A well known handbag has been seen over Blair’s shoulder

When Margaret Thatcher began to change Britain in 1979, I found the media had great difficulty in grasping the new politics she was determined to practise. They operated on the assumption that sooner or later she would turn like the rest of them had before her.

When Margaret Thatcher began to change Britain in 1979, I found the

media had great difficulty in grasping the new politics she was

determined to practise. They operated on the assumption that sooner or

later she would turn like the rest of them had before her.



For two years I played ’spot the U-turn’ with the Lobby. And the penny

did not entirely drop when she resisted all efforts to take the brakes

off public spending and told her party conference: ’You turn if you want

to, the lady’s not for turning’.



This wave of nostalgia has been brought on by Baroness Thatcher’s recent

meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss world affairs before

the summitry season. It is easy to dismiss the event as a PR stunt.

After seven years’ retirement, Lady Thatcher is no expert on the current

players.



Mr Blair may also find some advantage in being seen to be consulting the

Great Handbagger before a European summit at which he intends to speak

softly while holding a big stick labelled ’the national interest’.



But this ignores her working experience of Europe’s leading men:

Chancellor Kohl, President Chirac and Euro-Commission president, Jacques

Santer whom she knew as Luxembourg’s Prime Minister. She also travels

incessantly to the United States, Japan, the Far East and Hong Kong

which we are about to hand over 15 years after she began negotiating the

process.



On the other hand, Mr Blair did not need to invite her to No 10. He may

have next to no experience of foreign or European affairs whereas she

attended 32 consecutive European, 12 G7 and seven Commonwealth

summits.



But he could have chosen to consult someone more operationally up to

date - for example, his predecessor, John Major, or former Foreign

Secretaries Douglas Hurd or Malcolm Rifkind - and with a less didactic

approach to life. He also could have plumped for an adviser less

inclined to induce apoplexy in his Left.



All this suggests to me that the media should not repeat their Thatcher

mistake. Perhaps Mr Blair means what he says when he talks about a new,

more open politics. Maybe he really does mean to tap the nation’s mind

and experience, regardless of political conviction.



After all, he has not only professed his admiration for the Iron Lady

and modelled his appeal on hers; he has also appropriated whole chunks

of her policies. A chap who can do that to the Labour Party we knew and

loved - and get away with it - can probably do anything. Before we know

where we are, he might even outflank Tory Eurosceptics.



Mr Blair may not be just a pretty PR face after all. It’s going to be

fun finding out.



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