Move over David, Iron Lady is still the most popular leader

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Indy Politics

David Cameron may have reinvigorated the Conservatives and delivered a healthy string of opinion poll leads over Labour but his MPs still revere the woman who led them through the Tory glory days of the 1980s.

Although the party's youthful new leader has spent much of the past year distancing himself from the legacy of Thatcherism, the Iron Lady herself is still the most popular political hero for more than a quarter of Tory MPs, a survey of more than 150 MPs found.

Winston Churchill was the second most frequently mentioned hero among the Conservatives surveyed, with 45 per cent of the 56 Conservatives polled listing one of the two former prime ministers.

By contrast, the poll by Communicate Research found Mr Cameron was mentioned as a hero by only one Conservative MP - one Tory even listed Tony Blair as his political idol.

Mr Cameron has made strenuous efforts to distance his leadership from the Iron Lady's policies. Most famously, he has declared that "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same as the state".

Andrew Hawkins, chief executive of the pollster, Communicate Research, said: "This confirms that Labour MPs are more left wing than their leaders and Conservative MPs are more right wing than their leader. There seems to be no evidence of crunchy Conservatism or New Labour."

Among the 68 Labour MPs surveyed, the former South African president Nelson Mandela emerged as the most popular political hero, backed by 18 per cent of MPs.

Tony Blair was nominated by just six Labour MPs (8 per cent) although his likely successor, Gordon Brown, was nominated as the hero of just three.

Other highly-rated heroes in the poll include Aneurin Bevan, the minister of health in the 1945 Labour government who is widely regarded as one of the architects of the country's National Health Service, and Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th-century Tory prime minister.

For both parties, famous traditional tribal figures loom large in the list.

The former prime minister Harold Wilson and the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also feature in the top 10 most popular heroes along with Barbara Castle, Clement Atlee and Mr Brown.

MPs included in the poll were given free rein to name their heroes, leading to a huge variety of responses. One Tory named his hero as Jed Bartlett, the fictitious liberal president played by Martin Sheen in The West Wing.

Another listed Bill Clinton, one MP named Theoden, King of Rohan from JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, and a fourth named Richard Nixon, the disgraced US president forced to resign over the Watergate break-in. Even Boudica, who successfully defeated the Roman Ninth Legion and destroyed the capital of Roman Britain in the year 61 made the list.

Labour nominations included the US president John F Kennedy, Neil Kinnock, who was listed by two MPs, Muhammed Ali and one MP simply named "all those who oppose injustice and tyranny on big or small issues."

The 19 Liberal Democrats surveyed provided 13 heroes including Mahatma Ghandi, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen. Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, won one nomination, but his predecessor as leader, Charles Kennedy, did not feature in the list.

Overall, 12 out of the 56 Tory MPs who were surveyed earlier this year listed Baroness Thatcher as their hero, and nine listed Sir Winston Churchill.

The heroes


Nelson Mandela 27

Margaret Thatcher 12

Winston Churchill 11

Tony Blair 7

Aneurin Bevan 6

Benjamin Disraeli 4

Harold Wilson 4

Mikhail Gorbachev 4

Barbara Castle 4

Clement Atlee 3

Gordon Brown 3