Understanding the Major Governments
In recent years few British Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s of the Exchequer have been treated so unfavourably as John Major and Norman Lamont. As Prime Minister, John Major’s ability to govern was hampered by deep-seated divisions within the Conservative Party, most notably on the issue of Europe. These splits climaxed in the decision to call a leadership election in the summer of 1995, which produced a majority (though by no means overwhelming) for Major. From then on his period in office was marred by the continuing presence of factions within the Conservative Party, which proved to be a significant reason behind the 1997 general election defeat. As Chancellor from 1990 to 1993, Norman Lamont played a central role in many of the policy decisions that proved unpalatable to the Conservative Party faithful and the British electorate, and from which he sought to distance himself when he returned to the backbenches. For much of this period he acted as a thorn in Major’s side, being critical of past and present policy. The primary aim of these actions was to place Lamont in a more favourable public position and to cast himself into a central role amongst those MPs who were disenchanted with government policy. It was therefore not unpredictable that the relationship between the Prime Minister and his former Chancellor soured during this period. The memoirs of both individuals consequently provide an overdue opportunity for them to answer their critics and to set the record straight. Until now, the ups and downs of the Major governments have been primarily limited to secondary accounts, of which Anthony Seldon’s biography of John Major has been widely regarded to provide the most balanced chronicle. The publication of the memoirs of Major and Lamont thus provide fresh and first hand information on the political affairs that dominated Britain for much of the 1990s. These two books are of great importance to the contemporary historian as they provide the first account from anyone centrally involved in the Major premiership. And although Lamont was no longer at the centre of office from 1993 onwards, he continued to exercise a degree of influence through his opinions from the backbenches. An examination of these two memoirs therefore not only provides an opportunity to analyse the views held by Lamont and Major when they were in office, and the extent to which they worked together, but also the degree to which their views differed on key policies.
Citation : Blair, A. (2001) Understanding the Major Governments. Contemporary British History, 15, (1), pp.115-122.
ISSN : 1361-9462
Peer Reviewed : Yes