BRITAIN: The Company She Keeps

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Perhaps by way of dispelling her reputation as a cold, aloof politician, the new Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition unexpectedly showed up on a folksy BBC disc-jockey show last week. If she were to become Prime Minister one day, asked the interviewer, would she have to be a good butcher? "I don't know whether I am a good one," Mrs. Margaret Thatcher replied. "I'm a reluctant one. But I recognize that this is one of the tests of leadership." Then, referring to her selection of a new shadow cabinet, she added: "I had a horrid day on Tuesday having to tell people [my decisions] when I could see disappointment written in their faces."

On the day in question, Mrs. Thatcher had breakfasted at Claridges with Henry Kissinger (who pronounced her "quite a girl"). Then she went to the House of Commons for her first serious parliamentary skirmish with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had just returned from a visit with Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow and was feeling ebullient. Such dealings with the Soviets were fine, declared Mrs. Thatcher, provided they "never lull this House or this country into a sense of false security." In an unsubtle reference to the Tory leader's admitted lack of expertise in foreign affairs, Wilson condescendingly retorted: "Some of us are rather old hands at these matters."

Later that day, after a round of talks with party leaders, Mrs. Thatcher announced her new shadow cabinet. Though she dropped six members of retiring Opposition Leader Edward Heath's team, her action certainly did not constitute the "massacre" by the "queen of the Tory jungle" that the pro-Labor Daily Mirror called it. Overall, the new cabinet was slightly younger (average age: 49) and only slightly to the right of the one it replaces.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the selection of Reginald Maudling, 57, as shadow Foreign Secretary to replace Geoffrey Rippon, a Heath loyalist. Maudling had been forced to resign as Home Secretary in 1972 amid accusations of questionable business judgment.* Mrs. Thatcher obviously thought it worth the risk to bring back Maud-ling, a Tory heavyweight who negotiated for Britain's entry into the European Free Trade Area during the late 1950s and who narrowly lost the party leadership to Heath ten years ago. As Mrs. Thatcher explained, "It seemed to me quite absurd to have that great reservoir of experience there and not to use it. So I said, 'Reggie, will you join us again?' and he said, Td love to, my dear.' He was delighted, and so are we."

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