John Major’s autobiography is one of the most personal and revealing ever written by a former British Prime Minister.
Major’s early life was extraordinary; his rise through Parliament meteoric. Soon a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, he became Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer. When Thatcher fell, he fought and won a shrewd campaign to succeed her.
John Major then went on to win a remarkable victory in the General Election of 1992. He brought down inflation and ushered in a solid economic recovery. He made the most decisive steps for a generation towards peace in Northern Ireland and his fourth consecutive term of Conservative government included reforms to the structure and culture of public services.
Yet within months of the 1992 election his Government was in troubled waters. John Major is candid about his fight to keep Sterling in the Exchange Rate Mechanism and for the first time makes public his reactions to defeat on ‘Black Wednesday’. He sets out his hopes for Europe, his views on the single currency and is frank about the civil war that emerged within his own party over Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
He is honest about what he won and what he lost and about friends and foes within his own Party as well as outside. He writes revealingly about the pressures of life on the world stage and within No. 10.
In his leadership of his Party and his country and in facing up to the new order after May 1997, John Major acted with a dignity rare in politics. His party’s continuing internal struggles since their defeat serve only to intensify interest in his leadership through the Tories’ last period of power this century. Those to whom John Major’s outward appearance has sometimes seemed reserved will be surprised at this sharp and deeply felt account.
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John Major's rise to the post of British prime minister is a puzzle of modern politics that his lengthy autobiography fails to resolve. It is clear, as we follow him from his modest origins in south London to his work as a local councillor and his remarkable ascent at Westminster under the eye of Margaret Thatcher, that he was driven by a determination to prove himself. But now that we are growing used to the messianic zeal that Tony Blair brings to the role of prime minister, it seems extraordinary that John Major should have achieved the position with such little evident vision or relish. Here is the man we thought we knew, decent, hard-working; at the mercy of events rather than their master.
So we find him bowed down by the misfortunes of an ungrateful world, rendered defensive by problems with the economy, by arguments over Europe, by the intractability of politicians in Northern Ireland, by attacks from within his own party.
With that same party busy airbrushing him from its history--despite his unlikely victory over Neil Kinnock in 1992--it's as well he has got his account into print, an unstuffy telling of a fascinating story that is free of the pomposity that affects so many of his political peers and which reveals a deep-seated belief in the value of basic decency. "I will not concede possession of the recent past to the mythographers of left or right who have every self-interest in retouching the history we made," he says.
But how sad to find him still so defensive and so bitter about the slights of others, still anxious to explain why speeches or gestures were misconstrued. "I was too conservative, too conventional. Too safe, too often. Too defensive. Too reactive," he says. But could he have been anything else? --Kim FletcherReview:
‘Compelling… a classic of holding the reader’s attention which many fiction writers might envy’
Roy Jenkins, Evening Standard
‘Unsparing… vivid… witty as well as wise’
Geoffrey Howe, Independent
‘One of the few post-war political autobiographies that will endure… compulsively readable and remarkably objective… deeply moving’
Bruce Anderson, Daily Telegraph
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