'Weasel words' as allies desert: Margaret Thatcher's recollections of a turbulent decade at the helm of the Conservative Party and Britain are published today: The Downfall

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The Independent Online
BARONESS THATCHER believes she was betrayed by those in her Cabinet that she 'had always considered friends and allies', writes Nicholas Timmins.

They brought her 11 years as Prime Minister to an end with 'weasel words' used to change their betrayal and desertion into 'frank advice and concern for my fate'.

Recording her final day in office, Lady Thatcher singles out Peter Lilley, 'a card-carrying Thatcherite', for refusing to help her with a speech after she failed to win on the first leadership ballot. The then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told her private office 'he saw no point in this because I was finished'.

With Mr Lilley now seen as a right-wing standard bearer for the Thatcher revolution, she says of his refusal: 'Coming from such a source, this upset me more than I can say.'

Kenneth Clarke, then the Secretary of State for Education, was the first Cabinet member to see her as she made her final attempt to rally support. 'His manner was robust in the brutalist style he has cultivated: the candid friend,' she records.

'He said that this method of changing prime ministers was farcical and that he personally would be happy to support me for another five or 10 years. Most of the Cabinet, however, thought that I should stand down.' Contrary to persistent rumours, she claims, 'Ken Clarke at no point threatened to resign'.

Even sources in the Thatcher camp have hitherto endorsed Mr Clarke's own recollection that he did indeed let it be known that he would go if she stayed, and that he warned that if she went to a second ballot it would be 'like the charge of the Light Brigade'.

The others, she says, had sorted out between them a similar line - that while they personally supported her, they thought she would lose - and clung to it. After three or four interviews, Lady Thatcher says, 'I felt I could almost join in the chorus'.

Her memoirs defend many of her most controversial policies - notably the poll tax. The tax, she says, was just beginning to work and should not have been dropped.

Its abandonment means that the problems of local government 'will get worse'. Had it continued, value-added tax would not have had to rise from 15 to 17.5 per cent, she argues, and given time, 'it would have been seen as one of the most far-reaching and beneficial reforms ever made in the working of local government'.