applause).
‘That we should back the workers and not the shirkers (applause): that it is not only permissible but praiseworthy to want to benefit your own family by your own efforts (much applause). Liberty must never be confused with licence, and you cannot have liberty without a just law impartially administered. (applause). You would not have political liberty for long if all power and property went to the State (great applause). Those who prosper themselves have a duty and responsibility to care for others, and I believe individual responsibility does not stop at home, but extends to the community of which we are all a part.
These stirring words were worth 67 seconds applause, and her first kiss of the day, from the chairman. And so Maggie set off into the sunshine and the long happy walk to her lunch date with Willie.
Mr Whitelaw confessed later that he had ‘often’ kissed Mrs Thatcher. At a press conference he said: ‘I have over a period of time, when I have met her—as indeed one does—I have kissed her often before. We have not done it on a pavement outside a hotel in Eastbourne before.
‘But we have done it in various rooms in one way and another at various functions—it is perfectly genuine and normal and right to do so.
‘We are members of the same party. We have been friends for a long time and because we are fighting each other for the leadership of the party, if we were to remove ourselves from the normal courtesies of our friendship this would be disastrous to our party.
‘After Thursday, somebody has got to lead this party and somebody else is not going to be the winner. I am utterly determined that my relations with those who stand in this election will not be changed.’
Back in London the bookmakers were busy. William Hill 's latest prices showed Mr Whitelaw at 13–8 on and Mrs Thatcher 7–4 against. Mr Prior was 14–1, Sir Geoffrey Howe 16–1 and Mr Peyton 20–1.
Ladbrokes said that more than £20,000 was invested yesterday on Mrs Thatcher to be the next Tory leader.