BRITAIN Maggie Gets A for Action With zest and drive, the new Prime Minister sweeps into office
With zest, an unaccustomed light touch and the drive of a workaholic, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher swept grandly into office last week. The widely accepted grading of her initial high-speed performance: A for action.
No sooner was she installed at No. 10 Downing Streetafter a couple of good nights' sleep to recover from the nonstop campaign and the tumult of the election than Thatcher was on the move on several fronts at once. Before the week was out, she seemed to have gone far toward countering some of the misgivings about her inexperience, and allaying some of the fears about a national lurch to the right, at least too far to the right.
Summoning her balanced, surprisingly moderate 22-member Cabinet for its inaugural meeting, she delivered what her listeners regarded as a lively pep talk. With impressive confidence, her colleagues reported, she stressed the need of a measured return to more limited government and self-reliance.
She also announced two significant additions to her team; both, interestingly enough, have been successful retailers. David Wolfson, 43, a former director of the Great Universal Stores chain who had been secretary to the shadow cabinet, was installed as her personal chief of staff. Sir Derek Rayner, 53, joint managing director of Marks & Spencer, one of Thatcher's own favorite shopping haunts, was named chief waste cutter, as it were. His assignment is to cut fat and improve efficiency in the overgrown bureaucracy of Whitehall.
Belying her reputation as a combative iron lady, the new Prime Minister was relaxed and gracious at her maiden appearance before the House of Commons. Taking her seat on the government front bench under the speaker's rostrum, she gently chided a Tory colleague for his reference to the "new boys" in the House. She drew more laughter with an anecdote about re-elected Speaker George Thomas; his noted propensity for hedging parliamentary questions, she said, was an inspiration to them all. After a subsequent Cabinet meeting and a series of asides with separate ministers, Thatcher worked long hours in her study on the Queen's Speech. To be delivered at the official opening of the new Parliament early this week by Elizabeth II, in ermine robe and crown, the speech from the Throne is supposed to lay down the whole tone and framework of the new government's policies.
To meet another fast-approaching deadline, Thatcher huddled with her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Geoffrey Howe, and his Treasury team over the new budget that is expected in mid-June. That will not only chart the government's plans for concrete economic policy, but will test the worth of Thatcher's hardest-hitting campaign promise: tax cuts. At the same time, she also tackled a range of other problem areas:
> Law-and-order received high priority with a government decree granting $100 million in pay raises to the police, as promised by the Tories during the campaign. Another pledge, to raise armed forces' salaries to civilian levels, was fulfilled the next day.