Major Resorts to Thatcherism in Bid to Retain Leadership

AFTER a week of soul-searching, Britain's ruling Conservative Party has made a sharp swerve to the right and is under heavy pressure to return to the political philosophy of Lady Margaret Thatcher.

Delegates to the Conservatives' annual conference at Blackpool, held Oct. 5-8, cheered as John Major, Lady Thatcher's successor as prime minister, endorsed a set of policies aimed at cracking down on crime, curbing welfare, and setting clear limits to Britain's future role in the European Community.

A delighted Thatcher said she welcomed Mr. Major's ``return to traditional Conservative principles'' and that she believed ``the Thatcherite inheritance'' was now ``much more secure.''

Thatcher spoke as serialization of her long-awaited memoirs began amid bitterness at the book's criticisms of her ex-ministers, including Major, who she said was inclined to ``drift with the tide.''

The success at Blackpool of a well-organized group of young right-wing ministers in securing conference endorsement of their views angered some of Major's senior Cabinet colleagues, who say they will fight back against attempts to return their party to Thatcherism.

Trade Secretary Michael Heseltine warned Conservatives against ``right-wing triumphalism,'' which he said could ``lead to the party's destruction.''

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd told friends that he was alarmed by the ascendancy of the right at Blackpool. Law and order campaign

But Home Secretary Michael Howard proposed 27 new measures to crack down on crime. ``Prison works!'' he declared, announcing the building of six new prisons. Crime rates have doubled since the Conservatives came to power in 1979.

Peter Lilley, the social security secretary, attacked people, including visiting EC citizens, who he said ``scrounged'' on the welfare state. He said unmarried mothers and other single parents should not be given special preference by the state.

Winding up the conference, Major said he backed calls for a return to traditional values. In a sharp rebuke to the EC, which he thinks tries to interfere too much in the affairs of member countries, the prime minister said, ``I tell them bluntly: Get your tractor off our lawn.''

Political observers could not recall Major ever having used such tough language about the EC. One said: ``He has evidently decided that the best way to secure his position as leader and unite his party is to move in a Thatcherite direction.''

Major, whose grip on the premiership has slipped badly in the past year (opinion polls give him only 17 percent approval), was said by officials to be happy with the outcome of the party conference. He may be less than delighted, however, about Thatcher's remarks about his political style and skills.

In her book, ``The Downing Street Years,'' she says Major was her second choice as chancellor of the exchequer. In that job he was ``unexcited by the sort of concepts which I saw as central to politics.'' ``Others were more at ease with large ideas and strategies,'' she writes. `No federalist tendencies'

The government's swerve to the right will be most apparent in June elections to the European Parliament. Michael Portillo, chief secretary to the Treasury, warned Conservative candidates against showing ``federalist tendencies.'' Federalism is seen by Thatcher and her supporters as the route to a centralized Europe.

``Any candidate who says he is in favor of a federal Europe will be in flat contradiction to our party manifesto,'' said Mr. Portillo, a professed Thatcherite.

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