Daringly, the Conservative conference started with its inspirational highlight, Thatcher: the movie – a nostalgia vehicle which brought the audience to their feet in what may prove the one unequivocally enthusiastic standing ovation of the week. The iconic images included Mrs T be-goggled and all in white in the turret of a Challenger tank: a 20th century Boadicea as played by Isadora Duncan. Or the lady at her shimmering sexiest at a 1976 meeting in Finchley: “I stand before you in my red star chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved, the iron lady of the western world.” By this point you had begun to fear for the pulse rate of older party representatives.
A supporting cast of Cabinet contemporaries and “Thatcher’s children” – including David Cameron and George Osborne – eulogised her, the latter somewhat hyperbolically. “She was really the first post-war Prime Minister to say Britain did have a strong role in the world and we’re going to assert it.” OK, the Chancellor was only born in 1971, but what about Attlee, post-1951 Churchill, Macmillan, and – however disastrously – Eden?
Still, no one does retro better than the Tories and after the tribute, the party chairman Grant Shapps valiantly tried to clamber aboard her bandwagon. “My friends, I know you’ll agree with me... There will only ever be one Margaret Thatcher.” They did. Though some may secretly hope for great things from Theresa May – whose mention by Shapps drew less muted applause than some others he name-checked. Like Shapps’s co-chair Lord Feldman. Unsurprisingly, since the audience was composed of the very same “swivel-eyed loons” Feldman was obliged to deny having called them in May.
Shapps has shaken off the mini-incubus of having once gone by the name of Michael Green. He gave an account of how “inspired” by Thatcher, he had started a printing business in 1980. He would “never forget” those early days “going to the cinema, only to find … I’d missed the best bits because I had been so deep in thought worrying about the cash flow”. It’s OK, Grant, we can help. Richard Gere does carry off Debra Winger at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman!
Shapps said the business had benefited from Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme. But in his Evening Standard interview on Friday, he said it was her Loan Guarantee Scheme. Maybe he got both. Or maybe Shapps got one – and Michael Green the other.