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20 October 1994
Major MajorMemories of an Older Brother 
by Terry Major-Ball.
Duckworth, 167 pp., £12.95, August 1994, 0 7156 2631 0
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... When JohnMajor ascended to 10 Downing Street, the wits were at first unsure quite how to set about him. There was the obvious, the elementary ‘grey’ approach: the Burton suits, the haircut, the delicious fry ...
15 August 1991
John MajorThe Making of the Prime Minister 
by Bruce Anderson.
Fourth Estate, 324 pp., £16.99, June 1991, 9781872180540
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‘My Style of Government’: The Thatcher Years 
by Nicholas Ridley.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 09 175051 2
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... Government. But it took him 18 years of slithering up and down Disraeli’s greasy pole from the moment of his election to Parliament to the eventual achievement of his goal. One wonders whether JohnMajor ever heard a similar message click-clacking from railway carriage wheels in the course of his extraordinary non-stop journey up the same greasy pole. There was scarcely time for him to form ...


Tim Gardam: New Conservatism

13 June 1991
... is immediately recognisable. How far that recognition is welcomed by those who sat at her knee for so long is a more difficult question. In the speech he made to the Scottish Conservatives in Perth, JohnMajor remembered to mention her only once, in an ad lib from his text. The Conservatives are trying to do in government what, historically, political parties do in opposition: to secure the future by ...

Fatalism, Extenuation and Despair

Peter Clarke: John Major

5 March 1998
MajorA Political Life 
by Anthony Seldon.
Weidenfeld, 856 pp., £25, October 1997, 0 297 81607 1
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... so recently hailed as the architect of victory, encounters increasingly open disparagement within his own party – not least from MPs owing their Westminster seats to his popular appeal. Or so JohnMajor came to feel by the end of 1992. Tony Blair must be thankful that things are now working out so differently for his government, and that, having been elected as New Labour, it is finding it so ...
19 November 1992
... its own nominal supporters it is plainly in a bad way. There is a good deal of difference, however, between a chronic malady and a terminal collapse. The Maastricht vote was not the first crisis the Major Government has faced since its unnervingly recent electoral victory. Nor is it likely to be the last. But though these are disturbing symptoms, there are good reasons why they should be seen as ...


James McConica

21 January 1982
by I.D. McFarlane.
Duckworth, 575 pp., £45, June 1981, 0 7156 0971 8
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... part because of it, it sent its more ambitious and industrious sons almost everywhere abroad to study. The three universities of medieval foundation were essentially undergraduate colleges, but, as John Durkan has shown, Scots as students and teachers had roamed abroad since the 15th century to the higher faculties of the Northern universities – some to England, but far more to the Continent ...

Birth of a Náison

John​ Kerrigan

5 June 1997
The Political World of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, 1621-41 
edited by J.F. Merritt.
Cambridge, 293 pp., £35, March 1996, 0 521 56041 1
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The British Problem, c. 1534-1707: State Formation in the Atlantic Archipelago 
edited by Brendan Bradshaw and John​ Morrill.
Macmillan, 334 pp., £13.50, June 1996, 0 333 59246 8
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The Stuart Court and Europe: Essays in Politics and Political Culture 
edited by Malcolm Smuts.
Cambridge, 289 pp., £35, September 1996, 9780521554398
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Mere Irish and Fíor-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, its Development and Literary Expression Prior to the 19th Century 
by Joep Leerssen.
Cork, 454 pp., £17.95, November 1996, 1 85918 112 0
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... JohnMajor’s vision of Britain is history by now: a unitary state north and south of the Tweed, secured by consent, subject to one monarch and funded by a non-tartan tax system. When Major first published his views, however, in the punningly titled Historia Maioris Britanniae (1521), his innovativeness upset fellow Scots. It was one thing for a North Berwick-born philosopher to refute ...
9 December 1999
The Autobiography 
by John Major.
HarperCollins, 774 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 00 257004 1
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In Office 
by Norman Lamont.
Little, Brown, 567 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 316 64707 1
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... for a short time and then reviled, so the conventional wisdom in October 1990 was that the ERM was a fine thing (our entry was acclaimed by the whole of the press as well as by Neil Kinnock and John Smith): a view which held until, roughly, September 1992, when the conviction grew on all sides that it had been a colossal mistake. Few will argue with JohnMajor’s asssumption that the 1997 ...

Here we go

Peter Clarke

21 October 1993
... So far the Nineties have given us the politics of bewilderment. It all began with JohnMajor becoming Prime Minister, to his own apparent bewilderment, in November 1990; since when his performance has, by general consent, become increasingly bewildering. The Labour Party was bewildered to ...
21 March 1996
... Shortly after the Canary Wharf bomb, JohnMajor, speaking in the House of Commons, said: ‘As for the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA, I think that they are both members one of another.’ Sinn Fein, he continued, would now have to ...
3 April 1997
Once a Jolly Bagman: Memoirs 
by Alistair McAlpine.
Weidenfeld, 269 pp., £20, March 1997, 9780297817376
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... insurance and pension companies which had so successfully swindled four billion pounds from half a million workers in previously safe occupational schemes? Or was it the bizarre spectacle of nice Mr Major mounting his soapbox to speak up, as he put it, for the ‘have-nots’ – meaning, presumably, the income-supported poor, struggling to survive on slashed benefits or without trade unions in ...

After Smith

Ross McKibbin

9 June 1994
... Like many others I have been puzzled by the reaction to John Smith’s death. It was reported as though it were at least that of a prime minister, and his funeral was, as the BBC noted, in effect a state funeral. The decision of both the BBC and ITV to double ...
5 December 1991
Thatcher’s People 
by John​ Ranelagh.
HarperCollins, 324 pp., £15.99, September 1991, 0 00 215410 2
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Staying Power 
by Peter Walker.
Bloomsbury, 248 pp., £16.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1034 2
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...  and even a countess will seem like an extinct volcano in the Lords. Her allies in the press are falling away. The Sunday Telegraph has ceased its passionate flirtations with nostalgia. Besides, JohnMajor is either dismantling some of what she did or failing to conceal his embarrassment at the consequences of what he cannot undo. In the balance between exalting the Thatcher years and distancing ...

What Fred Did

Owen Bennett-Jones: Go-Betweens in Northern Ireland

22 January 2015
... the Northern Ireland peace process got underway.* ‘Martin McGuinness,’ Powell writes, ‘still denies sending the message stating that “our war is over” which started the correspondence with JohnMajor, and it is pretty clear in retrospect that one of the intermediaries in the chain between the government and the IRA did in fact embellish the message.’ The peace process, Tony Blair’s ...

Short Cuts

John​ Lanchester: Football and Currie

17 October 2002
... might have thought that was a bit shameless will have to recalibrate their sense of these things, since Currie’s spectacular act of vengeance and indiscretion in regard to her four-year affair with JohnMajor. A lot of coverage has been devoted to the question ‘what if we had known?’ But the main thing that would have been different is that people would have been denied the pleasure they feel at ...

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