LABOUR have insisted Keir Starmer is a “conviction politician” like Margaret Thatcher as he faces criticism for his praise for the former prime minister.

Pat McFadden, who as Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator is the party’s top election strategist, defended Starmer for his controversial comments in the Sunday Telegraph.

The Labour leader described Thatcher as having sought to “drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”.

Thatcher is reviled by the left. Prime minister from 1979 to 1990, she oversaw a seismic transformation in Britain's society and economy, including the mass closure of industry as well as sweeping privatisation and market deregulation. 

Her policies saw unemployment rocket and many blame Britain's rapid deindustrialisation for social problems which persist more than 30 years after Thatcher left office

Starmer's remarks have been widely interpreted as admiring but McFadden (below) – who was formerly a top aide to Tony Blair – insisted they were not an “endorsement”.

The National: Pat McFadden

He pointed out that previous Labour leaders, including Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, had shown warmth towards Thatcher.

Speaking on LBC, McFadden said: “There’s such a long history to this.

“I remember Gordon Brown, when he was prime minister, invited Mrs Thatcher to tea at No10 and he described her as a conviction politician who saw the need for change. And we had some of the same fuss at that time.”

READ MORE: The idea of a golden age under Thatcher doesn't stand up to scrutiny

Former Blair spin doctor Peter Mandelson also famously declared “we’re all Thatcherites now” while a Labour MP in 2002.

He added: “What Keir was doing in the [article] yesterday was making the same point, that there are conviction politicians who change the country. And he wants to be one of those, not one of those who drifts along and is buffeted by events.

“I agree that she was a conviction politician but it is not an endorsement of her policy. And the truth is Gordon Brown praised her, Tony Blair said she was a ‘towering figure’, now Keir’s said this.

“There is no path to victory that doesn’t include appealing to people who have been voting Conservative in recent years.”

READ MORE: Keir Starmer praises Margaret Thatcher in appeal to Tory voters

Starmer’s comments have sparked fierce criticism and thrust the spotlight on Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who has as yet remained silent on the furore.

Scottish Labour MSP Monic Lennon (below) tweeted on Sunday: “Thatcher’s legacy still haunts us, with many problems facing the UK today rooted in political and economic decisions made in the 1980s.

The National: Monica Lennon

“Whole communities destroyed, turbo-charged inequality and mass unemployment. Lessons still need to be learned.”

Meanwhile SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn wrote to Sarwar asking for his views on the Labour leader’s comments.

Many of Starmer’s critics from the left and right have said he lacks conviction, pointing to his changing positions on the nationalisation of energy companies, taxes and benefits.