It's been more than twenty years since Margaret Thatcher was evicted from Downing Street by her own party, yet despite this the memory of the "Iron Lady" is still present in both the Conservative and Labour parties.
This week (quoting William Hague), the leader of the Labour Party, Edward Miliband accused the Prime Minister of being a "son of Thatcher". This was meant as an insult and yet as soon as those words passed his lips I felt certain that some Euro-sceptic Tory backbencher was thinking "if only".
Since her fall from power Lady Thatcher has become the object of a bizarre political cult in which both her admirers (who regard her as a Messiah) and her haters (who regard her as the Devil) attribute all kinds of things to her, just as the Catholic Church attributes bizarre miracles to some of its lesser known saints.
For example among Tories she is viewed as one of the great Eurosceptics. She handbagged Brussels, she got her (by which she meant our) money back and she said "No, no, no" to an EU superstate. All of which is of course true but what they don't mention so much is that Lady Thatcher was for much of her political career a supporter of what became the European Union, and even campaigned for membership of the EC (as it was then) in the 1975 referendum on the issue.
It was only when she realised the ambitions of the EU and what it meant for British sovereignty that she began to oppose it. By contrast much of her cabinet remained besotted with the EU and were very keen on its next step towards "ever closer union", the single European currency (they still don't admit that might have been a step too far despite the chaos in Greece, Ireland etc), and it was this division which led to her being stabbed in the back by her own party.
Perhaps her status as having been politically martyred by Europe is what secures her place in the hearts of many traditional Tories, that of course and her reform of the unions, the liberation of the Falklands and the sale of council houses.
By contrast on the left she is regarded as a demonic figure, who Pandora like, was responsible for unleashing all the ills which have afflicted society to this day. Before the general election this year the then Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said that he would be inflicting cuts "worse than Thatcher's" if re-elected.
This of course was intended to sound brutal, like for example "this book will be longer than War and Peace" or "this is more out of date than a dentist's magazine collection". In point of fact Margaret Thatcher was not a great cutter of Britain's public services, such as health, welfare and education, although even Norman Tebbit concedes in retrospect that the closure of the mines at such a fast rate did nothing good for the communities that they kept employed for so long.
Such a hate figure is she on the left that it's not unusual for lefties of a certain disposition to openly fantasize about how they will celebrate when she dies, as though this would be great day in history when the horrors she unleashed would be sent back from whence they came and peace and goodwill will reign among men.
This strange cult has persisted long after she left office and has even taken root among people barely or not even born when she was Prime Minister. I remember in my school days in the 90's people who were not even two years old in 1990 saying they could never vote Tory because of Thatcher, while Labour campaigners (both officially and unofficially) in general elections since 1997 have tried to caricature Tory leaders as Thatcher reincarnated (usually by sticking a Thatcher wig on top of the head of whoever was leader at the time).
Whether this cultishness is good or bad for British politics I don't know, but it is perhaps a tribute to Margaret Thatcher that she is both worshipped and reviled in equal measure. None of her successors have come close in terms of imprinting themselves on the public's consciousness.
John Major was forgotten almost as soon as the votes had been counted in 1997, Tony Blair will likely be forgotten the moment the last British soldiers leave Afghanistan, while Brown already seems, perhaps unfairly, like a brief nightmare, from which we have now woken up from only to find a new but unexciting reality known as a Coalition.