Major launches bitter attack on 'disloyal' Thatcher

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Indy Politics

John Major unleashed his most savage and comprehensive attack on Baroness Thatcher yesterday as the Tory Party leadership contest became consumed by a bitter round of blood-letting.

In a coruscating interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the former prime minister's resentment at his predecessor finally spilled over into a devastating critique of her record and philosophy.

Mr Major said Lady Thatcher had bequeathed him a shambolic economy and had undermined him by disloyally backing Eurosceptics during his own tenure in office.

He went further, adding that even the "sleaze" that dogged his Government, such as the cash-for-questions and arms-to-Iraq affairs, had originated under Lady Thatcher. Damning her economic record, he claimed she had been an impressive Prime Minister for only six years of her 11-year reign, from 1981 to 1987.

Mr Major's remarks, which stunned even those loyal to him and are guaranteed to infuriate Thatcherite MPs, came as he gave his full endorsement to Kenneth Clarke for the party leadership. He said his former chancellor was "the best option for ensuring we win elections" and was "infinitely the most experienced candidate."

He was also highly critical of Mr Clarke's rival, Iain Duncan Smith, saying the shadow Defence Secretary voted with Labour against his own Government "night after night after night". Mr Major said: "One knows very little about Iain to be honest. He's very fresh on the scene. We know he's very right wing, we know he's very Eurosceptical. But beyond that we don't know a great deal about his policies."

Clearly stung by Lady Thatcher's support for Mr Duncan Smith's "integrity" in rebelling over the Maastricht Treaty, Mr Major revealed the extent of his anger at her incitement of the Eurosceptics.

Although he has referred to his predecessor's disloyalty in his memoirs, Mr Major has never before talked so vehemently about the frustration she caused him by actively encouraging young backbenchers who "revered" her to revolt.

Mr Major will add to his comments today in an article for The Spectator magazine, describing Mr Duncan Smith as "untested and inexperienced" and warning of a real danger that he would be "overwhelmed" by Tony Blair.

Mr Clarke welcomed Mr Major's endorsement. He said: "It is important that John has come out as he has done. He has said how are we going to win the general election, how are we going to win the middle ground? How are we going to win over floating voters?"

But Mr Major faced a swift rebuff from the rightwinger Lord Tebbit. "He is very bitter," he said. "He felt Iain Duncan Smith should have voted against his conscience and not caused any difficulties over the Maastricht Treaty so it is understandable that he is bitter about it."