The Major Years: a memoir in the making

Share
Related Topics
Yesterday morning on the Today programme they were discussing why it is that political biographies sell so badly. It seems that new books on Tony Blair and William Hague are currently on the worst-seller list, and Julian Critchley and Tony Howard were being asked to explain why.

The real reason is, of course, that neither Blair nor Hague has yet done anything worth writing about, but the point made by both Critchley and Howard was that Alan Clark's racy diaries had changed the face of political biography and made everything else seem plodding. They agreed that Harold Wilson and Norman Fowler, and Peter Walker and Kenneth Baker, had all produced impressively dull books, that it was unlikely that the Thatcher book would ever get its advance back for HarperCollins ("Many hands make heavy work," someone wittily remarked of the Thatcher millstone masquerading as a book) and that the only really good political memoir of recent years had been Denis Healey's. Austin Mitchell was bright and independent enough to write a good political memoir, someone said, but who else ...?

What was extraordinary was that nobody mentioned John Major as the possible writer of a political autobiography. Here he is, newly tumbled from office, newly resigned as Tory leader, with nothing to do except watch cricket. What clearer signs could there be that the man is wanting to write his life story ?

Why did Critchley and Howard not even mention him as a candidate?

Because they must have known the truth.

That John Major is writing his life story, in conditions of the utmost secrecy. How do I know this? Because I am the man who has been chosen to do it with him.

You may have recently noticed at the bottom of this column the apologetic rubric: "Miles Kington is away" or "Miles Kington is on holiday" or some such mild untruth.

I have in fact been at a secret hideaway in Hertfordshire working with John Major on his life story. And hard going it has been. The man has obviously been so schooled in parliamentary life that he can hardly bring himself to admit anything. This may be excellent for a Prime Minister, but it is disastrous for the subject of a life story.

"What are your chief memories of your prime ministerial years?" I asked him on the first day, by way of a softener.

"We came into office determined to press on with our reforms," he said, leaning forward on the table in that familiar pose of the pub bore at the saloon bar which he always adopted during PM's Question Time. "We had a mandate, and we were going to use that mandate to press ahead with privatisation, and efficiency, and cutting through red tape ..."

"Mr Major!" I said sharply. "We are going to be wasting our time if you persist in regurgitating the hack phrases of Central Office or whoever dreamt up this dreadful stuff. I want your story. I want to know how you remember the Major Years."

"The Major Years," he repeated dreamily. "The Major Years ... I like it ... Is that what we are going to call the book?"

"The title comes later," I said strictly. "First of all we have to establish your story. For a start, tell me how you remember it all. What are the memories that come back most vividly?"

He sat for a moment reminiscing inwardly. Then he seemed to snap out of it.

"Nothing," he said cautiously. "Nothing comes back at all."

"Nothing?"

"You must remember that we had inherited the most holy mess from the previous Labour government. But we brought fresh hope. We had a mandate, and we were going to use that mandate to press ahead with privatisation, and efficiency, and cutting through red tape ..."

"Mr Major!" I said peremptorily. "This is a waste of time. We are going to get nowhere if you will persist in mouthing platitudes. Please let me have your own impressions, not your platitudes honed for the market- place ..."

Mr Major rose from his chair at this point and got down a large book from the shelf. For a moment I thought with wild delight that it was some form of journal which he had secretly kept during his Downing Street years. But then I realised that it was a dictionary, and I saw, over his shoulder, somewhat to my surprise, that he was looking up the word "platitude".

"Gosh! Splendid!" he said, as he read the definition. "I like the sound of these things!"

I realised then that it was going to be harder than I had ever imagined.

Tomorrow: why Michael Howard was never sacked, and what John Major can never forgive Chris Patten for.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
There were many, many contributory factors to Amy Winehouse going off the rails, which are explored to fine effect in 'Amy'  

Watching the Amy Winehouse film brought back memories of my battle with bulimia - and the help that took three years to come

Natasha Devon
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map