Thatcher plugs her book, knocks Major

June 14, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Britain's Iron Lady is back in the arena and she still packs a punch.

Last night, Margaret Thatcher showed up at Westminster City Hall, to perform before 2,000 true believers. She talked about her personal and political roots. She jousted with questioners. She launched into current issues from Bosnia to Britain's role in Europe.

It was just like old times, only she's no longer Britain's boss.

"The policies that gave Britain back her pride and standing in the world are the policies we must pursue," she said to cheers.

"It's more conservative policy we want -- not less."

The woman who served as British prime minister for 11 1/2 years is hawking her second book, "The Path to Power," a 656-page memoir-manifesto that combines homilies learned at her father's knee with blunt political assessments of the current state of world affairs.

Nearly five years out of office, she is pushing ideas instead of votes, cementing her legacy as she nears her 70th birthday.

The book is a likely best seller here. It also is creating problems for her hand-picked successor, Prime Minister John Major. In interviews accompanying the book's publication, Lady Thatcher, who is now a member of Britain's House of Lords, has chided Mr. Major on issues ranging from taxes to Europe.

She lines up against Mr. Major and with Britain's anti-Europeans who oppose a single currency and bridle at the increasing powers and bureaucracy of the European Union.

On one hand, she endorses the retention of the prime minister, whom she helped into office after the Tories dumped her over European issues in November 1990. On the other, she slams his government for not being conservative enough.

"They have hit at everything I believed in," she told The Daily Telegraph.

A controversy like this would be rare in America, where tradition dictates that former presidents do not criticize those in office. The major exception was Teddy Roosevelt, who formed a third party and engineered the defeat of his rival, William Howard Taft.

In Britain, traditions are different.

"Bitter to the last, you have consistently made trouble for your successor," said a Conservative member of Parliament, Julian Critchley, in an open letter to Mrs. Thatcher that appeared in yesterday's Daily Mirror.

"The Toryism you espouse is divisive, greedy and chauvinistic, suspicious of foreigners (except perhaps for right-wing Americans), and increasingly isolationist in its anti-European tone."

Yesterday, to the jeers of opposition Labor supporters, Mr. Major brushed aside Mrs. Thatcher's attack on him, saying, "I worked with Lady Thatcher for many years and I wish her well with her new book."

Then, with a smile on his face, he said that any "misconceptions" in her comments could be put right in his own memoirs.

Re-enter Mrs. Thatcher, appearing gaunt after recent dental surgery, her hair styled like silk, her two-piece suits shimmering in ever-present television floodlights as she flits through a string of interviews and personal appearances.

Monday, she autographed 1,300 books in 2 1/2 hours at Hatchards in London.

Her husband, Denis, pronounced the book "easier to read than the first one" -- the "Downing Street Years." He then left the signing early after purchasing the latest thriller by John Grisham.

Last night's audience hung on Mrs. Thatcher's every word, from her father's totem "never do things because other people do them," to her political awakening during the strife-ridden 1930s.

The crowd roared. The show ended when a child asked her what she liked about being prime minister.

Mrs. Thatcher said: "I quite enjoyed debating. I've always enjoyed a good argument, especially if I was right and won it."

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