John Major

From New World Encyclopedia

Sir John Major
John Major

In office
November 28, 1990 – May 2, 1997
Deputy Michael Heseltine (1995-1997)
Preceded by Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by Tony Blair
In office
October 26, 1989 – November 28, 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Nigel Lawson
Succeeded by Norman Lamont
In office
July 24, 1989 – October 26, 1989
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Geoffrey Howe
Succeeded by Douglas Hurd
In office
June 13, 1987 – July 24, 1989
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John MacGregor
Succeeded by Norman Lamont
In office
May 3, 1979 – June 7, 2001
Preceded by David Renton
Succeeded by Jonathan Djanogly

Born March 29 1943(1943-03-29) (age 65)
Carshalton, Surrey, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse Norma Major
Profession Banker
Religion Anglican
Signature John Major's signature

Sir John Major KG CH PC ACIB (born March 29, 1943), is a British politician who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the British Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997. He was Prime Minister at a time of great change including the transition following the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War and the further integration of the European Union. His willingness to compromise and engage in talks with the IRA advanced the peace process in Northern Ireland which, after he left office, resulted in the Good Friday Agreement.

Before serving as Prime Minister, Major was a Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. He served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Chancellor of the Exchequer. As Chancellor Major took the UK into the Exchange Rate Mechanism so as to promote European integration. The UK withdrew from the ERM while he was Prime Minister after two months of severe trading losses as the UK could not maintain its currency above the agreed lower limit. From that moment until 2006 the UK economy was more stable and enjoyed more growth than the Eurozone countries.

In 1997, the Conservative Party, under Major's leadership, lost the general election to Tony Blair's Labour Party. This was one of the worst electoral defeats in British politics since the Great Reform Act of 1832. After the defeat he was replaced as leader of the party by William Hague, continuing as an MP until he retired from the House of Commons in the 2001 general election.

Unlike most Prime Ministers, Major was not a graduate of a prestigious University or from an elite background. Despite his inability to resolve the internal differences within his party and his spectacular defeat in 1997, his reputation as an honest politician who genuinely wanted to make life better for Britain's citizens is widely recognized.

Early life

John Major was born on March 29, 1943, the son of Tom Pascal Hubert Major-Ball, a former music-hall artiste. He was christened John Roy Major but only the name John is shown on his birth certificate. He used the middle name Roy until the early 1980s.[1]

He was born at the St Helier Hospital, Carshalton. He attended primary school at Cheam Common, and then attended Rutlish Grammar School in Merton, from 1954 onwards, when he passed the eleven-plus. There he had an undistinguished education. In the 1950s, his father's garden ornaments business failed, and the family were forced to move to Brixton in 1955. He watched his first debate in the House of Commons in 1956, and attributes his political ambitions to that event.

Major left school at age 16 in 1959, with three O-levels: History, English Language, and English Literature. He would later gain three more by correspondence course in British Constitution, Mathematics and Economics. Indeed, shortly after becoming prime minister, when pressed about his precise qualifications Major answered "he couldn't remember" what he had attained. Major applied to become a bus conductor after leaving school but was beaten to the post by another applicant. Many accounts have said this was due to his height, although early media reports claimed wrongly that this was due to poor arithmetic. His first job was as a clerk in an insurance brokerage firm 'Pratt & Sons' in 1959 after leaving school. Disliking this, he quit and for a time, he helped with his father's garden ornaments business with his brother, Terry Major-Ball. He also joined the Young Conservatives in Brixton at this time.

After a spell of unemployment, he started working at the London Electricity Board (where his successor as PM Tony Blair also worked when young) in 1963, and decided to undertake a correspondence course in banking. Major took a job with Standard Chartered Bank in May 1965 and rose to become an executive. He worked for a while for the bank in Nigeria in 1967 where he was involved in a serious car accident. While in Nigeria he did community work which gave him a heart-felt hatred of racism.

