LONDON -- Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, fighting for political survival, said yesterday she would continue leading "the only party with clear policies, resolutely carried out."
Opinion polls gave conflicting signals yesterday on the challenge of former Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine to her leadership of the Conservative Party, and indirectly her leadership of the country.
The polls suggested that the public would prefer Mr. Heseltine as Tory leader, but they also showed that she remained the favorite inside her party.
A Market and Opinion Research International poll, published in the London Times, showed that with Mr. Heseltine as leader, the Tories could reverse their 18-month-long lag behind Labor.
The poll found that with Mrs. Thatcher in charge, the Conservatives would have 41 percent support against Labor's 45 percent. But with Mr. Heseltine as leader, the Tories would jump to 49 percent support, while Labor would drop to 39 percent.
The Guardian, interpreting its own similar poll, wrote, "The poll underlines the cruel choice facing Tory MPs. If they vote to keep Mrs. Thatcher, they will persevere with a leader who among the electorate attracts much the greater hostility of any contender. If they ditch her, they will deeply disappoint many committed supporters."
The 372 Conservative members of Parliament will vote Tuesday between the two. A Press Association sounding of 240 of those parliamentarians suggested that the majority would support the continuation of Thatcherism.
It found that Mrs. Thatcher would have 53.3 percent of the vote against Mr. Heseltine's 19.2 percent. But 27.5 percent of those questioned refused to indicate their preference. The ballot will be secret.
After 11 years as prime minister, Mrs. Thatcher showed no signs yesterday of wavering from her determination to remain in control. She told the House of Commons she intended to continue.
She attacked one of Mr. Heseltine's proposals for shifting educational costs from local to national responsibility, warning that the change would involve tax increases or a reduction in money available for other programs.
Mr. Heseltine started to set out his political stance, which calls for a review of the unpopular "poll tax," for work rather than welfare for the unemployed, and for a more positive attitude toward Europe.