Blair strategists study the Iron Lady's handling of her own seven-year crisis

It is the Government's lowest point since the Prime Minister came to power seven years ago; it seems to have lost its way and run out of steam. Although the premier's appetite for power is undiminished, the MPs are restless and the commentators are speculating on the runners and riders for the succession.

It sounds remarkably like Tony Blair's current predicament. But it happened in 1986, seven years into Margaret Thatcher's reign. Her response was to launch a fightback which is now the subject of study, fascination and admiration by Mr Blair's aides as they plot a similar comeback by their man.

The key to Baroness Thatcher's recovery was a series of new policies launched at the Conservative Party conference in October 1986 under the banner: "The Next Moves Forward." A succession of ministers announced several new ideas for the general election manifesto, largely about reforming public services, and gave the impression that the unpopular Mrs Thatcher was not a "one-woman band".

The event, choreographed by Saatchi & Saatchi, the Tories' advertising agency, is regarded as the most successful party conference in recent times. Labour's lead in the opinion polls was turned around by December. In the following June, Lady Thatcher won her third election victory with an overall majority of 101.

Mr Blair's aides pored over the television coverage of the Tories' 1986 conference before Labour's annual gathering in 2000. But the parallels with Mr Blair's current predicament are even more relevant.

It is no surprise that the Labour conference in Brighton this October will be the showcase for the party's election manifesto. Until then, the task is to produce eye-catching but workable policies for a third term. Some clues will be provided in five-year plans for health, education, transport and the Home Office, which are due to be published in June. But the conference will be the main focus.

One Blair adviser said: "There are lessons we can learn from Thatcher in 1986. We face a similar challenge. She had the Westland crisis, we have Iraq. The task is to hold your nerve and renew while you are in office by setting the political agenda again."

Another aide added: "The message from 1986 is that you have to look forward, not back. You can't just rest on your laurels and fight on your record. People gave us the benefit of the doubt in 2001, but will be less inclined to do that next time."

There are other parallels. Mr Blair, of course, wants to emulate Lady Thatcher by completing a hat-trick of election victories. His camp is haunted by the fear that, despite two landslide victories, he will fail to transform the political landscape in the way Baroness Thatcher did.

"If it ended now, what would he be remembered for?" is a question debated in Labour circles. The short answer is: the Iraq war and his unswerving support for a United States president (another thing he has in common with Lady Thatcher).

There have been changes, such as devolution for Scotland and Wales, a national minimum wage and tax credits that the Tories would not reverse. But Mr Blair's mission to turn around public services and resolve Britain's ambivalent relationship with Europe remains unaccomplished. That is why he wants another few years in the job.

Some advisers argue that the parallels with 1986 can be overdone. They do not want Mr Blair to be seen to be copying the Thatcher handbook, especially at a time when Labour is portraying Michael Howard, the Tory leader, as the "son of Thatcher" in its campaign for the 10 June local and European elections. One Labour strategist said: "His presence shows that he has missed his opportunity to modernise the Tories. With Michael Howard as leader, they are still stuck in their failed Thatcherite past."

The Labour Party regards the "Thatcherite" label as a good line of attack, confident voters have moved on. But when it has suited him, Mr Blair has been happy to praise Lady Thatcher. She was "a radical, not a Tory," he told a conference of the media magnate Rupert Murdoch's executives in 1995. "It isn't that Thatcherism was all wrong. It wasn't," Mr Blair said in 1999.

Liam Fox, the Tories' co-chairman, criticised Mr Blair for not congratulating Lady Thatcher yesterday on the 25th anniversary of her first election victory: "Perhaps at this time with his own leadership under question, the memory of 1979, when a rejuvenated Conservative Party trounced a discredited Labour government that had let people down, is a bit too near the knuckle."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£130 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ks1 teacher required for m...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?