In Thatcher’s Wake: John Major and Tony Blair, 1990–2000

  • William D. Rubinstein


As Prime Minister, John Major had the difficult task of convincing the Conservative party and the wider electorate that he both was and was not Margaret Thatcher’s ‘son’. He had to show, as clearly as possible, both the continuities and innovations of his new administration. By and large, Major’s Cabinet attempted to do both. Norman Lamont (b.1942), a Thatcherite and Major’s deputy as Chief Secretary of the Treasury, 1989–90, who had been Major’s campaign manager, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. A number of other keen Thatcherites were also appointed, for instance Michael Howard (b.1941) at Employment and the sharp-tongued and controversial David Mellor (b.1949) as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Nevertheless, it was clear that Major had shifted the centre of gravity of the Cabinet to the Left, at least in Tory terms. Michael Heseltine had to be rewarded after his strong showing, and was made Environment minister, with responsibility for replacing the ‘poll tax’. Chris Patten (b.1945), a decided liberal and centrist — a close associate of Major’s — became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Kenneth Baker (b.1934), another relative liberal, became Home Secretary, while Douglas Hurd remained as Foreign Minister. The rhetoric and emphasis of the new order also changed. For instance, Major deliberately invited Ian McKellen, the actor, a homosexual campaigner, to Number 10, and several years later (in February 1994) Parliament voted to lower the age of consent for homosexual acts from 21 to 18.


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© William D. Rubinstein 2003

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  • William D. Rubinstein

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