What Will Britain's Iron Lady Do Next?

Britain's new prime minister, John Major, tops the news, but many wonder about Margaret Thatcher - a letter from London

AS John Major strives to fill the shoes of Margaret Thatcher, nearly as much news-media attention is being paid to the outgoing prime minister as to 10 Downing Street's new tenant. What will she do? After 11 hectic years in power, how will she cope with retirement? What color curtains will she choose? The retirement home Mrs. Thatcher and her husband Denis have moved into has been more in the news than the official prime ministerial residence. Readers have been treated to descriptions of what may or may not lie behind the white-painted door of 11 Hambledon Place in the London suburb of Dulwich.

The Daily Mail recently described each of the Thatchers' 22 neighbors in the high-cost housing development, which is now under round-the-clock scrutiny by Scotland Yard detectives who will guard the ex-prime minister for years to come.

The word ``retirement'' applied to Margaret Thatcher begs an important question, of course. Shortly after her being toppled she confided to a friend: ``I know nothing but work. Work is my life.''

So it was no surprise when, minutes before Prime Minister Major began fielding his first hostile questions from the Labour Party opposition, his predecessor, clad in a suit of imperial purple, swept into the chamber and took a seat. Firmly planted and smiling wanly, she heard Mr. Major describe himself as ``my own man'' and scorn those who had days earlier heard Thatcher say, unguardedly, ``I will be a good back-seat driver.''

Where will the Iron Lady decide to drive? The City of Westminster has announced that she is to be made a ``free woman.'' David Owen, former leader of the defunct Social Democratic Party, says she would make a good replacement for Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar at the United Nations.

There have been suggestions that Thatcher should be offered a peerage so she may, like Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, ascend to the House of Lords. This idea, however, comes mainly from Commoners worried that the lower house may be too small for a woman of such powerful opinions.

Whether or not Thatcher continues to be a full-voiced parliamentary player, one of her least successful policies will not cease to be a reminder to her. Most observers believe her devotion to the hated poll tax helped to bring her down.

As she left 10 Downing Street for the last time, she and her husband received notice from Westminster Council that they were owed a 65 pound ($125) refund on their poll tax this year.

But the Southwark Council, which administers Dulwich, was less encouraging. The poll tax there stands at 329 pounds, compared with 195 pounds at Westminster. Because the council classes 11 Hambledon Place as a ``second home,'' refunds are out of the question. Britain's first woman premier, it seems, has been hoist by her poll tax petard.

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