UK: The Prime Minister's new clothes. (1 of 2)

UK: The Prime Minister's new clothes. (1 of 2) - The Tories, in an effort to leave Thatcherism behind, now seem to have settled just left of centre, says Andrew Rawnsley.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Tories, in an effort to leave Thatcherism behind, now seem to have settled just left of centre, says Andrew Rawnsley.

If a week is a long time in politics, six months can seem like an eternity. Was it really only in November last year that Margaret Thatcher finally fell on her handbag? The political landscape has been so transformed since the grey dawn of the Major era that the Thatcher age already seems like ancient history. The woman who ruled Britain for over a decade appears like a relic from a long lost world, ready to be stuffed and mounted in the dinosaur section of the Natural History Museum, to be gazed on with awe and fear by parties of schoolchildren.

When Conservatives speak of their lost leader these days it is as if she has passed away already, not just from power but to another place - or, at any rate, its political equivalent: the House of Lords. Though Tory ministers still pay occasional ritual praise to her achievements, with every act they bury her record.

The scuttling of her community charge flagship banged some further nails into the coffin. Norman Lamont used his Budget to read out the last rites. The Chancellor's most symbolic act was clobbering the yuppie phone, that favourite toy of Thatcher's Children.

Of course, the lady continues to rave from the grave - or at least from television studios. Yet the more she complains that her legacy is being overturned, the more the voters seem to take to John Major.

Some of her old courtiers and followers also strive to keep the Thatcherite torch alive. Former Cabinet ministers, like Cecil Parkinson and Norman Tebbit, are tending the shrine with their group Conservative Way Forward - instantly dubbed Conservatives On Their Way Out, because most of its members are leaving the House of Commons at the next general election.

Within the Government there are still some residual believers, mainly in the junior ranks, who gather to mourn her going in the No Turning Back group. Some of its members still fantasise that the party will eventually pine for the smack of firm nannying once more, and that the people will clamour for their heroine to return from exile and seize the reins of power again. These dreams are just that - dreams. Forget No Turning Back; the vast majority of Tory MPs are certain that there will be No Coming Back.

Thatcherism already seems like the aberration in Tory history that the old wets always said it would be, and the old dries ever feared it could be. Of course, some things will not be put back. Whoever occupies Number 10 after the general election, the trade unions will not be returning there for beer and sandwiches. Norma Major and Glenys Kinnock would both, anyway, offer them tea and sympathy instead.

Privatisation will survive. It will continue into a fourth Tory term with a final clearance sale of a few remaining items in state hands: British Coal, British Rail, London Underground and - if the Queen does not kick up a fuss - The Post Office. A Labour government, trying to juggle so many other spending priorities, would stop, but not reverse it.

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