The Conservatives in Brighton: Party faithful unite behind family values

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The Independent Online
THE CONSERVATIVE Party rediscovered its deep instinct for survival yesterday in an impressive show of unity behind a right-wing social agenda that went some way to lifting apprehension about Baroness Thatcher's conference appearance today.

As ministers and ex-ministers sought to contain the damage of leaked criticisms of John Major in her memoirs, the former prime minister said last night at a reception after arriving in Blackpool: 'We've got to renew again and again our principles . . . The battle is never over. Socialism can return by many, many routes. When one supporter shouted out 'Ted Heath', she replied, 'point taken'.

Earlier at the conference, minister after minister sought to recapture the moral high ground for Conservatism and delivered ringing endorsements of Mr Major's leadership.

Sweeping law and order changes announced by Michael Howard were reinforced by an excited reception for a speech by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, which coupled pledges to close social security loopholes, stamp out fraud and clamp down on benefits to foreigners with a ringing appeal for the restoration of family values.

But in a speech heavy with Thatcherite ideology, he delighted representatives by striking a markedly anti-European note, saying the social chapter would have meant accepting 'policy made by foreigners, for foreigners'.

The persistent theme of family values started with a speech by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, who said parents needed to accept more responsibility for their children's education. 'It is in the family that children learn difference between right and wrong. It is the family that instils moral values. And it is the family that gives a child a sense of purpose and belonging, binding not just parents and children but the whole community together.'

Lady Thatcher's appearance on the platform during the economic debate today threatens to be overshadowed by the leak of quotations from her book casting doubt on Mr Major's abilities. According to the Daily Mirror yesterday, she contrasted his performance as Chancellor with that of Lord Lawson.

The Sunday Times again failed in the High Court, and later in the Court of Appeal, to secure an injunction preventing the Daily Mirror from publishing details. Mr Lilley said at a news conference that he thought Lady Thatcher was 'absolutely livid with rage' over the leaks.

Lord Lawson, Lady Thatcher's longest-serving Chancellor, said remarks attributed to her were 'not a problem for John Major'. He added on BBC television that she was still finding it difficult to come to terms with being ejected from office, saying: 'It's sad but I think that is the explanation.'

Sir Edward Heath, Lady Thatcher's predecessor, sounded a sharp note of dissent, saying proposals floated by Mr Howard to cap benefits for single parents risked losing another large section of the electorate.

The Daily Mirror today printed further leaked extracts of the memoirs in which Lady Thatcher says Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, was 'erratic' and 'changed his tune' under pressure.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, whose leadership challenge led to her downfall, was 'not a team player, and certainly not a team captain'.

Chief Whip Richard Ryder was disloyal and dealt a personal blow by 'deserting at the first whiff of grapeshot' during her leadership campaign. Jeffrey Archer, former deputy chairman, 'got the party into awkward scrapes' with ill- considered remarks.