Major married Norma Johnson (now Dame Norma Major, DBE) on October 3, 1970 which he described as the best decision of his life. She was a teacher and a member of the Young Conservatives. They met on polling day for the Greater London Council elections in London. They became engaged after only ten days.[2] They have two children; a son, James, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

Political career

Major was interested in politics from an early age. Encouraged by fellow conservative Derek Stone, he started giving speeches on a soap-box in Brixton market. He stood as a candidate for Lambeth Borough Council at the age of 21 in 1964, and was unexpectedly elected in the Conservative landslide in 1968. While on the council he served as Chairman of the Housing Committee, being responsible for the building of several council housing estates. Despite moving to a ward which was easier for the Conservatives to win, he lost his seat in May 1971.

Major was an active Young Conservative and, according to his biographer Anthony Seldon, brought "youthful exuberance" to the Tories in Brixton, but was often in trouble with the professional agent Marion Standing. But, again according to Seldon, the formative political influence on Major was Jean Kierans, a divorcée 13 years his elder who became his political mentor and lover. Seldon writes "She… made Major smarten his appearance, groomed him politically and made him more ambitious and worldly." Their relationship lasted from 1963 to sometime after 1968.

He stood for election to Parliament in St Pancras North in both general elections of 1974, but did not win this traditionally Labour seat. In November 1976, he was selected by Huntingdonshire Conservatives as their candidate at the next election, winning the safe seat in the 1979 general election. Following boundary changes, Major became Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon in 1983 and subsequently won the seat in the 1987, 1992 and 1997 elections (his political agent in all three elections was Peter Brown). His majority in 1992 was an extraordinary 36,230 votes, the highest ever recorded. He stood down at the 2001 general election.

He was a Parliamentary Private Secretary from 1981 and an assistant whip from 1983. He was made Under-Secretary of State for Social Security in 1985 and became minister of the same department in 1986. He entered the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1987, and in a surprise re-shuffle on 24 July 1989, a relatively inexperienced John Major was appointed Foreign Secretary, succeeding Geoffrey Howe. He spent only three months in that post before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer after Nigel Lawson's resignation in October 1989. Major presented only one budget (the first one to be televised) in the spring of 1990. He publicized it as a budget for savings and announced the Tax-Exempt Special Savings Account (TESSA) arguing that measures were required to address the marked fall in the household savings ratio that had been apparent during the previous financial year.

Major's most important policy decision was to take the UK into the European Exchange Mechanism where fluctuations between European currencies had to be contained within a margin of 2.25 percent. This was supposed to be a stage prior to the introduction of the Euro and had been strongly resisted by an increasingly Euro-sceptic Mrs Thatcher. He was able to do this with the support of foreign secretary Douglas Hurd because Thatcher was politically very weak at the time. It was a decision taken for political and not economic reasons to try to further integrate the UK into the European Union.[3] It was subsequently regarded as a major error as the British and continental economies had very different inflation rates and economic cycles.

When Michael Heseltine's challenge to Margaret Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party forced the contest to a second round, Mrs Thatcher withdrew. Major, with Mrs Thatcher's support, entered the contest against Douglas Hurd. Though he fell two votes short of the required winning margin of 187 in the second ballot, Major's result was sufficient to secure immediate concessions from his rivals and he became Leader of the Conservative Party on November 27, 1990. The next day, Major was summoned to Buckingham Palace and appointed Prime Minister and went on to win the next general election in 1992. Without a change of leader it is generally assumed that the Conservative Party under Mrs Thatcher would have lost the next election at which point she would most probably have stood down and a new leader been elected. The Conservatives in opposition would have probably opposed the Maastricht Treaty and further European integration and may well have been re-elected in the following election. As it was the manner in which Mrs Thatcher was removed caused untold bitterness in the party for many years.

Prime Minister

The Gulf War

Major served as Prime Minister during the first Gulf War of 1991, and played a key role in persuading American president George H. W. Bush to support no-fly zones.

Soap Box election

One of Major's first policy decisions was to abolish the notorious Community Charge or Poll Tax introduced by the Thatcher government which had led to widespread civil disobedience and rioting and was one of the main contributing factors to Mrs Thatcher's overthrow. It was replaced by a Council Tax which was similar to the previous rating system. The economy slid into recession again during Major's first year in office, though the signs of this were appearing during Thatcher's final months as Prime Minister. The Conservatives were widely expected to lose the 1992 election to Neil Kinnock's Labour Party. Major took his campaign onto the streets, famously delivering many addresses from an upturned soapbox as in his Lambeth days. This "common touch" approach stood in contrast to the Labour Party's seemingly slicker campaign and it chimed with the electorate, along with hard-hitting negative campaign advertising focusing on the issue of Labour's approach to taxation. Major won a second period in office, albeit with the small parliamentary majority of just 21 seats despite the Conservatives winning over 14 million votes, the highest popular vote ever recorded.

