Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Give John Major the Credit He's Due

Roundup: Talking About History

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of The Controversy of Zion, The Strange Death of Tory England, and Yo, Blair!

We saw David Cameron all too often, at one point playing uneasy host to Vladimir Putin. We saw Boris Johnson entertaining Rupert Murdoch, a sight to terrify any sensitive soul. We saw a smirking Tony Blair. But the most reticent visitor to the Olympics was the man who might be thought the begetter of the gold rush: Sir John Major.

After the unknown soldier, they were burying "the unknown prime minister", Herbert Asquith quipped at the funeral of Andrew Bonar Law, and the tag sometimes seemed to apply to Major. His years at No 10 had the feeling of an awkward interruption between the tenures of Margaret Thatcher and Blair.

A few months after Thatcher was deposed and replaced, I asked Enoch Powell what he thought of our new premier, and he replied in his eerie monotone: "I simply find myself asking: does he really exist?" Major was for years subjected to poisonous abuse in the rightwing press, his government plainly failed in some ways, and it all ended in an annihilating defeat at the 1997 election.

And yet Major, though not a boastful man, had real achievements to take pride in, not the least of them the national lottery... 

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