The Iron Lady's Back; SUNDAY FOCUS Margaret Thatcher Is Returning to Number 10. Prime Minister Gordon Brown Will Later This Month Welcome the Former Tory Leader Back for the Unveiling of a Portrait of the Woman Her Followers Admired, Her Enemies Reviled, and Her Party Ultimately Ditched. DAVID WILLIAMSON Explores Why the Iron Lady Still Excites Such Passions of Fury and Delight

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Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

So the Prime Minister is hanging a painting of a former British leader - what's the big deal?

From May 1979 to November 1990, Mrs Thatcher led a multi-election-winning Conservative administration which divided Britain between those who considered the first female Prime Minister a crusading hero and others who believed she was the enemy of the vulnerable.

Until her political decapitation by her own party, her hold on power seemed so permanent that the British Left feared for the future of democracy. The idea that she might be able to slip back into the driving seat is the fodder of their nightmares.

Is this the first time Gordon Brown has invited her back to her old home?

No. Back in September 2007 he invited her to tea. This sent Labour's grassroots into contortions of horror.

However, this was at a time when Mr Brown was excited about a "government of all the talents" and wanted to bring in Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

There seems to be less excitement about this notion now.

Does he find her an inspiration?

Well, he did write a book about her - 1989's Where There Is Greed: Margaret Thatcher And The Betrayal Of Britain's Future.

I can understand why he might want to put her picture on a dartboard, but allegedly spending pounds 100,000 on an official portrait sounds quite strange.

Their relationship is more complex. In 1983, she summoned the young MP to her Commons office and over "a tumbler of whisky" they discussed a speech he had made.

It was around this time that Mr Brown grew convinced the Labour Party would never win a British election if it continued to pursue a socialist utopia that too many voters regarded as barmy.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman famously described the 1983 manifesto - which included a commitment to re-nationalisation and unilateral nuclear disarmament - as the "longest suicide note in history".

So are Mr Brown and Mrs Thatcher now friends?

At the time of her first visit, he said: "I admire the fact that she is a conviction politician. I am a conviction politician like her."

She also brought good presents for his sons. John got a remote-control car and Fraser received a cement mixer; parents remember such generosity.

In the autumn, he invited her to Chequers, the PM's country retreat. It was only the second time she has been back to the Buckinghamshire estate since she was ousted in 1990.

They come from opposite sides of the Commons. Do the two "get on"?

They certainly have a lot in common.

The only people alive today who know what it is like to stand in the Commons as Prime Minister are Lady Thatcher, Mr Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.

It's a famously lonely job and Mr Brown probably appreciates the opportunity of talking to the ageing Iron Lady about her experiences of dealing with scheming cabinet ministers, volatile public opinion and the hand-wringing anguish involved in sending young men and women to war.

Each also knows how it feels to confront the prospect of economic armageddon.

And just as two champion boxers can have great affection and respect for one another despite their instinct to throw blows, Mr Brown cannot help but regard Mrs Thatcher with an element of awe. He longs to be a great Prime Minister who will define the times. For better or for worse, this is what Mrs Thatcher did. She won three general elections. He has yet to win one.

So this is like the equally soft-focus friendship which has evolved between the first President Bush and President Clinton - they were once fierce opponents but now they play golf together and presumably share anecdotes about John Major?

It's actually a bit deeper than that.

As David Torrance, the Scottish author of a forthcoming book on Thatcher and her legacy has noted, they share similar childhoods and some core values. …