Thatcher to quit Commons --hoping for seat in Lords

June 29, 1991|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Margaret Thatcher announced the end of another phase of her divisive and tumultuous political career yesterday. She said that she would abandon her seat in the House of Commons at the next election.

Still a dominant figure in British politics and with a global recognition level far higher than that of her successor, John Major, Mrs. Thatcher declared her intention to "carry on speaking about the things I believe in," preferably from a seat in the House of Lords.

Mr. Major said that her departure "will be a sad loss to the Commons." The leader of the Labor Party, Neil Kinnock, was not so generous. He said she quit "because she didn't want to face defeat in the next election."

She was turned out as Conservative Party leader in the fall after a revolt of some of her chief Cabinet officers. Mr. Major was named party leader and received Mrs. Thatcher's promise to support him. It immediately was clear to strategists in the party that Mrs. Thatcher's kind of support -- which was to object to virtually all of Mr. Major's initiatives -- would lead to the undoing of Mr. Major and the Conservatives.

Mr. Major, in turn, gradually seemed to have put into place a strategy described by John Williamson of the International Institute of Economics, in an earlier interview with The Sun, as "undoing much of what Mrs. Thatcher has done."

Mrs. Thatcher, 65, has been in Parliament for 32 years, serving as prime minister from May 1979 until last November. She was Britain's first female prime minister and the first leader to win three elections in a row for her party.

What she has been speaking out on most passionately in recent weeks is Britain's integration in the European Community, which she says has gone too far too fast. Her lack of affection for European political unity is well known, but lately it has focused on the move toward monetary union and the prospect of a single European currency.

In a recent speech she said that the "single currency is a move toward political union, and that way leads to political control."

"For 700 years our Parliament has had control over our currency," she said, adding that she wanted to see Parliament continue that control for another 700.

No one has been much surprised at Mrs. Thatcher's criticisms of the man she said she supports, a support she affirmed yesterday when she announced that she would "continue to be a strong ally and friend of Prime Minister Major."

But many were surprised by the frequency and vehemence of the criticism.

In May she was urged by Cecil Parkinson, a close political friend and the former secretary of transport, to resign the House of Commons. Other Conservative mandarins urged the same.

The man being credited with having the most do with her decision to leave the House of Commons was Bernard Ingham, who had been her press secretary. Reached at his home yesterday, Mr. Ingham said, "I felt as long as she remained in the Commons she would be in a false position. She would be viewed as a person who presented a threat to the prime minister."

Mrs. Thatcher herself acceded to this interpretation yesterday when she said that she would feel freer now to speak out on the things she believed in "because people will know I'm not waiting in the wings."

But the House of Lords is not quite the same platform as the House of Commons. "There is a difference," Mr. Ingham conceded. "They don't count [politically] but they can count in terms of influence. And [speaking from the Lords] doesn't mean you can't say things that are sensible."

For Mrs. Thatcher to get into the Lords, the prime minister must submit her name to Queen Elizabeth II. No one yesterday was doubting Mr. Major would recommend her.

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