Lilley denies assault on Thatcherism

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PETER LILLEY broke his silence on the storm over the Tory party's stance on public services with a declaration that he was "a Thatcherite before Thatcherism".

The embattled deputy Tory leader, who has kept a low profile since he made his "10,000-volt" speech last month, said yesterday that he believed his remarks were "not in the least controversial".

Mr Lilley triggered a fortnight of chaos for the Conservatives after Central Office spin-doctors claimed he was to announce a historic break with the party's Thatcherite past by ruling out privatisation of health and education.

Backbench MPs were furious that the speech was delivered in the middle of an election campaign and on the same night as a dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher winning power.

Both Mr Lilley and William Hague faced calls for their resignation as senior party figures lined up to attack the confusion that had been caused by the apparent policy shift.

But Mr Lilley said yesterday he thought he was simply restating a simple message that the Tories believed that the taxpayer rather than the free market should fund basic public services.

He denied he had intended to suggest that ditching privatisation of health and education was the equivalent to Labour dumping Clause IV nationalisation.

"We certainly didn't expect fireworks. We thought we'd be lucky if we got a few column inches. It was never seen as Clause IV. We don't have a Clause IV," he said.

Mr Lilley also rejected claims, made by some on the right of the party, that he had betrayed his Thatcherite roots.

"The suggestion that I, of all people, should be repudiating Thatcherism? It would take a week on the rack and the loss of all my fingernails before I would repudiate an iota.

"I once said to Margaret Thatcher that I was a Thatcherite before Thatcherism. Thatcherism is applied common sense. You balance your budget, control your money supply, deregulate and de-control businesses, and we shall continue to do all these things."

However, Mr Lilley did indicate that the Tory party was not guided in every area by the Thatcher model. "Our policies are based on timeless principles which are more extensive than, but which include a belief in, the free market," he said.