As I watched the results from the 1997 General Election from the sidelines of America (remembering that ten years prior I had been in the thick of things, on the floor of a count and being shown on BBC intently staring at the bank teller drafted to count the box in which I had an interest), I was variously amazed, pleased, saddened, and in the end, pleasantly surprised at the good humour of John Major, who said very simply, 'Okay, we lost.'
I met John Major first when he was a rising parliamentary star recruited to come to the constituency of the backbencher for whom I worked. He came to give a pep talk to the local Conservatives on a local radio programme; this constituency (Basildon) was considered a dead loss, so much so that the PM and various other Cabinet names wouldn't waste their time making a stop--but John Major came, and, we won.
Major has put together an interesting account of his time in office. Thankfully he concentrates on his political career (not spending hundreds of pages giving us the sort of childhood information that rarely adds value to a political autobiography), starting with his first victory coming to the House of Commons in 1979 (Margaret Thatcher's first victory as leader) and culminating with the 1997 electoral defeat, which he took with relatively good grace and rather few recriminations. And, whereas many political figures spend a large part of their memoirs in a 'If I were still there' mode, Major only devotes a few pages to the follow-up and future (in a five-page chapter entitled Aftermath) preferring not to speculate on irrelevant imponderables, and avoiding the problem of which he was most critical in his predecessor--that being of not wanting to let go.
It was no secret that one of the things the press and public eagerly sought in this book was Major's opinions on the continued attempts by Thatcher to exert an influence in leadership. His rocky relationship with the former prime minister has many examples through the text, some explicit and some subtle (such as the caption from a photo taken at the 1990 Conservative Party Conference, which reads 'Still on good terms with Margaret following the announcement of our entry into the ERM.').
In general, this is a well-written book, and John Major's tenure of office is rather more interesting than popular memory or the press would have one believe, perhaps understandable due to following a person of such flash and sparkle as Thatcher--who could compete with that? Major did in many ways, and, as his autobiography shows, he won in many ways, and when he lost, he was a gentleman.