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Key British Tories Worry About Future of the Party

Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, has made such fierce comments about her successor, John Major, that fellow Tories are asking her to be quiet. At risk: a future election victory.

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LEADING Conservatives, including the party chairman, are urging Margaret Thatcher to stop damaging the prospects of their party's reelection by publicly undermining John Major, who succeeded her as prime minister seven months ago. Calls to Mrs. Thatcher to desist from critical comments about Mr. Major's policies and abilities have come from Chris Patten, the Conservative Party chairman, and from a growing number of Conservative members of Parliament (MPs).

There is already concern among Conservatives about the adverse political impact on their party of a deep economic recession and public opinion polls showing the government eight points behind the Labour Party opposition.

Major's attempts to burnish his own leadership image, they say, have been blunted by Thatcher's fault-finding.

There have been suggestions by senior Conservative strategists, that the prime minister's hopes of calling a general election in the autumn have been frustrated by the Thatcher interventions. An election next year now seems probable.

The Iron Lady's latest bombshell exploded last week with comments to Bart, a Japanese magazine, about the poll tax - the local government levy which she once called her "flagship" and which Major was forced to abandon.

She told Bart in an interview: "I can defend the tax clearly and explicitly at any time, in any place, and to any person. I did not make that law with the next election in mind. I did it because I believed it would be for the good of the country in the longer run, 10 years from now, 20 years from now."

Thatcher said the approach to local government finance now preferred by Major could put Britain on the road to ruin.

Earlier, on June 2, the staunchly Conservative Sunday Telegraph, carried a front-page story reporting a series of criticisms of Major, said to have been made privately by Thatcher to close friends. She was reported to have told them that Major "doesn't believe in anything" and is "gray."

Thatcher's office issued a denial, but it did not carry conviction with Conservatives who claim privately that the language was typical "Thatcher-ese."

In an attempt to head off further Thatcher criticism, Mr. Patten, who is preparing his party for the general election that must be held within a year, urged Thatcher June 9 to "have regard to the way her words can be picked up and maneuvered."

Conservative MPs were blunter.

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