John Major

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Sir John Major

Sir John Major (born 29 March 1943) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997. His childhood was spent in Brixton after his father's business failed, and he left school at 16. He worked for Standard Chartered Bank and became a councillor in Lambeth in 1968. He was elected to Parliament in 1979 and was a Cabinet Minister under Margaret Thatcher before being elected as her successor. After his defeat in 1997, he retired from the House of Commons at the 2001 general election.

Quotes[edit]

  • In the next ten years we will have to continue to make changes which will make the whole of this country a genuinely classless society.
    • Today newspaper, 24 November 1990.
  • I want to see us build a country that is at ease with itself, a country that is confident and a country that is able and willing to build a better quality of life for all its citizens.
    • Statement in Downing Street on being invited to form a new government, 28 November 1990.
    • David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts", p. 296
  • Robert Hughes (Labour MP for Aberdeen North): With regard to the Prime Minister's desire for a classless society and social mobility, will he explain why there are no women in his Cabinet, or is the only woman in his Cabinet the back-seat driver?
    John Major: In recent years, in all aspects of life in this country, women have been taking a higher profile: in the law, in commerce, in the civil service, in industry and in politics - and that will continue. As those women would wish it to be, they will reach the top on merit - oh yes, and if the hon. Gentleman is patient, he will find women aplenty in top positions in my Government. Indeed, if he had waited awhile, perhaps even to the end of today, he would not have asked that question.
    • Hansard, 6ser, vol 181 col 1015 (29 November 1990) [1]
    • The phrase 'Oh yes' was a remark said several times at the first Prime Minister's Question Time in which Major answered questions.
  • We Conservatives have always passed our values from generation to generation. I believe that personal prosperity should follow the same course. I want to see wealth cascading down the generations. We do not see each generation starting out anew, with the past cut off and the future ignored.
    • First speech as leader at the Conservative Party conference(1991)[2]
  • Everyone who has seen the recent news reports has been shocked and moved by the suffering children in Sarajevo. At the end of last week, we told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that we stood ready to evacuate children from Sarajevo to the United Kingdom for medical treatment, or to send medical teams to Yugoslavia to provide treatment on the spot.

    If it is possible to treat the children on the spot, near to their families, with people around them who speak their language and in relatively familiar surroundings, that is obviously the best way. We have told the International Red Cross that we are willing to fly out medical personnel at very short notice if needed. I hope to meet the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in London later this week to see what further action is needed.

