Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997
Sir John Major was born on 29th March 1943, the son of Tom Ball, known as Tom Major, and Gwen Major. He was educated at Cheam Common Primary School and then Rutlish Grammar School. He left school in 1959, on the day before his sixteenth birthday. Out of school, he continued to study, and qualified as a Banker (AIB).
Sir John was elected a councillor at Lambeth Borough Council in 1968, going on to become Chairman of the Housing Committee. He became the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour seat of St Pancras North for both the General Elections in 1974.
In 1976, Sir John became the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Huntingdonshire, and in 1979 he won in the General Election to become an MP. The constituency was renamed Huntingdon and the boundaries redrawn, and Sir John was to hold this seat comfortably until his retirement from the House of Commons in 2001. He made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 13th June 1979.
In 1981, Sir John was appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary and then a junior whip in 1983. He became the Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health and Social Security in 1985, and then a Minister of State in the same department in the following year.
Following the 1987 General Election, Sir John was promoted to the Cabinet as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and appointed a Privy Councillor. He was then promoted to become Foreign Secretary on 24th July 1989, a position he held only until 26th October 1989 when he became the Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the shock resignation of Nigel Lawson. He set out his views in the 1989 Autumn Statement where he focused on the need to keep inflation low, and repeated that priority in the 1990 Autumn Statement, made just days before he was to become Prime Minister.
Following Margaret Thatcher’s resignation following the November 1990 Conservative leadership contest, Sir John became Prime Minister on 28th November 1990. In Sir John’s first Cabinet, Norman Lamont became the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Baker became Home Secretary and Douglas Hurd remained as the Foreign Secretary.
Sir John became Prime Minister just after Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and he worked closely with President George Bush to liberate Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm. After the war ended, and Saddam Hussein began to persecute the Kurds, Sir John launched the “Safe Havens” policy, that protected them and saved many thousands of lives. In a joint doorstep interview with the President on 22nd December 1990, he set out the British Government’s position in Iraq. Despite the efforts of the Prime Minister and other world leaders to get Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait, military action started in mid January 1991, with Sir John making a broadcast to the nation on 17th January 1991.
Sir John pledged to concentrate on keeping inflation low, and started to launch the idea behind the Citizen’s Charter pledging to give power back to individuals, a subject he spoke on in detail at the Economist Conference in January 1992. In the early part of 1991 plans were drawn up to replace the controversial Community Charge “Poll Tax” with the Council Tax.
In December 1991, Sir John negotiated the Maastricht Treaty, but obtained an opt out from the Euro to keep Sterling an independent currency. He also opted out of the Social Chapter.
He also pledged to seek a solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland and launched the Peace Process, working successively with Albert Reynolds and John Bruton as Taoiseach of Ireland. On 15 December 1993, he and Albert Reynolds launched the Downing Street Declaration.
Sir John was a supporter of public services, and spoke widely on education and his vision to widen education to more individuals, speaking on the matter at a speech to the CPS on 3rd July 1991. In his first Conservative Party conference as leader in October 1991, he referred to his commitment to the NHS, saying “it is unthinkable that I, of all people, would try to take that security away”.
Despite adverse opinion polls, Sir John won the General Election on 9th April 1992, with the highest number of votes ever obtained by any political party, over 14 million. Unfortunately, this translated into only a small majority of seats. The 1992 Conservative Party manifesto set out the aims for the next Parliament.
In 1993 the National Lottery Act was passed, with the aim of raising extra money for the arts, sports, millennium and good causes. Sir John saw this as an opportunity to allow investment in areas which often lost out when expenditure was being allocated and spoke on this at the English Heritage Conference in September 1994. Sir John launched the National Lottery in London in November 1994.
In April 1993, at a speech to the Conservative Group for Europe, Sir John was speaking of how Britain would remain unique and distinctive, and his phrase, “fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers” has been much quoted.
In June 1994, Sir John vetoed Jean-Luc Dehaene as President of the European Commission, opting instead for the less federalist Jacques Santer. Tony Blair was elected as leader of the Labour Party in July 1994 following the death of John Smith. Shortly after, in early September 1994, Sir John gave a speech at the William and Mary lecture in Leiden putting forward his vision for the future of the European Union.
In September 1994, Sir John visited South Africa to mark the progress made in the country since apartheid. He addressed the South African Parliament with his vision for the country’s future.
In February 1995, the Framework Document on peace in Northern Ireland was published, following the IRA ceasefire in August 1994. In February 1996 an IRA bomb ended the ceasefire, but all-party talks resumed in June 1996, despite a bomb that month in Manchester. The Government published an update on the Prime Minister’s position in November 2006.
In June 1995, Sir John stood down as leader of the Conservative Party, triggering a leadership contest, which he won in the first round.
Sir John’s time in office saw interest rates fall from 14% to 6%, unemployment was down to 1.6 million and inflation remained low. He handed over an economy that had been growing for five years.
Sir John was awarded the Companion of Honour by the Queen in 1999 and he stood down from Parliament in 2001. On St. George’s Day, 2005, Sir John was appointed a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter by HM Queen Elizabeth II.