Useful Notes / John Major
Britain's leader from 1990–97, in glorious Technicolor.
"I like peas."
In the wake of the ousting of Margaret Thatcher
, John Major took charge of the Conservative party at a time they were trailing the Labour party by 20 points in the polls. Not only did Major win back support in the campaign (included making a speech on a literal soapbox), but the 1992 general election with a surprise victory and a (still unbeaten) record 14.1 million votes. Then it all went downhill...
Five months after the election, Britain was expelled from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (Black Wednesday
. This unexpectedly helped the economy recover in the long run, but since the Conservatives had spent the last year trying their hardest and spending billions to stay in the ERM, it greatly damaged their reputation for good economic management. There was also significant progress in the Northern Ireland Peace Process
- the only thing that prevented a full peace agreement was the government's demand that the IRA should lay down their weapons first before negotiating. Despite these developments, Major's government was dogged by scandals, PR disasters, and conflict in his own party, especially over European issues. Having been in power since 1979, the Conservatives had little left to offer to voters, whereas Labour were regrouping and modernising under the leadership of Tony Blair
. In 1997, the Conservatives were routed by Blair's reformed Labour Party and lost over half their seats.
Easily forgotten between the iconic personalities of Thatcher and Blair, caricatures tended to depict him as a rather boring, grey little man, an image not particularly helped by his large glasses, dull image, and tendency to dress in grey.
As is the case with many democratically elected western leaders, Major is viewed more favorably in hindsight. His reputation has improved over the last few years - something undoubtably helped by the massive falling out of public opinion his successor Tony Blair has suffered in the same time period - and he is now a respected elder statesman and a sought-after speaker whose opinions carry a respectable amount of clout with politicians and the public. Some analysts now accept that he was underrated as PM
. Moreover, the 90's boom began under him, the longest post-war boom. Crime began to go down, his decision to retain the Pound and not adopt the Euro is now seen as a very wise move (he claimed to have negotiated "Game, Set and Match for Britain" at the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991), he began the Northern Ireland settlement and in foreign policy (Kuwait and other countries) did well. His term also saw his regular jousting partner in the Commons, the Labour leader John Smith, die of two heart attacks. The two men had had an excellent relationship away from the despatch box, and an obviously-affected Major reminisced
in the chamber about he would share "sometimes tea, sometimes not tea" with Smith in private moments, an awkward-but-sweet remark that became famous.
He is also one of the few people to have held three of the Four Great Offices of state (the exception being Home Secretary), having been at various points in his political career Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Foreign Secretary.
John Major's father was a circus acrobat. Many jokes were made about Major being the only boy to ever run away from the circus to become an accountant. Of course, he's not the only circus child to reject the circus life for a more stable livelihood by a longshot, but it certainly didn't help his 'not an incredibly exciting or interesting person' image.
Like many politicians, had an embarrassing sibling: in this case, his brother Terry Major-Ball, who famously ran a company that made garden gnomes.
In 2002, a revelation broke out that he had had an adulterous affair with Health minister Edwina Currie MP: this was greeted with universal incredulity by the British media, as they couldn't conceive of him doing something so interesting. But then Major was perhaps the only PM history who managed to make being attacked in Ten Downing Street by the IRA with mortar bombs from a nearby rooftop 'unmemorable'.
Another notable facet of Major's premiership was the horrible
relationship he had with concurrent American president Bill Clinton
, in which the two could barely stand to speak to each other - something that was partially derived from Clinton inviting Gerry Adams to The White House on St. Patrick's Day 1995, right when Major and Irish Prime Minister John Bruton were in the middle of peace negotiations with the IRA. Anglo-American relations deteriorated greatly as a result, with many political commentators at the time wondering if it would spell the end of the "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom.
John Major In Fiction
- Along with Margaret Thatcher, he was a regular character on the British puppet comedy series Spitting Image. At first, he had a radar dish on his head to pick up orders from Thatcher; this was dropped later for a puppet depicted in shades of grey. The same puppet appeared in an ident for the then fledgling Carlton Television. The real kicker is that in an attempt to make Major a more interesting character, they invented an affair between him and Virginia Bottomley. When Major's affair with Edwina Curry became public knowledge, the creators of Spitting Image had to go on record as saying it was a coincidence, not advance knowledge, but that they couldn't believe how funny it now was given the new context.
- There is a PM who very clearly looks like John Major in a Funfax spy puzzle thing about missing brains or something.
- Private Eye`s prime ministerial parody was "The Secret Diary of John Major" (obviously based on The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole in style) with Running Gags "my wife Norman", "oh yes!", "I was not inconsiderably incandescent" and "the book of bastards".
- Major is described succinctly on The New Statesman as the only person who ever ran away from the circus (he did) to join a firm of accountants, rather than the other way round.
- He appears in Jack Higgins' Eye of the Storm, which revolves around the aforementioned mortar attack on Downing Street.
- Kim Newman wrote two short stories about alternative versions of him under the banner title Alternate Majors: "Slow News Day" and "The Germans Won" (the latter of which not being the alternative history you might be expecting).
- Mr Bent, the stuffy uptight chief clerk of the Anhk-Morpork bank in Making Money has a clear reference to John Major in that he ran away from the circus to become an accountant.
- While he is again not named directly, he is referenced in a segment in the The Beano Video-Stars which was released in 1994. Minnie The Minx is hungry for jelly babies and sees them everywhere, including on the TV news where a newsreader says "Here is the news. The Prime Minister said today he would no longer tolerate being grey and was going out to buy some jelly babies".
- There was a short period during which AlternateHistory.com had a running gag about how non-dull John Major was for a person with that much of a reputation of dullness. This culminated in the production of a (fake, obviously) film poster for John Major as John Major in: John Major: A Major Motion Picture About John Major.
- He is seen in an episode of Pinky and the Brain, though he speaks with Received Pronunciation instead of the South London he actually has.