Black Wednesday

Five months into the new Parliament, Major's economic and European policies started to unwind. Inflation in the UK was very high and interest rates had to be raised at one point to 15 percent to maintain Sterling's exchange rate with the Deutsche Mark. As a result of such unexpectedly high interest rates, 100,000s of people had their homes repossessed as they could not afford the increased mortgage repayments. To maintain Sterling's position £39 billion pounds were spent by the Treasury. This was unsustainable and the United Kingdom was forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) on Black Wednesday (16 September 1992). Nine days earlier John Major had revealed his lack of comprehension of what was taking place,

What lies at the heart of the Community is one very simple idea. It is the notion that by binding together the nations of Europe in a common economic framework it would be possible to build an inextricable network of shared interests that would render war between former enemies impossible…the Commission’s prescription for…changes in economic and monetary arrangements must reflect real changes in economic behaviour in the market place, and must work with the grain of the market and not against it. This is of course what the ERM does, and will continue successfully to do, whatever happens to the Maastricht Treaty.[4]

Black Wednesday revealed the fault lines of Major's economic policy which had been devised for ideological and political purposes. After the release of Black Wednesday government documents,[5] it became apparent that Major came very close to stepping down from office at this point, having even prepared "a draft speech for a resignation conference or broadcast".[6]

The reputation of the Conservatives for competent handling of the economy was shattered. The Conservatives had recently won the 1992 General Election, and while the Gallup poll for September showed a 2.5 percent Conservative lead, by October, following Black Wednesday, voting intentions of the electorate for the Conservatives had plunged from 43 percent to 29 percent.[7]

Major kept his economic team unchanged for seven months after Black Wednesday before requiring the resignation of Chancellor Norman Lamont, whom he replaced with Kenneth Clarke. Such a delay, on top of the crisis, was portrayed by Major's critics as proof of the indecisiveness that was to undermine his authority through the rest of his premiership.

The UK's forced withdrawal from the ERM was succeeded by economic recovery with a new policy of flexible exchange rates, allowing lower interest rates, along with the unintended consequence of a devalued pound - increased sales of UK goods to export markets.[8] The performance of the UK economy after the events of Black Wednesday has been significantly stronger than that of the Eurozone and, despite the damage caused to the economy in the short term, many economists now use the term 'White Wednesday' to describe the day. With interest rates now being set for economic and not political reasons, Sterling subsequently rallied strongly during the autumn of 1996 and early 1997 back to the levels which had prevailed before Black Wednesday, and sterling's trade-weighted index remained stable at these levels until late 2006.

The long term result of the debacle has been a deep wariness and scepticism among all political parties, as well as the general population, about the wisdom of the UK adopting the Euro as well as further European integration.

Infighting over Europe

The debacle over membership of the ERM further inflamed political infighting within the Conservative Party over the subject of Europe. Major tried to find a pragmatic compromise between the pro and anti EU factions. He stated that he wanted Britain to be "at the heart of Europe" but was equally clear that he would be just as prepared to stand up for British interests just as Mrs Thatcher. At the 1991 Conservative Party Conference he said, “We can’t go on as we were in terms of Europe: we should be at the centre of Europe if we are going to properly protect our interests”. This Charles Powell said "reflected the deep–seated delusion of British diplomacy that the gulf between Britain and the rest of Europe on the future shape and direction of the European Union is capable of being bridged…"[9] However through such an ambiguous policy he was able to keep the party together even if it meant not pursuing the best policy for Britain.

During the negotiations of the Maastricht Treaty which he signed, Major achieved opts outs for the UK on the Social Chapter and deferred membership of the Stage III of the Euro so as to appease the Euro-sceptics. The compromise over Maastricht effectively postponed the conflict within the Conservative party until after the 1992 election.

