LONDON -- On her 698th and last appearance at the prime minister's question time in the House of Commons, Margaret Thatcher was greeted yesterday with both tribute and tribulation.
To the ritual first question about her daily activities, she said she had been spending her time answering some of the 30,000 letters she had received since announcing her resignation.
She presented a composed rather than commanding figure. Her blond hair set in a restrained bouffant, her slim figure clad in a familiar dark blue two-piece suit with white lapel edgings, she looked every bit the affluent suburbanite she is about to become.
From the Conservative benches came praise for "turning back the tide of socialism" in Britain, for her "valiant and effective" defense of British interests in Europe and for reasserting British influence in the world.
Labor member David Winnick wondered whether she found it "nauseating and hypocritical" to be so praised by Conservative parliamentarians after they forced her resignation.
"I don't find it nauseating," she replied combatively. "I find it refreshing."
"Does my honorable friend realize how she will go down in history as the prime minister who rewarded the rich and punished the poor?" shouted Scottish socialist Gavin Strang.
Mrs. Thatcher retorted that Scotland was now more prosperous than it had ever been, that there were 2 million more jobs in Britain than when she came into office in 1979, that there was peace in the coal industry and that there had been fewer strikes in the last year than during any year in the postwar period.
Opposition leader Neil Kinnock, a slight smile on his face, wanted to know which of her policies she now felt should be scrapped by her successor.
Her reply: "I am happy that my successor will carry on the excellent policies which in fact have finished with the decline of socialism, have brought great prosperity to the country, have raised Britain's standing in the world and have brought about a truly capital-owning democracy."
When it was over, she had answered 13 questions, making a grand total of 7,511 spontaneous parliamentary replies in her 11 years as prime minister.
With that, the woman who has dominated Parliament prepared to take her new seat at the back of the House of Commons.