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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April 2005, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
The political career of John Major
John and Norma Major
John Major's wife Norma is already a dame because of her charity work
Former Conservative prime minister John Major has become a Knight of the Garter, England's highest honour for chivalry, and will now be known as Sir John.

The order is a decision made by the Queen without the advice of ministers.

Sir John, 62, was elected as Huntingdon MP in 1979 and rose through the Conservative ranks before becoming prime minister, replacing Margaret Thatcher, in 1990.

He served as prime minister until Labour's election victory in 1997.

Sir John was widely seen as the victim of his own call for the Conservatives to go "back to basics" during his leadership.

A succession of sexual scandals amongst ministers followed, helping to fatally weaken his administration.

He decided to stand down from the Commons at the 2001 general election, bringing an end to a remarkable political career.

The following year he admitted to having had an affair with former Tory minister Edwina Currie before he became prime minister.

Popular prime minister

Born on 29 March 1943, Sir John grew up in Brixton, south London.

He did not enjoy a very illustrious school career and dropped out at the age of 16.

He soon became interested in local politics and was an active member of the Brixton Young Conservatives.

From 1968 to 1971 he held a seat on Lambeth Borough Council.

He was adopted as prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Huntingdon in May 1976 and elected as its member of parliament in May 1979.

From 1981 to 1983 he was a parliamentary private secretary to ministers of state at the Home Office.

'79: elected as Huntingdon MP
'81 to '83: parliamentary private secretary to home office ministers
'83-4: Assistant government whip
'84-5: Treasury whip
'85-6: Under-secretary of state for social security
'86: Minister of state for social security
'87: Chief secretary to the treasury
'89: Foreign secretary and then chancellor of the exchequer
'90-'97: Prime minister
He then rose quickly through the ranks, first serving as assistant government whip (1983-4), when an affair with Edwina Currie began.

His next moves were to treasury whip (1984-5), under-secretary of state for social security (1985-6) and then minister of state for social security in 1986.

He became chief secretary to the treasury in 1987 - when the liaison with Mrs Currie ended - and by 1990, when Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd challenged Mrs Thatcher for the party leadership, he was chancellor.

When Mrs Thatcher failed to see off the leadership contenders in the first round of voting, Sir John announced his candidature and won the leadership.

Three months later, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, he had become the most popular prime minister in 30 years.

Dogged by divisions

His style of leadership was a stark contrast to his predecessor's, with Sir John running a much more inclusive cabinet.

His successes included reaching agreement with other European nations on the Maastricht Treaty and bringing about an IRA ceasefire in 1994 that laid the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement.

But his premiership was dogged by divisions in his party over Europe and accusations of government sleaze.

In June 1995, stung by criticism of his leadership, Sir John took the unprecedented step for a UK prime minister of resigning as head of his party, forcing a leadership vote.

Although he won the vote, he remained deeply unpopular and the party failed to unite behind him.

The party and Sir John struggled through to the 1997 general election but it was no surprise when Labour swept to power - with the Conservatives suffering their heaviest election result of the 20th century.

Sir John announced his decision to relinquish the leadership of the Conservative party immediately, telling the world it was "time to leave the stage".

On 19 June 1997, William Hague became the party's leader and Sir John retired to the back benches.

But he still made his voice heard, criticising Tory MPs who advocated a move further to the right in 1999, which he said would lose them the election.

In 2002 he admitted he had had a four-year affair with the former Conservative minister Edwina Currie. Sir John described it as the most shameful event of his life, but said his wife Norma had long known of the relationship and had forgiven him.

He also joined the political debate over military action in Iraq in 2003, drawing on his experience as prime minister during the first Gulf War.

Profile: The Conservative Party
05 Apr 05 |  Issues
Major urges ban on 'dirty work'
10 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Major to stand down
10 Mar 00 |  Politics

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