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Some British voters find Thatcher too tough

By David WinderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 7, 1984


The question in British politics is not whether the ''Iron Lady'' is tough enough, but whether she is too tough. Hardly anyone, and that includes some Labour Party politicians, disputes that after five years in office Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has replaced a sense of drift, vacillation, and expediency in British politics with resolution and purpose.

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Her no-shilly-shallying approach on the Falklands crisis almost single-handedly won her a second term in office.

But while Mrs. Thatcher has few detractors when it comes to standing up to the Argentines, the Soviets, the European Community, and even to President Reagan on the Grenada invasion, there is concern that her combative style against unions, miners, and local government authorities is pushing British politics closer to confrontation and further away from its traditional course of consensus.

Even so un-British a term as ''extremist'' was on the lips of some disaffected Conservative Party voters when they left the polls May 3 in Britain's mini-elections.

The elections were not of the magnitude of a general election. They were restricted to three by-elections (special elections) for Parliament and to a host of local elections to determine the control of cities and towns in England, Scotland, and Wales. Nevertheless, the results were a scare for the ruling Conservatives.

In two of the three Conservative-held seats, the Conservative vote plummeted.

In Stafford, in the English Midlands, formerly the seat of the late and much-respected Sir Hugh Fraser, the Conservative majority was sliced from 14,277 to 3,980. The Social Democrat, who came in a strong second, was the principal gainer.

In Surrey Southwest, thought to be true-blue Tory country (affluent, with little unemployment), Conservative candidate Virginia Bottomley saw the party's majority slashed from 14,351 at the last election to 2,949 now. The Social Democratic candidate, Gavin Scott, a TV journalist, was ecstatic about his strong second-place showing, declaring that this long-impregnable Conservative bastion could be vulnerable at the next election.

Labour, in one of its traditional strongholds, comfortably regained the mining seat of Cynon Valley in Wales.

The slight increase in the percentage margin of the Labour victory in Cynon Valley reflected a fairly widespread pattern, in which the Labour Party - which was in the doldrums under Michael Foot - is making a modest recovery under the more dynamic leadership of Neil Kinnock.

These elections as a whole were the first electoral test for the new leader of the Labour Party, who is himself a Welshman.

Overall, the elections will do most to boost the morale of the resurgent alliance of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties.

When all the results were extrapolated and projected as an estimated future general election result, the Conservatives came out ahead of Labour by some 40 seats. More significantly, the Liberal-Social Democratic alliance was estimated to be capable of winning 70 seats in such a theoretical new Parliament - a delicious prospect for the alliance, since it would give it the balance of power in a hung Parliament.

Until this latest set of local elections and by-elections, the alliance had been viewed as something of a nine-day wonder.