Election '97: But are you perfect? asks Lady T

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The Independent Online
I learned yesterday why Martin Bell should never have done it. Journalists are good at asking questions but bad at answering them and to be handbagged by BaronessThatcher - or Neil Hamilton - is a humbling experience.

Lady Thatcher had just accepted a couple of shrubs, including a Hebe Margaret and a sickly-looking rhododendron from a pair of well-groomed children near Christchurch at a garden centre which rather dubiously boasted that it was founded in 1742.

She had shrugged off a couple of questions about sleaze with the usual rejoinder about fighting the election on "real issues". She moved round to where I was standing and I shot: "Are you happy with Mr Hamilton as a candidate?"

She glared, but did not hesitate: "Are you perfect?" and waited just long enough to ensure that I had no rejoinder apart from a ridiculous, mumbled yes and she was off.

Lady T is going on the stump for the next three weeks until she leaves for Hong Kong five days before the election. These are regal visits, a gracious presence with just a few more words than the Queen Mother. At the next site, Priory School in Christchurch, a bunch of uniformed five- year-olds, all born after her downfall, were assembled with posies and she busied herself sorting them out as the best backdrop for the photographers. She then gave a mini-press conference: an 89-year-old war veteran, Frederick Wood, had come to ask her about Europe. Staring at the TV cameras she said: "Britain has given away too much," suddenly she was blurting out about fish: "80 per cent of it is ours but they export more to us than we do to them," to a bemused Mr Wood.

And then, with Gerald Howarth, the Aldershot candidate and her former PPS in tow, she unaccountably went to the Aldershot Football Club - a team so bad that it dropped out of the Football League when it went bust seven years ago. Aldershot are now some seven divisions away from the Premiership and, apart from the appalling potential for metaphors about sporting and political disasters, most of the team have jobs. They could only muster seven bored players for a kickabout before her arrival. It was a disastrous photo opportunity with the TV crews taking it in turns to read out witty pieces to camera all about relegation and penalty shoot outs.

But she wasn't here to talk about football. Told by an American reporter that Tony Blair was seen in the US as the new Thatcher, she formulated: "They've got the sex wrong, the will power wrong, the reasoning wrong," and so on.

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