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John Major: The Autobiography - John Major

John Major: The Autobiography

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John Major

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Pages: (Audio Cassette)

ISBN: 0001056093

Pub: HarperCollins

Pub date: 1999-10-11

Amazon.co.uk Sales Rank: 583587

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Editorial Review:


John Major's rise to the post of British prime minister is a puzzle of modern politics that his lengthy autobiography fails to resolve. It is clear, as we follow him from his modest origins in south London to his work as a local councillor and his remarkable ascent at Westminster under the eye of Margaret Thatcher, that he was driven by a determination to prove himself. But now that we are growing used to the messianic zeal that Tony Blair brings to the role of prime minister, it seems extraordinary that John Major should have achieved the position with such little evident vision or relish. Here is the man we thought we knew, decent, hard-working; at the mercy of events rather than their master.

So we find him bowed down by the misfortunes of an ungrateful world, rendered defensive by problems with the economy, by arguments over Europe, by the intractability of politicians in Northern Ireland, by attacks from within his own party.

With that same party busy airbrushing him from its history--despite his unlikely victory over Neil Kinnock in 1992--it's as well he has got his account into print, an unstuffy telling of a fascinating story that is free of the pomposity that affects so many of his political peers and which reveals a deep-seated belief in the value of basic decency. "I will not concede possession of the recent past to the mythographers of left or right who have every self-interest in retouching the history we made," he says.

But how sad to find him still so defensive and so bitter about the slights of others, still anxious to explain why speeches or gestures were misconstrued. "I was too conservative, too conventional. Too safe, too often. Too defensive. Too reactive," he says. But could he have been anything else? --Kim Fletcher

Reader Reviews:


5/5 stars

One of the best political autobiographies (1/1 people found this helpful)

I am not, by any means, a political supporter of Mr Major (according to my Father I am a "Trot" - which translates into English as "liable to vote Liberal Democrat"), but I can't remember any political autobiography I've enjoyed so much. Sometimes sharply witty - verging on the downright catty on occasions - always clear, never pompous, generous in praise of others. I don't agree with the politics one iota more than I did before I read the book, but I did, to my surprise, end up liking the man who wrote it.

4/5 stars

Pretty good, but John, how about fessing up your mistakes? (2/2 people found this helpful)

This serves as kind of a post-car crash autopsy on why the Tory Party failed to win in 1997 and has failed since. It's Europe. Conservatives often refer to Europe along the lines of "what was the point in winning WW2?". They don't accept that the electorate does not care about the EU. If the transport infrastructure is failing, education results deteriorating and the job market collapsing who apart from a hardcore could care less about subsidiarity? The irony is of course that the UK economy plus investment in NHS and education had never been higher than in the latter years of Major's administration but instead of trumpeting these "it's the economy stupid" facts the Tories undermined themselves with backbiting and infighting over something most of the UK neither understands nor cares about. Labour's 1983 manifesto may have been the longest suicide note in history but the period 1992-7 was the longest death by a thousand cuts. Major gives the details of this in a rather no holds barred manner but you get the sense that Major would have been happier being PM around the time of MacMillan and Eden before every MP had their own team of spin doctors hardwired to the editorial desk of the Daily Mail. One criticism is that Major does not mention the botched railway privatisation, something that has and will continue to cost the country more economically and socially than Black Wednesday, Gulf War I or the Poll Tax repeal conbined.

5/5 stars

Cool dude (1/1 people found this helpful)

John Major was often ridiculed for his humble origins by left wing middle class journalists. He starts his autobiography by exploring the past of his family and the richness of his father's live, an account fascinating on its own. John Major as a person appears relatively late in the book but the reader quickly gets an impression of the ambitious young man driven by values, a sense of duty towards his family and the community. One begins to understand Major's own brand of liberal conservatism which is focused on the dignity of the individual. It is a sort of conservatism that was born from experiencing poverty and an ineffective welfare state. From his origins in local politics Major takes the reader into his carreer as an MP and thus paints a fascinating picture of post war Britain and some of the people who forged it. Major's style is very witty and analytical at the same time which makes the book a pleasure to read. The wealth of detail on macro-economic interdependencies make the book required reading for anyone who wants to understand politics. It emerges that Major was one of the most important Post-war Prime Ministers for two reasons: he launched the intiative for peace in Northern Ireland at a very great political if not personal risk thus breaking with taboos and he created a solid basis for local finance which lead to a ressurection of many British towns. Excellent reading!

5/5 stars

Brilliant piece of writing (6/6 people found this helpful)

All my friends laughed at me when I bought this book. John Major may have been a figure of fun as a politician but as an author he is superb.

I have read several political biographies, including Wilson, Blair and Thatcher and this stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, thanks to its intimate style, humourous observations and insightfullness into both his own flaws and those of the political system.

5/5 stars

NOT INCONSIDERABLY EVENTFUL (11/13 people found this helpful)

John Major said it himself - if he had been the only candidate in the 1997 election he would have come second. The usual view of his premiership is of an interlude between the eras of Thatcher and Blair. Historians in due course may see it otherwise, but the first thing that needs to be said is that as a historical record these memoirs are first class. For candour, fair-mindedness, lack of ego and clarity in separating fact from inference and opinion I have never read their like from anyone who ever attained such a position.

