Loading the Canon: John Major: The Autobiography

Political autobiographies must be one of the most uninteresting literary genres, principally populated by authors with sufficiently large egos to have believed themselves capable of fixing their country and, even more impressively, after failing to do so, to explain why they believe themselves to have been successful. Perhaps surprisingly however, John Major: The Autobiography succeeds where so many others failed.

At present, the author is enjoying something of a resurgence in his newly-found role as an elder statesman, regularly commenting upon issues as his words are gratefully received by a once vicious press. As Major enjoys a renaissance hopefully many will be drawn towards his autobiography as it is a genuinely absorbing read.

Despite being popularly regarded as a stopgap between the premierships of the variously hated Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, John Major’s was a uniquely eventful seven years. In that time New Labour emerged, the first Gulf War was fought, the pound fell out of the ERM, Bill Clinton was elected, the Northern Ireland Peace Process began and the Conservative Party ripped itself apart so comprehensively that the damage still shows. Major was at the helm during this period of changes and his observations, critiques and analyses are fascinating.

Such works can so often descend into vain justifications for failed policies and spiteful attacks upon enemies. Major, to his credit, does not indulge in either of these. His anger at those rebels who sought to derail the Maastricht Treaty in Parliament is palpable but not spiteful. This work does not read as the product of someone sharpening his knife but rather as a politician reviewing his career with a certain sense of wonder that things could have gone so spectacularly wrong.

In addition to his time as Prime Minister, Major was a leading light in Thatcher’s government and his book is invaluable to one looking to gain an insight into this most controversial of premierships. As Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Major was privy to much of her private decision making and, in parts, is openly critical of her. He bemoans her dogmatism and heavily criticises her acts of sabotage upon government legislation after her fall from power.