John major

John Major has learned nothing over Brexit 

Rishi Sunak’s government is sometimes compared to that of John Major, the man who succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990, went on to win an unexpected election in 1992 – and then went down after a landslide defeat at the hands of Tony Blair’s New Labour in 1997. On an episode of The Rest Is Politics, a podcast hosted by former Tory MP Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell, Blair’s media chief and an architect of New Labour, Sir John, now 80, looked back at his seven years in power. Major reflected on the lessons that time may hold for Sunak’s similarly embattled administration. Major refused to be drawn on whether today’s Tories are

Rishi Sunak is no John Major

As the skies darken over Rishi Sunak’s embattled government, with ministers being fired or placed under investigation, opinion polls dire and few signs of better times ahead, Tory optimists are (somewhat desperately) searching for signs that all may not yet be irretrievably lost for their party. The hopeful precedent that they have come up with is the 1992 general election. That year, things did not look good for John Major, the man who had replaced Margaret Thatcher under controversial circumstances just two years before. The opinion polls predicted a narrow but clear victory for Labour leader Neil Kinnock until Major, then a much-mocked figure, got on a soapbox – literally – and

What Boris learned from John Major

As yesterday’s attack showed, there’s no love lost between Boris Johnson and John Major. Mr S has previously chronicled the many times Major has criticised his successor, with whom he so publicly disagreed over Brexit. The enmity between the two men stretches back to the early 1990s when Johnson was the Telegraph’s main man in Brussels and subsequently the paper’s chief political commentator in Westminster.  The-then journalist had great fun lampooning Europhile excesses at the time of the Maastricht debate, something which naturally didn’t make him popular with the pro-EEC Major as he tried to ram the treaty through Parliament. As Johnson later recalled:  I was just chucking these rocks over the garden

The return of Tory sleaze?

‘It’s the return of Tory sleaze’: so said Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. His was an assertion immediately echoed by various leading Labour figures across social media. Former prime minister David Cameron’s questionable relationship with Greensill Capital is the immediate occasion for this potentially toxic claim. But Labour clearly hopes to drag Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and many other ministers into the mix. For, as Starmer went on, ‘sleaze’ is ‘at the heart of this Conservative government’. In contrast, Johnson is seeking to protect himself against the taint of ‘sleaze’ by announcing an inquiry into claims of impropriety. Perhaps it will protect him. But in the meantime,

What you can tell about a man from his choice of underwear

New York It’s Indian summertime and the living is easy. There hasn’t been a cloud above the Bagel for two weeks and the temperature is perfect. But the noise of cement mixers and construction everywhere is unbearable, and there is gridlock while the world’s greatest freeloaders are in town for the annual UN assembly. Despite the great weather, the place feels joyless, the media full of dire warnings about safe spaces and racism. There’s something very wrong here. Pessimism rules an anxious, depressed and angry people. Well, I’d be depressed too if I took American media and its pundits seriously. And speaking of depressed and angry buffoons, a halfwit called

The great British train wreck

A couple of weeks ago I met David Grime and Alan Noble, members of the Lakes Line Rail User Group, over a very good dinner in the Brown Horse pub in Winster in the heart of the Lake District. They had contacted me in despair at the collapse of services on their beloved ten-mile Windermere branch line. This once reliable and well-used service is now a shadow of its former self: characterised by cancellations, rampant overcrowding, bus replacement services and — sometimes — an absence of any trains at all. The trouble started following an inexplicable government decision to take the service away from TransPennine Express and give it to

Eight people who’ve changed their Brexit position

It can be hard work keeping track of how Brexit is going. Last week alone we had the government adopt a series of amendments which were designed to wreck the very plans they had put forward, a minister resign in order to support the government’s original position, and a president argue that the proposals both would and would not make a trade deal possible with the US. Meanwhile, other politicians have contributed to the general level of confusion by dropping their old beliefs at will and adopting new ones with newfound zeal. Whether these changes of heart are indications of the power of argument and persuasion, or simply politically expedient

Major hypocrisy

With the Irish border problem rearing its head once again this week, Sir John Major has popped up with an intervention Theresa May could probably have done without. In a speech today, the former prime minister urged May to keep Britain in ‘a’ customs union for the sake of the peace process. He went on to say MPs should be given a free vote on whether to accept or reject the final Brexit deal and that this should include the option to decide on a second referendum. However, Mr S can’t help but sense a whiff of major hypocrisy in the air. Firstly, Major did not practise what he is

John Major’s Brexit speech, full transcript

Eight months ago a majority of voters opted to leave the European Union. I believed then – as I do now – that was an historic mistake, but it was one – once asked – that the British nation had every right to make. The Government cannot ignore the nation’s decision and must now shape a new future for our country. Some changes may be beneficial: others may not. A hard Brexit– which is where we seem to be headed – is high risk. Some will gain. Others – will lose. Many outcomes will be very different from present expectations. We will find, for example, that – for all the

Tom Goodenough

What the papers say: ‘Moaning’ Major’s unwelcome Brexit intervention

The ghosts of Prime Ministers past aren’t making life easy for Theresa May. John Major has now followed in the haunted footsteps of Tony Blair by criticising his successor’s approach to Brexit. Major used a speech yesterday to say people are being offered an ‘unreal’ vision of Brexit by the Government. Unsurprisingly, Major’s intervention has won him few friends in the newspaper editorials this morning. The Sun says it’s good news that Theresa May – and not John Major is in charge. After all, if the former PM was involved in Brexit talks, his ‘defeatist gloom’ would inevitably mean  that things ‘would end as badly as he ­predicts’. Of course, Major does

