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“From the Miners to Major: A League of Change in Recent British Politics.”. Jeremy Lewis PhD, Huntingdon College, For presentations at Buena Vista University, Iowa, 11-12 Sep. 2005 See www.Political-Science.org. John Major stereotyped as the grey man of the Tory party.

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From the miners to major a league of change in recent british politics l.jpg

“From the Miners to Major:A League of Change in Recent British Politics.”

Jeremy Lewis PhD, Huntingdon College, For presentations at Buena Vista University, Iowa, 11-12 Sep. 2005See www.Political-Science.org


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John Major stereotyped as the grey man of the Tory party

  • The whiz kid whose fast rise up the greasy pole

  • culminated in a slippery slide downwards

  • economic stagflation and low approval ratings

  • unable to prevent bickering, scandal and policy drift

  • echoes of Churchill’s “modest” depiction of Atlee

  • [cartoon] Major as Mr. Underpants, the spindly superhero.


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PM as Mr. Underpants


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until, that is, Edwina Currie’s revelations in 2002.


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Now Sir John Major seen as

  • the creator of Northern Ireland peace agreement

  • the warrior of the 1991 Gulf War

  • the international statesman and peace negotiator

  • the last successful Conservative party leader

  • returned a party to the moderate “inside right” electorate


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Major in the context of British Politics

  • PMQT shows integration of legislature and executive

    • Commons culture of Oxford Union debating

    • PM confronted by MPs

    • articulate ministers, well informed & gladiatorial

    • patronage power of the prime minister

    • cabinet and shadow cabinet: loyal Opposition

    • front bench (ministers) versus backbench (MPs)

    • Multi-party system with cross-benchers:

  • First Past the Post system favors Con & Lab, disfavors Lib Dems


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Uncodified Constitution

  • doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty

    • no supreme court, no constitutional review

  • flexible terms of office and votes of no confidence

  • cabinet’s collective responsibility: “government are”

  • ministerial responsibility & resignation

  • rise of PM and staff, public relations

  • embourgeoisement: decline of class-based politics


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postwar welfare state consensus:

  • equality over individualism

  • full employment over productivity

  • “fair shares for all”

  • “no jumping the queue”

  • “homes fit for heroes”

  • “Butskellism” (Butler & Gaitskell)

  • “corporatism” (tripartite economic discussions)


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1960s and 1970s, consensus declined

  • Labour & Conservative governments

  • economic deterioration

  • winters of discontent 1974 and 1979

  • “bloody-minded” unions & “out of touch” management

  • Miners brought down Heath Tory government, 1974


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Thatcherism revolution:

  • tax cuts: larger shares for some

  • property holding democracy: shares for all

  • market forces in all institutions: scramble to head the queue

  • Privatization of 11% of economy

  • Broke miner’s union 1984

  • Over 20% shareholders

  • Council house sales

  • Self-budgeting universities and hospitals


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Public Opinion:

  • now more polarized

  • mostly favors postwar consensus (I. Crewe)

  • by 1990, only 17% of Tory MPs actually Thatcherite (P. Norton)


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Understated leader sandwiched between two prima donnas

  • not an Oxford Union debater

  • Citizen’s Charter a minor reform

  • Thatcher’s budget cuts, privatization, supply side revolution

  • Blair’s Third Way reforms


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John Roy Major’s early life, 1943-

  • untypical British leader

  • name “Roy”not even on birth certificate

  • son of traveling circus performer, Tom Major-Ball

    • Late discovery of half-siblings

  • impoverished by unemployment

  • rejected as bus conductor

  • made garden gnomes with brother Terry

  • not upper middle class -- free school uniform

  • not Eton – just grammar school

  • not Oxford – not even university (J. Callaghan)


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Early Career:

  • Banker 1965-1979: very successful

  • Married Norma 1970, two children


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Major’s climb up the greasy pole(Disraeli)

  • Spring 1991, most popular PM in 30 years

  • Prime Minister 1990-97

  • Leader of the Conservative Party 1990-97

    • Over Michael (“Tarzan”) Heseltine and Douglas Hurd (diplomatic)

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer 1989-90

    • first TV budget speech, TESSAs

    • UK joined ERM, 1990

  • Foreign Secretary 1989

    • Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1987-89

  • Minister of State for Social Security 1986

  • Under-Sec for Social Security (welfare & OAPs) 1985

  • Treasury Whip 1984

  • Assistant Whip 1983

  • Parliamentary Private Sec. 1981

  • MP for Huntingdon (1976) 1979, 1983, 1992, 1997.

