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Saturday, 28 September, 2002, 05:20 GMT 06:20 UK
John Major: A life in politics
John and Norma Major
John and Norma Major: At home in Huntingdon
A reported four-year affair with Edwina Currie could change the way history views John Major and his seven-year term in 10 Downing Street.

Until now he was widely seen as the unwitting victim of his own call for the Conservatives to go 'back to basics' - a succession of sexual scandals amongst ministers followed, helping to fatally weaken his administration.

That was certainly the view of most commentators when he decided to stand down from the Commons at the 2001 general election, bringing an end to a remarkable political career.

Major and Thatcher
Mr Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1990
Born on 29 March 1943, Mr Major 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.
John Major's parliamentary career
'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 the affair with Mrs Currie began.

The next move was 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, Mr Major announced his candidature and won the leadership.

Three months later, in the aftermath of the 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 Mr Major 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 which 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 Major took the unprecedented step for a British 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 Mr Major 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

Mr Major 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 Mr Major 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.

And he recently joined the political debate over military action in Iraq, drawing on his experience as prime minister during the Gulf War.

See also:

28 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Mar 00 | Politics
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