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Might As Well Face It...

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The first step, they say, is admitting that you've got a problem. The Conservatives have got a Maggie addiction. It's worse than a habit. They are hooked.

The signals have been there for years. But in a sequence of events that feels almost like a Biblical parable, the party has repeatedly rejected the signs sent to warn them that they needed to purge themselves and move on.

First there was Michael Portillo. He dared to suggest that a Thatcherite approach might not cut it anymore. He told Conservatives in October 2000: "We are a party for people, not against people." The Tories had to put Mrs T behind them and become modern. He was ignored, and in a subsequent leadership election, rejected.

Then came Theresa May. Two years later she told another Tory party conference: "There's a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us - the nasty party."

Much good that speech did her. She, too, was a prophet crying in the wilderness. Which is where she stayed for some time after that brave attempt to get her party to listen. Not nearly Thatcherish enough.

And then came Dave. As a fresh new leader in 2006 he told Tory delegates they should "let sunshine win the day". And, for a time, some of those Tories seemed to agree with him. They bit their tongues when Cameron talked about showing more compassion - even love - to angry young hoodies loitering at the side of the road.

But in the end sunshine did not win the day. And nor, in 2010, did the Tories. Dave's one, best chance to win a majority had gone. And Conservatives remained split on whether he had strayed too far from Maggie's marvellous legacy, or not far enough.

Now Mrs Thatcher has died. We brace ourselves for a ceremonial (if not quite a state) funeral. For some, the tug of nostalgia is hard to resist. And once again you hear the voices - not least of senior media figures - telling us that Maggie knew best, that Dave hasn't got it, that he pales in comparison with his vastly superior predecessor. It's so obvious what the Tories have to do! Rediscover their inner Thatcherites. Ignore mushy compromise. The people will be led if you give them a lead. The "centre ground"? No, no, no!

Even though she is dead, the Mummy has returned. I'm no Star Wars expert, but it reminds me of that bit in the original movie when Alec Guinness dies to make The Force stronger. Death has not, will not remove Mrs T from the playing field. The battle for her memory, and the party's future, continues.

Some leading Conservative figures, talking wistfully about Baroness Thatcher and what she could still do for the party, sound like heavy drinkers who cannot admit they have a problem. They keep going back for more. It is all they know. But until they deal with this Thatcher addiction they cannot win again.

The Tories need to go to political rehab, but they say no, no, no.