Minister in fierce attack on Thatcher speech

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Political Correspondent

A government minister has prolonged the Conservative split caused by Baroness Thatcher's speech last Thursday. In a letter to the Times today, Alastair Burt, the social security minister, describes the narrowness of her vision as "breathtaking".

Mr Burt explains in the letter that he cannot let go unchallenged Lady Thatcher's claim that the government's unpopularity stems from its failure to satisfy the expectations of the middle class. "There are staunch Conservatives all over the country, not least in the North, who might not describe themselves as middle class, and why should they?" Mr Burt, MP for Bury North, writes.

The minister apparently did not clear the contents of the letter with the Tory whips, who are believed to have taken him to task. Mr Burt would not comment last night.

The letter exposes the depth of irritation at Lady Thatcher's speech felt by "One-Nation" Tories in the Government, who are usually bound by collective responsibility to avoid internal party controversy. Mr Burt is firmly on the left of the party, having been a vice-chairman of the Tory Reform Group before becoming a minister. One Thatcher supporter said last night he was "amazed" that a minister had written such a letter.

t Young Conservatives have postponed their annual conference amid disarray over the leadership and the finances of the party's youth wing. The conference, due to be held next month, has been postponed to April, according to Jason Hollands, who stepped in as chairman after the surprise resignation before Christmas of Paul Clarke, citing pressure of work.

Labour claimed the Conservative hierarchy was trying to kill off the predominantly right-wing conference because it had become an embarrassment. There was a performance by erotic dancers at last year's event, and an earlier gathering saw delegates stamping and cheering as the Maastricht treaty was ripped to shreds.