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Margaret Thatcher Death: Tony Blair lauds former PM as ‘towering political figure’

Tony Blair stands with Baroness Thatcher. Picture: Jeremy Selwyn/PA Archive Tony Blair stands with Baroness Thatcher. Picture: Jeremy Selwyn/PA Archive

Monday, April 8, 2013
4:35 PM

One of the most effusive tributes to Margaret Thatcher today came from Labour former prime minister Tony Blair.

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While the former Conservative leader was a hate figure to many on the left, Mr Blair lauded her as a “towering political figure” who would be “sadly missed”.

Baroness Thatcher apparently once joked that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and Labour’s longest serving PM acknowledged how he retained some of the changes she had made in Britain.

But not only did he talk glowingly of her political legacy, Mr Blair also praised her “kind and generous” spirit.

“Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure,” he said. “Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world.

“Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world.

“As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister although we came from opposite sides of politics.

“Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain’s national life. She will be sadly missed.”

David Blunkett’s assessment of Baroness Thatcher’s legacy, however, is more likely to chime with the feelings of many in his party.

The former home secretary acknowledged that the former Tory leader had been a “formidable opponent” but said he could “never forgive” the damage she did to the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield, where her policies left a trail of unemployment.

“Margaret Thatcher was a most formidable opponent, undoubtedly an outstanding leader and, as the first woman prime minister in the United Kingdom, a groundbreaking politician,” the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP said.

“I have to acknowledge her deep commitment to her own values and her determination, although, with Bernard Ingham at her side, she was the first modern exponent of carefully worked spin, which allowed her to present compromise as merely delay, and deep irritation with opponents in her own party as principled stance.

“She said she could not forgive the leadership of her own party for her downfall, and I have to say that I cannot forgive her for what she did to my city of Sheffield, the mass redundancies, the damage to productive industry and the use of incapacity benefit as a tool to avoid internal social breakdown.”

Former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said the former Tory PM was responsible for “every real problem” the UK faces today.

He told Sky News: “She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed and the legacy of that, the benefits bill that we are still struggling with today.

“In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact she was fundamentally wrong.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband conceded Thatcher “stirs up deep feelings” but insisted today was not a time for party politics.

He said: “The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown, who famously invited Thatcher to No 10 for private talks, said: “Even those who disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her unwavering belief in Britain’s destiny in the world.”

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