London — British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced a shuffling of her government late Wednesday designed to pave the way for Conservative Party success in the next general election. She ordered a shakeup of her government's middle ranks, strengthened the upper reaches of the Conservative Party, and is preparing for a fresh round of international travel to draw attention to her role as a major world leader.
The shuffle involves no changes in her Cabinet. But big changes in middle-level appointments aim at giving the government a more pronounced right-wing slant and convincing the electorate that, if the Tories are returned to power, there will be plenty of younger talent available to move up to Cabinet jobs.
Mrs. Thatcher does not have to call an election until mid-1988, but it is thought likely that she will go to the polls earlier than that -- possibly in October of next year. This means that she has to give a fresh look to her government now, ensure that the party machine is operating smoothly, and project herself as a decisive and high-profile leader.
A recent opinion poll provides cause for concern. It shows that the opposition Labour Party has the backing of 40 percent of the electorate, compared to 34 percent for the ruling Conservatives.
Among the most important government changes she has ordered are those in education, a sensitive political area for the Conservatives. She has left her recently appointed and somewhat liberal education secretary, Kenneth Baker, in place, but given him two obviously right-wing ministerial assistants and dropped a number of junior and middle-ranking ministers who have failed to project government policy to the public effectively.
More significant in strictly political terms is the appointment of Peter Morrison as a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. He will work under Norman Tebbit, the party chairman, and alongside Jeffrey Archer, the best-selling novelist who was appointed deputy chairman earlier this year.
Mr. Morrison is regarded as a good communicator and a sound administrator who will be oiling the wheels of the party's central office to prepare for a general election. Mr. Archer, who is something of a darling of constituency Tories, will work in the provinces, where he will try to project an image of renewal and decisiveness in the upper ranks of government.
But it may fall to Thatcher herself to provide the crucial element in convincing the public that the Tories are still capable of providing firm and inspiring leadership to a nation troubled by high unemployment and slow economic growth.
As she announced her government shuffle, the prime minister was packing her bags for a trip to Norway to meet with government ministers. She also has plans in coming months for talks with the President of France and chancellor of West Germany, and will preside at a summit meeting of the European Community.
Mrs. Thatcher's political opponents immediately branded her government shuffle as an attempt to refurbish an aging ministry. Liberal Party leader David Steel declared, ``This is cosmetic politics and will not alter the impression that Mrs. Thatcher and the Tories have been in office for too long.''