It’s three decades ago this month since the UK government was forced to withdraw the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’. As the pound sinks this week, we revisit Simon Heffer’s cover story from 1992 on how John Major dealt with the debacle. You can read more on our fully-digitised archive.
Like many who profess affection for the works of Anthony Trollope, the Prime Minister is not thought to have strayed far beyond the well-known favourites. He is probably not familiar with a lesser work that accurately reflected his state of mind until the markets trussed him up last week — He Knew He Was Right. In this tale the hero, one Louis Trevelyan, is driven mad because of his stubborn refusal to believe his wife is not committing adultery. The end is especially sad:
He [the doctor] admitted that his patient’s thoughts had been forced to dwell on one subject till they had become distorted, untrue, jaundiced, and perhaps monomaniacal … it was very doubtful whether he would not sink altogether before he could be made to begin to rise. But one thing was clear. He should be contradicted in nothing. If he chose to say that the moon was made of green cheese, let it be conceded to him that the moon was made of green cheese. Should he make any other assertion equally removed from the truth, let it not be contradicted.
Until last week no one would have contradicted Mr Major in his assertion that the pound sterling was worth at least 2.7780 marks. No one (except those who risked withering accusations of bad judgment) dared to disbelieve his protests that the pound would never be devalued. After all, he knew he was right.
‘What you really ought to look at,’ one stunned Cabinet minister said to me just after the debacle, ‘is why he behaved as he did.