Question on leadership shakes Mrs Thatcher
Mrs Thatcher's customary cool was temporarily shaken when she was asked yesterday about the criticism of her leadership of the Tory party and the feeling in Britain that her overseas tour had been ill-advised.
Sitting in the Rolls-Royce belonging to the British High Commissioner in Canberra, Sir Donald Tebbit, before leaving for a weekend in the Southern Highlands, Mrs Thatcher was clearly taken aback.
She said: “Lack of leadership?” Recovering quickly from any dismay, she said: “Just look at the questions of terrorism, the Russians, the economy and defence.”
Her husband, Denis Thatcher, sat by uneasily as the Tory leader justified the tour, which began on September 4. She said: “I have met four Prime Ministers, each in their own country, and heard what their problems were. There is no substitute for personal contact.”
She hadn't seen the papers giving details of the Tory front bench criticism, she said, and rather skilfully suggested that it was better to have a lively fighting team rather than an anodyne one.
The timing of the question could not have been more unfortunate. Never complacent, Mrs Thatcher had justifiably felt that her five days in Australia had been successful.
Yesterday she flew from Melbourne to Canberra, where she met the Prime Minister, Mr. Fraser, and in the afternoon had half an hour with the Opposition leader, Mr. Whitlam.