John Major
Overview
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 and Leader of the Conservative Party
Leaders of the Conservative Party
The Leader of the Conservative Party is the most senior politician within the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. The post is currently held by David Cameron, who s eeded Michael Howard in 2005, and who since 2010 is also the serving Prime Minister....

 from 1990–1997. He held the posts of Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly referred to as the Foreign Secretary, is a senior member of Her Majesty's Government heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and regarded as one of the Great Offices of State...

 and Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 in the cabinet of Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 and was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon
Huntingdon (UK Parliament constituency)
Huntingdon is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election....

 1979–2001.

Despite Thatcher's "notorious" assertion that "she expected to continue in control as a backseat driver," Major's mild and consensual style was seen as complete contrast to Thatcher's forceful and confrontational manner.
Quotations

In the next ten years we will have to continue to make changes which will make the whole of this country a genuinely classless society.

Today newspaper, 24 November 1990.

I want to see us build a country that is at ease with itself, a country that is confident and a country that is able and willing to build a better quality of life for all its citizens.

David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts", p. 296

'Being Prime Minister, I had to bite my tongue over a great many things. My hatred of Rangers Football club was one. My love of the little man on the front of Monopoly-boxes another.'

An interview with fellow Celtic fan, Cilla Black

I am walking over hot coals suspended over a deep pit at the bottom of which are a large number of vipers baring their fangs.

Nicholas Wood and Michael Prescott, "Major threatens general election if he fails to win Maastricht vote", Sunday Times, 25 October 1992.

Encyclopedia
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 and Leader of the Conservative Party
Leaders of the Conservative Party
The Leader of the Conservative Party is the most senior politician within the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. The post is currently held by David Cameron, who s eeded Michael Howard in 2005, and who since 2010 is also the serving Prime Minister....

 from 1990–1997. He held the posts of Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly referred to as the Foreign Secretary, is a senior member of Her Majesty's Government heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and regarded as one of the Great Offices of State...

 and Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 in the cabinet of Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 and was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon
Huntingdon (UK Parliament constituency)
Huntingdon is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election....

 1979–2001.

Despite Thatcher's "notorious" assertion that "she expected to continue in control as a backseat driver," Major's mild and consensual style was seen as complete contrast to Thatcher's forceful and confrontational manner. Early in his term, he presided over British participation in the First Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

 (March 1991) and negotiated "Game, Set and Match for Britain" at the Maastricht Treaty
Maastricht Treaty
The Maastricht Treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 by the members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. On 9–10 December 1991, the same city hosted the European Council which drafted the treaty...

 (December 1991). Despite the British economy then being in recession he led the Conservatives to a fourth consecutive election victory, winning the most votes in British electoral history in the 1992 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1992
The United Kingdom general election of 1992 was held on 9 April 1992, and was the fourth consecutive victory for the Conservative Party. This election result was one of the biggest surprises in 20th Century politics, as polling leading up to the day of the election showed Labour under leader Neil...

, albeit with a much reduced majority in the House of Commons. He is to date, the last Conservative leader to win an outright majority in a general election.

Major's premiership saw the world go through a period of political and military transition after the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. This included the growing importance of the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

, an issue which was already a source of friction within the Conservative Party owing to its importance in the decline and fall of Margaret Thatcher
Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 1990
The 1990 Conservative Party leadership election in the United Kingdom took place in November 1990 following the decision of former Defence and Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine to stand against the incumbent Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.Thatcher failed to win...

. Major and his government were responsible for the United Kingdom's exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) after Black Wednesday
Black Wednesday
In politics and economics, Black Wednesday refers to the events of 16 September 1992 when the British Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism after they were unable to keep it above its agreed lower limit...

 on 16 September 1992, after which his government never gained a lead in the opinion polls.

Despite successes such as the revival of economic growth and the beginnings of the Northern Ireland Peace Process
Northern Ireland peace process
The peace process, when discussing the history of Northern Ireland, is often considered to cover the events leading up to the 1994 Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire, the end of most of the violence of the Troubles, the Belfast Agreement, and subsequent political developments.-Towards a...

, by the mid-1990s the Conservatives were embroiled in ongoing "sleaze" scandals involving various MPs and even Cabinet Ministers. Criticism of Major's leadership reached such a pitch that he chose to resign, and be re-elected, as party leader in June 1995. By this time the "New" Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 was seen as a reformed and fresh alternative under the leadership of Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, and after eighteen years in office the Conservatives lost the 1997 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1997
The United Kingdom general election, 1997 was held on 1 May 1997, more than five years after the previous election on 9 April 1992, to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. The Labour Party ended its 18 years in opposition under the leadership of Tony Blair, and won the general...

 in one of the worst electoral defeats since the Great Reform Act of 1832.

After the defeat, Major resigned as the leader of the party, and was succeeded by William Hague
William Hague
William Jefferson Hague is the British Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State. He served as Leader of the Conservative Party from June 1997 to September 2001...

. He has since retired from active politics, leaving the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 at the 2001 general election
United Kingdom general election, 2001
The United Kingdom general election, 2001 was held on Thursday 7 June 2001 to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. It was dubbed "the quiet landslide" by the media, as the Labour Party was re-elected with another landslide result and only suffered a net loss of 6 seats...

, but continues to be a sought-after speaker.

Early life

Major was born at the St. Helier Hospital
St. Helier Hospital
St Helier Hospital is a hospital in the London Borough of Sutton. It is owned and run by Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust....

 in Sutton
London Borough of Sutton
The London Borough of Sutton is a London borough in South London, England and forms part of Outer London. It covers an area of and is the 80th largest local authority in England by population. It is one of the southernmost boroughs of London...

, Surrey, the son of Gwen Major and former Music Hall
Music hall
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...

 performer Tom Major-Ball
Tom Major-Ball
Tom Major-Ball was a music hall performer and circus artiste. He was the father of Sir John Major, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.-Early life:...

 (né Abraham Thomas Ball), who was 64 years old when John was born. He was christened as John Roy Major, but only "John" is shown on his birth certificate
Birth certificate
A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth...

. He used his middle name Roy until the early 1980s. He attended primary school at Cheam Common. From 1954, he attended Rutlish Grammar School in Merton
London Borough of Merton
The London Borough of Merton is a borough in southwest London, England.The borough was formed under the London Government Act in 1965 by the merger of the Municipal Borough of Mitcham, the Municipal Borough of Wimbledon and the Merton and Morden Urban District, all formerly within Surrey...

. In 1955, with his father's garden ornaments business in decline, the family moved to Brixton
Brixton
Brixton is a district in the London Borough of Lambeth in south London, England. It is south south-east of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London....

. The following year, Major watched his first debate in the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 – Harold Macmillan's only budget – and has attributed his political ambitions to that event, and to a chance meeting with former Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

 on the King's Road.

Major left school at age 16 in 1959, with three O-levels
General Certificate of Education
The General Certificate of Education or GCE is an academic qualification that examination boards in the United Kingdom and a few of the Commonwealth countries, notably Sri Lanka, confer to students. The GCE traditionally comprised two levels: the Ordinary Level and the Advanced Level...

: History, English Language, and English Literature. He later gained three more O-levels by correspondence course
Distance education
Distance education or distance learning is a field of education that focuses on teaching methods and technology with the aim of delivering teaching, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional educational setting such as a classroom...

, in the British Constitution, mathematics and economics. His first job was as a clerk in the insurance brokerage firm Pratt & Sons in 1959. Disliking this job, he quit, and for a time he helped with his father's garden ornaments business along with his brother, Terry Major-Ball
Terry Major-Ball
Terry Major-Ball was the elder brother of the former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, who during his brother's seven-year premiership had a brief career as a television and radio personality and newspaper columnist...

. Major joined the Young Conservatives in Brixton at this time.

Major was 19 years old when in 1962 his father died at the age of 83. His mother died eight years later at the age of 65.

After Major became prime minister, it was misreported that he had failed to get a job as a bus conductor because of failing a maths test, when in fact he passed all of the tests, but had been passed over for the job to another candidate owing to his height.

After a period of unemployment, Major started working at the London Electricity Board
London Electricity Board
The London Electricity Board was the public sector utility company responsible for electricity generation and electrical infrastructure maintenance in London prior to 1990. It was shortened to LEB in its green and blue logo, consisting of the three letters...

 (where his successor as the Prime Minister, Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, also worked when he was young) in 1963, and he decided to undertake a correspondence course in banking. Major took up a post as an executive at the Standard Chartered Bank
Standard Chartered Bank
Standard Chartered PLC is a multinational financial services company headquartered in London, United Kingdom with operations in more than seventy countries...

 in May 1965, and he rose quickly through the ranks. He was sent to work in Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

 by the bank in 1967, and he nearly died in a car accident there.

Early 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
Soapbox
A soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods from a manufacturer to a...

 in Brixton market
Brixton Market
Brixton Market comprises a street market in the centre of Brixton, south London, England, and the adjacent covered market areas in nearby arcades Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Granville Arcade ....

. He stood as a candidate for Lambeth London Borough Council
Lambeth London Borough Council
Lambeth London Borough Council is the local authority for the London Borough of Lambeth in Greater London, England. It is a London borough council, one of 32 in the United Kingdom capital of London...

 at the age of 21 in 1964, and was unexpectedly elected in the Conservative landslide in 1968. While on the council he was 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
Anthony Seldon
Dr. Anthony F. Seldon MA, PhD, FRSA, MBA, FRHistS is a political commentator best known as Tony Blair's biographer and the Master of Wellington College...

 brought "youthful exuberance" to the Tories in Brixton, but was often in trouble with the professional agent Marion Standing. Also according to Seldon, the formative political influence on Major was Jean Kierans, a divorcée 13 years his elder, who became his political mentor and his lover, too. 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.

Major stood for election to Parliament in St Pancras North in both general elections in 1974, but did not win this traditionally Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 seat. In November 1976, Major was selected by the Huntingdonshire
Huntingdonshire (UK Parliament constituency)
Huntingdonshire was a Parliamentary constituency covering the county of Huntingdonshire in England. It was represented in the House of Commons of England until 1707, then in the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800, and then in the House of Commons the Parliament of the United...

 Conservatives as its candidate, winning the safe seat
Safe seat
A safe seat is a seat in a legislative body which is regarded as fully secured, either by a certain political party, the incumbent representative personally or a combination of both...

 in the 1979 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1979
The United Kingdom general election of 1979 was held on 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher ousted the incumbent Labour government of James Callaghan with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats...

. Following boundary changes, Major became Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon in 1983 and retained the seat in the 1987
United Kingdom general election, 1987
The United Kingdom general election of 1987 was held on 11 June 1987, to elect 650 members to the British House of Commons. The election was the third consecutive election victory for the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, who became the first Prime Minister since the 2nd...

, 1992
United Kingdom general election, 1992
The United Kingdom general election of 1992 was held on 9 April 1992, and was the fourth consecutive victory for the Conservative Party. This election result was one of the biggest surprises in 20th Century politics, as polling leading up to the day of the election showed Labour under leader Neil...

 and 1997
United Kingdom general election, 1997
The United Kingdom general election, 1997 was held on 1 May 1997, more than five years after the previous election on 9 April 1992, to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. The Labour Party ended its 18 years in opposition under the leadership of Tony Blair, and won the general...

 general elections. His majority in 1992 was 36,230 votes, the largest in British electoral history. He stood down at the 2001 general election
United Kingdom general election, 2001
The United Kingdom general election, 2001 was held on Thursday 7 June 2001 to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. It was dubbed "the quiet landslide" by the media, as the Labour Party was re-elected with another landslide result and only suffered a net loss of 6 seats...

.

In the cabinet

He was a Parliamentary Private Secretary
Parliamentary Private Secretary
A Parliamentary Private Secretary is a role given to a United Kingdom Member of Parliament by a senior minister in government or shadow minister to act as their contact for the House of Commons; this role is junior to that of Parliamentary Under-Secretary, which is a ministerial post, salaried by...

 from 1981 and an assistant whip
Whip (politics)
A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy...

 from 1983. He was made Under-Secretary of State for Social Security in 1985 and became Minister of State
Minister of State
Minister of State is a title borne by politicians or officials in certain countries governed under a parliamentary system. In some countries a "minister of state" is a junior minister, who is assigned to assist a specific cabinet minister...

 in the same department in 1986, first attracting national media attention over cold weather payments to the elderly in January 1987, when Britain was in the depths of a severe winter.
Major entered the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is the third most senior ministerial position in HM Treasury, after the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer . In recent years, the office holder has usually been given a junior position in the British Cabinet...

 in 1987, and in a surprise re-shuffle on 24 July 1989 a relatively inexperienced Major was appointed Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly referred to as the Foreign Secretary, is a senior member of Her Majesty's Government heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and regarded as one of the Great Offices of State...

, succeeding Sir Geoffrey Howe
Geoffrey Howe
Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, CH, QC, PC is a former British Conservative politician. He was Margaret Thatcher's longest-serving Cabinet minister, successively holding the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and finally Leader of the House of Commons...

. He spent only three months in that post before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 after Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson
Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby, PC , is a British Conservative politician and journalist. He was a Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Blaby from 1974–92, and served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government of Margaret Thatcher from June 1983 to October 1989...

's resignation in October 1989. Major presented only one budget (the first one to be televised), in early 1990. He publicised it as a budget for savings and announced the Tax-Exempt Special Savings Account
Tax-Exempt Special Savings Account
In the UK, the Tax-Exempt Special Savings Account was one of a number of tax-free savings accounts. The TESSA was announced by John Major in his only Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1990...

 (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. In June 1990 Major suggested that the proposed Single European Currency should be a "hard ecu", competing for use against existing national currencies; this idea was not in the end adopted. In October 1990 Major and Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary, finally persuaded Thatcher to allow Britain to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a move which she had resisted for some years, and which had been a cause of her quarrels with Howe and Lawson.

When Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine
Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC is a British businessman, Conservative politician and patron of the Tory Reform Group. He was a Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001 and was a prominent figure in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major...

 challenged Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

's leadership of the Conservative Party in November 1990
Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 1990
The 1990 Conservative Party leadership election in the United Kingdom took place in November 1990 following the decision of former Defence and Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine to stand against the incumbent Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.Thatcher failed to win...