  • Lambeth borough council 1968-71, created housing

  • Soap box speeches in Lambeth, 1964-68.


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Conservative party factions

  • Leadership elections post 1965 among MPs

  • 1922 Committee (revolts in private)

  • Thatcherite free-market insurgents (“dries”) 17% only

  • aristocratic High Tories declining (trad cons)

  • “Hang ‘em and flog ‘em” brigade in shires

  • One-Nation moderates larger group (“wets”)

  • dropping leaders after lost elections

  • all included in cabinets except 1984-87


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Major as Conservative Prime Minister, 1990-97

  • More inclusive, genteel style

  • Moderates back to cabinet

  • Only 47 on accession

  • Early success with Gulf war, 1991

    • Record popularity

  • Abolished poll tax which had brought down Thatcher


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Unpromising re-election prospects

  • longest recession since 1930s

  • consumer unconfidence 1990, Tories drooped

  • Tories 30% 1990, Lab 53%

  • voters polarized by Mrs. Thatcher

  • Short bounces from Major’s accession and Gulf War


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Economic policy U-turn

  • Major eased interest rates Oct 1990

  • Lamont increased PSBR (unThatcherite)


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Won 1992 election by upset

  • Polls predicted hung Parliament

  • Neil Kinnock’s welsh oratory

  • Labour’s slick American-style campaigning

  • Major’s Lambeth soap-box speechifying

  • Major’s man in the street style.


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Won 1992 election by upset

  • voters lied – or opinion polls skewed?

  • Late deciders Tory

  • “best to control economy” swing to Tory

  • Tories returned with small majority

  • Lost only 41 seats, retained 43% of vote


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Economic difficulties

  • Stagflation 1992-93

  • Black Wednesday, 16 Sep. 1992, ERM withdrawal


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Statesmanship

  • European engagement:

    • EU’s Maastricht Treaty 1992, despite

    • Tory “bastard” eurosceptic rebels (Lilley, Portillo & Howard)

    • Labour tactical forced vote defeat on EU Social Chapter

    • Major forced vote of no confidence, won by 40

    • Opted out of Euro currency, protected British economy


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Northern Ireland

  • Irish peace talks earned Companion of Honour

    • IRA ceasefire 1994

    • despite mortar bombing of No.10

    • denied negotiating secretly with IRA 1993

    • “it would turn my stomach”

    • till exposed

    • Angered by Clinton’s reception of Gerry Adams


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Domestic policy issues

  • “Back to Basics” campaign, 1993

    • intended: economy, education, policing

    • inferred by media: trad values

    • scandals, sleaze and backbiting

    • (mistresses, Corp. directorships, cash for questions)

  • Economic recession and stagflation 1992

    • Changed policy

    • 5 successive years of recovery:

      • growth, reducing inflation and unemployment

  • Economic recovery by 1997


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Leadership of party

  • constant backbiting from Thatcherites & eurosceptics

  • 1995 Major resigned (but not PM position) (a first)

  • won leadership (218 MPs) over eurosceptic Redwood (89)

  • Dec. 1996 Cons lost majority in Commons

  • economy improving, but 5 year limit on term


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May day 1997 election lost

  • New Labour landslide.

  • Lab 418 seats, Con 165, Lib Dem 46

  • Lab majority 179

  • 179 Con MPs lost seats – worst in century

  • “curtain falls, time to get off the stage” & cricket


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Retirement life:

  • Backbenches, few political interventions

    • Chancellor Lamont: Major slow Black Wed. ‘92

    • criticized Hague’s move to right

    • criticized Thatcher for “warrior characteristics”, unconservative

    • 2005 criticized decline of civility

  • cricket at MCC

  • declined life peerage but Knighthood of garter

  • 2002 Edwina Currie’s autobiography

  • Discovered half brother and half sister

  • Feb. 2005 Major & Lamont held up release of papers

    • on Black Wednesday under FOIA

  • Carlyle group chair

  • Successor, William Hague, more unpopular


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