Howe tipped as third man while Mrs T fights for the centre
Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the front runner in the Tory leadership battle, was last night engaged in a frantic effort to capture some of the party middle ground from the Establishment candidate. Mr William Whitelaw.
It was only the outsiders in the platoon of contenders—called “a rabble without a cause” by one cool Right-winger—who were searching yesterday for a return to old-style Toryism. Meanwhile, according to the MPs who have been making systematic soundings, the Shadow Social Services Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe, was coming up on the rails as a possible third candidate—the man who will go into the final ballot with Mrs Thatcher and Mr Whitelaw.
Mrs Thatcher's efforts to depict herself as a middle-of-the-road classless candidate were taking on an edge of desperate urgency yesterday as it became clear that the Whitelaw campaign was being forged almost solely on the grounds that only a well-known conciliator can win back the northern and working-class folks the party needs for victory.
Mr Whitelaw 's supporters, who include some of the most senior of the party's former Cabinet Ministers, are saying bluntly that the Tories can never again win an election with a leader based in a suburban London constituency. Mrs Thatcher's presumed lack of electoral appeal north of Watford is almost the only card they are playing.
But yesterday Mrs Thatcher's campaign managers fought back with a series of points designed to demonstrate her moderate policies and general appeal. First, they pointed out that the “middle-class Maggie” charge is made almost entirely by upper-class people. She is the one candidate of the five who did not go to a public school.
Second, she is not a “Right-wing economist” longing to use unemployment as a means of curbing inflation. The message from her camp is ironically that she is fairly close to Denis Healey: wage restraint is an essential means of safeguarding jobs.
Third, she is not implacably opposed to an incomes policy, as the pure monetarists are. Her argument, simply stated, is that no one has yet found a way of making such a policy work past the initial freeze and the Stage One wage restraint.
Fourth, she will launch herself on tours of Scotland and Northern England if she wins, in an effort to get back the Tory votes which are so conspicuously sparse in those areas.
Fifth, she is no Right-winger in education. On the contrary, her policy as Education Minister was always to give the best opportunities to anyone who deserved them. Her backers even present her ending of free school milk as a means of saving money to spend more on schools for working-class people.
And last night Mrs Thatcher ended suggestions that she was unenthusiastic about the Common Market by saying: “Mr Heath 's outstanding achievement here was to lead Britain into the European Community, after our unnatural exclusion for so long. This torch must be picked up and carried by whoever is chosen by the party to succeed him. Experience shows that our presence in the Community has helped ensure that it is outward-looking.
“Our Commonwealth partners want us to retain this influence and in the longer term the European Community offers expanding opportunities for our younger generation. This commitment to European partnership is one which I fully share.”
The commitment was linked to a tribute to Mr Heath 's fortitude in defeat. “The whole Conservative Party must be grateful for the way in which Mr Heath has responded to the deep disappointment which this week has brought him,” Mrs Thatcher said.
Today both Mrs Thatcher and Mr. Whitelaw are to address Young Conservatives in Eastbourne. Mrs Thatcher at least intends to stick to her brief, a discussion of the economy.
Her camp now believes that it just about has a chance of winning on the second ballot. Their estimate is that she should get between 135 and 140 votes—straddling the magical 139 figure which the winning candidate must have. This may be a little optimistic, being based on incomplete soundings, and with the knowledge that some MPs are frankly lying about their intentions.
The only near realistic soundings carried out by MPs in the various camps show that Mrs Thatcher is running well ahead of the field, but will probably be still short of the majority figure. Mr Whitelaw remains firmly the next strongest candidate for the second ballot, though there is some evidence that his support is beginning to fade at the edges. Of the other three candidates, Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr James Prior, and Mr John Peyton, Sir Geoffrey is running nicely, and may well find himself the third candidate on the final ballot.
Some of Mrs Thatcher's supporters were quite wrongly arguing yesterday that Sir Geoffrey's appearance on the final ballot paper would benefit them, since his second choices would probably split between the two main candidates, whereas Mr Prior's would go almost exclusively to Mr Whitelaw. This ignores the fact that if Mr Prior fails to make it to the last round his voters will simply give their first choice to Mr Whitelaw.
Fulsome praise for the lady came in Reading yesterday from Sir Keith Joseph, who said he thought she was “quite outstanding. She combines courage, flair, intelligence, and an ability to evoke affection.
“She has a wonderful understanding of individual and family life; she is sensitive. The values for which she stands, the family, responsibility, work, and thrift are shared across the nation. I am in favour of Margaret Thatcher.”
Meanwhile Mr Whitelaw, speaking at Alton, Hampshire, stressed the “need to heal the wounds” and the need to bring everyone together in the fight against Socialism.
He said he believed that he could unite the party and draw together a united team. He went on to express a moderate economic policy, involving care and concern for those who lost out in the crisis.
Like Mrs Thatcher, he was particularly conciliatory towards the unions, saying that the party needed policies which would promote the best interests of the trade union movement while safeguarding individuals' rights.
It was Sir Geoffrey Howe, speaking in Exeter, who stressed the need for a new Tory philosophy. Drawing on Sir Keith Joseph 's symbol, he attacked the socialist “ratchet” by which every Labour Government moved to free cogs Leftward, while the Tories were frightened to move back.
Mr Peyton, generally thought to be the backmarker in the field, also took a good old fashioned Tory point of view, stressing the need to encourage work and to give freedom or choice in education.
A call for the Tories to return to their old method of finding a leader was made last night by Mr John Stokes, Conservative MP for Halesowen and Stourbridge. He said he wanted to go back to the days where a leader just emerged.
The present contest was unseemly, Mr Stokes told St Albans Conservative Association. “One can sometimes have too much democracy.”
He added that “the certain recipe for further decline is for the party to be all things to all men. People will look up to us only if we state our beliefs with honesty and frankness.”