Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Conservatives' Message: We Aren't `Stale' at Conference, British Ruling Party Regroups

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Conservatives' Message: We Aren't `Stale' at Conference, British Ruling Party Regroups

Article excerpt

BRITAIN'S Conservatives have launched a two-year battle to turn back a political tide that appears to be running heavily in the opposition Labour Party's favor.

As they opened their annual conference Oct. 11, Prime Minister John Major urged his followers to try to recapture the middle ground of politics.

But opinion polls and political analysts say the party that has held power continuously for 15 years will be fortunate to retain it at the general election expected in 1996 or 1997.

The most troublesome trend Mr. Major and his followers have to confront is a marked slump in Conservative support among Britain's middle class, many of whom regard the ruling party as having lost its grip on the nation's affairs.

A Gallup poll on the eve of the Tories' conference at Bournemouth, England, showed 69 percent answering yes to the question, "Is the government tired and stale, and has it run out of steam?" More than 70 percent, including a substantial minority of Conservatives, said the government was "short-sighted."

More than 60 percent regarded it as "weak" and "dishonest."

The poll also indicated that Labour has a 30-point lead over the Conservatives.

Respondents were questioned before Tony Blair, the new Labour leader, took his party's annual conference by storm a week earlier with a call to eliminate key socialist goals from Labour's constitution and to give it stronger appeal to middle-class voters.

Joe Rogaly, a leading political commentator, says the government has lost the initiative to the opposition on crime prevention and taxes - traditional areas of Conservative strength.

"The Tories need a spell in the wilderness to examine their past and our future," Mr. Rogaly says.

Major told Conservative delegates at Bournemouth that Labour's promises to hold down taxes and adopt a tough law-and- order line were a sham, calling Mr. Blair a "born-again socialist."

The prime minister's attempts to pump confidence into his supporters were not helped by widespread claims that Mark Thatcher, son of the former Conservative prime minister, had earned 12- million pounds (then $15 million) as middleman in a British arms deal with Saudi Arabia signed by his mother when in office. …

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