Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Voters Give Major Mandate Surprise Conservative Victory Confounds Pollsters, Delivers Knockout Blow to Labour Party Leadership, but Bodes Well for Europeans Urging Progress on Unity

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Voters Give Major Mandate Surprise Conservative Victory Confounds Pollsters, Delivers Knockout Blow to Labour Party Leadership, but Bodes Well for Europeans Urging Progress on Unity

Article excerpt

JOHN MAJOR, surprise victor of the April 9 general election in Britain, is beginning a five-year term as prime minister with a heavily refurbished Cabinet, a promise to build a classless society, and a goal to lead Britain out of recession.

His Labour Party opponents remain stunned by the magnitude of their defeat and have begun a bout of soul-searching about the future of socialism in Britain.

Despite consistent forecasts by opinion polls and political pundits throughout the campaign that the ruling party would fail to achieve a majority in the House of Commons, Major's Conservative Party emerged as the clear winner on Friday, with an overall lead of 21 seats. Neil Kinnock, the Labour Party leader for the past eight years, is expected to resign.

On April 11 the prime minister appointed a Cabinet in which only two of his senior colleagues remained in their old posts. He sacked prominent carry-overs from Margaret Thatcher's old team, including Kenneth Baker, the former home secretary, and Peter Brooke, the Northern Ireland secretary.

He promoted several younger politicians, including two women who will take on high-profile jobs.

"This is the end of the Thatcher era," said a leading Conservative backbencher. "John is his own man now."

Major was delighted to have "won a mandate in my own right," he added. His priority was to lead Britain out of recession and back to prosperity.

Bitterly disappointed that a hard-fought Labour campaign had ended in failure, Mr. Kinnock indicated to friends over the weekend that he would resign as party leader. He was expected to announce his resignation today.

Labour has already begun a root-and-branch analysis of why it lost the election and how it can rebuild itself at a time when left-wing parties elsewhere in Europe also are losing ground.

John Smith, the party's financial spokesman, is a strong prospect to succeed Kinnock as party leader, Labour sources said.

In two unusual moves, Major switched David Mellor, a senior Treasury minister, to a newly created post of national heritage minister, and put William Waldegrave, health secretary in the last government, in charge of the Citizens' Charter. This is a "bill of rights" for British consumers, which Major calls one of his most important policy initiatives.

Mr. Mellor will have responsibility for the arts, broadcasting, and sports. It is the first time a minister with Cabinet rank has been asked to supervise government policy in such matters. Two secretaries retained

The prime minister retained Norman Lamont, as his Chancellor of the Exchequer, despite criticisms of his last budget, and reappointed Douglas Hurd, an enthusiast for European unity, as foreign secretary.

Michael Heseltine, whom Major defeated to lead the Conservative Party after Mrs. Thatcher resigned in December 1990, was promoted to be trade and industry secretary, with orders to spearhead an export drive. …

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