Ingham asks Thatcher to wait and see

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SIR BERNARD INGHAM, who used to be the official mouthpiece for Margaret Thatcher, urged the former prime minister to mind her language yesterday after she humiliated William Hague by forecasting Labour would win the next election.

The former Downing Street press secretary said Baroness Thatcher should have been more circumspect in her comments in Saga, a magazine for older people, in which she also complained about the problems of getting deaf, and being a grandmother who rarely saw her grandchildren.

Sir Bernard said she had been "stating the obvious" to say that Labour's huge victory would be hard to turn over.

"It would be testing everyone's credulity if she suggested a majority of 179 was easily turned over. It isn't and it won't be. I would have been happier if she had said 'in the present circumstances' because we don't know what the circumstances will be in 2001, bearing in mind that we are about to enter a terribly turbulent period in the world's history," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

To the suggestion that she failed to display loyalty, he said: "Her loyalty is to a cause: the Conservatism she believes in. She believes she was ditched by people who were disloyal to the cause in 1990. There was no loyalty to any party in 1997. As Stephen Dorrell [the former secretary of state for health] says, they were utterly divided and they were divided over an issue which actually brought Margaret Thatcher down - namely, Europe."

Yesterday Mr Dorrell rebutted Baroness Thatcher's prediction and accused her of an "unconvincing rewriting of history". He said she was responsible for her own downfall. "Lady Thatcher is engaged, as I read her article in today's papers, in a rather unconvincing rewriting of history," he said, speaking on the BBC's Today programme. "Everybody surely agrees that the biggest single weakness of the Conservative party in 1997 was the fact that it was divided.

"Now the divisions that we suffered from in the middle 1990s had their roots in her late years as Prime Minister."

He was joined in his criticisms by the former Chancellor, Lord Lamont, who also insisted the Tories could regain power at the next election.

"I am sure Lady Thatcher did not really mean the Conservatives couldn't win. She just meant they had a difficult task. I think they can win," said Lord Lamont, named in Lady Thatcher's autobiography as one of the cabinet ministers who told her she could not win the Tory leadership contest against Michael Heseltine.

Yesterday Mr Hague was not commenting on Lady That- cher's remarks, but a senior party spokesman admitted the Conservatives had suffered a heavy election defeat. "The next election is three years away. I don't think you will find the Labour party saying that the election is in the bag," he said.