Election '97: Sir Denis ventures opinion on Major

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The Independent Online
Sir Denis Thatcher, husband of Baroness Thatcher, has delivered a characteristically blunt and embarrassing reply to a question about John Major's chances of winning the election. His one word response was: "nil", followed by a chuckle.

Sir Denis made this pronouncement during one of the very few moments he has been allowed to emerge from a tight cocoon drawn around himself and the former prime minister during their visit to Hong Kong.

He was with Lady Thatcher and the Hong Kong businessman and socialite David Tang, a former Tory party fund-raiser. They had been visiting one of Mr Tang's pet projects, an English language tuition centre, when a French news agency reporter managed to shout a single question to Sir Denis.

Edward Llewelyn, an aide to Governor, Chris Patten, who looks after Mr Patten's political contacts in London, was clearly aghast on hearing Sir Denis's comment and hustled him into the back of a limousine which then sped away. Mr Tang said he had not heard what Sir Denis said but added: 'There are a lot of rather annoyed people around."

The visit to the English language centre was supposed to have been a media-free event, but the colony is full of publicity-seekers who see no point in having important personages make a visit if it is not reported.

The Thatchers joined Mr Tang after having lunch with Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in Hong Kong, and one of the biggest donors to the Conservative battle-chest for the last election campaign.

Lady Thatcher has been careful to make no unscripted remarks during her three day visit to the colony and has said not a single word about the election. She has confined her activities to two set-piece ceremonial occasions, the biggest of which was Sunday's opening of the world's biggest road and rail suspension bridge which links the colony's new island airport to the mainland.

Sir Denis has had a strictly non-speaking role, trailing loyally behind his wife as she plunged through the whirlwind of activities which are typical of her overseas visits.