Major himself was an enthusiast for European unity and took great personal pride in making the UK a member of the ERM and in negotiating the Maastricht Treaty. However, following Black Wednesday the Conservative Party was becoming increasingly hostile to the EU and the 1992 party conference was overwhelmingly Euro-sceptic. Despite this Major was determined to ratify the treaty even though he had to rely on Labour Party votes. Although the Labour opposition supported the treaty, they were prepared to tactically oppose certain provisions in order to weaken the government. This opposition included passing an amendment that required a vote on the social chapter aspects of the treaty before it could be ratified. Several Conservative MPs voted against the Major Government and the vote was lost. Major hit back by calling another vote on the following day (23 July 1993), which he declared a vote of confidence. He won by 40 votes, but the damage had been done to his authority in parliament.

Between September 1993 and the General Election defeat in 1997, John Major reverted to the strategy of party management at times uttering strong sentiments in favor of European integration, as strong as those which he expressed between 1992 and 1993. But equally in the same period he could sound distinctly Eurosceptical. In pursuit of his European integrationist policy he deprived eight Conservative Members of Parliament of the Whip in November 1994 because they voted against increases in Britain’s budgetary contribution to the EC. This was a draconian punishment for such an offense.

Later that day, Major gave an interview to ITN's Michael Brunson. During an unguarded moment when he thought that the microphones had been switched off, Brunson asked why he did not sack the ministers who were conspiring against him. He replied: "Just think it through from my perspective. You are the prime minister, with a majority of eighteen... where do you think most of the poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. Do we want three more of the bastards out there?" The continued infighting weakened the party and the Major's treatment of the rebels angered many of the grass roots party members and activists who shared their views.


At the 1993 Conservative Party Conference, Major began the "Back to Basics" campaign, which he intended to be about the economy, education, policing, and other such issues. However, it was interpreted by many (including Conservative cabinet ministers) as an attempt to revert to the moral and family values that the Conservative Party were often associated with. "Back to Basics," however, became synonymous with scandal—often exposed by Tabloid newspapers such as The Sun. David Mellor, a cabinet minister was exposed as having an extramarital affair. The wife of the Earl of Caithness committed suicide amongst rumors of the Earl committing adultery. David Ashby was 'outed' by his wife after sleeping with men. A string of other conservative MPs including Alan Amos, Tim Yeo and Michael Brown all were involved in sexual scandals. There was also the spectacularly bizarre autoerotic death of Stephen Milligan.

Other debilitating scandals included "Cash for Questions," in which it was revealed that several Conservative MPs had been given money by Mohamed Al Fayed to ask questions in the House of Commons. Graham Riddick, David Tredinnick, Tim Smith and Neil Hamilton were all exposed in the scandal. Later, David Willetts resigned as Paymaster General after he was accused of rigging evidence to do with Cash for Questions.

Defense Minister Jonathan Aitken (whose Parliamentary Aide was Stephen Milligan) was accused of secretly doing deals with leading Saudi princes. He denied all accusations and promised to wield the "sword of truth" in libel proceedings which he brought against the Guardian newspaper. At an early stage in the trial however, it became apparent that he had lied on oath with the result that he was subsequently convicted of perjury and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

Northern Ireland

John Major opened talks with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) upon taking office. Yet when he declared to the House of Commons in November 1993 that "to sit down and talk with Mr. Adams and the Provisional IRA … would turn my stomach",[10] Sinn Féin gave the media an outline of the secret talks indeed held regularly since that February. The Downing Street Declaration was issued on 15 December 1993 by Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister; an IRA ceasefire followed in 1994. In the House of Commons, Major refused to sign-up to the first draft of the "Mitchell Principles" which resulted in the ending of the ceasefire. In the end the ability of the IRA to bomb such targets as Heathrow Airport for three days running with impunity brought many concessions from the British Government.

In March 1995, Major refused to answer the phone calls of United States President Bill Clinton, for several days, because of anger at Clinton's decision to invite Gerry Adams to the White House for Saint Patrick's Day.[11]

However, Major paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement, although it was signed after he left office.

