On March 29, 1943, John Major
was born to Tom
Major in Wimbledon
. His father was a trapeze artist
and a failed garden gnome manufacturer
. He spent the majority of his childhood
, a working-class suburb
in south London
. He went to school
at the local Rutlish Grammar School
, but dropped out at age 16 to work various manual labour
At one point in this period he was unable to get a job as a bus conductor because of his poor math skills; at age 19 he spent 8 months on welfare. Finally in 1965, when he was 22, he landed a job at Standard Chartered Bank where he quickly rose through the ranks to become top aide to the chairman.
While working for the bank, his interest in politics began to grow and in 1968 he ran for a seat on and was elected to the Lambeth borough council as a Tory. In 1979 he ran for Parliament from Huntingdonshire and entered the Commons, the same year that Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister. In 1983, during a working dinner, Major challenged Thatcher on some policy issues; Thatcher was duly impressed, and Major began his rise.
He served junior posts in the Home Office and the Whips Office and became Minister of State at the Department of Social Security before, in 1987, he was appointed to his first Cabinet post, Chief Secretary to the Treasury (supposedly at the request of then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson). Without this request, he would have become Chief Whip and the course of history, as Major himself said, "could have been somewhat different".
In 1989 he was given a major promotion from one of the most junior Cabinet members to one of the most senior - he was appointed to the post of Foreign Secretary. Within months, Lawson resigned his post as Chancellor and Major took his place. During his short tenure in this position, Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in October 1990.
In November of 1990, Thatcher's popularity was in freefall and her leadership of the party was challenged; Major supported her, but when she dropped out of the race he entered it himself, and in a surprise victory beat out stronger contenders Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd to become the next Prime Minister.
As a Conservative PM, he was moderate. He was more pro-Europe than his predecessor and softened many of her hard-line economic policies: he successfully negotiated the Maastricht Treaty and abolished the poll tax that had been Thatcher's downfall. He also provided military support to the United States in the Persian Gulf War, following Thatcher's trend of following US over European (and even domestic) sentiment. Though his policies may have been similar to Thatcher's, his style was radically different: he was unassuming and down to earth, nothing like Thatcher's forcefulness and intensity. He was also an avid cricket fan.
In 1992 the next General Election took place, and the Labour party was in a state of disarray. Neil Kinnock, the charismatic leader, was Old Labour, and New Labour was beginning to assert itself. With the opposition lacking definite form and direction, Major led the Conservatives to one last victory with a workable majority in the Commons.
Immediately after the elections came the lowest point of Major's premiership and the beginning of the end: the sterling crisis of September 1992, in which Britain was unable to support the minimum exchange level of the pound within the exchange-rate mechanism of the European Monetary System and was forced to drop out. Still, there was a rebound, and it was after this that Major negotiated the Maastricht Treaty.
Over the next few years, party infighting, scandals, and by-elections eroded both his Parliamentary majority and party support, and in 1995 he resigned as Conservative Party leader, with the understanding that if he won his position back there would be no further challenges to his leadership until the General Election of 1997. He won handily in the first round over John Redwood, and there was no need for a second round.
In 1997, despite an economy on the rebound and dropping unemployment, the Conservative Party was hampered by more infighting and party splits, and Labour's Tony Blair won a landslide victory. John Major resigned as Prime Minister and, in classic Major style, went to see a cricket match that very afternoon. In 1999, tired of politics, he resigned his seat in Parliament and published his political memoirs.