The candour doesn't stretch to telling us absolutely everything. Like Jimmy Carter John Major was unlucky on top of his own errors, but one great piece of good luck was that his affair (while in a junior post) with a parliamentary colleague Edwina Currie did not come to light until he had left office. It was the funniest story in 20th century British politics and it highlights what was always his problem - he wasn't taken seriously. His face was against him, his voice was against him, and his bank-managerish way of expressing himself at times, such as I have borrowed for my caption to this review via Private Eye, was a gift to the satirists and the chattering classes. Otherwise his style of writing is, in all important and relevant respects, excellent. I cringed on reading '...the huge constituency and its rich variety of interests'; or '...he was always ready with a good-humoured story'. His innocent pride at his own little jokes and bons mots is pretty embarrassing too, but some of his more acid asides such as regarding the overlooked hopefuls whose self-ascribed talents would have needed a long-range telescope to be discerned are actually much better, although he floored me with his remark about the 'column inches' devoted by the papers to Hugh Grant after his famous arrest.

There I go. It's all too easy not to take him seriously, and it's all wrong too. This man was a national leader through some pretty momentous times. I can't say that his narration of the gulf war added much to what I already knew, but nobody else was in a position to enlighten us so much about the economic ups and downs of the 80's and 90's, and especially about the issue that more than any other wrecked his government, namely relations between Britain and Europe. Unlike many national leaders, Major understood economics. His rise to the top was mainly via the Treasury, and when next, I wonder, will we ever see an economic narrative like this, told by a man who knows what he's talking about, who was right at the centre of decision-making, who is or appears to be completely willing to tell the whole story, and who is able to put it across with such lucidity? If you think economics is complicated, try understanding the British Conservative party and its behaviour over Europe. Here we find Major the historian at his superlative best. The behaviour of his 'euro-sceptic' MP's was a psychologist's field-day, and Major assesses them individually with a dispassionate calmness that is staggeringly impressive considering the hell they put him through. It would all have broken many a lesser man (or woman). I never voted for his government nor would I if I had the chance again, but I can't see how his bitterest critic can fail to be impressed by the way he kept his nerve, and by the way he can stand back from his own performance under that sort of pressure and assess it as if he were marking an exam paper.

As if all this were not enough, he had Northern Ireland to deal with. If it would be fair to say that he was out of his depth with the issue, the same could be said about every other prime minister who has tackled it. Major made a bold and honest attempt to cope, and some of it has stuck, and Blair has been the beneficiary as he has been in a significant number of other ways. Above all, Blair inherited a sound economy after all the travails of the previous 10 years, Major knows that, and he's sore about the lack of recognition of the fact. Major was unlucky to come to office at the time he did - Thatcher and Blair were elected on a wave of disgust at the failures, real or perceived, of the preceding governments, up with whose shortcomings, as the phrase goes, we were fed. Major entered 10 Downing Street at a time when changes were going on that he only partly understands and, characteristically, doesn't claim to understand fully. He came from a poor background, and he is a 'compassionate' conservative. Those have actually been around for a long time, witness Disraeli himself. Witness also Macmillan, the premier who said 'We are all socialists now'. Macmillan was quite unquestionably compassionate, but he belonged to a tradition, and in an era, when the Conservative party had every reason to believe that power was its birthright. These days it still thinks so, and, worse, acts as if it does. Its problem is that the rest of us think otherwise. Labour's shortcomings are manifold and monstrous, but it doesn't make that mistake and that could be Labour's salvation for quite a long time. If I'm right, Major's thoughtful musings, while valid in point after point, are missing the main one. He was a good manager, but he failed as a leader and as a politician. Blair could see, as FDR could all those years ago, that if you at least act as if you understand what people are asking for they will put up with a great deal. For all his humble origins Major failed to connect, partly through his own fault as he can see very well, but mainly because nobody associated the Conservative party with the values that he himself is most interested in - health, safety, pensions, school, hospitals and so on. These are traditionally Labour's strong suits, and, largely through his inheritance from Major, Blair has slain the dragon that Labour can't be trusted with the economy. That leaves the Conservatives rowing over Europe on the assumption that what matters to them must therefore matter to the rest of us. Their own chairman and advertising magnate Lord Saatchi has grasped the point perfectly well 'Who needs the Tories now?' Blair is running into trouble through pushing his phenomenal luck a little too far and he will be going shortly in any case, but as he faces his fifth Conservative opponent in 8 or 9 years I expect he and his successor will make short work of whoever it is because they have grasped this point. I wonder whether Major has come to see it this way too by now.

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Categories

Amazon.co.uk places this book into the following categories:

Books -> Subjects -> Audio Cassettes -> Biographies & Memoirs
Books -> Subjects -> Audio Cassettes -> Society, Politics & Philosophy -> Politics
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> General
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> Britain -> Prime Ministers
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> Britain -> Major, John
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> Britain -> Conservatism
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> Britain -> Liberalism
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> Britain -> General AAS
Books -> Subjects -> Biography -> Political -> General AAS
Books -> Subjects -> History -> Political History -> Democracy
Books -> Subjects -> Society, Politics & Philosophy -> Government & Politics -> General AAS
Books -> Refinements -> Language (feature_browse-bin) -> English
Books -> Refinements -> Format (binding_browse-bin) -> Audiobooks -> Books on Cassette
Books -> Refinements -> Font Size (format_browse-bin) -> Regular Size

 

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