Out of Office, Not Out of Boxing Ring: 'Iron Lady' Gives Right Hook to Major

THATCHER VS. MAJOR

MARGARET THATCHER wants John Major, her successor as prime minister, to be more like her -- and he is hopping mad with the advice.

The woman who led Britain for 12 years and transformed its politics is using the second volume of her memoirs to urge Mr. Major to switch direction on domestic and foreign policy and ''put things right'' in the ruling Conservative Party.

Major's reaction to the Thatcher onslaught, his officials say, is ''extremely angry.'' But several Conservative members of the British Parliament (MPs) have sided with the ''Iron Lady.''

The memoirs, to be published in June as ''The Path to Power'' and now being serialized in London's Sunday Times, accuse Major's government of causing a three-year economic recession, splitting the Conservatives, and adopting ''misguided'' taxation policies.

On Europe, she urges Major to recover British political sovereignty which, her book argues, has been ''ceded to Brussels,'' the capital of the European Union.

No gloves

The Thatcher attack has prompted senior government ministers to gather in Major's corner. Kenneth Clarke, chancellor of the exchequer, says many of the problems the government faces have been ''caused by policies pursued during the Thatcher years.''

And Trade Secretary Michael Heseltine said that by the time Mrs. Thatcher left office in 1990, she was ''unpopular and heading for electoral defeat.''

But Michael Portillo, another senior Cabinet minister, says the government should ''accept criticism from such a notable figure.'' Mr. Portillo, who is employment secretary, has long argued that Britain should fight against moves toward a more closely united Europe.

Thatcher's torrent of criticism could hardly have hit Major at a worse time. His popularity at an all-time low, and his Conservative Party, which has been in power for 16 years, took huge hits in local elections this spring. He is also under heavy pressure from the Labour opposition to implement the recommendations of an official inquiry on ethics in politics.

On May 22, Sir Jerry Wiggin, a senior Conservative MP, was forced to make an abject public apology in the House of Commons for having misused another MP's name in trying to change legislation in which he had a personal interest.

Major, stung by his predecessor's attack, had a morsel of consolation on May 22 when Thatcher issued a ''clarification'' to reports that she was encouraging Conservatives to replace him as leader. The reports, she said in a statement, had been ''seriously distorted.''

But at the same time, Thatcher did not retract her criticisms of Major or his policies.

John Carlisle, a senior Conservative MP, says she was ''a folk hero'' who ''speaks for 70 percent of the Conservative party'' when she ''opposes the Maastricht Treaty.''

The treaty, laid out in 1992 in Maastricht, the Netherlands, provided for a more closely integrated Europe -- something Britons have never wholeheartedly backed.

Thatcher's friends point out that she sees herself as a stateswoman of long experience, and her party and the people of Britain ought to listen to her.

At offices in central London, she presides over the Thatcher Foundation, which conducts research on domestic and foreign policy. Thatcher has many active admirers in both houses of Parliament, and the foundation is reported to be well-endowed.

Unlike Sir Edward Heath, an earlier Conservative prime minister, she is no longer a member of the House of Commons. Tristan Garel-Jones, a former minister for Europe, says this means ''she lacks a democratic platform'' and ''should remember that.''

Mr. Garel-Jones notes that she was prime minister when she steered key items of European legislation through Parliament. ''Many of our perceived problems with Brussels stem from that legislation,'' he says.

'Overwhelmingly right'

But there is a solid body of opinion that shares Thatcher's views about Britain's relations with Europe. Lord Tebbit, a prominent Euroskeptic in the House of Lords, agrees. ''She is overwhelmingly right,'' he says.

Thatcher pulls no punches in her attack on the policies Major has followed since he took office four-and-a-half years ago. Judging by excerpts published so far, her language is much more severe than in her earlier volume ''The Downing Street Years,'' published three years ago.

At one point she says that under Major, ''the special relationship with the United States has been allowed to cool to near freezing point.''

In another passage, she says ''putting our country at the heart of Europe ... led directly to the worst recession Britain has suffered for 50 years.''

The book also takes several swipes at domestic policy under Major. ''Crime has risen,'' she says, ''and the family is in crisis.''

She calls for less spending on welfare and more on law and order. ''We are moving rapidly in the wrong direction,'' she says.

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