John Major


Sir John Major

John Major 2014.jpg
(2014)
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
28 November 1990 – 2 May 1997
MonarchElizabeth II
DeputyMichael Heseltine (1995–97)
Preceded byMargaret Thatcher
Succeeded byTony Blair
Leader of the Opposition
In office
2 May 1997 – 19 June 1997
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byTony Blair
Succeeded byWilliam Hague
Leader of the Conservative Party
In office
28 November 1990 – 19 June 1997
DeputyLord Whitelaw (1990–91)
Preceded byMargaret Thatcher
Succeeded byWilliam Hague
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
26 October 1989 – 28 November 1990
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byNigel Lawson
Succeeded byNorman Lamont
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
24 July 1989 – 26 October 1989
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded bySir Geoffrey Howe
Succeeded byDouglas Hurd
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
13 June 1987 – 24 July 1989
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byJohn MacGregor
Succeeded byNorman Lamont
Minister of State for Social Security
In office
10 September 1986 – 13 June 1987
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byTony Newton
Succeeded byNicholas Scott
Member of Parliament
for Huntingdon (n.b.)
In office
3 May 1979 – 7 June 2001
Preceded byDavid Renton
Succeeded byJonathan Djanogly
Personal details
Born (1943-03-29) 29 March 1943 (age 76)
St Helier, Surrey, England
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)
Norma Johnson (m. 1970)
Children2
ParentsTom Major-Ball (father)
SignatureOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata
n.b. ^ Huntingdonshire (1979–1983)

Sir John Major KG CH (born 29 March 1943) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997. Previously Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Thatcher Government from 1989 to 1990, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon from 1979 until his retirement in 2001. Since the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013, Major has been both the oldest and earliest-serving of all living former prime ministers.

Born in St Helier, Surrey, Major grew up in Brixton. He initially worked as an insurance clerk, and then at the London Electricity Board, before becoming an executive at Standard Chartered. He was first elected to the House of Commons at the 1979 general election as the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon. He served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, Assistant Whip and as a Minister for Social Security. In 1987, he joined the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and was promoted to Foreign Secretary two years later. Just three months later in October 1989, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he presented the 1990 budget.

Major became Prime Minister after Thatcher resigned in November 1990. He presided over British participation in the Gulf War in March 1991, and negotiated the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991.[1] He went on to lead the Conservatives to a record fourth consecutive electoral victory, winning the most votes in British electoral history with over 14 million votes at the 1992 general election, albeit with a reduced majority in the House of Commons. Shortly after this, in what came to be known as Black Wednesday (September 1992), his government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. This event led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again.

Despite the eventual revival of economic growth amongst other successes such as the beginnings of the Northern Ireland peace process, by the mid-1990s, the Conservative Party was embroiled in scandals involving various MPs (including cabinet ministers). Criticism of Major's leadership reached such a pitch that he chose to resign as party leader in June 1995, challenging his critics to either back him or challenge him; he was duly challenged by John Redwood but was easily re-elected. By this time, the Labour Party had moved toward the centre under the leadership of Tony Blair and won a large number of by-elections, eventually depriving Major's government of a parliamentary majority in December 1996.[2] Major went on to lose the 1997 general election five months later, in one of the largest electoral defeats since the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Major was succeeded by William Hague as Leader of the Conservative Party in June 1997. He went on to retire from active politics, leaving the House of Commons at the 2001 general election. In 1999, a BBC Radio 4 poll ranked him 17th of 19 among 20th-century British prime ministers,[3] however his popularity and assessment of his premiership has improved in the two decades since.

Early life and education

Major was born on 29 March 1943 at St Helier Hospital and Queen Mary's Hospital for Children in St Helier, Surrey, the son of Gwen Major (née Coates, 1905–1970) and former music hall performer Tom Major-Ball (1879–1962), who was sixty-three years old when Major was born.[4] He was christened "John Roy Major" but only "John Major" was recorded on his birth certificate.[5] He used his middle name until the early 1980s.[6] Major grew up in Longfellow Road, Worcester Park, Surrey, where he attended primary school at Cheam Common and from 1954, he attended Rutlish School, a grammar school in the London Borough of Merton.

In 1955, with his father's garden ornaments business in decline, the family moved to Brixton. The following year, Major watched his first debate in the House of Commons, where Harold Macmillan presented his only Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and has attributed his political ambitions to that event. He also credited a chance meeting with former Prime Minister Clement Attlee on the King's Road shortly afterwards.[6][7]

Major left school just before his 16th birthday in 1959 with three O-levels in History, English Language and English Literature. He later gained three more O-levels by correspondence course, in the British Constitution, Mathematics and Economics.[8]

Major's first job was as a clerk in the London based insurance brokerage firm Pratt & Sons in 1959. Disliking this job, he resigned. Major joined the Young Conservatives in Brixton at this time.[9] Major was almost nineteen years old when his father died, at the age of eighty-two on 27 March 1962. His mother died eight and a half years later in September 1970, at the age of sixty-five.[10][11]

After Major became Prime Minister, it was misreported that his failure to get a job as a bus conductor resulted from his failing to pass a maths test. He had in fact passed all of the necessary tests but had been passed over owing to his height.[12][13]

After a period of unemployment, Major started working at the London Electricity Board in 1963 which is where incidentally his successor as Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also worked when he was young. He later decided to undertake a correspondence course in banking. Major took up a post as an executive at the Standard Chartered Bank in May 1965 and he rose quickly through the ranks. He was sent to work in Jos, Nigeria, by the bank in 1967 and he nearly died in a car accident there.[14][15]