Election '97: Vintage stuff lifts candidates' spirits

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The Independent Online
Neil Hamilton and Piers Merchant were conspicuous by their absence. But Tim Yeo and Alan Clark were at Tory Central Office to hear a vintage rallying call by Baroness Thatcher to unite behind John Major for the general election campaign.

Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1992 Committee, said: "She was on absolutely top form. The wonderful atmosphere that was created, quite truthfully, was because she is now going to give everything that she can to us winning. Her supporting John Major was 100 per cent."

Many emerged from the private meeting for the Tory candidates saying their tails were now up after Labour's set-backs over Scottish devolution, privatisation and the unions.

Gerald Howarth, the Thatcherite Tory candidate for Aldershot, said: "It was vintage stuff. The message here is that, united between Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the Tory party can preserve for the British people the prosperity which we have delivered. We have seen the deceit over Scotland, and the unions. Labour have had a lousy week, and our tails are up. There was a fantastic video to begin with."

The video, also screened before the party's rally at the Royal Albert Hall, suggests Tony Blair is surrounded by unreconstructed socialists in the Shadow Cabinet.

Sir Rhodes Boyson, a Thatcherite MP, denied Lady Thatcher was still overshadowing Mr Major's leadership by her presence at the candidates' rally. "I don't think so. We all welcomed her and we welcomed the Prime Minister. There is no doubt - at the present time - they have a very good relationship."

Julian Brazier, Tory candidate for Canterbury, said: "There were two very good speeches. The most important thing that came through was the sheer scale of the restoration of trade-union power, and it will be irreversible. That is the point that the Prime Minister and Margaret Thatcher made very strongly, that sign up for the Social Chapter, and on a majority vote, we can lose all the progress we have made in taming the trade unions, overnight."

But the campaign has marked the point where Mr Major has staked out his credentials as a "One Nation" Tory and not as a Thatcherite. That may dismay the right wing, but Tory strategists believe it is crucial part of the campaign.