|72nd Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
|Term of office|
November 29 1990 - May 2 1997
|Political party||Conservative Party|
|Preceded by||Margaret Thatcher|
|Succeeded by||Tony Blair|
|Born|| March 29 1943 (aged 66) |
Major was elected leader of the British Conservative Party, and hence Prime Minister, following the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. He was a relatively unknown figure at the time, but he was seen by many, including Lady Thatcher herself, as being firmly on the right of centre (or, at least, as being more conservative then his relatively liberal main opponent, Michael Heseltine, the man who had brought Lady Thatcher down). He subsequently disappointed many in his party by his support for the Maastricht Treaty and the integration of Britain with the European Union that it brought about. Lady Thatcher criticised Major's European policy both publicly and in private.
Following the Conservatives' surprise victory in the 1992 general election, the popularity both of the party and of Major himself fell dramatically, particularly after a financial crisis in September 1992 known as Black Wednesday, in which the Pound was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Major's approval ratings remained in the doldrums for the remainder of his term in office, and in the May 1997 general election the Conservatives suffered one of their heaviest defeats in history against the newly revamped Labour Party of Tony Blair. Major was subsequently replaced as Prime Minister by Tony Blair of the Labour Party and as leader of the Conservative Party by William Hague.
Although a very competent politician and a capable Prime Minister, Major's most serious mistake was failing to control the political divisions and infighting in his party, which lead to a needlessly heavy defeat in the 1997 election. Assessment of the significance of Major's premiership has gradually risen since he left office. In particular, his role in bringing together the political parties from different traditions is increasingly seen as crucial in creating the conditions for peaceful self-rule in Northern Ireland, while he is recognised to have made substantial progress in making government agencies more accountable to the public. The latter achievements stand in sharp contrast to the subsequent efforts of the Blair government to diminish accountability.