There are only two facts to keep in mind about the British election: The winner was Margaret Thatcher. The loser was Margaret Thatcher.

How so? The ultimate triumph in an ideological war is when you convert your opponent, and the theme that ran through this election was the degree to which the British Labor Party has been converted to the basic principles laid down by Thatcher since 1979, when she began transforming Britain from a sluggish welfare state to a fast, market-driven economy.Almost all the principles of Thatcherism - breaking the unions, privatizing state industries, lowering income taxes, catering to the bond markets and improving competitiveness for a global economy - were shared by both Conservative and Labor candidates.

Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, had it right when he remarked that Labor's Tony Blair and the Conservatives' John Major were engaged in "synchronized swimming."

It was by adopting the basic economic principles of moderate Conservatism that Blair was able to win back the working-class voters.

The Sunday Times reported that at a Blair rally in Leicester, a heckler from the old socialist wing of Labor shouted at Blair, "You're a Tory!" (a Conservative). A Blair campaign aide responded by directing his staff toward the heckler: "Try to get the cameras on him. He's worth a thousand votes."

Blair is not alone. Thatcher's basic model is being mimicked all over the globe now. Thatcher should be remembered as "The Seamstress of the Golden Strait-jacket."

The golden straitjacket consists of all the Thatcherite principles that a country has to adopt today if it wants to tailor its economy to the demands of the local and global markets. But what happens when a country puts on the golden straitjacket is that its economy grows and its politics shrink - all political choices are reduced to Pepsi or Coke, nuances of style, tone and substance.

That's why politics in every industrial democracy today consists of two trends: There is anti-straitjacket politics, which is Buchanan in America or the Communists in France. They refuse to put on the Thatcherite straitjacket because they believe their countries will lose their identities or their workers will be too tightly squeezed.

Or there is straitjacket politics, which is Labor and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans: They agree that the straitjacket is the only way to survive economically, and what they fight about is how much, if at all, to adjust the straitjacket to ease the pain on those most pinched by it.

Thatcher's Conservative Party lost this election because while they had the big things right on the economy, they lost sight of the many adjustments that were needed to sustain the political base for their economics. They were unwilling to adapt the straitjacket at all. Major was quoted in one campaign diary as complaining that he was "bored to death saying his mission was to help the have-nots." It showed.

Exit polls found that a key reason voters switched to Labor was their concern about the widening gap between rich and poor. They know they need Thatcherism to thrive in a global economy, but they want more social checks built into it to reduce the cruelty of markets and to preserve a sense of community.

And Blair played to that by promising to stop Conservative efforts to privatize communal institutions - from public education to health care to the London subway. Blair says he will invest more in these institutions, establish a minimum wage and maintain fiscal discipline.

Just as President Clinton has tried to come up with a kinder, gentler Reaganism, Blair has promised a kinder, gentler Thatcherism - a straitjacket with elbow room and padded shoulders.

Blair will now try his hand. If he can succeed - a big if - he can be as much a model for others as Thatcher was in her heyday.

New York Times News Service