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Ex-Thatcher Cabinet minister takes potshots at his former boss

As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed victory in her budget confrontation with the European Community and swore that there would be no surrender in her conflict with the coal miners, a cool and influential voice was raised within the Conservative Party, deploring her governing style.

Francis Pym, sacked last year as foreign secretary, declared that Mrs. Thatcher has moved far from the Conservative mainstream. In both domestic and foreign affairs her adversary approach, he insisted, was bad for Britain and would eventually create its own backlash.

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Mr. Pym's detailed critique of Mrs. Thatcher and the doctrines described as Thatcherism appears in a book titled ''The Politics of Consent.'' In Pym's book, the prime minister is chided for her combative approach to politics and for, in effect, betraying the type of Toryism Pym embodies.

He is a Tory gentleman whose heroes include Disraeli and whose brand of politics is essentially that of compromise. For Pym, under Prime Minister Thatcher, a wholly different style has prevailed. The Conservative Party, to her , should be more middle class than patrician, more committed to efficiency than gentlemanly behavior.

In the days when Pym was in her Cabinet, Westminster insiders say, Mrs. Thatcher was privately scathing about ''wet'' or politically ''soft'' ministers at her elbows, such as Pym. She preferred sharper, younger men like Michael Heseltine, now defense secretary, and Norman Tebbit, who helped her to devise tough new antistrike legislation.

Where Pym urged her to hold unemployment down, for humanitarian reasons, Mrs. Thatcher watched the jobless total soar above 3 million. To her, the battle against inflation was the highest priority. People seemed to matter less.

Pym's book quietly flays Mrs. Thatcher for quarreling with Britain's European partners, rather than reasoning with them. Foreign policy issues are not black and white, he insists: The prime minister's error is to lead from the front in the unqualified belief that she is always right.

The critique is not only the complaint of a man whose career was savagely terminated by Mrs. Thatcher. Pym is alsoraising the flag for a type of conservatism which he insists is truer than the Thatcher type and will one day return.

Will it?

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The number of those who broadly agree with Pym does seem to be growing.

On the House of Commons backbenches with him nowadays sit Edward Heath, the former prime minister, and Ian Gilmour, an influential and articulate former minister who openly despises Thatcherism.

Inside the Thatcher Cabinet, Peter Walker, the energy secretary, and James Prior, the secretary for Nothern Ireland, are known to share many of Pym's reservations about their leader.

The difficulty is that, open to stylistic criticism though she may be, Mrs. Thatcher has a disarming record of getting what she wants.

Her resolute refusal to accept a bad deal from the European Community was comparable with her Falklands victory two years ago.

In the struggle with the coal miners she has the advantage of opposing, in the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, a man for whom many of her fellow Tories have nothing but contempt.

For Pym's critique to become more than a theoretical analysis of Thatcherism, the ''Iron Lady'' herself will have to make a political error so serious that not only her style but also her ability is called in question.

That has not happened so far, which leaves Pym in the political margins, crafting cogent phrases to describe where she is philosophically wrong. In the meantime Mrs. Thatcher runs Britain.

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