Buckingham Covers - First Day Covers

John Major KG CH


"You can't influence Europe's future from the terraces. You have to be on the pitch and playing hard"

Born 29th March 1943, John Major grew up in Brixton, and was educated at his local grammar school. He left school aged 16 and worked for Standard Chartered Bank before entering politics.

His political career began as a Conservative councillor in the London borough of Lambeth and continued when he won the constituency of Huntingdon for the Conservatives in 1979. He served in junior posts in the Home Office and the Whips Office and was Minister of State at the Department of Social Security before being appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1987. There he served under the then Chancellor, Nigel Lawson.

In the summer of 1989 John Major became Foreign Secretary after Geoffrey Howe was moved from the Foreign Office to become Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister. Major became Chancellor of the Exchequer less than 100 days later when Nigel Lawson dramatically resigned. It was during Major's tenure at the Treasury that Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, October 1990.

Thatcher's leadership at this time was under increasing pressure, and when she was challenged, John Major supported her in the leadership election of November 1990. When she stepped down, Major entered the contest himself, and with Thatcher's support he went on to beat Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd (and appointed both colleagues to his new Cabinet). He was appointed Prime Minister aged 47.

Once installed in the post of Prime Minister, Major had immediately to deal with an international crisis when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. He led Britain successfully in the short war waged by the Allies against Saddam Hussein. Early into his term, he announced the abolition of the poll tax which had caused so much controversy during Thatcher's final years in office. He also negotiated the Treaty on European Union at Maastricht, successfully winning a compromise that was acceptable, for a time, to the opposing wings of his party. Another personal initiative was the Citizens Charter, a code designed to introduce greater accountability to public services and to drive up standards of service.

Perhaps the lowest point of John Major's premiership came soon after the election: the sterling crisis of September 1992 forced the pound to leave the ERM. Towards the end of his term, the economy was steadily emerging from recession. However, the Conservatives were defeated by Labour in the 1997 General Election, and John Major resigned as leader, having been Prime Minister for seven of the Conservatives eighteen consecutive years in power.