If Margaret Thatcher is replaced as prime minister by Michael Heseltine, British support of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf would not lessen.
What would change is Britain's attitude toward Europe. Mrs. Thatcher has been a reluctant European, unhappy at German unification, dragging Britain's feet in monetary union, falling back on the rhetoric of nationalism whenever convenient. Mr. Heseltine, former cabinet member Sir Geoffrey Howe, other Conservative Party figures and business leaders believe Britain must join the parade to European unity lest it lose its dominant role in financial services to Paris and Frankfurt.
Mrs. Thatcher is established as a giant of British history, whose legacy will endure. Her leadership of the party for 15 years and of the nation for 11 through three elections has wrought permanent change that the rebels are proud to have helped to create. The transition to a freer economy and greater home and company ownership would not be reversed by a Labor Party victory.
The first serious challenge to Mrs. Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party comes through the confluence of several developments. One is that men of cabinet stature always resented her imperious leadership. A second is that one of Mrs. Thatcher's reforms, replacing local property tax with a poll tax, is massively unpopular. Mr. Heseltine promises to review it. The third is the intra-party rift on the European question.
The 372 Conservative members of the House of Commons will choose their party's leader, and thereby the prime minister, on Tuesday. If they vote honest preference, according to a news agency poll, they would keep Mrs. Thatcher. But they want to win the next election and are not sentimental. Public opinion polls suggest that their party would have a better chance under anyone else, though Tory voters prefer her.
So the 372 Tory M.P.s are riven by the dilemma whether to cater to their own supporters or to uncommitted voters. For those who lament Mrs. Thatcher but distrust Mr. Heseltine, neither-of-the-above is an option. Abstentions could force a second ballot, on which a new name could appear, possibly a cabinet member loyal to Mrs. Thatcher but philosophically arrayed with the rebels. Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd's name is mentioned. But even if Mrs. Thatcher wins, her leadership is weakened for the long haul. So is the party'.