Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major Tuesday was voted new Tory party leader and prime minister to succeed Margaret Thatcher, marking a change of both era and generation in British politics.
Major, 47, fell two votes short of the necessary 187 majority for outright victory in Tuesday's ballot for the leadership of the Conservative party, but his two opponents quickly conceded and pledged themselves to unity. He becomes Britain's youngest prime minister since William Pitt the Younger took office at the age of 24 in 1783.Thatcher, 65, will tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace Wednesday morning after 11 years in power, and within an hour Major will be invited to form a new government. He will move into 10 Downing St. as soon as Thatcher moves out Wednesday.
The fight Tuesday was between Major, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, 60, and former Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine, 57, who launched the challenge to Thatcher earlier this month.
Heseltine won 131 votes. Hurd won 56. Both threw their support behind Major, pre-empting the prospect of a divisive third-round ballot Thursday.
Major was Thatcher's choice as successor and he has committed himself to ``building on' her achievements.
``I want everyone in the party to rally behind him so he can go on to win a fourth general election. I wish him every success,' she said Tuesday night.
Major, son of a circus trapeze performer, ran his campaign as ``a man of the people.' He left school at 16, was unemployed for a period, failed a math test for bus conductors, but went on to make his reputation in banking.
Thatcher has been grooming him for power over the past three years, appointing him to the Department of Social Security, the Foreign Office and the Treasury. His rise is one of the most meteoric in modern British politics.
``It is a very exciting thing to become leader of the Conservative party, and particularly exciting to follow one of the most remarkable leaders the Conservative party has ever had,' Major said Tuesday night.
``Our job now is quite clear. We are going to unite. We are going to unite totally and absolutely, and we are going to win the next election.'
The next election has to be called by summer of 1992. For most of the past year, polls have given the opposition Labor party a double-digit lead, but the most recent soundings have suggested that Major could be a winner. Tuesday Britain's largest bookmakers made the Tories 8 to 11 favorites for re-election.
Labor leader Neil Kinnock, 48, quickly dubbed Major the ``no-change, no-majority prime minister,' portraying him as a Thatcher clone. He added: ``Britain will be given more of the same.'
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Social Democrats, said: ``He has put himself forward as the preserver of Thatcherism. If that is true, nothing changes. It is Thatcherism with a different face.'
But in the Tory ranks, the emergence of Major as leader was heralded as a political sea change, ending the divisive period of latter-day autocratic Thatcher rule, opening the way for more cooperative cabinet government, and introducing a new brand of ``caring Conservatism.'
Tony Newton, the secretary of social services, said Tuesday night: ``Anybody who thinks John Major is anybody's poodle and not his own man has got another think coming. Anybody who sees John as somebody without a very strong interest in social affairs and a genuine interest in people who are less well off, has another think coming.'
Birthplace: Cheam, England.
Education: Rutlish Grammar, a state school for bright children. Left school at 16.
Career highlights: Started banking career as a clerk at age 18. Executive with Standard and Chartered Bank for 14 years.
Political experience: Former chief secretary to the treasury. Conservative Party member of Parliament for 11 years. Foreign secretary from July to October 1989, when he became chancellor of the exchequer.
Family: Wife, Norma Johnson; daughter Elizabeth, 19; son, James, 15.
Major's positions on:
Economy: A rigorous free-marketeer who will follow Margaret Thatcher's policies of selling nationalized industries and holding down government spending. As chancellor of the exchequer, he had kept interest rates high as part of the government's program to combat inflation.
Europe: Major will show more enthusiasm for European monetary union than Thatcher did, but remains cautious.