British Labor leaders fear Major, high in polls, will call snap vote WAR IN THE GULF

LONDON — LONDON -- British Prime Minister John Major, riding high in the polls, could call a snap postwar election, opposition politicians fear.

The new prime minister lacks a popular mandate for his leadership, having replaced Margaret Thatcher after an internal Conservative Party revolt late last year.


Members of the opposition say he could be tempted to go to the country as early as June, a full year ahead of the deadline for the next general election, assuming the allies are victorious in the Persian Gulf war.

Mr. Major personally denies that he will call a quick election and has told friends he would not "cut and run" to the ballot box.


One associate who recently talked to him said, "John Major wants to show he is a man of principle and conviction. He and three or four of his ministers are strongly opposed to [a snap] election because it would be unprincipled."

But the associate said there were other, more opportunistic party managers who would be anxious to call an election as soon as they felt they had a good chance of winning.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the Conservative Party, under Mr. Major's leadership, has reversed a yearlong Labor Party lead in popularity and now holds a narrow margin of favor.

Opposition leader Neil Kinnock told a Labor Party meeting this week, "Considerations of good taste and economic probity are not going to stop a Tory government that knows it has got Britain into a slump from grabbing any moment that seems to offer some slim chance of avoiding defeat."

The prospect of a quick election has not undermined the strong all-party support for the war, but it has produced a sudden tingle in the political nervous system.

The war has helped make Mr. Major personally the most popular leader since Winston Churchill in World War II.