    • Hansard, 6ser, vol 211 col 812 (13 July 1992) [3]
    • Regarding the children injured during the Bosnian War.
  • All my adult life I have seen British governments driven off their virtuous pursuit of low inflation by market problems or political pressures. I was under no illusions when I took Britain into the ERM. I said at the time that membership was no soft option. The soft option, the devaluer's option, the inflationary option, that would in my opinion be a betrayal of Britain's future.
    • Robin Oakley, "Major rejects devaluation as betrayal of the future", The Times, 11 September 1992.
    • Speech to the Scottish CBI, 10 September 1992, six days before Black Wednesday when the Pound was forced out of the ERM.
  • I am walking over hot coals suspended over a deep pit at the bottom of which are a large number of vipers baring their fangs.
    • Nicholas Wood and Michael Prescott, "Major threatens general election if he fails to win Maastricht vote", Sunday Times, 25 October 1992.
  • Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, 'Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist' and, if we get our way, Shakespeare will still be read even in school.
    • David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts", p. 296
    • Speech to the Conservative Group for Europe, 22 April 1993. The reference to George Orwell is to his 1941 essay "The Lion and the Unicorn".
  • John Major: What I don't understand, Michael, is why such a complete wimp like me keeps winning everything.
    Michael Brunson: You've said it, you said precisely that.
    Major: I suppose Gus will tell me off for saying that, won't you Gus?
    Brunson: No, no, no … it's a fair point. The trouble is that people are not perceiving you as winning.
    Major: Oh, I know … why not? Because ...
    Brunson: Because rotten sods like me, I suppose, don't get the message clear [laughs].
    Major: No, no, no. I wasn't going to say that - well partly that, yes, partly because of S-H-one-Ts like you, yes, that's perfectly right. But also because those people who are opposing our European policy have said the way to oppose the Government on the European policy is to attack me personally. The Labour Party started before the last election. It has been picked up and it is just one of these fashionable things that slips into the Parliamentary system and it is an easy way to proceed.
    Brunson: But I mean you … has been overshadowed … my point is there, not just the fact that you have been overshadowed by Maastricht and people don't ...
    Major: The real problem is this ...
    Brunson: But you've also had all the other problems on top - the Mellors, the Mates … and it's like a blanket - you use the phrase 'masking tape' but I mean that's it, isn't it?
    Major: Even, even, even, as an ex-whip I can't stop people sleeping with other people if they ought not, and various things like that. But the real problem is ...
    Brunson: I've heard other people in the Cabinet say 'Why the hell didn't he get rid of Mates on Day One?' Mates was a fly, you could have swatted him away.
    Major: Yeah, well, they did not say that at the time, I have to tell you. And I can tell you what they would have said if I had. They'd have said 'This man was being set up. He was trying to do his job for his constituent. He had done nothing improper, as the Cabinet Secretary told me. It was an act of gross injustice to have got rid of him'. Nobody knew what I knew at the time. But the real problem is that one has a tiny majority. Don't overlook that. I could have all these clever and decisive things that people wanted me to do and I would have split the Conservative Party into smithereens. And you would have said, Aren't you a ham-fisted leader? You've broken up the Conservative Party.
    Brunson: No, well would you? If people come along and ...
    Major: Most people in the Cabinet, if you ask them sensibly, would tell you that, yes. Don't underestimate the bitterness of European policy until it is settled - It is settled now.
    Brunson: Three of them - perhaps we had better not mention open names in this room - perhaps the three of them would have - if you'd done certain things, they would have come along and said, 'Prime Minister, we resign'. So you say 'Fine, you resign'.
    Major: We all know which three that is. Now think that through. Think it through from my perspective. You are Prime Minister. You have got a majority of 18. You have got a party still harking back to a golden age that never was but is now invented. And you have three rightwing members of the Cabinet actually resigned. What happens in the parliamentary party?
    Brunson: They create a lot of fuss but you have probably got three damn good ministers in the Cabinet to replace them.
    Major: Oh, I can bring in other people into the Cabinet, that is right, but where do you think most of this poison has come from? It is coming from the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You and I can both think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. Would you like three more of the bastards out there? What's the Lyndon Johnson, er, maxim?
    Brunson: If you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.
    Major: No, that's not what I had in mind, though it's pretty good.
    • Andrew Culf, "What the `wimp' really said to the S-H-one-T", The Guardian, 26 July 1993.
    • 'Off-the-record' exchange with ITN reporter Michael Brunson following videotaped interview, 23 July 1993. Neither Major nor Brunson realised their microphones were still live and being recorded by BBC staff preparing for a subsequent interview; the tape was swiftly leaked to the Daily Mirror.
  • It is time to return to those core values, time to get back to basics: to self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting responsibility for yourself and your family, and not shuffling it off on other people and the state.
