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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
First 100 days: John Major
With the first Gulf War and a terrorist attack on Downing Street, John Major's first 100 days were arguably the most tumultuous of any prime minister since Winston Churchill.

John Major
Elected leader: November 1990
Age when elected: 47
Defeated rivals: Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd

Yet the words most often used by commentators summing-up his performance, were "modest," "unassuming" and, inevitably, "grey".

"We have all become accustomed to John Major's un-Thatcherish understatement, the wily pragmatism and body language of the friendly bank manager next door," wrote Michael White in The Guardian.

"The worst you can say about him," added Mr White, "is that he is decent and a little grey".

The Conservatives badly needed a period of calm after the brutal political assassination of Margaret Thatcher and that is what Mr Major - whom Tory MPs chose over Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd - appeared to provide.

He was a working-class boy from a poor South London background, who entered Downing Street promising to create a "classless" society.

Poll boost

In a break with the Thatcher era, he pledged a more collegiate style of leadership; a return, some pundits said, to genuine Cabinet government.

He even indulged in cross-party cooperation during the Gulf War - something that would have been hard to imagine under his predecessor.

Mr Major emerges from his hundred days the best-loved prime minister in living memory
Peter Jenkins, The Independent

He was widely praised for his steady, statesmanlike handling of the Gulf conflict and the aftermath of the IRA's failed mortar attack on Downing Street.

As a result, the Conservatives edged ahead in the opinion polls wiping out Labour's previous nine-point lead, with Mr Major's personal ratings looking particularly rosy.

"The inside story of Major's first 100 days at 10 Downing Street points to a new leader who is much more than an affable happy-eater, benevolently bidding us all 'God bless'.

"It points to the emergence of a formidable political operator, one, some say, who has the sharpest antennae of any prime minister since Harold Wilson," wrote Michael Jones, in The Sunday Times.


But pundits were also impatient to see how the new prime minister would perform when up against real political adversity.

"Mr Major emerges from his hundred days the best-loved prime minister in living memory, his opinion poll ratings a consistent glow of approval," wrote Peter Jenkins in The Independent.

"Busy he has been, no doubt, since he stepped blinking across the threshold of No 10, helping to win a war in his spare moments, but it has hardly been a hundred days of prodigious activism in the Roosevelt or Kennedy manner.

"Now, with peace broken out, we may see what metal he is made of, as Enoch Powell said of the Iron Lady as she went to war."

The test - most commentators agreed - would come when he was forced to decide the future of the community charge, or poll tax - the policy that had brought ruin to his predecessor.

"The prime minister may show excellent peacetime leadership qualities, to match his Gulf war performance. We will see. First let him go into the arena with the poll tax," wrote Joe Rogaly, in the Financial Times.

By-election defeat

On his 100th day, voters appeared to give their verdict on the poll tax, with a thumping by-election defeat for the government.

A Conservative majority of nearly 20,000 votes in Ribble Valley was turned into a Liberal Democrat majority of 4,601, with most deserters blaming their decision on the hated tax.

There was also the looming spectre of internal party divisions over Europe and an economy still struggling with the fallout from the late 1980s recession.

For some commentators, Mr Major had mainly benefited in the opinion polls from not being Margaret Thatcher. It remained to be seen how he would fare when he faced the electorate at a general election.

"The bipartisan front of the Gulf war may have clouded the issue, but the truth is that the new prime minister has been running not so much against Neil Kinnock, or even Paddy Ashdown, as against the public's perception of what Mrs Thatcher would have been doing had she still been in office. That sort of support tends to be transient and shallow," said The Independent.

What happened next: John Major went on to win the general election of 1992 but was beaten by Tony Blair's Labour in 1997. He resigned as party leader and then stood down as an MP in 2001.

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