John Major (born March 29, 1943) is a British politician and was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1990 to 1997, attaining that office when he succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Conservative party leader.
|Period in Office:||November 22, 1990 - May 2, 1997|
|PM Predecessor:||Margaret Thatcher|
|PM Successor:||Tony Blair|
|Date of Birth:||March 29, 1943|
|Place of Birth:||Brixton, England|
Major grew up in Brixton where he had an undistinguished education, starting work as a bus conductor before moving to a banking career as a young man, but he grew increasing interested in politics. He was a local councillor for Lambeth from 1968 to 1971. He stood for election in Camden in the two general elections of 1974 but failed to win the traditionally Labour seat. In May 1976 he was selected by Huntingdonshire Conservatives as their candidate at the next election. That election was called in 1979 and Major won the safe seat. Following boundary changes, Major became MP for Huntingdon in 1983 and subsequently won the seat in the 1987, 1992 and 1997 elections. He stood down at the 2001 general election.
He was a parliamentary private secretary from 1981 and assistant whip from 1983. He was made under-secretary of state for social security in 1985 and became minister in the same department in 1986. He was chosen as Foreign Secretary in 1989. He spent only three months in that post before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer after Nigel Lawson's resignation in October 1989. Major presented only one budget in the spring of 1990. He publicised it as a budget for savings and announced the TESSA (Tax Exempt Special Savings Account) arguing that measures were required to address the marked fall in the household savings ratio that had been apparent during the previous financial year.
When Michael Heseltine's challenge to Margaret Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party forced the contest to a second round and Thatcher withdrew, John Major entered the contest alongside Douglas Hurd. Though he fell two votes short of the required winning margin of 187 votes in the second ballot, Major's result was sufficient to secure immediate concessions from his rivals and he became prime minister in November 1990.
Major was prime minister during the Gulf War. During the first years in office, the world economy slid into recession after the long boom during the 1980s. Expected to lose the 1992 election to Neil Kinnock, Major took his campaign onto the streets, famously delivering many addresses from an upturned soapbox. This populist "common touch", in contrast to the Labour Party's more slick campaign, chimed with the electorate and Major won an unexpected second term in office, albeit with a very small parliamentary majority. This proved to be unmanageable, particularly after Britain's forced exit from the ERM on Black Wednesday (September 16,1992) just five months into his new term.
Despite Major's best efforts the Conservative party collapsed into political infighting. The moderate Major was undermined by his right-wing enemies within the party and the Cabinet. One of the key issues was, and remained, Britain's membership and its policy towards the European Union. In July of 1993, during an unguarded moment when he thought that the camera had been switched off following an interview with the ITN's Mike Brunson, he was recorded as saying "We don't want another three more of the bastards out there. What's Lyndon Johnson's maxim?..." He was believed to be referring to Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo three of the more prominent "Eurosceptics".
At this stage Major began the "Back to Basics" campaign, which was supposedly about the economy, education, policing, and other such issues. However, it was interpreted by many (including members of the Conservative Party) as being about personal morality. As a result, it disastrously back-fired on him by providing an excuse for the British media to expose "sleaze" within the Conservative Party and, most damagingly, within the Cabinet itself. By December 1996 the Conservatives had lost their majority in the House of Commons and Major was reliant on the votes of rebel "Eurosceptics" and Ulster Unionists to save him from a humiliating vote of no confidence. Major survived, but was forced to call an election by the impending end of Parliament's five-year term.
Few were surprised when Major lost the 1997 general election to Tony Blair, though the immense scale of the defeat was not widely predicted. This loss led to his resignation as leader of the Conservative Party. Since then Major has, in marked contrast to his predecessor, tended to take a low profile and to stay out of front-line politics, contributing only occasionally from the back benches and indulging his love of cricket as president of Surrey County Cricket Club. This quiet retirement was only disrupted by the revelation in September 2002 that prior to his promotion to the cabinet, Major had had a longstanding extramarital affair with a fellow MP, Edwina Currie.
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