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Blair's statue of limitations.

Byline: Kevin MAGUIRE

I'VE long dreamed of Maggie Thatcher in a shroud. Alas the cloak I saw was temporary, pulled back to unveil a grotesque statue of the Rusty Lady that looks like her Spitting Image puppet.

Indeed the living if increasingly cranky hand-bagger was in the House of Commons to declare herself delighted with the ugly, out-sized 7ft 6ins bronze.

Insultingly, the effigy is taller than neighbouring casts of Churchill, Attlee and Lloyd George who were all of greater political stature.

An overshadowed cast of Tory predecessor and foe Edward Heath would surely get up and walk out in disgust if it was a full body instead of a mere bust.

By convention statues aren't erected until a former premier is dead and buried.

Back home on Tyneside at the weekend, I found many a Labour voter eagerly awaiting the day we can say once more the rule is observed in the case of Thatcher.

Seething Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn, whose constituents suffered grievously during Mad Maggie's Tory fatwa on industrial Britain, tabled a parliamentary motion demanding she be removed.

He's not alone in shuddering at Thatch's "cruel and divisive reign".

I watched amused yesterday as a Labour whip crossed himself before ducking under the Rusty Lady's wagging finger, his lips moving to utter a silent curse. A shrewd Labour minister suggested the erection of a Westminster shrine to Thatcher might serve as a warning that the threat of a Tory return is a real nightmare.

The Conservatives were given a thumping 11 per cent opinion poll lead this week, equivalent to a 100-seat majority.

Big business is pouring money into Tory coffers, wealthy right-wingers investing a record pounds 24m last year to restore the old order.

Bambi-killer David Cameron enjoys an easy ride when not shooting stags by the pair on the island estate of his well-heeled outlaws. And Tony Blair hangs about in office if not in power, a Downing Street diva unable to recognise it's time to leave the stage.

Few pay much attention to what the PM declares anymore, the Cabinet in open contempt and ministers shooting their mouths off in all directions.

Yesterday's monthly Downing Street media conference failed to grab TV and radio, with news channels and Andrew Neil's watchable Daily Politics show on BBC2 seemingly devoting less time than normal to the ramblings.

Today the Little and Large of Dispossessed Labour, ex-Blairite ministers Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke, launch a website demanding a "debate" on the party's future - code for a leadership candidate to challenge Gordon Brown. Labour doesn't need a debate - Labour needs a new leader.

The poll that really counted this week may prove to be an Opinion Leader Research survey of senior public figures. Political heavyweight Brown was judged to "believe" what he says by 87 per cent, lightweight Cameron by 59 per cent.

Similarly, while a crushing 76 per cent thought Cameron "lacks substance" only 17 per cent that Brown does.

But Blair clinging on, splintering and sapping the strength of a Labour government he led to three election victories, gives Cameron free hits on the Chancellor.

If Blair's worried about his legacy, there's a single marble plinth vacant in the central lobby.

A few more months of drift and division and it'll be the Tories putting up his statue, not Labour.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 28, 2007
Words:554
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