LONDON — British Prime Minister John Major said Sunday that the unprecedented defection of a Conservative member of Parliament to the Labor opposition will not distract him from the task of winning the next general election, due by mid-1997.
But Alan Howarth's shock move--he is the first Conservative ever to "cross the floor" of Parliament to join Labor--reduced Major's fragile majority in the 651-seat House of Commons to only five and dealt him a body blow on the eve of the four-day annual party conference, which starts Tuesday.
As Labor crowed over its notable new scalp, Major led his ministers in a damage-control exercise.
The prime minister, who has fought to heal the wounds in his divided party, said in a statement:
"I profoundly disagree with his analysis of the Conservative Party, but nothing will distract us from the task ahead. We have an election to win, and we intend to win it."
Howarth, 51, a former government minister, said Saturday that he quit because the Conservatives have moved to the right.
"The poor in Britain have not shared as they should have done in the growth of the nation's wealth, and are made to feel the object of indifference or even contempt by too many Tories," he said in his resignation letter.