Well, that's one way to woo Tory voters
GORDON Brown charged deeper into traditional Conservative territory yesterday, warmly welcoming Margaret Thatcher back into 10 Downing Street.
In a move calculated to enrage David Cameron, the Tory leader, and Labour left-wingers in equal measure, a grinning Mr Brown posed on the steps of No 10 with the woman still regarded as a hate figure by some and worshipped as an icon by others.
The high-profile visit was the latest in a string of theatrical coups the Prime Minister has staged as he tries to broaden his electoral appeal and erode Mr Cameron's support among traditional Conservatives.
Mr Brown has overseen the defection of a Tory MP and a party donor, and he has appointed two Conservative backbenchers as policy advisers to his government.
But it is his political embrace of Lady Thatcher that has been his most audacious and potentially divisive move.
As Mr Cameron faced a growing backlash from right-wing Tories sceptical of his modernising agenda, Mr Brown has been proclaiming himself an admirer of the former Tory prime minister.
At a press conference earlier this month, Mr Brown said of Lady Thatcher: "She is a conviction politician. I am a conviction politician like her."
Yesterday, he put substance to those words, welcoming her back to Downing Street for only the third time since she was ousted by her party in 1990.
Mr Brown invited Lady Thatcher, 81, to No 10 after the two exchanged letters on his appointment as Prime Minister in July. During her visit, which lasted two and a quarter hours, she was shown renovations and changes to the Downing Street complex and met long-serving staff who had served her.
She and Mr Brown also had a private discussion in his office, though it was revealed yesterday that this was not their first such tte--tte. Downing Street sources said one of Mr Brown's most significant political memories was an occasion in 1983 when the then prime minister invited him into her office in the Commons to discuss over "a tumbler of whisky" a speech he had made.
As she came out of No 10 yesterday with the Prime Minister and his wife, Sarah, Lady Thatcher clutched a small bouquet of flowers.
Mrs Brown guided her down the two steps from the No 10 entrance to her waiting car and she departed, saying "thank you very much" to her hosts.
It was in stark contrast to her tearful exit from No 10 after her resignation as prime minister back in 1990.
Mr Cameron's officials last night said he was "very relaxed" at Lady Thatcher's decision to accept Mr Brown's invitation. However, it is understood the Tory leader has not spoken to Lady Thatcher since February, and rumours abound that she is unhappy with the direction the party is taking.
Lady Thatcher's visit appeared to have divided grassroots Conservatives last night.
"I think she's telling us what she thinks of Cameron. Good for her," said one contributor to the ConservativeHome website, used by many Tory members.
"Unsurprising, deeply cynical piece of political shenanigans by Brown," wrote another. "The more he keeps this up, the sooner everyone will see him for the manipulative, devious little machine politician that he is."
LABOUR SIGNS SAATCHI & SAATCHI - WHO HELPED TORIES TO POWER
NOT content with snatching the Tories' most emotive figure, Gordon Brown has signed up the advertising experts who helped her oust a Labour government.
Douglas Alexander, Labour's general-election co-ordinator, yesterday revealed he had awarded an advertising contract to Saatchi & Saatchi.
Working for Lady Thatcher in 1979, the London agency drew up the "Labour Isn't Working" poster which did so much to damage the image of Jim Callaghan's government.
Labour hired Saatchi & Saatchi after the agency pitched an advertising campaign based on Mr Brown's personal appeal to voters and his reputation for substance over style.
Robert Senior, Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive, said: "We have the opportunity to take the strength and conviction Gordon Brown has shown as Prime Minister and apply our creativity to that to do the right thing for the country."
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