Commentary (The Times)

MT: “Tebbit hits out at Tories and names Brown as Thatcher’s natural heir” (General Election speculation)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 26 September 2006
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 878 words
Themes: Conservatism, Labour Party & socialism

Tebbit hits out at Tories and names Brown as Thatcher’s natural heir

Philip Webster

Gordon Brown was under renewed pressure from ministers and MPs in marginal seats to call an early general election last night as David Cameron suffered a new blow at the hands of the Tory Right.

Lord Tebbit declared that Mr Cameron was regarded as out of touch by ordinary people and that it was only natural that Mr Brown should make himself the “heir to Thatcher”.

Many people believed that the Conservative leader and his colleagues did not know how the other half lived, Lord Tebbit said.

An opinion poll taken after Mr Brown’s speech to the party conference gave him a 11-point lead, the highest in any poll since he became Prime Minister, and prompted a new burst of election speculation in Bournemouth last night.

Although the poll suggested that the number of people who wanted an early election had fallen, its findings will increase the confidence of those politicians who argue that Mr Brown should go to the country on November 1 or November 8.

The YouGov survey for Channel 4 News put Labour on 44 per cent, an increase of five points on last week, the Conservatives on 33 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 13 per cent.

The poll is a big setback to Mr Cameron and a boost to Mr Brown. But The Times understands that Mr Brown will not make a decision about a November election until after the Conservative conference. If he decides to go early, he is likely to wait until the Commons resumes on October 8 before making an announcement.

Lord Tebbit gave Mr Cameron another pre-conference jolt. He said that Baroness Thatcher knew exactly what she was doing when she visited the Prime Minister at Downing Street two weeks ago. She was aware that Mr Cameron had been at pains to distance himself from her, the former Conservative chairman added.

The devastating intervention from Lord Tebbit came in an interview with Ginny Dougary in The Times Magazine, to be published on Saturday. He drew a wounding comparison between Mr Brown, on whom he lavished praise, and Mr Cameron, whom he criticised for his lack of experience and his stand on grammar schools. “I think we lack somebody of the standing of Margaret,” he said when asked to name the Conservatives’ biggest asset.

His praise for Mr Brown will come as a new embarrassment to Mr Cameron after the visit by Lady Thatcher. Of the Prime Minister, he said: “I think he is a clever man and I have a very considerable regard for him.” He said that Mr Brown was not “tacky” in the way that Tony Blair had been, referring to some of the Blairs’ overseas holidays. Mr Brown was a principled man in his personal conduct.

But it was his comments on Lady Thatcher’s highly publicised trip to No 10 for tea with the Prime Minister that will infuriate the Tories and delight the Brown camp.

Some senior Conservatives attacked Mr Brown for exploiting Lady Thatcher’s alleged frailty for political advantage by issuing the invitation. But Lord Tebbit said that it “was Gordon Brown at his very best; a wonderful mixture of his courtesy and his political nous. After all, Cameron described himself as the ‘heir to Blair’; it’s only natural that Brown should make himself the ‘heir to Thatcher’. It’s the perfect response, isn’t it?

“I’m quite sure that Margaret Thatcher knew exactly what she was doing. She’s first too well-mannered to rebuff the Prime Minister and second, of course, the present Conservative leadership has been at great pains to distance himself from her — and she is, after all, a woman.”

Lord Tebbit said that he was not opposed to the presence of several Old Etonians in the Shadow Cabinet. “It doesn’t matter to me if the guy is the right guy, whether he was educated at home by his mother, went to a comprehensive or went to Eton. That is not a problem for me and never has been,” he said.

Then, in his most searing criticism, he added: “But what a lot of people will suggest is that they don’t know how the other half lives. David and his colleagues — the very clever young men they have in Central Office these days — are very intellectually clever but they have no experience of the world whatsoever.

“He has spent much of his time in the Conservative Party and as a public relations guy. Well, it’s not the experience of most people in the streets. That’s the real attack and that’s damaging to him, I think.”

He said that his main reservation about Mr Cameron’s stand on the grammar school issue, as someone who benefited from that system directly, was that “if the argument is that creaming off kids into the grammar schools is bad, then it must be bad to allow people to cream their kids off into private schools, too. My view is that selective education is so good that it should be available for everybody who can benefit from it, regardless of whether they can afford it.”