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Thatcher slams Blair in British election campaign
( 2001-05-22 11:40 ) (7 )

Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher launched a savage attack on Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday, accusing him of being soft on Europe and declaring he was a socialist at heart.

The former Conservative Prime Minister, who won three terms of power, went into battle for the June 7 general election as opinion polls suggested Blair's Labour Party would triumph by a landslide and that the Conservatives faced a second battering in four years.

"If you have a very powerful Labour government, a very large majority, it will be a socialist victory," Thatcher told the Daily Mail in an interview.

She accused Blair of having stolen many of her policies to win power in 1997 but said he had reversed them since then by stealth.

"There's a residue of socialism in him, that somehow he believes that government knows best... it's perhaps in his bloodstream," Thatcher said.

Warmly backing Conservative leader William Hague in his uphill struggle to overturn Blair's huge opinion poll leads of around 20 points, Thatcher lashed out at Labour on Europe and euro.

She denounced Blair's policy towards Europe as "devastating" and said: "The thought that we might be absorbed into Europe is to me utterly repugnant, and I'll fight against it as long as I have the breath to do so."


Blair favours greater engagement with the European Union and says he supports entry into the euro and will put the issue to a referendum if he is satisfied it is in Britain's economic interests. Hague has ruled out membership of the euro for at least five years.

Thatcher, dubbed the "Iron Lady" during the Cold War years, signalled she remained implacably opposed to the European single currency. "If you have a single currency you give up your independence. You give up your sovereignty. That we must never do," she said.

Her intervention promised to put some much-needed spark into a two-week-old campaign that has had few highlights -- apart from endless television replays of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott punching an egg-throwing protester last week.

It also gave Hague a welcome fillip as he prepared to step up his own assaults on Blair over the euro.

Hague told the Guardian on Tuesday that the pound's entry into the euro zone could wreck the single currency project as well as being bad for Britain. Citing differences between the British and EU economies, Hague said: "When continental politicians ask, 'Is Britain going to join the euro?' I say, 'Are you sure you want the pound to join the euro? because the elephant gets into the rowing boat when the pound gets in there."

Many analysts have warned that the lacklustre campaign and Labour's sky-high opinion poll ratings could prompt large numbers of Britons not to bother voting on June 7 and result in the lowest turnout at a general election since World Ware One.



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