British leader rebuts charges he's a 'ditherer'

April 15, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major yesterday publicly rebuffed increasing charges that he is a "ditherer."

The latest criticism came from Sir Alan Walters, the Johns Hopkins University economist who was special economic adviser to Mr. Major's predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.

In a taped interview for the British Broadcasting Corp.'s weekly "Panorama" television program tonight, Sir Alan questioned whether Mr. Major's leadership was guided by any "set of ideas" or principles. "I haven't seen any evidence of that -- quite different, of course, from Mrs. Thatcher," he said.

Mr. Major declined to respond directly but, asked about repeated suggestions that he "dithers" or "wobbles," he dismissed the charges as "juvenile name-calling."

He said, "When you are considering a matter of importance, you should listen to the points of view. You examine them and consider how they will affect the people whose lives will be affected, and then you decide."

He pointed out that he had decided to abandon the unpopular poll, or head, tax, introduced by Mrs. Thatcher and roundly rejected by the public. He acknowledged that he had not yet decided how to replace it.

He noted that he had taken sterling into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ignoring a warning from Sir Alan that the pound would have to be devalued and that the government would not be able to reduce interest rates. Sterling has since risen, and interest rates have been cut.

Asked if his two-stage plan for the Iraqi Kurds -- immediate humanitarian aid followed by encouragement to return home -- was a "fudge," Mr. Major said that he could see no other way of solving the short- and long-term problems.

His performance yesterday on London Weekend TV brought little pause in the criticism.

Paddy Ashdown, leader of the minority Liberal Democrats, said, "Mr. Major cannot unite his party or effectively govern Britain unless he can set a clear lead. So far he has comprehensively failed to do this."

Labor Party strategist Bryan Gould said, "We have a prime minister who says that all the questions he is required to decide are in fact too complicated and difficult for him to decide."

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