The Brown delusion

Gordon Brown has pitched his memoirs as the honest confessions of a decent man. He failed to win the one general election he fought, he asserts, due to a personality that was unsuited to an age of Twitter and emotional displays. His is the Walter Mondale response to failure — the former US vice president said of his defeat in the 1984 presidential election: ‘I think you know I’ve never really warmed up to television, and in fairness to television, it’s never really warmed up to me.’ Admitting to poor media skills is not genuine self-examination on the part of Brown, more an attempt to shift the blame for his

Why the Tories must smash the railopolies

Britain’s railways provide a striking example of how a half-baked privatisation goes wrong. The Centre for Policy Studies today introduces a new word to the political and economic lexicon: Railopoly; noun, the exclusive possession or control of train services by a single company (public or private) which faces no competition or threat of. The private train monopolies which have been allowed to replace the old nationalised British Rail have become entrenched in the safe knowledge that ministers will not object and regulators will keep preventing competition. But how and why? Quite apart from allowing bad policies, can’t Conservatives realise that preserving the current unsatisfactory system gives credibility to Jeremy Corbyn’s

Sir John Major makes life even harder for Theresa May

When he was Prime Minister, John Major found his predecessor Margaret Thatcher to be an ‘intolerable’ backseat driver. Yet no matter how polite he has been to his successors as Conservative leaders, he hasn’t been all that helpful to the two who’ve ended up, by hook or by crook, becoming Prime Minister. Previously he has criticised David Cameron’s approach to governing, and today he raised serious concerns about the prospect of a pact between the Conservatives and the DUP. Speaking to the World at One, Sir John said: ‘Let me make several points about it. I am concerned about the deal, I am wary about it, I am dubious about it,

‘Ultra Brexiteers’: the new menace to polite society

For someone who once branded his own Cabinet colleagues ‘bastards’ — and two decades later said he only called them bastards because they were bastards — John Major has of late become weirdly sensitive to rough, colourful language. He’s peeved at what he calls ‘ultra Brexiteers’, who are big meanies, apparently. These ultras are launching ‘vitriolic and personal attacks’ he says, and they seem hell-bent on ‘shouting down anyone with an opposing view’. Their behaviour is ‘profoundly undemocratic and totally un-British’. In short, they’re bastards. Just say it, John. Major’s not at all vitriolic attack on those he considers ‘ultra’ — people who are ‘excessive; extreme; fanatical’ — is seen

In defence of Lord Heseltine

Lord Heseltine has been denounced because he says he will vote against the government over Brexit in the House of Lords. It seems terrifically unfair. Has there ever been an occasion, in his long political career, when he has not been in favour of British membership of the EU (or EEC)? Why should he change now, aged 83, from that honourably held, spiritedly asserted, if wrong, position? Can’t a few Europhiles, in the mirror-image of John Major’s Eurosceptic ‘bastards’, be bastards too? The only inconsistency in Hezza’s last stand is that this is the one time in his half-century stance on Europe when he has asserted the right of Parliament

Hugo Rifkind

Sir John Major is a model former Prime Minister

Sir John Major does political intervention just right, doesn’t he? Never mind what he actually says. Once a year, twice max. Lob in a perfectly prepared hand grenade, wave and get the hell out. None of that terrible neediness of Tony Blair, still so stricken that he’s not in office. No children will cry, nor dogs howl, as they might at the biannual haphazard sight of Gordon Brown. Major is never hysterical, and never cheap, and he always disappears again within 24 hours. Precisely how an ex-prime minister ought to be. David Cameron, wherever he is, should be taking notes. This is an extract from Hugo Rifkind’s column, which appears

Carry on Major: real democrats don’t shout down Europhiles

As Prime Minister, John Major was intolerant of opposition from within the Conservative party over the EU — memorably calling Maastricht rebels ‘bastards’. It was unwise, and the bad blood it created within his party has been swirling around ever since. Now that the tables have turned and Sir John now finds himself the rebellious outsider on Europe, it is tempting for those on the Conservative party’s Eurosceptic wing, who for so long were denounced as freaks, fruitcakes and swivel–eyed loons, to take the same approach. Their instinct is to denounce Sir John, Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and others as dinosaurs seeking to deny the will of the British people. A

Why doesn’t the ‘tyranny of the majority’ bother MPs during elections?

Older readers might remember the night in April 1992 when, unexpectedly, a tyranny of the majority returned John Major’s Conservative government to power. That same night a local bunch of tyrants in Huntingdon sent Major back to Westminster with a majority of over 30,000, while a tyrannical mob up in Nottingham did the same for Ken Clarke – who was to become Home Secretary and later Chancellor. Funny enough, though, I don’t recall either John Major or Ken Clarke using the word ‘tyranny’ at the time – or anything approaching it. On the contrary, I vaguely remember them making remarks as to the effect that the good old British people

The medal machine

Never forget Atlanta. Every time a British athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio, remember the Atlanta Games of 1996. I was there, and I saw some great sport — and absolutely none of it was British. Great Britain finished 36th in the medal table, behind Kazakhstan, Algeria, Belgium and Ireland. There was a single British gold medal, and I missed it. It was won by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, now both sirs: two enormous boys on the burning deck. For the rest, eight silvers and six bronzes seemed to confirm the nature of our sporting culture: the nation that aimed low and missed. Simon

Three great myths of the sulking Remainers

I think my favourite moment of the referendum campaign was John Major’s intervention, a couple of weeks before polling day. In that immediately recognisable tone of condescension tinged with snippy petulance, which we all remember and love so well from the time of his magnificent stewardship of this country, he said that people who didn’t want some degree of pooled sovereignty should go and live in North Korea, oh yes. No, John, that’s where you should go. I’m sure you can persuade the fat idiot who runs the place that his people need and deserve a motorway cones hotline, even if there are no cars on the roads. It’s time