John Major: The Autobiography

John Major: The Autobiography

by John Major




John Major's autobiography is one of the most personal and revealing ever written by a former British Prime Minister. Eagerly awaited, the remarkable story of his life, from an extraordinary childhood to becoming an influential leader at the forefront of global politics and subsequent fall, is candid, scrupulous, and unsparing.

With complete candor and compelling insight, Major describes how he left school at fifteen, was unemployed, and through hard work and determination was elected to Parliament as a member of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party, which would transform Britain.

Quickly becoming one of Thatcher's Cabinet members, he served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Foreign Secretary, and then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the powerful position from which he vaulted to Prime Minister in 1990 when, after Thatcher fell, he fought and won a shrewd campaign to succeed her.

Major vividly recounts his role in shaping some of the most profound world events, including conferring with George Bush on the Gulf War, making the most decisive steps in a generation toward peace in Northern Ireland, leading Britain through the formation of the European Upon, and calling a general election in 1992 in which his party won the most votes in British political history. Yet within months of the 1992 election his government was in troubled waters, and Major is candid about his difficulties and losses and the controversies and divisions within his own party. Through it all, including the landslide defeat of his Conservative Party on May 1, 1997, and his immediate stepping down as party leader and Prime Minister, John Major acted with a dignity rare in politics.

As he talks about his leadership triumphs and defeats and his work with a diverse range of inter-national figures including George Bush, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Helmut Kohl, and Nelson Mandela, he offers invaluable insight into how political power is exercised both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Here is a fascinating story of a man, his passion for politics, and the genuine and significant contributions he has made to the lives ofthe British and people around the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060196141
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/09/1999
Pages: 800
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.72(d)

About the Author

John Major has been Conservative Member of Parliament for Huntington since 1979. He served as Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer before succeeding Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister in November 1990. He was to hold both positions until May 1997, winning a remarkable victory in the 1992 general election.

John Major and his wife, Norma, live in London and Huntington. They have two children, Elizabeth and James.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Search for Tom Major

I knew very little about my antecedents until I began writing this book. The search for my family provided many surprises.

As a boy, I soaked up the atmosphere of my parents' unconventional life. When my father, Tom, was old and ill he would entertain me for hours with stories of the extraordinary things he had done. He painted vivid pictures of his boyhood in nineteenth-century America and of his own father, a master builder. He spoke of his years in show business and brought great entertainers like Harry Houdini and Marie Lloyd to life for me. He had a tireless fund of evocative stories and a formidable memory that stretched back well into the last century. He was a wonderful raconteur and I learned to be a good listener at his bedside.

No doubt my father could embroider for effect, but I never knew him to lie. Much was left out, as I was to discover, but whenever he exaggerated or embellished my mother hurried in to try to damp the story down. I grew up with his tales and accepted them without question, though his wayward life left little evidence for us to confirm what he said. After I joined the Cabinet in 1987 and the press began to delve into my past, an impression was sometimes given that I was withholding information. Not at all. I knew so little myself. But at that time my family, too, began to delve. The burden initially fell on my brother Terry. Later, when I started this book, we worked together. We had to piece together a life without documents that had begun 120 years before. It was a fascinating adventure. Inthe search for Tom Major, we unearthed a remarkable, idiosyncratic life.

His roots lay in the West Midlands. My great-great grandfather, Joseph Ball, was a prosperous Willenhall locksmith; his son, John Ball, born at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, was licensee of the Bridge Tavern, just outside Walsall. It still exists today. John and his wife Caroline had six children, of whom the second, Abraham Ball, born in January 1848, was my grandfather. He married a young Irish girl, Sarah Anne Marrah; illiterate, my grandmother signed my father's birth certificate with an X. I never met her, of course, but I still have a photograph, taken not long before she died in 1919, of her feeding chickens at my father's house in Shropshire. She looks a formidable lady, a not improbable mother of an adventurous and restless son. And my father certainly was that.

He was born in 1879, and christened Abraham Thomas Ball. But he was always known as Tom, and never Abraham. 'Major' was the stage name he adopted as a young man. Had he not done so, I would have been John Ball, sharing the name of the leader of the Peasants' Revolt against the poll tax.

Tom was Abraham and Sarah's only natural child, and I had always believed he had been brought up alone. He was not. In one of the many surprises I had while researching this book, I learned of an older adopted son, Alfred, born to a destitute bridle-bit maker. My grandparents, his neighbors, took Alfred in, and it was only when he married that he learned he was adopted. My father never spoke of him to me.

Brought up as brothers, Tom and Alfred did not spend long in the Midlands. When my father was about five my grandparents emigrated to America, and settled in Pittsburgh. They must have hoped for a better life. They sailed on the SS Indiana from Liverpool to Philadelphia, and were appalled by conditions on board. The Indiana was a primitive two-masted steamship belonging to the American Line, built for stability rather than speed or comfort. The journey took three weeks; poorer migrants, travelling as deck passengers, were fed, so my father told me, with salted herrings from a barrel - much like sea lions in a zoo. He was lucky, and traveled in better circumstances. In America, my grandfather soon found work as a master bricklayer, building blast furnaces for the Andrew Carnegie Steel Works in Philadelphia.

I know little about my family's time across the Atlantic. No photographs or records survive. If they wrote or received letters, they are lost. But Abraham apparently prospered, and my father had a happy and comfortable American upbringing. Perhaps something of his classless, independent background was to rub off on me.

My father often spoke of living in Fall Hollow, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. He used to tell me he had found Indian arrowheads in the woods behind his house. I could find no place named 'Fall Hollow'. Panic. Was his - and my - story true? Terry, with the aid of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette came to the rescue. Fall Hollow, near Braddock, did once exist, just as my father said.

I would know more if I still had the dented travelling trunk in which he kept old documents and cuttings about his time in America and his work as a trapeze artist. The trunk ended up in a dusty alcove in the cellar at 80 Burton Road, Brixton, my parents' last home, and was left there when my sister Pat and her husband Peter moved out. I remember investigating it as a child. I saw the oversize evening suit and top hat my father wore in his publicity postcards, photographs (including one of him wearing his trapeze costume), and scores for a music-hall band.

The new owners of the bungalow in Worcester Park, Surrey, where I lived as a boy, found a number of remarkable items from my father's life in their loft: a make-up box, a clown suit, shoes, wigs and scores of sheets of old music-hall songs, many signed by the composers. It was the residue of a music-hall life on the move.

My father began his career as a...

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsix
1The Search for Tom Major1
2From Brixton to Westminster27
3Into the Commons66
4Climbing the Ladder86
5Into Cabinet97
6'What's the Capital of Colombia?'111
7An Ambition Fulfilled130
8An Empress Falls167
9Prime Minister202
10The Gulf War220
11Raising the Standard245
13Winning a Mandate289
14Black Wednesday312
15The 'Bastards'342
16Back to Basics386
17Protecting our Heritage401
18The Union at Risk415
19Into the Mists: Bright Hopes, Black Deeds431
20The Wider World495
21At the Summit516
22Hell's Kitchen532
23Unparliamentary Behaviour550
24Faultline Europe578
25Put up or Shut up608
26Mad Cows and Europeans648
27The Economy: Rags to Riches659
28The Curtain Falls690
Appendix ABrief Chronology737
Appendix BThe Cabinet, November 1990--May 1997741

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews