What is it to be a Thatcherite? 

That question, and the vast legacy of the polarising former PM, both hang over the ongoing leadership contest. Neither Rishi Sunak nor Liz Truss would hesitate to call themselves Thatcherites and to express their devotion to the ideology that bears her name. 

And yet the two candidates are at loggerheads, specifically over the question of economics, the field in which Mrs. Thatcher is meant to have charted such a decisive, unwavering and unambiguous course. 

Confused? You’re not the only one… 

Over the weekend The Telegraph reported that seven free-market economists and The Adam Smith Insititute had come out in favour of Truss and her proposal for immediate tax cuts

You would think that this is the Thatcherite establishment lining up together. After all, a 2019 blog on the Adam Smith Institute website suggested that “when she [Thatcher] became leader of her party … it was one of the best things that happened to the country.”

But what do former members of her cabinet think? Surely they’re for Truss, and her tax cuts too…?

It turns out they really aren’t. Chris Patten, Norman Lamont and Malcolm Rifkind all told The Observer this weekend that Thatcher would not have pursued such policies, and they were particularly critical of the proposal for more borrowing. Patten was scathing by implication: “Margaret Thatcher was a fiscal Conservative who did not cut tax until we had reduced inflation. She was honest and did not believe in nonsense.”

Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland, who supports Sunak, has suggested that the former chancellor’s more measured approach is much closer to true Thatcherism. But Truss on the other hand is supported by Kwasi Kwarteng, who in 2015 wrote a complimentary biography of Thatcher’s early period in office and, more importantly, co-authored the Britannia Unchained pamphlet in 2012, which was seen by many as an explicitly Thatcherite critique of the British economy. 

Neither Sunak or Truss are lying; they both genuinely believe that they are the true disciple. The truth is unclear, and all the noise from supporters on both sides only muddies the water. 

The ghost of Margaret Thatcher looms over all, for better or for worse. But, it turns out, she is a divisive figure even among her most devout followers.