, Major and Douglas Hurd
Douglas Hurd
Douglas Richard Hurd, Baron Hurd of Westwell, CH, CBE, PC , is a British Conservative politician and novelist, who served in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1979 and his retirement in 1995....

 were her proposer and seconder on her nomination papers. Major entered the contest alongside Douglas Hurd
Douglas Hurd
Douglas Richard Hurd, Baron Hurd of Westwell, CH, CBE, PC , is a British Conservative politician and novelist, who served in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1979 and his retirement in 1995....

 on 22 November after Thatcher abandoned her plans to contest the second ballot, ending her 11 years as prime minister and 15 years as party leader. Major was at home in Huntingdon recovering from a wisdom tooth operation at this time. Thatcher's nomination papers for the second ballot were sent to him by car for him to sign – it later emerged that he had signed both Thatcher's papers and a set of papers for his own candidacy in case she withdrew.

Though he fell two votes short of the required winning margin of 187 in the second ballot, the result was sufficient to secure immediate concessions from his rivals. He was named Leader of the Conservative Party on 27 November 1990, and was summoned to Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

 and appointed Prime Minister the following day.

The Persian Gulf War

Major was Prime Minister during the first Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

 of 1991, and played a key role in persuading American president George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 41st President of the United States . He had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States , a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to...

 to support no-fly zones. During the war Major and his Cabinet survived an IRA
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 assassination attempt by mortar attack
Downing Street mortar attack
The Downing Street mortar attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on 10 Downing Street, London, the British Prime Minister John Major's official residence. The 7 February 1991 attack, an assassination attempt on Major and his War Cabinet who were meeting to discuss the...

.

Soap box election

The economy had been sliding into recession during the final months of Thatcher's spell in power, and the recession deepened during 1991 and continued until the end of 1992.

The Tories had slipped behind Labour in the opinion polls during 1989 and the gap widened during 1990, but within two months of Major taking over as prime minister the Tories had returned to the top of the opinion polls, briefly enjoying a comfortable lead after the Gulf War. Polls also showed that Major was the most popular prime minister in Britain since Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

 some 30 years previously.

Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 and opposition leader Neil Kinnock
Neil Kinnock
Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock is a Welsh politician belonging to the Labour Party. He served as a Member of Parliament from 1970 until 1995 and as Labour Leader and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition from 1983 until 1992 - his leadership of the party during nearly nine years making him...

 made endless calls for a general election throughout 1991, but Major held out and decided not to call the election until he finally set an election date of 9 April 1992. During this time, the Tories and Labour had exchanged places at the top of the opinion polls on numerous occasions, and by the time of the election most opinion polls were showing a slim Labour lead, which most observers predicted would translate into a hung parliament
Hung parliament
In a two-party parliamentary system of government, a hung parliament occurs when neither major political party has an absolute majority of seats in the parliament . It is also less commonly known as a balanced parliament or a legislature under no overall control...

 or a narrow Labour victory at the election.

Major took his campaign onto the streets, delivering many addresses from an upturned soapbox
Soapbox
A soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods from a manufacturer to a...

 as in his Lambeth days. This 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 in excess of 14 million votes, the highest popular vote recorded by a British political party in a general election. However, this translated into a reduced majority of 21 seats, enough to form a practicable but small majority. The Tory election win led to the resignation of Neil Kinnock as Labour leader and the appointment of John Smith as his successor.

Black Wednesday

The Conservative majority proved too small for effective control over his backbenchers, particularly after the United Kingdom's forced exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) on "Black Wednesday
Black Wednesday
In politics and economics, Black Wednesday refers to the events of 16 September 1992 when the British Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism after they were unable to keep it above its agreed lower limit...

", 16 September 1992, just five months into the new parliament, when billions of pounds were spent in a futile attempt to defend the currency's value. After the release of Black Wednesday government documents, it became apparent that Major came very close to stepping down from office at this point, having even prepared an unsent letter of resignation addressed to the Queen. Major continued to defend Britain's membership of the ERM, stating that "The ERM was the medicine to cure the ailment, but it was not the ailment".

Major kept his economic team unchanged for seven months after Black Wednesday before he replaced Norman Lamont with Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Harry "Ken" Clarke, QC, MP is a British Conservative politician, currently Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He was first elected to Parliament in 1970; and appointed a minister in Edward Heath's government, in 1972, and is one of...

 as Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

, after months of press criticism of Lamont and disastrous defeat at a by-election in Newbury. Such a delay, on top of the crisis, was exploited by Major's critics as proof of the indecisiveness that was to undermine his authority through the rest of his premiership. Britain's departure from the ERM led to a fall in the opinion poll ratings for the Conservative Party, which despite the improvement in the economic position, did not fully recover whilst John Major was Prime Minister.

The UK's forced withdrawal from the ERM was succeeded by a partial economic recovery with a new policy of flexible exchange rate
Exchange rate
In finance, an exchange rate between two currencies is the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is also regarded as the value of one country’s currency in terms of another currency...

s, allowing lower interest rate
Interest rate
An interest rate is the rate at which interest is paid by a borrower for the use of money that they borrow from a lender. For example, a small company borrows capital from a bank to buy new assets for their business, and in return the lender receives interest at a predetermined interest rate for...

s and devaluation
Devaluation
Devaluation is a reduction in the value of a currency with respect to those goods, services or other monetary units with which that currency can be exchanged....

 – increased demand for UK goods in export markets. The recession that had started just before Major came to office was declared over in April 1993, when the economy grew by 0.2%. Unemployment started to fall; by the start of 1993 it had reached almost 3,000,000, but by early 1997 it stood at 1,700,000.

Political infighting over Europe

On becoming Prime Minister Major had promised to keep Britain "at the very heart of Europe", and claimed to have won "game, set and match for Britain" – by negotiating the social chapter and single currency opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty
Maastricht Treaty
The Maastricht Treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 by the members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. On 9–10 December 1991, the same city hosted the European Council which drafted the treaty...

, and by ensuring that there was no overt mention of a "Federal" Europe and that foreign and defence policy were kept as matters of inter-governmental cooperation, in separate "pillars" from the supranational European Union. By 2010 some of these concessions, but not Britain's non-membership of the Single Currency, had been overtaken by subsequent events.

However, even these moves towards greater European integration met with vehement opposition from the Eurosceptic
EuroSceptic
EuroSceptic is the second album of British singer Jack Lucien. It was released in October 2009.Due to being an album influenced by Europop, it features songs with parts in different languages...

 wing of the party and the Cabinet as the Government attempted to ratify the Maastricht Treaty
Maastricht Treaty
The Maastricht Treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 by the members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. On 9–10 December 1991, the same city hosted the European Council which drafted the treaty...

 in the first half of 1993. 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, known as the Maastricht Rebels
Maastricht Rebels
The Maastricht Rebels were British Members of Parliament belonging to the then governing Conservative Party who refused to support the government of John Major in a series of votes in the House of Commons on the issue of the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty in British law.The Maastrict...

, voted against the treaty, and the Government was defeated. Major called another vote on the following day, 23 July 1993, which he declared a vote of confidence
1993 vote of confidence in the government of John Major
The 1993 confidence motion in John Major's government was an explicit confidence motion in the Conservative government of John Major which was proposed in order to ensure support in Parliament for the passing of the Maastricht Treaty...

. He won by 40 votes, but the damage had been done to his authority in parliament.

Later that day, Major gave an interview to ITN's Michael Brunson
Michael Brunson
Michael Brunson OBE is a British political journalist.He was educated at Bedford School, a boys' independent school in Bedford, Bedfordshire, and read Theology at Queen's College, Oxford University. Michael Brunson began his broadcasting career at the BBC and later served as Washington...

