Nearly 17 years after she was evicted from Downing Street, there is no mistaking Baroness Thatcher's star quality. The former Prime Minister, wearing a striking cerise dress rather than her usual blue, was treated like royalty when she dropped into her old home for tea.
All hostilities were apparently forgotten as the current tenant, who has confessed to admiration for her leadership style, welcomed her with a handshake on the doorstep and ushered her inside. There she was greeted by 12 long-serving members of staff who were on the Number 10 payroll when she resigned in 1990.
Gordon Brown escorted his old foe around the rooms she occupied for over a decade, as well as a spin around the garden. He took her into her old study, still known as the Thatcher Room, where they discussed the current political situation for almost an hour. She looked round her old flat above Number 10, now home to Chancellor, Alistair Darling, his wife Margaret and their cat Sybil, now Downing Street's official mouser. Lady Thatcher told them she too had recently given a home to a stray cat called Marvin. There she took tea with Mr Brown's wife, Sarah, and their two young sons, John and Fraser, who played with toy cars she had bought for them in Hamleys.
After more than two hours, she emerged clutching a small bouquet of flowers given to her by John Brown. His father, the author of Where There Is Greed: Margaret Thatcher and the Betrayal of Britain's Future in 1989, bowed as she left.
The visit of the 81-year-old former Tory leader to Downing Street – her first in seven years – will have appalled many Labour MPs for whom she epitomised heartless Conservativism. But it will have caused even more dismay to senior Tories, who trace their party's divisions to the upheaval surrounding her removal from office. It also distracted from the long-awaited launch of Tory proposals on the environment.
Lady Thatcher's legacy is still bitterly contested within Tory ranks. Shortly after he became leader, David Cameron turned down the chance to be photographed with her.
Mr Brown had no such qualms. The meeting arose from a letter of congratulation Lady Thatcher wrote to the new Prime Minister after he succeeded Tony Blair on 27 June. Last week, Mr Brown surprised reporters by drawing parallels between himself and the former Tory Prime Minister, whom he praised for seeing the "need for change". He added: "I also admire the fact that she is a conviction politician. I am a conviction politician like her."
The Tories publicly insisted yesterday they were "relaxed" about the meeting, but there is irritation in opposition circles over Mr Brown's "big tent" approach to politics. He has already recruited prominent Tories, including the MPs John Bercow and Patrick Mercer, to advise the Government on policy. Given the iconic status of Lady Thatcher for many right-leaning voters, her visit is further evidence that Mr Brown is preparing to woo their support.Reuse content