29 January 2014

In no small measure

It seems odd when something reminds you that 20 years ago John Major was Prime Minister. In fact he was the last Conservative leader to win an election, in 1992, and was in office from November 1990 to May 1997, not as long as Thatcher or Blair but well above the duration of most 20th century prime ministerships.

By coincidence, two references to Major’s John Major The Autobiography, published in 1999, came up recently. Christain Wolmar, authority on railways and potential candidate as Mayor of London, contributed a “counter-factual” column for last December’s Prospect Magazine (£), What if…British Rail had never been privatised? It can be read in full on his website. He explains:
The grey prime minister somehow allowed rail privatisation into the manifesto for the 1992 election but it did not matter since they were going to lose anyway. When the Tories surprisingly won the election with an overall majority of 21 seats, enough to see through a five year Parliament, panic set in over the commitment to sell off the railways as no one had thought through how it could be done.
and concludes:
If there is one telling aspect of the whole process, it is that John Major does not mention rail privatisation in his 816 page autobiography, even though it was a key area of controversy throughout the 1992 – 7 administration. I recently bumped into him and asked about this omission. He answered that he had wanted to include it ‘but we ran out of time’. Shame the same did not go for his rail privatisation plans.
And then in January after the revelations about Francois Hollande’s private life, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour invited former MP Edwina Currie, who had had an affair with Major in the 1980s, and French journalist Anne Elizabeth Moutet to discuss “the aphrodisiac of power”. Currie explained, possibly not for the first time, that in 2002 she had spilled the beans about their relationship because she had been omitted from Major’s autobiography.

It occurred to me that in its 816 pages there might be something which could have informed two posts here last year: one about Prime Ministers’ audiences with the sovereign, the other, Deciders meet deliverers, about their visiting the submarines which provide Britain’s nuclear deterrent. In fact, as far as I could tell, there was nothing relevant to either topic. However, I did come across this on page 144:
Over Christmas at Finings I closeted myself away from the festivities with papers prepared for the pre-budget discussions at Chevening. When I was reading them on Boxing Day Elizabeth, whose eighteenth birthday we had celebrated the previous month, asked me what I was doing. I explained to her that the Chevening weekend had become something of an institution. 'So has Christmas,' she said. 'Put the papers away.'
which goes to show how nature imitated art in the form of Private Eye’s 1990s parody, John Major: The Secret Diary of John Major (aged 47¾). This gets revived from time to time, most recently following Currie’s appearance on Woman’s Hour:

But if you want to read it in full, buy the current Private Eye (No 1358)!

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