. During an unguarded moment when Major 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 18... 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? What's Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

's maxim?" Major later said that he had picked the number three from the air and that he was referring to "former ministers who had left the government and begun to create havoc with their anti-European activities", but many journalists suggested that the three were Peter Lilley
Peter Lilley
Peter Bruce Lilley MP is a British Conservative Party politician who has been a Member of Parliament MP since 1983. He currently represents the constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden and, prior to boundary changes, represented St Albans...

, Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo
Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo is a British journalist, broadcaster, and former Conservative Party politician and Cabinet Minister...

 and Michael Howard
Michael Howard
Michael Howard, Baron Howard of Lympne, CH, QC, PC is a British politician, who served as the Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from November 2003 to December 2005...

, three of the more prominent "Eurosceptic
EuroSceptic
EuroSceptic is the second album of British singer Jack Lucien. It was released in October 2009.Due to being an album influenced by Europop, it features songs with parts in different languages...

s" within his Cabinet. Throughout the rest of Major's premiership the exact identity of the three was blurred, with John Redwood
John Redwood
John Alan Redwood is a British Conservative Party politician and Member of Parliament for Wokingham. He was formerly Secretary of State for Wales in Prime Minister John Major's Cabinet and was an unsuccessful challenger for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1995...

's name frequently appearing in a list along with two of the others. The tape of this conversation was leaked to the Daily Mirror and widely reported, embarrassing Major.

Arguments continued over Europe. Early in 1994 Major vetoed the Belgian politician Jean-Luc Dehaene
Jean-Luc Dehaene
-Early life and political career:He was born in Montpellier, France, when his parents were fleeing German troops. He got into politics through the Algemeen Christelijk Werknemersverbond , a trade union which was closely linked to the Christelijke Volkspartij .In 1981, he became Minister of Social...

 as President of the European Commission (in succession to Jacques Delors
Jacques Delors
Jacques Lucien Jean Delors is a French economist and politician, the eighth President of the European Commission and the first person to serve three terms in that office .-French Politics:...

) for being excessively federalist, only to find that he had to accept a Luxembourg politician of similar views, Jacques Santer, instead. Around this time Major – who in an unfortunate phrase denounced the Labour Leader John Smith as "Monsieur Oui, the poodle of Brussels" – tried to demand an increase in the Qualified Majority needed for voting in the newly-enlarged European Union (i.e. making it easier for Britain, in alliance with other countries, to block federalist measures). After Major had to back down on this issue Tony Marlow called openly in the House of Commons for his resignation. In 1996 European governments banned British beef over claims that it was infected with "Mad Cow Disease" – the British government withheld cooperation with the EU over the issue, but did not succeed in getting the ban lifted.

For the rest of Major's premiership the main argument was over whether Britain would join the planned European Single Currency. Some leading Conservatives (e.g. Chancellor Ken Clarke) favoured joining and insisted that Britain retain a completely free choice, whilst increasing numbers of others expressed their reluctance to join. By this time billionaire Sir James Goldsmith had set up his own Referendum Party, siphoning off some Conservative support, and at the 1997 General Election many Conservative candidates were openly expressing reluctance to join.

"Sleaze"

At the 1993 Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 Conference, Major began the "Back to Basics
Back to Basics (campaign)
Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993; a year after winning the general election the party's reputation was declining, not least due to the Black Wednesday economic debacle of September 1992...

" campaign, which he intended to be about the economy, education, policing, and other such issues, but it was interpreted by many (including Conservative cabinet ministers) as an attempt to revert to the moral and family values
Family values
Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society. Familialism is the ideology that promotes the family and its values as an institution....

 that the Conservative Party were often associated with. "Back to Basics", however, became synonymous with scandal, often exposed in lurid and embarrassing detail by tabloid newspapers such as The Sun. In 1992 David Mellor
David Mellor
David John Mellor, QC is a British politician, non-practising barrister, broadcaster, journalist and football pundit. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the Cabinet of Prime Minister John Major as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Secretary of State for National Heritage , before...

, a cabinet minister, had been exposed as having an extramarital affair, and for accepting hospitality from the daughter of a leading member of the PLO. The wife of the Earl of Caithness
Malcolm Sinclair, 20th Earl of Caithness
Malcolm Ian Sinclair, 20th Earl of Caithness, PC is a British Conservative politician and member of the House of Lords as one of the remaining hereditary peers. He is also chief of Clan Sinclair...

 committed suicide amongst rumours of the Earl committing adultery. Stephen Milligan
Stephen Milligan
Stephen David Wyatt Milligan was a British Conservative politician and journalist. He held a number of senior journalistic posts until his election to serve as Member of Parliament for Eastleigh in 1992...

 was found dead having apparently auto-asphyxiated whilst performing a solitary sex act (his Eastleigh seat was lost in what was to be an ongoing stream of hefty by-election defeats). David Ashby
David Ashby
David Glynn Ashby was the Conservative Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire from 1983 until he stood down in 1997.He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe and the University of Bristol...

 was 'outed' by his wife after sleeping with men. A string of other Conservative MPs, including Alan Amos
Alan Amos
Alan Thomas Amos is a British Labour politician, and former Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Hexham in Northumberland between 1987 and 1992.-Early life:...

, Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo
Timothy Stephen Kenneth Yeo is an English Conservative politician, Member of Parliament for South Suffolk and the current Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.-Early life:...

 and Michael Brown
Michael Brown (UK politician)
Michael Russell Brown is a British former Conservative Party politician and is now a newspaper and broadcast political journalist. He was a Member of Parliament from 1979 to 1997.-Biography:...

, were involved in sexual scandals.

Other debilitating scandals included "Arms to Iraq" – the ongoing inquiry into how government ministers including Alan Clark
Alan Clark
Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark was a British Conservative MP and diarist. He served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher's governments at the Departments of Employment, Trade, and Defence, and became a privy counsellor in 1991...

 (also involved in a unrelated scandal involving the revelation of his affair with the wife and both daughters of a South African judge) had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put trial for breaking the embargo.

Another scandal was "Cash for Questions", in which first Graham Riddick
Graham Riddick
Graham Edward Galloway Riddick was the Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Colne Valley in West Yorkshire, England from 1987 to 1997.-Family and early life:...

, and David Tredinnick
David Tredinnick (politician)
David Arthur Stephen Tredinnick is a Conservative politician in the United Kingdom.He is a former officer in the Grenadier Guards and is Member of Parliament for Bosworth first elected in 1987....

 accepted money to ask questions in the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 in a newspaper "sting", and later Tim Smith
Tim Smith (UK politician)
Timothy John Smith, known as Tim Smith, is a former British Conservative politician.-Politics:...

 and Neil Hamilton
Neil Hamilton (politician)
Mostyn Neil Hamilton is a former British barrister, teacher and Conservative MP. Since losing his seat in 1997 and leaving politics, Hamilton and his wife Christine have become media celebrities...

 were found to have received money from Mohamed Al Fayed, also to ask questions in the House
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

. Later, David Willetts
David Willetts
David Linsay Willetts is a British Conservative Party politician and the Minister of State for Universities and Science. He is the Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Havant in Hampshire.-Education:...

 resigned as Paymaster General after he was accused of rigging evidence to do with Cash for Questions.

