I offered romance to Major, says novelist: Dame Barbara claims her inspiration would have saved the country. But he chose 'back to basics'

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IF ONLY, John Major must be thinking, he had taken the advice offered by Dame Barbara Cartland over luncheon at her home in Hertfordshire. The last four months of scandal following revelation following embarrassment might have been so different if he had accepted the policy initiative she suggested.

She had offered him a policy, 'back to romance', but he thought he knew better, and instead offered the country 'back to basics'.

Maybe her policy had the narrower electoral appeal, but with hindsight, it also had so many fewer hostages to political fortune: Mr Yeo's love-child could have been explained away; Lady Porter's council house sales would have been irrelevant; and there could surely have been no suggestion that two men sharing a bed in France was anything other than innocent.

The 92-year-old best-selling novelist revealed in an interview yesterday how she, and not as was previously believed, one of the Prime Minister's apparatchiks, had been the inspiration behind the ill-fated back to basics campaign.

Her vision of a policy to unite the nation had first flashed before Mr Major's eyes one day late last summer, she told ITN yesterday, as she took him on one side during a jolly luncheon in Hertfordshire.

Describing the genesis of the now-famous phrase, she said: 'The first thing was said by Margaret Thatcher. She said we must get back to morality. Then when the Prime Minister came to lunch, we talked about it, and then, of course, he then came out with his own ideas about how it should be done.

'He put it in the words. I've always said what we want to get back to is romance, which is a very different thing. But with romance goes good manners, and all the things that really matter,' Dame Barbara said.

John Major's version finally surfaced at the Conservative Party conference in a rousing closing speech to the faithful, explaining why he was not about to resign.

'The message from this conference is clear and simple. We must go back to basics . . . The Conservative Party will lead the country back to these basics, right across the board: sound money, free trade; traditional teaching; respect for the family and the law.'

Dame Barbara, wearing seven strands of pearls and a bright pink frock, expanded her alternative vision, yesterday: 'Suddenly (I think through the Prime Minister), they (the people) realised they've got to get back to real romance.'

The novelist then developed her thoughts on the policy, further, presumably, than their intitial conversation had been allowed to go.

'We've never in the world, ever in our whole history had things as bad as they are at the moment, ' she said.

'That's because people will talk about sex all the time, and not about love. Love is spiritual. God invented it to make a child.'

Mr Major's staff were refusing to let Dame Barbara take the credit or the blame for back to basics yesterday.

'We have no comment to make', a spokesman at No 10 Downing Street said.

(Photographs omitted)