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John Major

John Major (born 29 March 1943) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 28 November 1990 to 2 May 1997, succeeding Margaret Thatcher and preceding Tony Blair; he concurrently served as leader of the Conservative Party.


John Major was born in St. Helier, Surrey, England in 1943. He came from humble origins, which he later often emphasized, and he held a variety of jobs, including as an accountant, and became a member of the Lambeth Borough Council for the Conservative Party from 1968 to 1971. Elected to Parliament for Huntingdon in 1979, he advanced quickly through the junior government ranks to become Minister of State for Social Security (1986-7) and Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1987-9). He was briefly Foreign Secretary in 1989, and was then Chancellor of the Exchequer until 1990, during which time, with Douglas Hurd, he secured Britain's entry to the ERM.

In November 1990, he succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, defeating Michael Heseltine and Hurd in the Conservative leadership election. Considered able and competent, but dull and unimaginative, his rapid political advance and subsequent success was possible precisely because few suspected it, while most thought he was the least divisive leader after Thatcher's traumatic demise. He ended the unpopular poll tax and signed the Maastricht Treaty. To general surprise, he was re-elected in 1992. In many respects, he took Thatcherism to areas where even she was reluctant, such as the privatization of the railways and the attempted privatization of the Post Office. On the whole, however, his government was conspicuously lacking in major political innovations. Since 1992, his government plunged to ever-greater depths in public esteem, despite a gradual, continuous economic upswing. His problems were compounded by the advent of the energetic and resourceful Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party, and by perceptions of government "sleaze", as highlighted in the Scott Report, despite widespread acceptance of his personal integrity. Most of all, he was weakened by the divisions within his party over whether Britain should take up its right to opt out of the single currency as determined by the Maastricht Treaty.

In 1995, he briefly resigned as Conservative leader before being re-elected. By this time, the Labour Party had abandoned its socialist ideology and moved to the center under Tony Blair, winning a large number of by-elections and depriving Major's government of a parliamentary majority in December 1996. Major lost the 1997 general election five months later, in one of the largest electoral defeats since the Great Reform Act of 1832. In June 1997, William Hague succeeded Major as Conservative leader, and he retired from politics in 2001, leaving the House of Commons.