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Thatcher: 'Never' join the euro

Thatcher
Thatcher may be stirring trouble for both Tony Blair and Tory leader William Hague  


By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Margaret Thatcher returned to the UK political stage to tell Tory supporters they had "16 days to save the country."

The former prime minister strongly attacked incumbent Tony Blair on Tuesday, calling his Labour Party "rootless, empty and artificial" and accusing him of destroying her legacy.

Lady Thatcher, who had previously appeared to give Blair grudging respect, highlighted the European single currency, the issue that Conservative leader William Hague wants to bring to the fore.

But in doing so she caused problems for her own party, by going way beyond the policy on which Hague is fighting the election. Thatcher's controversial views on Europe were partly responsible for her 1990 downfall.

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Whether it will pay for Tory leader William Hague to have the political voice of Christmas past endorsing him as a "cool and gritty leader" remains to be seen.
Robin Oakley
 

Hague is battling on a Eurosceptic platform, saying Labour would acquiesce in handing over more power to the European Union. His key slogan is "Save the Pound," and he says a Conservative government, if elected, would keep Britain out of the European single currency for the lifetime of the next Parliament.

But Hague's commitment lasts only for a single Parliament. Thatcher, accusing Blair of being prepared to "lead Britain by the nose" into the euro, insisted: "I would never be prepared to give up our own currency."

She argued: "If you have a single currency you give up your independence. You give up your sovereignty. That we must never do."

Thatcher joked about passing a billboard advertising the film "The Mummy Returns" before her keynote speech on Tuesday in Plymouth. Her return to the fray will be welcomed by the Tory faithful, who have seen their party lagging some 20 points behind Labour in the opinion polls. But how effective her return will be in reaching out to a wider public is more doubtful.

She was in power for 11 of the 18 years of Tory rule, which had many voters agreeing in 1997 that it was "time for a change." Whether it will pay for Hague to have the political voice of Christmas past endorsing him as a "cool and gritty leader" and as the man with "the right message" remains to be seen.

Hague has vowed to make Europe the main focus during the final week of the election campaign. With Labour emphasising its record on economic management and its readiness to spend heavily in the next Parliament on improving Britain's public services like health and education, the Tories are insisting that Labour's plans are too expensive and would lead to tax increases.

The two issues have now come together, with the Tories highlighting a European Commission study document that they say would lead to greater harmonisation of taxes across Europe, seeing an increase in British taxes and the extension of Value Added Tax to items like children's clothes, which are currently exempt.

Labour was already under pressure on taxes over Chancellor Gordon Brown's refusal to confirm that he would retain the current earnings ceiling on the payment of National Insurance contributions. But Brown immediately said he would oppose any further tax harmonisation plans: "We are for tax competition across Europe."

The weakness of the Tory claims on harmonisation is that the British Labour government fought hard and successfully at last December's EU summit in Nice to retain the national veto on tax matters.

Brown and Blair also successfully fought off plans for a new Europe-wide "withholding tax" on savings, which they said would have harmed bond business in the City of London.







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