How Margaret Thatcher is looming large over Tory leadership race

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Margaret Thatcher has been repeatedly invoked during the Conservative leadership campaign (PA) (PA Archive)
Margaret Thatcher has been repeatedly invoked during the Conservative leadership campaign (PA) (PA Archive)

As the race to replace Boris Johnson continues, it is the legacy of another Conservative leader that looms over both candidates.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has so far drawn most associations with Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister whose personality and policies defined the last quarter of 20th century Britain.

But it was Rishi Sunak who on Saturday appeared to consciously cultivate a more direct link with Mrs Thatcher, giving a speech to the party faithful in her birthplace of Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Rishi Sunak visited a tyre factory in Grantham with his family on Saturday (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak visited a tyre factory in Grantham with his family on Saturday (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

The former chancellor has been quick to associate his own steady-as-she-goes approach to the public finances with Mrs Thatcher, although he declined to get into too much detail about the location choice when pressed on it by reporters.

Instead, he said what he proposes is “common-sense Thatcherism”.

Ms Truss recently hit out at comparisons to Mrs Thatcher, who died in 2013, calling them frustrating.

But it has been suggested the comparisons have not been unwelcome to Ms Truss, pointing to some of her eye-catching photo opportunities, even if the Foreign Secretary herself has tried to scoff such an idea.

Liz Truss, centre, insists ‘I am my own person’, amid comparisons to Margaret Thatcher (PA) (PA Wire)
Liz Truss, centre, insists ‘I am my own person’, amid comparisons to Margaret Thatcher (PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Truss donned military gear and perched in a tank for pictures during a visit to Estonia, echoing an image of former prime minister Mrs Thatcher in a tank in West Germany in 1986.

More recently, an outfit worn at one of the televised leadership debates bore uncanny similarities to the attire once worn by Mrs Thatcher.

But the Grantham visit by Mr Sunak did not appear to trouble Ms Truss, who declined on Saturday to get into a competition about who had the best Thatcherite credentials.

“I think we need to move on. You know, we’re in the 2020s. We’re facing a global economic crisis,” she told reporters during a campaign visit in Kent.

Earlier this week, she also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I am my own person.

“I’m from a very different background. I grew up in Yorkshire. I went to a comprehensive school. I am somebody who has worked all my life to get things done. And that’s what I want to do in the job.”

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