Ian Burrell: Tony Blair may have faced the 'feral beast', but it was nothing compared to the John Major years

 

Share
Related Topics

The "feral beast" of Fleet Street which Tony Blair complained had tormented him during his time in office was about as savage as a sheep in comparison to the media monster that poor old John Major had to contend with.

It might seem extraordinary to a younger generation grown used to the hectoring powers of the right wing papers that a Conservative Prime Minister might be the subject of relentless personal attack from the Tory press. But Mr Major's problem was that the anonymous sources feeding the onslaught were often his senior political colleagues.

Even yesterday, as he gave evidence to Lord Leveson's inquiry, Mr Major still appeared a bit bewildered by the coverage he received. Each morning as Prime Minister he opened the papers and, in his words: "I learned what I thought that I didn't think, what I said that I hadn't said, what I was about to do that I wasn't about to do."

The myth-telling continues. Earlier this year the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie cheerily recounted to the inquiry a conversation he had with Mr Major in 1992 at the time of the Black Wednesday crash in the stock market. "I said 'I've got a bucket of shit on my desk, Prime Minister, and I'm going to pour it all over you'." Denying one of the great tales of Fleet Street lore, Mr Major yesterday claimed that MacKenzie's account of the conversation was unrecognisable to him. "I would have recalled the bit that has entered mythology. I'm sure I would have not forgotten that." Whatever Mr Major might say about the phone call, MacKenzie's description of the Murdoch paper's treatment of his administration was at the very least an accurate metaphor. Similar language even made the front page of the Sunday Express one weekend in 1996 at the end of Mr Major's tenure, as he complained to the paper that senior members of his party were briefing against him. "Bunch of Shits" was the memorable headline. He wasn't asked yesterday if he recalled that remark.

Mr Major also admitted that the hostile treatment may have been linked to his view that cosying up to the press was "undignified". The result was that even traditional Tory supporting papers found it hard to sympathise with the son of a circus performer.

It only remained for the satirical puppet show Spitting Image to portray him with battleship grey skin and the left wing cartoonist Steve Bell to picture him with his pants outside his trousers. It may not have been true, but it became part of the Major media myth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee