How Long For The Tories?

British Prime Minister John Major in late July won his latest showdown with rebels from his Conservative Party over closer ties with Europe. Despite a legal challenge, British ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European political and economic union is now in the bag.

But Major's troubles will continue. His party is badly splintered and fresh out of ideas. "We don't really have an agenda," says Alan Duncan, a Conservative MP from the Midlands and a rising star in the party.

Should the Tories dump Major, the leading candidates to replace him would be Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke and Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd. But many experts think the Tories' problems are so serious that they could soon follow the Republican Party in the U.S. and Europe's Socialists into the political wilderness.

The problem is not only Major's Milquetoast personality but also his bad judgment in making stronger ties with the European Community the cornerstone of his agenda. While the Tories wrangled over Maastricht, other issues have become much higher priorities for ordinary British people. These include law and order, education, health care, and unemployment. Major has failed to zero in on any of them. A long recession has caused many new blue-collar Tory converts to desert. Major further alienated such voters with a $15 billion tax increase to help close a $70 billion budget deficit.

About 44% of the voters now say they would choose Labor if elections were held today, while only 34% would vote Conservative. Major's approval ratings are hovering at an abysmal 19%. Worse for Major, an alliance of Labor and the third-party Liberal Democrats could be in the works. Such a grouping would resemble the coalition of disparate Democratic Party elements that Bill Clinton assembled for his 1992 U.S. Presidential victory.

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