A welfare recipient turned banker, a self-made millionaire and an old Etonian on Friday squared off for battle to succeed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
All promised to be less combative than Thatcher toward Europe, just as tough toward Iraq and willing to do something about her unpopular local services tax, heralding a five-day campaign that seemed more about a prize than a battle over policy."We can only get ourselves out of the mess by rallying everybody, by healing the wounds," said one candidate, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd.
Hurd and Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major joined the race Friday. They must stop former Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine, whose strong showing in the first round of voting Tuesday provoked Thatcher's resignation.
She spent the day in her office at 10 Downing Street "running the country," her son Mark said. Thatcher gave no hint which candidate she favored, although it certainly wasn't Heseltine.
Major, 47, left school at 16 and worked his way up from laborer and welfare recipient to banker, and then went into politics. He is regarded as on the right of the party and therefore closest politically to Thatcher.
Hurd, 60, was educated at Eton College and Cambridge University and is generally more liberal in Tory terms.
The Oxford-educated Heseltine, 57, is a self-made millionaire. He resigned as defense secretary in 1986 following a Cabinet row that set him against Thatcher over the merits of rival European and U.S. rescue packages for the ailing Westland helicopter company.
Thatcher decided to quit Thursday after Cabinet ministers and her campaign manager told her she would lose to Heseltine in the second ballot next Tuesday.
The vote among the 372 Conservative members of Parliament will go to a third and final ballot next Thursday if no one gets a simple majority of 187 or more on Tuesday.
Hurd and Major pledged at their campaign kickoffs to review the nation's so-called poll tax, an unpopular per capita local government tax imposed regardless of income and regarded as a major political blunder of the Thatcher era.
"I do become increasingly convinced that we cannot leave things as they are," Major said.
Heseltine declared that an immediate and fundamental review of the tax "is essential for our survival."
Hurd and Major, who support Thatcher's rejection of a single currency for the European Community, each promised - in the closest to open criticism of her so far - to adopt a markedly different tone in Europe and in Cabinet meetings.
"I think that Cabinet government consists of listening, deciding, persuading (voters) in that order," Hurd said. "You listen to views, you take a decision - in our case collectively in Cabinet."
Hurd maintained he'd be the best prime minister for the Persian Gulf crisis.
Thatcher has been the most enthusiastic Western supporter of the U.S. troop buildup in the region. Her Cabinet decided Wednesday to send 14,000 more troops to the gulf, bringing the British total to 30,000.
"The crisis is entering a crucial, critical phase . . . and will require cool and authoritative handling," Hurd said.
David Robertson, a fellow in politics at Oxford University, said the reluctance by Hurd, Heseltine and Major to adopt markedly different policy platforms reflected the "old American political notion of a balanced ticket."
"All three of the current candidates, rather than advancing serious general ideologies, are doing their damnedest to hide them," Robertson said in a BBC radio interview. He predicted the party was returning to pragmatism, "a sort of non-ism," after nearly 12 years of Thatcherism.