    • Nicholas Wood, Jill Sherman, Sheila Gunn, "Major gives seal of approval to Tories' right-wing agenda", The Times, 9 October 1993
    • Conservative Party conference speech, 8 October 1993. The phrase was associated with personal morality and backfired when a succession of senior Conservatives fell to scandals that winter.
  • If the implication of his remarks is that we should sit down and talk with Mr. Adams and the Provisional IRA, I can say only that that would turn my stomach and those of most hon. Members; we will not do it. If and when there is a total ending of violence, and if and when that ending of violence is established for a significant time, we shall talk to all the constitutional parties that have people elected in their names. I will not talk to people who murder indiscriminately.
    • Hansard, HC 6 ser, vol 231 col 35 (1 November 1993).
    • In reply to a question from Dennis Skinner concerning peace talks in Ireland. This reply caused Major some embarrassment when it was revealed on 29 November 1993 that at the time government officials (although not Ministers) were in negotiations with Sinn Féin and the IRA.
  • Summers simply won't be the same without him.
    • Frank Keating, "Tributes flow as Johnners, voice of English cricket, dies at 81", The Guardian, 6 January 1994.
    • Tribute on the death of cricket commentator Brian Johnston.
  • Something I was not aware had happened suddenly turned out not to have happened.
    • Joe Joseph, "Elementary lessons in logic for enquiry's bemused counsel", The Times, 18 January 1994.
    • Evidence to the Scott Inquiry, 17 January 1994. Major was speaking of his time as Foreign Secretary in 1989 when the guidelines for arms exports to Iraq had been relaxed, although he had not been told. At one point, when the decision to relax the guidelines was criticised, it was decided to defend the Government by claiming that the guidelines were changed only in wording and unchanged in effect.
  • The right hon. and learned Member is the man who likes to say yes in Europe — Monsieur Oui, the poodle of Brussels.
    • Hansard, HC 6 ser, vol 240 col 134 (22 March 1994).
    • A jibe against the Leader of the Labour Party.
  • We will do precisely what the British nation has done all through its history when it had its back to the wall — turn round and fight for the things it believes in, and that is what I shall do.
    • Michael White, Patrick Wintour, "Hanley set to carry the can as defiant Major vows to fight on", The Guardian, 6 May 1995.
    • Public statement following poor showing in local elections, 5 May 1995. Major's mixed metaphor (if your back is to the wall and you turn round, you are then facing the wall) was remarked upon.
  • The Conservative Party must make its choice. Every leader is leader only with the support of his party. That is true of me too. That is why I am no longer prepared to tolerate the present situation. In short, it is time to put up or shut up.
    • Michael White, "Major's ultimate gamble", Guardian, 23 June 1995.
    • Statement in the garden of 10 Downing Street announcing his resignation as Conservative Party leader in order to seek re-election, 22 June 1995.
  • George Foulkes: Will the Prime Minister tell us what word he would legitimately use to describe those Cabinet Ministers who, while professing loyalty to him, are setting up telephone lines in campaign offices for the second round of the election?
    John Major: I have no knowledge of that. I can say that the speed at which these matters can be done is a tribute to privatisation.
    • Prime Minister's Questions, 29 June, 1995.
    • It was rumoured that Cabinet member Michael Portillo had installed telephone lines in the event of his standing in the Conservative leadership election.
  • Whether you agree with me, disagree with me, like me or loathe me, don't bind my hands when I am negotiating on behalf of the British people.
    • Michael White, "At war with his party", The Guardian, 17 April 1997, p. 1
    • Election press conference, 16 April 1997, referring to Conservative MPs who had issued manifestos rejecting British membership of the European single currency.
  • I have been a Member of Parliament for 18 years. I have been a member of the Government for 14 years, of the Cabinet for ten years and Prime Minister since 1990. When the curtain falls it is time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do. I shall, therefore, advise my parliamentary colleagues that it would be appropriate for them to consider the selection of a new leader of the Conservative Party to lead the party through Opposition through the years that lie immediately ahead.
    • "Major's Speech", The Times, 3 May 1997, p. 2.
    • Statement in Downing Street on 2 May 1997 following the general election in which the Conservative Party was heavily defeated. Major was just about to resign as Prime Minister and announced his decision to stand down as party leader simultaneously.
  • It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed and I have long feared would be made public.
  • Oh, Lord, if I must die today,
    Please make it after Close of Play.
    For this, I know, if nothing more,
    I will not go, without the score . . .
    • Excerpt of poem variously titled "Cricket Match" or "A Cricket Prayer"[5][6]

Attributed[edit]

  • A soundbite never buttered any parsnips.
    • Contemporary version of English proverb "fine words butter no parsnips". Attributed to Major in The Guardian, 31 January 1998, p. 13.

Quotes on John Major[edit]

  • He was a fairly competent chairman of Housing [on Lambeth Council]. Every time he gets up now I keep thinking, "What on earth is Councillor Major doing?" I can't believe he's here and sometimes I think he can't either.

External links[edit]

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