As others see it

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TIRED by the abrupt certainties of Margaret Thatcher, the British are now discovering that the resolutely consensual style of John Major has its limits.

As they are knocked by moral crisis, they once again are seeking a firm leadership which would permit them to overcome their own uncertainties. But they have a prime minister whose global response to the sicknesses of contemporary society ('back to basics') offers no convincing alternative. It is not surprising then, that a speech, full of assurance and a hint of prophesy, by Michael Portillo, the undeclared candidate of the Thatcherite right to 10 Downing Street, filled this political and ideological vacuum.

There is also nothing surprising in the growth of the campaign to improve John Major's 'credibility' - remember that he holds the record as the most unpopular British prime minister since the Second World War. Mr Major takes this in his stride; he knows it is a very British tendency to bemoan 'a nation in decline'.

In addition, he has shown that he has hidden personal and political resources. Carried along by a favourable economic climate, he can set things straight and take the measures that are needed.

'Le Monde', French daily

The real question about British politics today is not whether Prime Minister Major will lead his Tory party into Britain's next elections; he quite possibly will, and he might even win. It is why so many Britons seem so sour about almost everybody and everything in their public life.

'International Herald Tribune'