Dawn of the Major Era

November 30, 1990

The Major government was up and running Britain on Day One without having missed a step. No slowpoke transition team. Prime Minister John Major had all of a week to contemplate the changes to make if he won the Conservative leadership contest. That was enough. It is one of the virtues of the cabinet system.

Mr. Major has taken predecessor Margaret Thatcher's cabinet and reshuffled it, so that each minister knows for whom he works. Keeping Defense Secretary Tom King and Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd at their posts stresses continuity for Britain's support and military presence in the U.S.-led effort to contain Iraq's aggressions.

In domestic politics the big move was to bring Michael Heseltine, Mr. Major's strongest rival for the prime ministry, back into the cabinet he had quit in a huff in 1986. This unifies the Conservative Party for election purposes, a political tactic Mrs. Thatcher will understand. Mr. Heseltine takes up a former job as secretary for the environment, a catch-all that includes local government. He will "review" the Thatcher reform the party most regrets, the hated poll tax.

By promoting Norman Lamont to succeed himself as chancellor the exchequer, Mr. Major retains a Thatcherish reluctance to join the European Community's single monetary system. But with staunch Europeans such as Mr. Hurd and a more collegial spirit in the cabinet, the regime is bound to be more accommodating in Brussels as time goes on. Britain will be more of a team player in hopes of having more say on European agricultural and regional policies.

Other changes bring more youth and greater distance from Mrs. Thatcher. So far there is, surprisingly, only one female junior minister among the new faces to supplant Mrs. Thatcher. The official who crafted the tough Thatcher image in Britain's eccentric government-press relationship, Press Secretary Bernard Ingham, vanished overnight. He is succeeded by the civil servant who honed Mr. Major's image of bland efficiency when he was chancellor of the exchequer.

The challenge is to win the election that must be held by June 1992. Only afterward would the Major government show what it would do if given the chance. The Thatcher era is history.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.