John Major: The Autobiography

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9780006530749: John Major: The Autobiography

‘The best memoir by a senior politician for years.’ Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times

John Major’s autobiography is one of the most personal and revealing ever written by a former British Prime Minister. The account of his childhood, rise and fall is candid, scrupulous and unsparing.

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, and went on to win a remarkable general election victory in 1992. He brought down inflation and ushered in a solid economic recovery, 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 ERM and his reactions to ‘Black Wednesday’. He is frank about the civil war within his party over Britain’s relationship with the EU. He is honest about what he won and what he lost, about friends and foes within his party as well as outside.

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Review:

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 Fletcher

Review:

‘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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