National Lottery

In 1994 Major's government set up the National Lottery. Up until then lotteries in the UK were severely restricted as were all forms of gambling. However European legislation meant that lotteries from other EU countries would be able to operate in the UK. So the government set up a British lottery to keep the money raised within the country. It is now the most popular form of gambling in the UK but as it attracts money mostly from the less well off has been criticized on ethical grounds for increasing poverty and promoting irresponsibility. All prizes are paid as a lump sum and are tax-free. Of every pound (£) spent on Lottery games, 50 pence (p) goes to the prize fund, 28p to 'good causes' as set out by Parliament (though some of this is considered by some to be a stealth tax[12] levied to support the New Opportunities fund, a fund constituted to support public spending[13]), 12p to the British Government as duty and 5p to retailers as commission, while Camelot receives 4.5p to cover operating costs and 0.5p profit [3].

Recently millions of pounds of Lottery money has been channeled into sports and contributed to the extraordinary success of Great Britain at the 2008 Olympic Games in China. Major has criticised the increasing political control over Lottery money from its original mandate of supporting sports, arts projects, heritage and the voluntary sector - to instead helping meet the government's health, education and transport pledges. He also pointed out that Lottery money diverted to support the London Olympics was being taken away from local grass roots sports.[14]

Leadership challenge

On June 22, 1995, tired of continual threats of leadership challenges that never arose, Major resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party and announced he would be contesting the resulting leadership election. John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales stood against him. Major won by 218 votes to Redwood's 89 (with 12 spoiled ballots, eight abstentions and two MPs abstaining) – easily enough to win in the first round, but only three more than the target he had privately set himself.[15] (The Conservative Party has since changed its rules to allow a simple vote of no confidence in the leader, rather than requiring a challenger to stand (this mechanism was used to remove Iain Duncan Smith from the leadership in later years)).

1997 general election defeat

Major's re-election as leader of the party however failed to restore his authority. Despite efforts to restore (or at least improve) the popularity of the Conservative party, Labour remained far ahead in the opinion polls as the 1997 election loomed. By December 1996, the Conservatives had actually lost their majority in the House of Commons. Major managed to survive to the end of the Parliament, but called an election on March 17, 1997 as the five-year limit for its timing approached. Major delayed the election in the hope that a still improving economy would help the Conservatives win a greater number of seats, but it did not. During the election, which was described as a "US Presidential style campaign," much was made of Major's "honest John" image in contrast to Tony Blair's reputation as "slippery."

Few, however, were surprised when Major's Conservatives lost the 1997 general election to Tony Blair's "New Labour," since despite this effort to represent Blair as untrustworthy, after almost a decade and a half of Conservative rule the voters were ready for a change and prepared to test Labour's claim to have moved to the political center, abandoning the extreme left policies that had kept it out of power. The immense scale of the defeat, though, was not widely predicted: the Conservative party suffered the worst electoral defeat since the Great Reform Act of 1832. In the new parliament, Labour held 418 seats, the Conservatives 165, and the Liberal Democrats 46, giving the Labour party a majority of 179.

John Major himself was re-elected in his constituency of Huntingdon with a majority of 18,140. However, 179 other Conservative MPs were defeated in 1997, including present and former Cabinet ministers such as Norman Lamont, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo.

At about noon on May 2, 1997, Major officially returned his seals of office as Prime Minister to Queen Elizabeth II. Shortly before his resignation, he gave his final statement from Number Ten, in which he said "when the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage." Major then famously told the press that he intended to go with his family to The Oval to watch cricket.

Following his resignation as Prime Minister, Major briefly became Leader of the Opposition and remained in this post until the election of William Hague as leader of the Conservative Party in June 1997. His Resignation Honours were announced in August 1997.

Major continued as an MP until he retired from the House of Commons in the 2001 general election, a fact he announced on the Breakfast show with David Frost.[16]

Summary of Major's premiership

John Major's mild-mannered style and moderate political stance made him potentially well-placed to act as a conciliatory leader of his party. Conflict raged within the Conservative Party during his leadership, however, especially over the question of how far Britain should become integrated in the European Union. Major refused to adjust to the in rushing Eurosceptical intellectual tide that subsequently became the consensus within the party. Instead he remained enthralled to a group of senior enthusiasts for European integration. His fight against the small but growing group of "Euro-rebels" among his MPs to his European policy, and episodes such as the Maastricht Rebellion inflicted serious political damage on him and his government. Indeed the issue of Europe seriously damaged the entire party which was becoming increasingly hostile to the excesses of the EU.

