I was the walrus, but now I'm John
Forget the glamour of grandstand politics and spin, John Major was the greatest Prime Minister this country has seen over the last two decades
The aphorisms “be careful what you wish for” and “better the devil you know” seem to be applicable in politics to a worrying degree of consistency in the modern era.
When in 2009 posters and blog posts appeared with the face of George W. Bush entitled “Miss me yet?” so soon after the fanfare of hope and change had been ushered into the White House it may have been premature. Now, in the face of both Obama and Romney, it appears a given. The Republican Party, and even much of America, miss George W. Bush, by comparison to what has replaced him.
When Blair swept John Major from office in 1997, he had made the incumbent Conservative Prime Minister and his party look grey and out of touch, truly an analogue politician in a digital age – a man anchored to the value of British institutions, cricket and warm beer, while Blair was striding bravely into the world as the ambassador for the new, fearlessly progressive, cool Britannia. Shamefully the Conservative Party shunned their outgoing Prime Minister as an archaic monstrosity in step with the mood of a delirious nation.
When Sir John Major appeared last week before the Leveson Inquiry, amidst Blair, Brown and Cameron’s evasive dithering, we were reminded of a man of steadfast diligence and decency. We suddenly missed him, I think, because a strange memory came across the consciousness of those watching. He appeared to mean what he said; he appeared to be performing the unbelievable act of telling the truth without filter.
He was speaking again of the necessity of a balanced budget, the importance of patriotic British values, the failure of multiculturalism and the importance of family and society, just as he did 20 years ago. In modern Britain as the sheen has eroded from the progressive vision, in the Conservative Party we are only just starting throw off the idea that we need to constantly reinvent ourselves and accept that he was right.
In my eyes, Major was not a genius of great foresight, nor an unusually skilled leader or politician. He was simply the last good man I can recall to hold the office of Prime Minister.
The title of this article makes reference to the lyrics of John Lennon: “I was the walrus, but now I’m John”, written at a time when Lennon was settling into retirement, shrugging of the trappings of celebrity, youthful indiscretion and fame, preferring a quiet life with his family.
There is an extent to which all make a journey, and especially in political life, but despite the ugly titles levelled at him, Sir John Major was always to his appointment and to his nation simply John: a pragmatist set in unbreakable core values who gave as decent a view as he could, unwilling or unable to engage with the imported glamour of grandstand politics and spin.
For all of the effort spent by government on public engagement, communication strategy, persuasion and media management learned from the erroneous Blair years, it should be remembered that absent all of that, and often in opposition to it, John Major was the greatest Prime Minister of the last two decades.
Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group & Sir John Major was recently appointed as its President
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