Britain's Conservatives end meeting on note of unity


LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major closed the annual convention of his ruling Conservative Party yesterday with a brisk speech in which he thumped the Labor Party as a crowd of discredited socialists and promised to give the people of Britain "the right to own and the power to choose."

At the end of the convention in Blackpool, Mr. Major's party had managed to pull itself together and avoid the potential for destructive division that had threatened earlier in the week.

Mr. Major, the Conservatives' leader of barely one year, defended his party's management of the National Health Service against Labor's relentless allegations that it is about to be privatized and thereby ruined.

He promised a return to basics in education, which he said had suffered from "years of left-wing vandalism," and stressed his party's intention to ensure law and order.

He outlined again, although vaguely, how far he intends to take Britain into the European Community. He said Britain would not be coerced into surrendering national sovereignty in defense and foreign policy and warned that a single European currency "can't be imposed upon us."

He criticized the EC partners, specifically the French, for not playing by the community's own rules.

All of that was well received by the large faction, headed by Margaret Thatcher, that is nationalistic and anti-Europe.

The party's right wing was in full flood in Blackpool. Mrs. Thatcher walked into the hall Wednesday and electrified the crowd. It was feared that she might overshadow Mr. Major. She did, for no one else all week received such a frenzied ovation.

But Mrs. Thatcher made no speeches and left quickly, giving yesterday's glory to Mr. Major.

Last week, after years of trying, the Labor Party leadership managed to make its left wing marginal. It emerged from its annual conference in Brighton apparently more united than it has been in years and, as a result, moved ahead of the Conservatives by 2 to 7 points in various polls.

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