So great was the frustration and bitterness felt by many of the normally loyal membership that this created a sense of grassroots alienation from the leadership quite without precedent in the Party’s history. Formerly diehard party workers departed in droves. Donations and subscriptions collapsed. Only the most ferocious efforts by Party managers to suppress public evidence of what was going on succeeded in obscuring the full scale of the Tory Party’s internal disaster from general view.[17]

It was the natural position of the Conservative Party to oppose and not promote further European integration. By pursuing such a policy Major damaged and divided the party ensuring that it remained out of office up until the present. During the 1990s, there was also bitterness on the right wing of the Conservative Party at the manner in which Lady Thatcher had been removed from office; this did not make Major's task any easier.

On the other hand, it was during Major's premiership that the British economy recovered from the recession of 1990-92 caused by his earlier policy of joining the ERM. Conservatives subsequently spoke of Tony Blair's government inheriting a "golden legacy" in 1997, and both parties from 1992 onwards presided over the longest period of economic growth in British history. However many in the electorate who lost their homes on the "altar of European unity" did not vote Conservative again.

Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal Democrats during Major's term of office, once described him in the House of Commons as a "decent and honourable man." Few observers doubted that he was an honest man, or that he made sincere and sometimes successful attempts to improve life in Britain and to unite his deeply divided party. He was also, however, perceived as a weak and ineffectual figure, and his approval ratings for most of his time in office were low, particularly after "Black Wednesday" in September 1992.

After retirement

Since leaving office Major has tended to take a low profile retirement, indulging his love of cricket as president of Surrey County Cricket Club. He held the position until 2002. He has been a member of Carlyle Group's European Advisory Board since 1998 and was appointed Chairman of Carlyle Europe in May 2001. He stood down in August 2004.

In March 2001, he gave the tribute to (Lord) Colin Cowdrey at his memorial service in Westminster Abbey.[18] In 2005, he was elected to the Committee of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), historically the governing body of the sport, and still guardian of the laws of the game.[19]

Following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, Major was appointed a special guardian to Princes William and Harry, with responsibility for legal and administrative matters.

Major/Currie affair

Major's post retirement low-profile was disrupted by the revelation by Edwina Currie in September 2002 that, prior to his promotion to the Cabinet, Major had had a four-year extramarital affair with her.[20][21] Commentators were quick to refer to Major's previous "Back to Basics" platform to throw charges of hypocrisy. In a press statement Major said that he was "embarrassed" about the affair and that his wife had forgiven him.

Since 2005

Major in 2007 at the memorial service for Lord Weatherill, former speaker of the House of Commons.

In February 2005, it was reported that Major and Norman Lamont delayed the release of papers on Black Wednesday under the Freedom of Information Act.[22] Major denied doing so, saying that he had not heard of the request until the scheduled release date and had merely asked to look at the papers himself. The former prime minister told BBC News he and former chancellor Norman Lamont had been the victims of "whispering voices" to the press.[23] He later publicly approved the release of the papers.[24]

According to the Evening Standard, Major has become a prolific after-dinner speaker. The Independent alleges that he earns over £25,000 per engagement, and is described by his agency as providing "insights and his own opinions on the expanding European Union, the future of the world in the 21st century, and also about Britain".[25]

In December 2006, Major led calls for an independent inquiry into Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq, following revelations made by Carne Ross, a former British senior diplomat, that contradict Blair's case for the invasion.[26] He was touted as a possible Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London elections in 2008, but turned down an offer from Conservative leader David Cameron. A spokesperson for Major said "his political future is behind him".

Representation in the media

During his leadership of the Conservative Party, Major was portrayed as honest ("Honest John") but unable to rein in the philandering and bickering within his party. Major's appearance was noted in its grayness, his prodigious philtrum, and large glasses, all of which were exaggerated in caricatures. Private Eye parodied Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13¾ to write The Secret Diary of John Major, age 47¾, featuring "my wife Norman" and "Mr. Dr. Mawhinney" as recurring characters. The magazine still runs one-off specials of this diary (with the age updated) on occasions when Sir John is in the news, such as on the breaking of the Edwina Currie story or the publication of his autobiography. The magazine also ran a series of cartoons called 101 Uses for a John Major, in which Major was illustrated serving a number of bizarre purposes, such as a train-spotter's anorak.

