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The Press : 3-Way Battle to Succeed Thatcher Played Out on Editorial Pages

November 27, 1990

Members of Parliament (MPs) from Britain's Conservative Party vote today to choose a successor to Margaret Thatcher as party leader and, as a result, the country's prime minister.

The candidates are Michael Heseltine, 57, the flamboyant and controversial former defense minister whose challenge to Thatcher led to the prime minister's resignation last week; Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, 60, considered the candidate of the party's center; and the relatively youthful Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major, 47, who is reportedly Thatcher's choice to succeed her.

All three men have their supporters in the British press, which has proven particularly sensitive to the personalities and class backgrounds of the candidates. A sampling of British editorial comment:

"In our own minds, there is no doubt that the first choice must be Mr. Douglas Hurd. The foreign secretary . . . is a politician of the highest intelligence, experience and integrity who has emerged during the past 14 months as a major national and international figure. . . . He offers by far the best chance of uniting Conservatives in the wake of this bitter and bruising leadership contest. Some doubts have been expressed about Mr. Hurd's patrician demeanor, his less obvious vote-winning qualities than those of Mr. Heseltine. We reject this argument. The government will be judged between now and the next general election by what it does rather than by how it looks. . . .

"Mr. Hurd seems to us more substantial than Mr. Heseltine, more mature than Mr. Major, and ultimately more politically convincing than either. The Tory party will emerge . . . from what has been, frankly, a shoddy and unseemly crisis. Mr. Hurd offers by far the best opportunity of convincing the electorate that Conservative fortunes are in the hands of a convincing leader of proven judgment."

--The Daily Telegraph

"We . . . believe that Mr. Major would be the best man for the job at No. 10. He is the only candidate who has totally made his own way. No (private) school; no university. He has tasted life in a terraced house in a dreary suburb. He has even known unemployment.

"At just 47, he belongs to a new generation of politicians. He himself is the product of the years when Mrs. Thatcher provided the opportunity for those of humble background to succeed without the benefit of privilege and connection. As a new millennium approaches, John Major is the man most likely to succeed. For himself and for the country."

--The Sun

"Above all, Mr. Hurd lacks appeal among the very people essential to securing the Tories a fourth term: the skilled blue-collar and lower-middle-class voters. . . .

"The only significant reservation about Mr. Major is that he remains somewhat untried and untested . . . an unknown commodity under pressure, which makes him something of a risk as prime minister. . . .

"Except for a few die-hard Thatcherites with a grudge against him, Mr. Heseltine should have little problem in drawing a united party around his government, especially with the prospect of an election to concentrate fractious minds.

"A Heseltine-Major-Hurd triumvirate is an attractive proposition for the Tories to offer voters, in whatever combination. But the guarantee of victory and progress on the issues that matter is best secured with Michael Heseltine as prime minister."

--The Sunday Times

"The worry is that deep down Mr. Heseltine is not long on judgment and that he is short on what, in a commonplace way, may be described as political common sense. . . .

"The test must be one of crisis. If there were a gulf war, who should the Tory MPs--and who would the nation--most trust? Because he is so comparatively unknown, Mr. Major cannot pass the crisis test with flying colors. Mr. Hurd can. He has occupied two great offices of state with reasonable distinction. It is easy to mock his fuddy-duddy airs. He seems to some Tories to be a parody of the old Tory party which they have been fighting to replace. . . .

"But there is no evidence that Mr. Hurd suffers from the defeatist cast of thought which enveloped so many Tories from his kind of background in the postwar era."

--The Independent on Sunday

"Douglas Hurd is a likable, respected ex-diplomat. But he has all the charisma of an amoeba. A privileged old Etonian is not the right choice to win back Tory voters in crucial northern marginal seats.

"High on the charisma scale is Michael Heseltine. But can the Tories and the country unite behind an impetuous, mace-swinging Tarzan? . . .

"As a woman leader, Mrs. Thatcher broke one mold. As a working-class hero, Tory Prime Minister John Major could break another."

--News of the World

"For the Tories, the real choice, it seems to us, is between playing safe with Hurd or taking a chance on Heseltine.

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