As the search for their fourth leader in five years gathered pace, the Conservatives last night broke off from scheming behind the scenes to seek solace in the memory of past glories when they gathered to celebrate Baroness Thatcher's 80th birthday. The Queen and Tony Blair were among 670 people invited to a lavish reception in central London where the guest list included scores of disciples of the "Iron Lady" as well as a smattering of foes.
Alongside the roster of current and past Tory grandees and the great and the good from industry, acad-emia and the civil service, the guest list certainly had a whiff of 1980s revivalism ab-out it. Among those invited were Rupert Murdoch, whose papers often acted as the tribunes of the Thatcher era; Joan Collins, veteran of big-shouldered soap opera appearances; and Sir Jimmy Young, the broadcaster.
Michael Howard, the outgoing Tory party head, lead the birthday greetings yesterday, saying: "What Churchill did in wartime, Margaret Thatcher did in peacetime. Her political will and her iron courage saw off threats to our way of life that Britain faced in 1979."
Praise came from across the political divide. Tony Benn, the Labour former cabinet minister and leading light of the hard left opposition to Thatcherism in the 1980s, praised her consistency. "Mrs Thatcher said what she meant and meant what she said . . . she did not do anything by deception."
But despite such conciliatory tones, the party at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel demonstrated that some of the fierce loyalties and animosities inspired by Baroness Thatcher lingered on.
Of the present four leadership contenders, only the two from the right of the party - David Davis and Liam Fox - were invited. Ken Clarke, the europhile centrist with whom Baroness Thatcher fell out, and David Cameron, the youthful would-be moderniser, were both conspicuously absent, reports Financial Times. I.L.