John Major's Brixton roots were used in a campaign poster during the Conservative Party's 1992 election campaign: "What does the Conservative Party offer a working class kid from Brixton? They made him Prime Minister."[27]

Major was often mocked for his nostalgic evocation of what sounded like the lost England of the 1950s.[28] He is known to have once said:

"Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers"[29]

Major complained in his memoirs that these words (which drew upon a passage in the socialist writer George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn") had been misrepresented as being more naive and romantic than he had intended, writing that his intent has been to "remind listeners that Britain's involvement in Europe did not threaten our national distinctiveness." He "was not rhapsodising about the sort of country" he "wanted to create".[30]

Titles and honors

Styles from birth

John Major in the robes of a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter
  • John Major, (1943 – 1979)
  • John Major, Esq., MP (1979 – 1987)
  • The Rt Hon John Major, MP, PC (1987 – 1999)
  • The Rt Hon John Major, CH, MP, PC (1999 – 2001)
  • The Rt Hon John Major, CH, PC (2001 – 2005)
  • The Rt Hon Sir John Major, KG, CH, PC (2005 – )


  • Lord of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council (1987)
  • Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council (1987 - present)
  • Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (1999)
  • Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (2005)

In the New Year's Honours List of 1999, John Major was made a Companion of Honour for his work on the Northern Ireland Peace Process.[31] In a 2003 interview he spoke about his hopes for peace in the region.[32]

On April 23, 2005, Major was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II. He was installed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 13 June. Membership of the Order of the Garter is limited in number to 24, and is an honor traditionally bestowed on former British Prime Ministers and a personal gift of Her Majesty the Queen.[33]

Major has so far declined the customary life peerage awarded to former Prime Ministers on standing down from Parliament saying that he wants a "break from politics".[34]

On 20 June 2008, John Major was granted the Freedom of the City of Cork[35].

Political offices
Preceded by:
Tony Newton
Minister of State for Social Security
1986 – 1987
Succeeded by: Nicholas Scott
Preceded by:
John MacGregor
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
1987 – 1989
Succeeded by: Norman Lamont
Preceded by:
Sir Geoffrey Howe
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by: Douglas Hurd
Preceded by:
Nigel Lawson
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1989 – 1990
Succeeded by: Norman Lamont
Preceded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
28 November 1990 – 2 May 1997
Succeeded by: Tony Blair
Preceded by:
Tony Blair
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by: William Hague
Preceded by:
George H. W. Bush
United States
Chair of the G8
Succeeded by: Helmut Kohl
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by:
David Renton
Member of Parliament for Huntingdonshire
1979 – 1983
Constituency abolished
New Title Member of Parliament for Huntingdon
1983 – 2001
Succeeded by: Jonathan Djanogly
Party Political Offices
Preceded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Leader of the Conservative Party
1990 – 1997
Succeeded by: William Hague