Defence Minister Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan William Patrick Aitken is a former Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and British government minister. He was convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months...

 was accused by the ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 investigative journalism
Investigative journalism
Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. Investigative journalism...

 series World In Action
World in Action
World in Action was a British investigative current affairs programme made by Granada Television from 1963 until 1998. Its campaigning journalism frequently had a major impact on events of the day. Its production teams often took audacious risks and gained a solid reputation for its often...

 and The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 newspaper 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 and the producers of World In Action Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

. At an early stage in the trial however, it became apparent that he had lied under oath, and he was subsequently (after the Major government had fallen from power) convicted of perjury and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

Major attempted to draw some of the sting from the financial scandals by setting up public inquiries – the Nolan Report into standards expected in public life, and the Scott Report into the Arms to Iraq Scandal.

Although Tim Smith
Tim Smith (UK politician)
Timothy John Smith, known as Tim Smith, is a former British Conservative politician.-Politics:...

 stepped down from the House of Commons at the 1997 General Election, both Neil Hamilton
Neil Hamilton (politician)
Mostyn Neil Hamilton is a former British barrister, teacher and Conservative MP. Since losing his seat in 1997 and leaving politics, Hamilton and his wife Christine have become media celebrities...

 and Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan William Patrick Aitken is a former Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and British government minister. He was convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months...

 sought re-election for their seats, and were both defeated, in Hamilton's case by the former BBC Reporter Martin Bell
Martin Bell
Martin Bell, OBE, is a British UNICEF Ambassador, a former broadcast war reporter and former independent politician...

, who stood as an anti-sleaze candidate, both the Labour and LibDem candidates withdrawing in his favour, amidst further publicity unfavourable to the Conservatives.

Northern Ireland

Major opened talks with the Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA) upon taking office. When he declared to the House of Commons in November 1993 that "to sit down and talk with Mr. Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

 and the Provisional IRA... would turn my stomach", Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 gave the media an outline of the secret talks indeed held regularly since that February. The Downing Street Declaration
Downing Street Declaration
The Downing Street Declaration was a joint declaration issued on 15 December 1993 by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, and the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Albert Reynolds at the British Prime Minister office in 10 Downing Street...

 was issued on 15 December 1993 by Major and Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds , served as Taoiseach of Ireland, serving one term in office from 1992 until 1994. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize...

, the Irish Taoiseach
Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

, with whom he had a friendly relationship: an IRA ceasefire followed in 1994. In the House of Commons Major refused to sign-up to the first draft of the "Mitchell
George J. Mitchell
George John Mitchell, Jr., is the former U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace under the Obama administration. A Democrat, Mitchell was a United States Senator who served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995...

 Principles", which resulted in the ending of the ceasefire. Major paved the way for the Belfast Agreement
Belfast Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement , sometimes called the Stormont Agreement, was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process...

, also known as the 'Good Friday Agreement', which was signed after he left office.

In March 1995, Major refused to answer the phone calls of United States President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 for several days because of his anger at Clinton's decision to invite Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

 to the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 for St Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick , the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of :Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion , the Eastern...

.

Bosnia

Major's premiership saw the ongoing war in Bosnia. Government policy was to maintain the United Nations arms embargo which restricted the flow of weapons into the region and to oppose air strikes against Bosnian Serbs. The Government's reasoning was that an arms embargo would only create a 'level killing field' and that air strikes would endanger UN peacekeepers and the humanitarian aid effort. This policy was criticised by Thatcher and others who saw the Bosnian Muslims as the main victims of Serb aggression and compared the situation to events in WWII. The Clinton administration, by contrast, was committed to a policy of 'lift and strike' (lifting the arms embargo and inflicting air strikes on the Serbs) causing tensions in the 'special relationship' (Douglas Hurd and others strongly opposed this policy).

Some commentators compared the Major Government's policy to 'amoral equivalency' because it appeared to judge the Bosnian Government and the Bosnian Serbs equally culpable. To some extent these critics of Major's policy were vindicated when in an article published in 2011, the then Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind accepted that the arms embargo was a 'serious mistake' by the UN.

1995 leadership election

On 22 June 1995, tired of continual threats of leadership challenges that never arose, Major resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party and announced he would contest the resulting leadership election
Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 1995
The 1995 Conservative leadership election was initiated when incumbent leader and Prime Minister John Major resigned as leader on 22 June 1995, in order to face down critics within his party...

 – he continued to serve as Prime Minister while the leadership was vacant, but would have resigned had he not been re-elected by a large enough majority. John Redwood
John Redwood
John Alan Redwood is a British Conservative Party politician and Member of Parliament for Wokingham. He was formerly Secretary of State for Wales in Prime Minister John Major's Cabinet and was an unsuccessful challenger for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1995...

 resigned as Secretary of State for Wales
Secretary of State for Wales
The Secretary of State for Wales is the head of the Wales Office within the British cabinet. He or she is responsible for ensuring Welsh interests are taken into account by the government, representing the government within Wales and overseeing the passing of legislation which is only for Wales...

 to stand against him. Major won by 218 votes to Redwood's 89 (with 12 spoiled ballots, eight 'active' abstentions and two MPs abstaining), enough to win in the first round, but only three more than the target he had privately set himself.

The Sun newspaper, still at this stage supporting the Conservative Party, had lost faith in Major and declared its support for Redwood in the leadership election, running the front page headline "Redwood versus Deadwood".

1997 general election defeat

Major's re-election as leader of the party 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, despite the economic boom that had followed the exit from recession four years earlier, and the swift fall in unemployment. By December 1996 the Conservatives had lost their majority in the House of Commons. Major managed to survive to the end of the Parliament, but called an election on 17 March 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.

Few then were surprised when Major's Conservatives lost the 1 May 1997 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1997
The United Kingdom general election, 1997 was held on 1 May 1997, more than five years after the previous election on 9 April 1992, to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. The Labour Party ended its 18 years in opposition under the leadership of Tony Blair, and won the general...

 to Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

's "New Labour", although the immense scale of the defeat was not as widely predicted: in 1987 and 1992 the Conservatives had polled better than had been suggested by the opinion polls, but in 1997 this was no longer the case. In the event the Conservative party suffered the worst electoral defeat by a ruling party since the Great Reform Act of 1832. In the new parliament, Labour held 418 seats, the Conservatives 165, and the Liberal Democrats 46, giving Labour a majority of 179. Major himself was re-elected in his own constituency of Huntingdon with a majority of 18,140. However, 179 other Conservative MPs were defeated, including present and former Cabinet ministers such as Norman Lamont, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo
Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo is a British journalist, broadcaster, and former Conservative Party politician and Cabinet Minister...

. The election defeat also meant that the Tories were left without any MPs in Scotland or Wales, failing to win a single seat outside England.

At about noon on 2 May 1997, Major officially returned his seals of office as Prime Minister to The Queen. Shortly before his resignation, he gave his final statement from 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

, in which he said; "When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage". Major then famously announced to the press that he intended to go with his family to The Oval
The Oval
The Kia Oval, still commonly referred to by its original name of The Oval, is an international cricket ground in Kennington, in the London Borough of Lambeth. In the past it was also sometimes called the Kennington Oval...

 to watch cricket
Cricket
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on an oval-shaped field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard long pitch. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the...

. Following his resignation as Prime Minister, Major briefly became Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Opposition (UK)
The Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition in the United Kingdom is the politician who leads the Official Opposition in the United Kingdom. There is also a Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords...

