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Cherie Blair: Thatcher taught Tony how to win

Baroness Thatcher (L) waits to greet the Queen beside Tony Blair (R) and his wife Cherie (C). June, 2007.
ADRIAN DENNIS | AFP | Getty Images
Baroness Thatcher (L) waits to greet the Queen beside Tony Blair (R) and his wife Cherie (C). June, 2007.

Cherie Blair CBE, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher made her husband aware of the importance of claiming the center ground in order to end 18 years of Conservative rule.

Talking to CNBC Meets, Blair said Thatcher's dominance made the former Labour leader understand the need to shift the party towards the right: "One wouldn't necessarily associate Margaret Thatcher with the center ground, but nevertheless she won three elections, which means she wasn't unaware of its importance."

Tony Blair is credited with returning the Labour party to government in a landslide election in 1997 by making the party accept and adopt some of Thatcher's policies from the 1980s.

While Tony Blair's "modernization" of the party was applauded for ushering in 13 years of Labour power, many argue that his continuation of deregulation in the financial industry – along with vast public spending – paved the way to the U.K. banking crisis in 2009.

(Read More: Europeans Want to See Gain Before More Pain: Blair)

Cherie Blair told CNBC that while on a personal level Margaret Thatcher was generous with her support, she still stuck firmly to her own political ideas. "She was very kind and generous with her support to him, particularly in relation to foreign affairs," Cherie Blair said.

"When he (Tony Blair) first became Prime Minister she certainly gave him the benefit of her experience which was given, I understand, in typically robust Thatcherite terms."

Blair recalls meeting Thatcher several times after her husband came into office and said: "I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the very human person that she was."

Cherie Blair, a barrister in England and Wales, is also the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, engaging in philanthropic efforts to improve the lives of women across the world. While she worked for the Labour Party in the 1979 election, Blair said she understood the importance of Thatcher's election as the first female prime minister.

"She broke the mould and became a role model," Blair said. "I think it's very important for young girls in Britain today that they can no longer be laughed at when they say, 'I want to be Prime Minister,' because Margaret Thatcher showed that a woman can not only do it, but can do it with conviction."

However, Blair did criticize Thatcher's poor record record on hiring women while in office: only one woman in the eleven years of her administration was elevated to cabinet level.

"Baroness Thatcher would not describe herself as a feminist," said Blair.

CNBC Meets: Cherie Blair will air on Wednesday 15 May.

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  • Tania Bryer is a guest presenter and executive producer of CNBC Meets. In this series, she profiles some of the world’s most successful business people to find out what makes them tick. Bryer previously worked for BBC and Sky Television.