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John Major
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John Major

Biography
Political Figure (1943–)
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British politician John Major served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from November 1990 to May 1997.

Who Is John Major?

John Major left school when he was 15 amid his family's financial struggles. He joined the Young Conservatives when he was 16. As Major did not receive an elite private education, he was an anomaly in politics and the Conservative party (also called the Tory party). Yet he rose through the ranks to succeed Margaret Thatcher as Britain's prime minister in November 1990. He served as prime minister until May 1997, when the Labour party won control of Parliament and Tony Blair became prime minister. Major remained a member of Parliament until 2001. He was knighted in 2005, becoming Sir John Major. He is married to Norma Major; the two share a son and daughter.

When Was John Major Born?

John Major was born on March 29, 1943, in St Helier, Carshalton, Surrey, London, England.

Early Life and Career

Major grew up with an older brother and sister. His father was born Abraham Thomas Ball, but adopted the name Tom Major for his vaudeville and variety appearances. Prior to Major's birth, his father had left performing for a garden ornament business. Major's family had to sell their house and move to an apartment in Brixton in 1955 due to business difficulties.

Major attended Cheam Common Primary School and Rutlish Grammar School. He felt he didn't fit in as a student and left school the day before his 16th birthday. He subsequently sought work, at times unsuccessfully. He was turned down for a bus conductor job due to his height. In 1962-63, he received unemployment benefits.

In 1965, Major became a bank clerk. Standard Chartered Bank sent him to work in Nigeria. In 1967, Major was in a serious car accident that shattered his left kneecap.

Political Career

Major joined the Young Conservatives when he was 16. In May 1968, he was elected to a seat on the Lambeth council. He had two unsuccessful runs for Parliament in Labour-dominated constituencies before he was elected to the House of Commons in 1979 from the constituency of Huntingdonshire—later Huntingdon—in Cambridgeshire.

Major became Treasury whip in 1984. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was impressed by Major and began to support his career.

In 1987, Major was promoted to chief secretary to the Treasury, joining Thatcher's cabinet. He rose to Foreign Secretary in July 1989. After just three months in that role, Major became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Years as Prime Minister

By November 1990, Thatcher's popularity had declined, and she resigned as Conservative party leader and prime minister. Major had not pushed for Thatcher's departure; with her support, he replaced her as head of the Conservative party. He became prime minister on November 28, 1990.

Major was applauded for his leadership during the Gulf War in 1991. In December 1991, he negotiated a deal giving the United Kingdom the option not to join the European Union's shared currency. To his predecessor's dismay, Major changed an unpopular "poll tax" that Thatcher had instituted.

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In March 1992, Major scheduled an election for the following month. Despite an ongoing economic recession, the Conservative party defied expectations and won a slim majority of seats in Parliament on April 9. Major remained prime minister following this success.

Major's government supported negotiations for a ceasefire in Northern Ireland and passed the National Lottery Act. Yet his time as prime minister was tainted by the involvement of several Cabinet members in sexual and financial scandals. His government was seen as representing "Tory sleaze."

Major had to schedule another national election within five years of the last one. On May 1, 1997, the more liberal Labour party won control of Parliament in a landslide. Labour leader Tony Blair subsequently became prime minister.

Career After Serving as Prime Minister

Though Labour won a majority of seats in Parliament following the 1997 election, Major was re-elected. He resigned as the Conservative party's leader but remained in Parliament until 2001. Post-retirement, he returned to the world of business, serving on boards and as head of European operations for the Carlyle Group.

In 2013, Major criticized the excessive power of the wealthy and privately educated. He also supported the legalization of gay marriage.

The United Kingdom held a national referendum in 2016 to determine whether the country should stay in the European Union. Major was part of the unsuccessful "Remain" camp that argued against leaving the EU.

Personal Life

Major married Norma Johnson in 1970. The couple had two children, James and Elizabeth.

In 2002, news broke that Major had an affair with Edwina Currie, a fellow Conservative politician, from 1984 to '88. He said in a statement that his wife had forgiven him. His statement added, "It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed."

Major wrote a well-received autobiography in 1999. He has also authored a book about the sport of cricket.

John Major and 'The Crown'

Major is a character on the fifth season of Netflix's "The Crown," portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller. This season reportedly contains a storyline in which Major and Prince Charles discuss the possibility of forcing Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate.

Major has called the series a "barrel-load of nonsense." A spokesperson for Major said in October 2022, "There was never any discussion between Sir John and the then Prince of Wales about any possible abdication of the late Queen Elizabeth II."

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