, and Shadow Foreign Secretary
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In British politics, the shadow foreign secretary is a position within the opposition's shadow cabinet that deals mainly with issues surrounding the Foreign Office; such things are relations with other nations, if elected, the designated person may be slated to become the new Foreign...

 (as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was Foreign Secretary prior to the election, had lost his seat), and remained in this post until the election of William Hague
William Hague
William Jefferson Hague is the British Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State. He served as Leader of the Conservative Party from June 1997 to September 2001...

 as leader of the Conservative Party in June 1997. His Resignation Honours
1997 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours
The 1997 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours were officially announced in two supplements to the London Gazette of 1 August 1997 and marked the May 1997 resignation of Prime Minister John Major....

 were announced in August 1997.

Major retired from the House of Commons at the 2001 general election
United Kingdom general election, 2001
The United Kingdom general election, 2001 was held on Thursday 7 June 2001 to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. It was dubbed "the quiet landslide" by the media, as the Labour Party was re-elected with another landslide result and only suffered a net loss of 6 seats...

, made public on the Breakfast show with David Frost
David Frost
Sir David Frost is a British broadcaster.David Frost may also refer to:*David Frost , South African golfer*David Frost , classical record producer*David Frost *Dave Frost, baseball pitcher...

.

Summary

Major's mild-mannered style and moderate political stance made him theoretically well-placed to act as a conciliatory leader of his party. However, conflict raged within the Conservative Party, particularly over the extent of Britain's integration with the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

. Major never succeeded in reconciling the "Euro-rebels" among his MPs to his European policy, who although relatively few in number - although their views were much more widely supported amongst Conservative activists and voters - wielded great influence because of his small majority, and episodes such as the Maastricht Rebellion
Maastricht Rebels
The Maastricht Rebels were British Members of Parliament belonging to the then governing Conservative Party who refused to support the government of John Major in a series of votes in the House of Commons on the issue of the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty in British law.The Maastrict...

 inflicted serious political damage on him and his government. During the 1990s, the bitterness on the right wing of the Conservative Party at the manner in which Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 had been removed from office did not make Major's task any easier. A series of scandals among leading Tory MP's also did Major and his government no favours. His task became even more difficult after the well-received election of Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 as Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 leader in July 1994.

On the other hand, it was during Major's premiership that the British economy recovered from the recession of 1990–1992. John Major wrote in his auto-biography that, "During my premiership interest rates fell from 14% to 6%; unemployment was at 1.75 million when I took office, and at 1.6 million and falling upon my departure; and the government's annual borrowing rose from £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

0.5 billion to nearly £46 billion at its peak before falling to £1 billion".

The former Labour MP Tony Banks
Tony Banks, Baron Stratford
Anthony Louis Banks, Baron Stratford was a British Labour Party politician, who was a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2005, before being made a Member of the House of Lords. In government, he served for two years as Minister for Sport...

 said of Major in 1994 that "He was a fairly competent chairman of Housing on Lambeth Council. Every time he gets up now I keep thinking, 'What on earth is Councillor Major doing?' I can't believe he's here and sometimes I think he can't either." Paddy Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown
Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, KBE, PC , usually known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and diplomat....

, the leader of the Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

 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
Black Wednesday
In politics and economics, Black Wednesday refers to the events of 16 September 1992 when the British Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism after they were unable to keep it above its agreed lower limit...

" in September 1992. Conversely on occasions he attracted criticism for dogmatically pursuing schemes favoured by the right of his party, notably the privatisation of British Rail
British Rail
British Railways , which from 1965 traded as British Rail, was the operator of most of the rail transport in Great Britain between 1948 and 1997. It was formed from the nationalisation of the "Big Four" British railway companies and lasted until the gradual privatisation of British Rail, in stages...

, and for closing down most of the coal industry in advance of privatisation.

Retirement

Since leaving office Major has maintained a low profile, indulging his love of cricket as president of Surrey County Cricket Club
Surrey County Cricket Club
Surrey County Cricket Club is one of the 18 professional county clubs which make up the English and Welsh domestic cricket structure, representing the historic county of Surrey. Its limited overs team is called the Surrey Lions...

 until 2002 (and Honorary Life Vice-President since 2002) and commentating on political developments in the manner of a wise elder statesman. He has been a member of Carlyle Group
Carlyle Group
The Carlyle Group is an American-based global asset management firm, specializing in private equity, based in Washington, D.C. The Carlyle Group operates in four business areas: corporate private equity, real assets, market strategies and fund-of-funds, through its AlpInvest subsidiary...

's European Advisory Board since 1998 and was appointed Chairman of Carlyle Europe in May 2001. He stood down in August 2004.

Unlike most former prime ministers up until that time, Major turned down a peerage
Peerage
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

when he retired from the House of Commons in 2001. In recent history, only Sir Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, Sir Edward Heath, Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 and Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

 have not been elevated to the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

.

In March 2001, he gave the tribute to Colin Cowdrey
Colin Cowdrey
Michael Colin Cowdrey, Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge, CBE , better known as Colin Cowdrey, was the Captain of Oxford University, Kent County Cricket Club and the England cricket team in a career that lasted from 1950 to 1976...

 (Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge) at his memorial service in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

. In 2005 he was elected to the Committee of the Marylebone Cricket Club
Marylebone Cricket Club
Marylebone Cricket Club is a cricket club in London founded in 1787. Its influence and longevity now witness it as a private members' club dedicated to the development of cricket. It owns, and is based at, Lord's Cricket Ground in St John's Wood, London NW8. MCC was formerly the governing body of...

 (MCC), historically the governing body of the sport, and still guardian of the laws of the game. Following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, whom she married on 29 July 1981, and an international charity and fundraising figure, as well as a preeminent celebrity of the late 20th century...

 in 1997, Major was appointed a special guardian to Princes William and Harry
Prince Harry of Wales
Prince Henry of Wales , commonly known as Prince Harry, is the younger son of Charles, Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and fourth grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...

, with responsibility for legal and administrative matters.

Major/Currie affair

Major's low profile in retirement was disrupted by Edwina Currie
Edwina Currie
Edwina Jonesnée Cohen is a former British Member of Parliament. First elected as a Conservative Party MP in 1983, she was a Junior Health Minister for two years, before resigning in 1988 over the controversy over salmonella in eggs...

's revelation in September 2002 that, prior to his promotion to the Cabinet, Major had had a four-year extramarital affair with her. Commentators were quick to refer to Major's previous "Back to Basics" platform to throw charges of hypocrisy
Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie....

. He had also sued two magazines, New Statesman and Society
New Statesman
New Statesman is a British centre-left political and cultural magazine published weekly in London. Founded in 1913, and connected with leading members of the Fabian Society, the magazine reached a circulation peak in the late 1960s....

 and Scallywag
Scallywag (magazine)
Scallywag magazine was published in London between 1991 and 1995. The subtitle of issues 1 - 6 was "Camden's only alternative community magazine". It sought to publish controversial journalism which other satirical and investigative publications would not publish due to fear of litigation. It...

 plus their distributors, in 1993 for reporting rumours of an affair with a caterer, even though at least one of the magazines had said that the rumours were false. Both considered legal action to recover their costs when the affair with Currie was revealed.

In a press statement, Major said that he was "ashamed" by the affair and that his wife had forgiven him. In response, Currie said "he wasn't ashamed of it at the time and he wanted it to continue."

Since 2005

In February 2005, it was reported that Major and Norman Lamont delayed the release of papers on Black Wednesday
Black Wednesday
In politics and economics, Black Wednesday refers to the events of 16 September 1992 when the British Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism after they were unable to keep it above its agreed lower limit...

 under the Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of information legislation
Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions...

. 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. He told BBC News
BBC News
BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

 that he and Lamont had been the victims of "whispering" to the press. He later publicly approved the release of the papers.

According to the Evening Standard
Evening Standard
The Evening Standard, now styled the London Evening Standard, is a free local daily newspaper, published Monday–Friday in tabloid format in London. It is the dominant regional evening paper for London and the surrounding area, with coverage of national and international news and City of London...

, Major has become a prolific after-dinner speaker. He earns over £25,000 per engagement for his "insights and his own opinions on the expanding European Union, the future of the world in the 21st century, and also about Britain", according to his agency.

In December 2006, Major led calls for an independent inquiry into Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq
2003 invasion of Iraq
The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

, following revelations made by Carne Ross
Carne Ross
Carne Ross is founder and director of Independent Diplomat, a diplomatic advisory group. Born in 1966, Ross has a fraternal twin, Oliver Ross, a successful paediatric anaesthetist in UK. Ross taught in Zimbabwe before attending the University of Exeter where he studied economics and politics. He...

, a former British senior diplomat, that contradict Blair's case for the invasion. He was touted as a possible Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London
Mayor of London
The Mayor of London is an elected politician who, along with the London Assembly of 25 members, is accountable for the strategic government of Greater London. Conservative Boris Johnson has held the position since 4 May 2008...

 elections in 2008
London mayoral election, 2008
The London mayoral election, 2008 for the office of Mayor of London was held on 1 May 2008 and was won by Conservative Party candidate Boris Johnson....

, but turned down an offer from Conservative leader David Cameron
David Cameron
David William Donald Cameron is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service and Leader of the Conservative Party. Cameron represents Witney as its Member of Parliament ....

. A spokesperson for Major said "his political career is behind him".

In 2010, Major became a key loyalist to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition
United Kingdom coalition government (2010–present)
The ConservativeLiberal Democrat coalition is the present Government of the United Kingdom, formed after the 2010 general election. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats entered into discussions which culminated in the 2010 coalition agreement, setting out a programme for government...

, and said that he hoped for a "liberal conservative" alliance beyond 2015, and has criticised Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband
Edward Samuel Miliband is a British Labour Party politician, currently the Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition...

 and the Labour Party, for "party games" rather than helping in the national interest.

He was among the guests at the Royal Wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge to Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

 on 29 April 2011. Baroness Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 was also invited but declined to attend due to ill health.

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 greyness, his prodigious philtrum
Philtrum
The philtrum , is a medial cleft common to many mammals, extending from the nose to the upper lip, and, together with a glandular rhinarium and slit-like nostrils, is believed to constitute the primitive condition for mammals in general...

, and large glasses, all of which were exaggerated in caricatures. For example, in Spitting Image
Spitting Image
Spitting Image is a British satirical puppet show that aired on the ITV network from 1984 to 1996. It was produced by Spitting Image Productions for Central Television. The series was nominated for 10 BAFTA Awards, winning one for editing in 1989....

, Major's puppet was changed from a circus performer to that of a grey man who ate dinner with his wife in silence, occasionally saying "nice peas, dear", whilst at the same time nursing an unrequited crush on his colleague Virginia Bottomley
Virginia Bottomley
Virginia Bottomley, Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, PC, DL is a British Conservative Party politician. She was a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1984 to 2005. She was raised to the peerage in 2005...

 – an invention, but an ironic one in view of his affair with Edwina Currie
Edwina Currie
Edwina Jonesnée Cohen is a former British Member of Parliament. First elected as a Conservative Party MP in 1983, she was a Junior Health Minister for two years, before resigning in 1988 over the controversy over salmonella in eggs...

, which was not then a matter of public knowledge. By the end of his premiership his puppet would often be shown observing the latest fiasco and murmuring "Oh Dear" in an ineffectual manner.

The media (particularly The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 cartoonist Steve Bell
Steve Bell (cartoonist)
Steve Bell is an English political cartoonist, whose work appears in The Guardian and other publications. He is known for his left-wing views and distinctive caricatures.-Early life:...

) used the allegation by Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell
Alastair John Campbell is a British journalist, broadcaster, political aide and author, best known for his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003, having first started working for Blair in 1994...

 that he had observed Major tucking his shirt into his underpants to caricature
Caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

 him wearing his pants outside his trousers, as a pale grey echo of both Superman
Superman
Superman is a fictional comic book superhero appearing in publications by DC Comics, widely considered to be an American cultural icon. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective...

 and Supermac
Supermac (cartoon)
"Super-Mac" was the subject of a cartoon - "Introducing Super-Mac" - by "Vicky" in the Evening Standard in London, England, on 6 November 1958....

, a parody of Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

. Bell also used the humorous possibilities of the Cones Hotline
Cones Hotline
The Cones Hotline was a hotline introduced in June 1992 by the then Prime Minister, John Major to allow members of the public to enquire about roadworks on the country's roads and report areas where traffic cones had been deployed on a road for no apparent reason...

, a means for the public to inform the authorities of potentially unnecessary traffic cone
Traffic cone
Traffic cones, also called traffic pylons, road cones, highway cones, safety cones, construction cones or witches' hats or safety wizards, are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner...

s, which was part of the Citizen's Charter
Citizen's Charter
The Citizen's Charter was a British political initiative launched by the then Prime Minister, John Major, on 22 July 1991, less than a year into his premiership.It aimed to improve public services in the UK by:...

 project established by John Major.

Private Eye parodied Sue Townsend
Sue Townsend
-Adrian Mole series:* The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ , her best selling book, and the best-selling new British fiction book of the 1980s.* The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole * The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole...

's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Adrian Mole
Adrian Albert Mole is the fictional protagonist in a series of books by English author Sue Townsend. The character first appeared in a BBC Radio 4 play in 1982. The books are written in the form of a diary, with some additional content such as correspondence...

, age 13¾ to write The Secret Diary of John Major, age 47¾, in which Major was portrayed as a naive nincompoop (e.g. keeping lists of his enemies in a Rymans Notebook called his "Bastards Book") and featuring "my wife Norman" and "Mr Dr Mawhinney
Brian Mawhinney
Brian Stanley Mawhinney, Baron Mawhinney PC is a British Conservative Party politician. He was a member of the Cabinet from 1994 until 1997 and a Member of Parliament from 1979 until 2005.-Early life:...

" as recurring character
Recurring character
A recurring character is a fictional character, usually in a prime time TV series, who appears from time to time during the series' run. Recurring characters often play major roles in an episode, sometimes being the main focus...

s. The magazine still runs one-off specials of this diary (with the age updated) on occasions when Major 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 (based on a comic book of some ten years earlier, called 101 Uses for a Dead Cat
101 Uses for a Dead Cat
101 Uses for a Dead Cat, by Simon Bond, was a bestselling collection of macabre cartoons. The book was promoted with the tag line, "Since time immemorial mankind has been plagued by the question, 'What do you do with a dead cat?'" It consisted of cartoons depicting the bodies of dead cats being...

), in which Major was illustrated serving a number of bizarre purposes, such as a train-spotter's anorak.

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."

