Lord Tebbit gave Mr Cameron another pre-conference jolt. He said that Baroness Thatcher knew exactly what she was doing when she visited the Prime Minister at Downing Street two weeks ago. She was aware that Mr Cameron had been at pains to distance himself from her, the former Conservative chairman added.

The devastating intervention from Lord Tebbit came in an interview with Ginny Dougary in The Times Magazine, to be published on Saturday. He drew a wounding comparison between Mr Brown, on whom he lavished praise, and Mr Cameron, whom he criticised for his lack of experience and his stand on grammar schools. “I think we lack somebody of the standing of Margaret,” he said when asked to name the Conservatives’ biggest asset.

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