Thatcher

Coming around again

It's a comparison those around David Cameron will be desperate to avoid.

But it's hard to see how the anti-EU backbench revolt against David Cameron differs from the years of misery another generation of European malcontents imposed on John Major.

Major had a small majority, Cameron has no majority at all. Both tried to reason with Euro rebels, nominally on their own side, and got nowhere. Both then made concessions, which achieved only demands for more concessions.

John Major never managed to fully move on from his war against his own side, and David Cameron must be wondering how to avoid the same fate.

Early in his leadership, he told Tories to stop "banging on" about Europe, warning they'd spent years in the wilderness, ignoring what mattered to ordinary people, and obsessing instead about what mattered solely to them.

Things have changed somewhat since then.

Mr Cameron's speech in January, promising an in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017, was meant to kick this into the very long grass.

And now Mr Cameron learns a valuable lesson about Euro-rebels. They are never satisfied. And they never will be, until Britain's membership of the EU has ended.

That's not a surprise -- but David Cameron's willingness to offer concessions, one after another, is.

Every government, every single one, has suffered mid-term kickings from voters. The only difference this year is that, instead of jumping into bed with the Lib Dems, disgruntled voters went to UKIP.

Nigel Farage thinks that equates to a groundswell of public anger over Europe, and a settled will to leave the EU.

You'd expect him to say that. But you wouldn't necessarily expect the leader of the governing party to start inventing policies on the fly, changing course every few days.

Now the Prime Minister is reduced to publishing a draft bill he cannot put into law, in the hope one of his own rebels might adopt it. Even then it has little chance of making it through the Commons. Even then only an outright Tory win in 2015 would see this promise kept.

He calls this an "act of leadership". His enemies call it a sign of weakness.

Europe finished off Margaret Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party. It stopped John Major from ever getting a grip on his own party. Now the same band has come for David Cameron. And they're not finished with him yet.

What I learned from Margaret Thatcher

To some extent, we’ve all been shaped by Margaret Thatcher.

Growing up in an era where sexism was still common, I never imagined there were unsuitable jobs for a woman. After all, a woman was running the country.

But I also grew up in the north-west of England, where resentment towards Margaret Thatcher was deep, and remains more than two decades on.

While supporters left flowers on her doorstep, opponents danced in the streets in Brixton and Glasgow.

Reactions to the death of Britain’s last truly ideological political leader.

Thatcher fundamentally believed Britain was on the wrong track, and committed herself to massive changes she thought essential.

For those who gained from this new order, the rewards could be extraordinary. Those left behind often felt entirely without hope.

Margaret Thatcher was an achiever, and at times it seemed she simply couldn't understand why everyone didn't do the same. Tributes have spoken of an extraordinary capacity for individual kindness, but critics would say they saw little evidence in her years in Downing Street.

Yet despite the brutal recession of the early eighties, the miner’s strike and eleven  divisive years, no Government since Thatcher has sought to undo the bulk of her reforms.

Her most significant legacy remains to this day -- she dragged British politics to the right. David Cameron was the “heir to Blair”, but Tony Blair learned a lot from watching Margaret Thatcher -- she, after all, called New Labour “her greatest legacy”.

Her biggest and often most controversial policies, from widening home ownership to privatisation, are now accepted across mainstream politics.

Now Labour wrestles with how to oppose benefit reform, while acknowledging many of their own voters support a crack-down.

Yet Thatcher's views on Europe seemed unchanged from those of a wartime schoolgirl, and created divisions in her party that remain to this day. The poll tax was the clearest sign that her political skills had deserted her. And her failure to step down before her own MPs rose up against her not only soured the rest of her life, but created anger and resentment that helped keep the Conservatives out of office for thirteen years.

As even her harshest critics concede, you knew what Margaret Thatcher stood for.  She inspired as many people to actively oppose her as support her.

Adore or abhor, you couldn’t ignore Thatcher. A quality rarely present in today's political class.