Major was often mocked for his nostalgic evocation of what sounded like the lost England of the 1950s (see Merry England
Merry England
"Merry England", or in more jocular, archaic spelling "Merrie England", refers to an English autostereotype, a utopian conception of English society and culture based on an idyllic pastoral way of life that was allegedly prevalent at some time between the Middle Ages and the onset of the Industrial...

). For example: "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".

Major complained in his memoirs that these words (which drew upon a passage in the sociopolitical commentator and author George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

's "The Lion and the Unicorn") had been misrepresented as being more naive and romantic than he had intended, and indeed his memoirs were dismissive of the common conservative viewpoint that there was once a time of moral rectitude; Major wrote that "life has never been as simple as that".

Writing in 2011, the BBC's Home editor Mark Easton
Mark Easton
Mark Richard Erskine Easton is the Home Editor for BBC News broadcasting on national television and radio news. He also writes a blog for the BBC, which was a finalist at the in 2009 and winner of the award for statistical excellence in journalism in 2010...

 judged that "Majorism" had made little lasting impact.

Styles from birth

  • John Major, Esq.
    Esquire
    Esquire is a term of West European origin . Depending on the country, the term has different meanings...

     (1943–1979)
  • John Major, Esq. MP (1979–1987)
  • The Rt Hon
    The Right Honourable
    The Right Honourable is an honorific prefix that is traditionally applied to certain people in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Anglophone Caribbean and other Commonwealth Realms, and occasionally elsewhere...

     John Major, MP (1987–1999)
  • The Rt Hon John Major, CH
    Order of the Companions of Honour
    The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded by King George V in June 1917, as a reward for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion....

    , MP (1999–2001)
  • The Rt Hon John Major, CH (2001–2005)
  • The Rt Hon Sir John Major, KG, CH (2005–present)

Honours

  • 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
    Order of the Companions of Honour
    The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded by King George V in June 1917, as a reward for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion....

     (1999)
  • Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
    Order of the Garter
    The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

     (2005)


In the New Year's Honours List of 1999 Major was made a Companion of Honour
Order of the Companions of Honour
The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded by King George V in June 1917, as a reward for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion....

 for his work on the Northern Ireland peace process
Northern Ireland peace process
The peace process, when discussing the history of Northern Ireland, is often considered to cover the events leading up to the 1994 Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire, the end of most of the violence of the Troubles, the Belfast Agreement, and subsequent political developments.-Towards a...

. In a 2003 interview he spoke about his hopes for peace in the region.

On 23 April 2005, Major was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 by Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

. He was installed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor
Windsor, Berkshire
Windsor is an affluent suburban town and unparished area in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family....

 on 13 June. Membership of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 is limited in number to 24, and is an honour traditionally bestowed on former British Prime Ministers and is a personal gift of the Queen.

Major has so far declined a life peer
Life peer
In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles cannot be inherited. Nowadays life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as...

age on standing down from Parliament
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

.

On 20 June 2008, Major was granted the Freedom of the City of Cork
Cork (city)
Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland's third most populous city. It is the principal city and administrative centre of County Cork and the largest city in the province of Munster. Cork has a population of 119,418, while the addition of the suburban...

.

On 26 April 2010, Major gave a speech in the Cambridge Union
Cambridge Union Society
The Cambridge Union Society, commonly referred to as simply "the Cambridge Union" or "the Union," is a debating society in Cambridge, England and is the largest society at the University of Cambridge. Since its founding in 1815, the Union has developed a worldwide reputation as a noted symbol of...

, after which he was granted honorary membership of the society, joining figures including Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson
Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. is an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as shadow senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He was the founder of both entities that merged to...

, Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

 and The Prince of Wales
Charles, Prince of Wales
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales is the heir apparent and eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Since 1958 his major title has been His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. In Scotland he is additionally known as The Duke of Rothesay...

.

Personal life

Major married Norma Johnson (now Dame Norma Major
Norma Major
Dame Norma Christina Elizabeth Major, DBE , is the wife of Sir John Major, the former British Prime Minister.-Biography:...

, DBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

) on 3 October 1970. She was a teacher and a member of the Young Conservatives. They met on polling day
Election Day (United Kingdom)
Election Day in the United Kingdom is by tradition a Thursday, but the date for general elections is not fixed by law. Most other European countries hold all Elections on Sundays...

 for the Greater London Council
Greater London Council
The Greater London Council was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council which had covered a much smaller area...

 elections in London. They became engaged after only ten days. They had two children; a son, James, and a daughter, Elizabeth. They have a holiday home on the coast of north Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, near Weybourne
Weybourne
Weybourne is a fishing resort on the North Norfolk and has the postcode prefix of NR25. The village straddles the A149 coast road and is three miles west of Sheringham, within the Norfolk Coast AONB. Weybourne is mentioned in the Domesday book and in that survey it is called Wabrume...

, that has round-the-clock police surveillance.

Major's elder brother, Terry
Terry Major-Ball
Terry Major-Ball was the elder brother of the former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, who during his brother's seven-year premiership had a brief career as a television and radio personality and newspaper columnist...

, who died in 2007, became a minor media personality during Major's period in Downing Street, with an autobiography, Major Major. He also wrote newspaper columns, and appeared on TV shows such as Have I Got News For You
Have I Got News for You
Have I Got News for You is a British television panel show produced by Hat Trick Productions for the BBC. It is based loosely on the BBC Radio 4 show The News Quiz, and has been broadcast since 1990, currently the BBC's longest-ever running television panel show...

. He faced criticism about his brother but always remained loyal.

His son James married model Emma Noble
Emma Noble
Emma Jane Noble is an English model and actress. From 1999 to 2004 she was married to James Major, the son of former Prime Minister John Major.Noble was born and brought up in Sidcup, London...

 on 29 May 1999 and their son Harrison (later diagnosed as autistic
Autism
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their...

) was born the following year. However, it was announced in April 2003 that the couple had separated They divorced later that year. His daughter Elizabeth married Luke Salter on 26 March 2000, having been in a relationship since 1988. Salter died on 22 November 2002 from cancer, just months after qualifying as a doctor.

He is an enthusiastic follower of cricket, motor racing and also a supporter of Chelsea F.C.

Further reading

  • Major, John (1999) – Autobiography (London: Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-257004-1)
  • Major, John (2007) – More Than A Game: The Story of Cricket's Early Years (London: Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-00-718364-7)

External links

  • Unofficial John Major website
  • The Public Whip – John Major MP voting record
  • Ubben Lecture at DePauw University
  • More about John Major on the Downing Street
    Downing Street
    Downing Street in London, England has for over two hundred years housed the official residences of two of the most senior British cabinet ministers: the First Lord of the Treasury, an office now synonymous with that of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an...

     website.
  • 'Prime-Ministers in the Post-War World: John Major', lecture by Vernon Bogdanor
    Vernon Bogdanor
    Vernon Bogdanor, CBE, FBA is Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary History at King's College London, and a Fellow of Brasenose College, University of Oxford. He is one of Britain's foremost constitutional experts and has written extensively on political and constitutional issues...

     at Gresham College
    Gresham College
    Gresham College is an institution of higher learning located at Barnard's Inn Hall off Holborn in central London, England. It was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham and today it hosts over 140 free public lectures every year within the City of London.-History:Sir Thomas Gresham,...

     on 21 June 2007 (with video and audio files available for download).
  • Recordings and Photos of the visit by Sir John to the College Historical Society for the Inaugural Meeting.
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