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John Major

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The Right Hon. Sir John Major
Prime Minister 28 November 1990 - 2 May 1997
Political Party Conservative Party
Born 29 March 1943
Carshalton, Surrey
Died

Sir John Major, KG, CH, ACIB (born 29 March 1943) was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1990 to 1997 and leader of the British Conservative Party.

Career

Major grew up in Brixton where he had an undistinguished education, starting work as a bus conductor before moving to a banking career as a young man, but he grew increasing interested in politics. He was a local councillor for Lambeth from 1968 to 1971. In 1979 he was elected to parliament as MP for Huntingdon, having failed to win the same seat on his first attempt in 1976.

He was a parliamentary private secretary from 1981 and assistant whip from 1983. He was made under-secretary of state for social security in 1985 and became minister in the same department in 1986. He was chosen as Foreign Secretary in 1989. He spent only three months in that post before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer after Nigel Lawson's resignation in October 1989. Major presented only one budget in the spring of 1990. He publicised it as 'a budget for savings' and announced the Tax Exempt Special Savings Account (TESSA) arguing that measures were required to address the marked fall in the household savings ratio that had been apparent during the previous financial year. When Michael Heseltine's challenge to Margaret Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party forced the contest to a second round and Thatcher withdrew, John Major entered the contest alongside Douglas Hurd. Though he fell two votes short of the required winning margin of 187 votes in the second ballot, Major's result was sufficient to secure immediate concessions from his rivals and he became prime minister in November 1990.

Major was prime minister during the Gulf War. During the first years in office, the world economy slid into recession after the long boom during the 1980s. Expected to lose the 1992 election to Neil Kinnock, Major took his campaign onto the streets, famously delivering many addresses from an upturned soapbox. This populist 'common touch,' in contrast to the Labour Party's more slick campaign, chimed with the electorate and Major won an unexpected second term in office, albeit with an increased number of votes but with a small parliamentary majority. This proved to be unmanageable, particularly after Britain's forced exit from the ERM on Black Wednesday (16 September 1992) just five months into his new term.

Despite Major's best efforts the Conservative party collapsed into political infighting. The moderate Major was undermined by his right-wing critics within the party and the Cabinet. One of the key issues was, and remained, Britain's membership and its policy towards the European Union. At this stage Major began the 'Back to Basics' campaign, which was targetted at the economy, education, policing, and other such issues. However, it was interpreted by many (including members of the Conservative Party) as being about personal morality. As a result, it disastrously back-fired by providing an excuse for the British media to expose 'sleaze' within the Conservative Party and, most damagingly, within the Cabinet itself. By December 1996 the Conservatives had lost their majority in the House of Commons and Major was reliant on the votes of rebel 'Eurosceptics' and Ulster Unionists to save him from a humiliating vote of no confidence. Major survived, but was forced to call an election by the impending end of Parliament's five-year term.

Few were surprised when Major lost the 1997 general election to Tony Blair, though the scale of the defeat was not widely predicted. This loss led to his resignation as leader of the Conservative Party. Since then Major has, in marked contrast to his predecessor, tended to take a low profile and to stay out of front-line politics, contributing only occasionally from the back benches and indulging his love of cricket as president of Surrey County Cricket Club.

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