  1. Biography. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  2. Profile at 10 Downing St. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  3. Larry Elliott and Ashley Seager, The Guardian, Thursday February 10, 2005, "Why Thatcher gave in: Treasury papers reveal sorry saga" [1] Retrieved 20 August 2008
  4. Speech by John Major on 07/9/92, at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London
  5. Matthew Tempest, 2005. Treasury papers reveal cost of Black Wednesday. The Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  6. John Major. Autobiography. (London, UK: Harper Collins, 1999), 336.
  7. Gallup spreadsheet Retrieved September 28, 2008.
  8. Norman Lamont, 2002. Hoorah for Black Wednesday! It kept Britain out of the euro. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  9. The Sunday Telegraph, 27/04/97
  10. European Council (Special Meeting) November 1, 1993, column 34. Publications, House of Commons Hansard. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  11. Alan Rusbridger and Jonathan Freedland. 2004. "On the eve of the publication of his eagerly anticipated $10m autobiography, Bill Clinton speaks exclusively to Alan Rusbridger and Jonathan Freedland in New York." 'Mandela helped me survive Monicagate, Arafat could not make the leap to peace - and for days John Major wouldn't take my calls'. The Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  12. Jamie Wilson, January 30, 1999, New lottery fund 'not a stealth tax'The Retrieved September 28, 2008.
  13. Samuel Brittan,The overwhelming case for paying stealth taxes The Financial Times, 25 October, 1999
  14. [2]Daily Mail online. Retrieved 24 August 2008
  15. Major, 1999, 645.
  16. David Frost, Breakfast with Frost. 2000. BBC Breakfast With Frost Interview with John Major. BBC. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  17. C. Booker and R. North, The Castle of Lies: why Britain must get out of Europe (Duckworth, 1996), p. 183.
  18. 2001. Cowdrey remembered. BBC. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  19. MCC Committee 2006-07. Lords. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  20. 2002. Major and Currie had four-year affair. BBC. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  21. The Major-Currie affair - what the papers say. The Guardian. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  22. 2005. Treasury releases 1992 ERM papers. BBC. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  23. 2005. Major denies blocking ERM papers. BBC News. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  24. 2005. Major permits release of Black Wednesday papers. Times Online. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  25. Andrew Buncombe, Feb. 24, 2007. Forty million dollar Bill: Earning power of an ex-leader. The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  26. Colin Brown, December 16, 2006. John Major leads calls for inquiry into conflict. The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  27. Gillian Bennett, "'Camera, Lights Action!': The British General Election 1992 as Narrative Event." Folklore London 107 (1996): 94–97.
  28. Robert Taylor. "Major." 20 British prime ministers of the 20th century. (London, UK: Haus Publishing, 2006), 29.
  29. Anthony Seldon and Lewis Baston. Major: a political life. (London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), 370.
  30. Major, 1999, 376.
  31. 1998. Major leads honors list for peace. BBC News. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  32. 2003. John Major speaks out for NI peace. BBC News. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  33. 2005. Former PM Major becomes Sir John. BBC News. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  34. 2000. Major to turn down peerage. BBC News. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
  35. 2008. Freedom of the City 2008 Cork City Council.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Anderson, Bruce. 1991. John Major: the making of the Prime Minister. London, UK: Fourth Estate. ISBN 9781872180540.
  • Bonefeld, Werner, Alice Brown, and Peter Burnham. 1995. A Major crisis?: the politics of economic policy in Britain in the 1990s. Aldershot, Hants, UK: Dartmouth Pub. Co. ISBN 9780333622735.
  • Booker, Christopher. and Richard A. E. North. The Castle of Lies: why Britain must get out of Europe. Duckworth Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0715626930
  • Evans, Brendan, and Andrew Taylor. 1996. From Salisbury to Major: continuity and change in conservative politics. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719042911.
  • Foley, Michael. 2002. John Major, Tony Blair, and a conflict of leadership: collision course. Manchester, UK ; New York, NY: Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719063169.
  • Heppell, Timothy. 2006. The Conservative Party leadership of John Major 1992 to 1997. Lewiston, UK: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 9780773455818.
  • Hogg, Sarah, and Jonathan Hill. 1995. Too close to call: power and politics, John Major in No. 10. London, UK: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316877169.
  • Junor, Penny. 1993. The Major enigma. London, UK: M. Joseph. ISBN 9780719042904.
  • Kavanagh, Dennis, and Anthony Seldon. 1994. The Major effect. London, UK: Macmillan. ISBN 9780333622735.
  • Major, John. 1999. Autobiography. London, UK: Harper Collins. ISBN 0002570041.
  • Major, John. 2007. More Than A Game: The Story of Cricket's Early Years. London, UK: Harper Collins. ISBN 9780007183647.
  • Major-Ball, Terry. 1994. Major Major: memories of an older brother. London, UK: Duckworth. ISBN 9780715626313.
  • Pearce, Edward. 1991. The quiet rise of John Major. London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780297812081.
  • Seldon, Anthony, and Lewis Baston. 1997. Major: a political life. London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297816072.
  • Taylor, Robert. 2006. Major. 20 British prime ministers of the 20th century. London, UK: Haus Publishing. ISBN 9781904950721.

External links

All links retrieved August 3, 2022.


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