Revealed: Thatcher’s unlikely admirer
Philip Webster: Political Editor
Gordon Brown compared himself to Margaret Thatcher yesterday in a mischievous attack on David Cameron’s leadership.
He voiced his admiration for one of Labour’s totemic hate figures and someone for whom he has not always shown great regard in the past as he tried to exploit Tory divisions over Mr Cameron’s style and yesterday’s attack on him by a former deputy leader for “trashing Thatcherism”.
He praised the former Prime Minister for being — like himself — a “conviction politician” who had “seen the need for change”. But Mr Cameron was a ”prisoner of factions”, he said.
Conservative headquarters swiftly rushed out a list of quotations from Mr Brown about Baroness Thatcher that suggested his admiration was short-lived, although sources close to the Prime Minister disclosed that as long ago as 1983, shortly after he entered the Commons, Lady Thatcher had invited him to her Commons room for a whisky to discuss a speech she had heard him make.
Even so, Mr Brown’s motive was clearly to squeeze what advantage he could out of yesterday’s broadside at Mr Cameron from Michael Ancram, the former Tory chairman.
Speaking at his monthly press conference in Downing Street, Mr Brown said: “I think Lady Thatcher saw the need for change. And I think whatever disagreements you have with her about certain policies — there was a large amount of unemployment at the time which perhaps could have been dealt with — we have got to understand that she saw the need for change. I also admire the fact that she is a conviction politician . . . I am a conviction politician like her.”
He added: “If I may say so, I think the problems with the Conservative Party today are this: that there are two factions in the Conservative Party, which became obvious this morning with the statements from Ancram . . . and the leader is a prisoner of the factions rather than the factions being led with conviction.”
At his first Downing Street press conference of the new political season, Mr Brown dropped a broad hint that he was not contemplating an autumn election — but did not rule one out.
He insisted that he was focusing on “getting on with the job of governing”, laying out a programme for action for the “winter months” which appeared intended to signal that he was not preparing for an early poll. Asked if he could rule out a poll this year, Mr Brown responded: “I am getting on with the job. I said when I took over as Prime Minister that it would be getting on with the job that concerned me and what I wanted to do.
“I think you have seen over the summer that my whole attention has been on dealing with the floods, first of all, and the security and terrorism offences that arose early on, and then dealing with foot-and-mouth. Obviously we are dealing with the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to do so and I have just announced that education is going to be a very important theme of the autumn.” In a sideswipe at the Tories, he added: “I think a lot of speculation about early elections comes from those people who early in the summer were demanding that we have an election and now in the last few weeks have been demanding that we don’t have an election.”
The Conservatives accused Mr Brown of “running away” from a head-to-head television debate with Mr Cameron. Mr Brown had brushed aside a call for a debate insisting that there were “plenty of opportunities” for him to be questioned already and that during his first few weeks he had probably made more statements to MPs “than any other Prime Minister in recent times”.
Brown on Thatcher
Britain’s first woman prime minister has done conspicuously little for Britain’s women (1989)
Poverty does not concern Mrs Thatcher (1989)
Mrs Thatcher . . . wanted to eliminate the public sector entirely from whole areas of national life (1989)
She plans to eradicate the right to education and the health and social services as we know them. (1987)
As support for Mrs Thatcher’s policies of social division dwindles she will discover that there are simply not enough City speculators without a conscience to keep her in power (1987)