Blair makes his excuses and snubs the Bronze Lady's unveiling


22nd February 2007

The BRONZE Lady: Baroness Thatcher (Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990) alongside her new statue at the House of Commons. It is the first-ever statue of a living former leader at the Commons.

Tony Blair has snubbed Baroness Thatcher by missing the unveiling of her sculpture at the Commons.

The full-length likeness of the former prime minister went on display in Members' Lobby at a ceremony attended by dozens of senior political figures.

Lady Thatcher, 81, was surrounded by her former Cabinet ministers and her successor Sir John Major.

But Mr Blair, who earlier had to listen to MPs tear into the failures of his Iraq policy, pleaded other engagements and did not attend.

The 7ft 4in silicon bronze - the first of a living former leader in the Commons - takes its place alongside those of Churchill, Lloyd George and Attlee.

Lady Thatcher, nicknamed the Iron Lady, said: "I might have preferred iron - but bronze will do. It won't rust."

Referring to a marble statue depicting her which was decapitated by a vandal while on loan to Guildhall, Thatcher (who had a formidable repuation) added: "And, this time I hope, the head will stay on."

The country's only female leader said she had been done a great honour by the commissioning of "this fine and imposing statue".

'Above all, I could not ask better company for it - with Lloyd George, Attlee and Churchill - three great prime ministers, one of them our greatest ever."

Mr Blair's absence raised eyebrows among those who recalled hearing him wrap himself in Lady Thatcher's achievements.

In his early years as Labour leader, he lost few opportunities to present himself as a guardian of her legacy.

But with his own place in history clouded by sleaze, public service failures and the Iraq war, he faces leaving office knowing he is unlikely to be commemorated alongside her.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister unfortunately, because of other engagements, will not be attending the unveiling.

"He does have a busy evening of engagements. Among other things he's got an audience with the Queen."

Mr Blair's weekly meeting with the Queen is understood to have been in the late afternoon, before the evening ceremony.

The sculpture was commissioned by the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art in 2003 and cost £80,000.

Lady Thatcher sat several times for artist Antony Dufort, who also used photographs to produce a likeness of the Tory leader during her final term in office, from 1987 to 1990.

She is shown with her right hand held aloft, in full debate, in what sources said was a recognition of her place as one of Britain's great parliamentariains.

Tory MPs were already predicting that the sculpture would become a good-luck charm similar to that of Churchill.

His right foot is polished by MPs and visitors who touch it for luck.

Her sculpture stands facing the doorway to the Chamber that still bears scars of wartime bomb damage. Michael Martin, who led the unveiling, will be able to see it from the Speaker's chair.

Gerald Howarth, the Aldershot MP who was Lady Thatcher's parliamentary private secretary, said: "She is going to take her place in the members' lobby alongside Churchill and Lloyd George.

"Mr Blair is not a parliamentarian. He has become presidential and has complete contempt for Parliament. It is actually rather appropriate that he was not here."

Michael Martin recalled: "I came into the House the same day that you became prime minister. I watched from afar. You were formidable in responding to attack. Never personal. Always respecting the traditions of the House.

"Tomorrow visitors will come. Their MPs will say, "This is Margaret Thatcher, who served 11 years and 209 days as prime minister, the longest serving prime minister in 150 years"."

Last edited by Blackleaf; Feb 22nd, 2007 at 04:57 AM..