Baroness Thatcher gave her ambivalent backing to John Major in the Conservative Party leadership contest during an interview televised on CNN, but predicted that while he might think he had made "rather a clever move" by putting his leadership on the line, he would regret it.
Asked whether she would endorse John Redwood, she replied: "It's very difficult when you have loyalties to both. I have loyalties to the Prime Minister, obviously. But John Redwood was also head of my policy unit when I was in No 10 Downing Street."
She said that Mr Redwood had altered the whole nature of the first round of voting in a Conservative leadership election by putting forward what she called a "major" challenge. "But I don't think he's yet altered it enough for me to depart from my loyalty to the Prime Minister.
"At the moment I'm supporting Mr Major during the first round ... but it's a little premature to endorse anyone finally."
Larry King, a CNN interviewer who has become a celebrity in his own right in America, succeeded in extracting a clearer response from Lady Thatcher about the leadership contest than a host of British reporters had done during a lunch at Washington's National Press Club on Monday.
Mr King is the envy of his rivals. Every major figure in American life, from President Bill Clinton to Clint Eastwood to Madonna has appeared on his show. The secret is that he tosses them gentle questions, flatters their vanities and lulls them into a condition of easy intimacy which allows him to coax things out of them they would rather keep to themselves.
Lady Thatcher, Mr King informed his viewers, was "one of the most well- liked and most respected people in this country". Managing to give six free plugs to her new book, The Path of Power, during the show, he managed to persuade her to make plain what her feelings about Mr Major really were.
"It's a very strange election ... In my view it should not have gone on when we became the Government because the Prime Minister is not answerable only to his own Members of Parliament, he's answerable to Parliament as a whole and to the people as a whole, and therefore I don't think we should have that challenge. It causes so much trouble."
"Was it smart politics?" Mr King asked. "Smart politics on the Prime Minister's part?" "Yes."
"You know, when you do something like that, that you think might be rather a clever move, it never turns out that way ... There's an instant reaction always, 'that's fine', and the next day things change."