20 Years Since John Major's 1992 Election - A Retrospective

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John Major was elected 20 years ago this week | PA

Twenty years ago this week John Major was re-elected as prime minister, against all the odds, to give the Tories a fourth consecutive term in office.

Amid a deepening recession nearly all the polls suggested Labour would win. Even the exit polls on election night predicted that Major would lose - and the next day's newspapers boldly declared a hung parliament.

They were wrong. Despite being mocked as unexciting and struggling to crawl out of Margaret Thatcher's shadow, Major secured a majority of 21 in the Commons, the last Tory leader to form a single-party government.

Sheila Gunn, who was then political correspondent for The Times, told The Huffington Post UK that Major's 1992 victory was a surprise.

"Even the right-wing Tory press didn't expect him to win," she said. Despite infamous newspaper front-pages lashing out at Labour leader Neil Kinnock, Gunn suggested they were more motivated by an anti-Kinnock feeling rather than a hope for Major to win.

The turning point for Major came late in the game. Kinnock, according to Gunn, had battled rumours that he had a fiery temper and was arrogant. The Sheffield Rally, where Kinnock was hailed as the "next prime minister", served to confirm those perceptions.

In a private meeting with Kinnock soon after, Gunn was told by Kinnock that he could feel the "momentum slipping away."

Three years later, and amid mounting internal feuds within the Tories over European integration, Gunn was hired by the Tories to be Major's political press secretary. She says that she was brought in by the Conservative Party Chairman, Brian Mawhinney, to tighten up Major's engagement with the media - especially after one too many gaffes when he didn't realise the microphone was on.

Major infamously referred to senior members of his Cabinet - including Michael Portillo - as "the bastards" - telling an interviewer that it was safer to keep ardent eurosceptics in government than to have them plotting against him on the backbenches.

Major would always listen to advice but not be guaranteed to take it, Gunn said. "But then again, he was prime minister."

When Major was ousted by Tony Blair in the 1997 election, the New Labour landslide ended a 7 year premiership. Gunn is quick to say what Major's government will be remembered for - "a responsible economic legacy and laying the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement - I think history will look kindly on the Major administration."

Major also had a personal triumph in getting so far, under a different bias than David Cameron. "He had to battle against the view that he wasn't posh enough!" says Gunn.

Though the twilight of the Major era is known for being swept up in the "back to basics" and "Tory sleaze", Gunn points out that the tarnished MPs were "backbenchers, not Cabinet members."

"He held the Conservative Party together," Gunn adds.

Michael Dobbs, who served as Deputy Chairman to the Conservative Party in 1994-1995, told HuffPost that the end of Major's government seemed inevitable.

"Government, after it has been in office for a long time, tends to turn inwards. You’re not really looking at the outside, you’re looking at the inside. It was quite clear to me that we were going to lose, and I think we should have lost, because we had run out of steam.

"Once a party gets into that position, no matter what the opposition is – the electorate always turns around and says it is time to go.

"There comes a point in government where there is no solution. John had an impossible job to do at that point, there was nothing he could have done that would have been right."

Major's achievement in keeping his party together after Thatcher's departure is praised by one his own whips. Gyles Brandreth, who was MP for Chester and a senior government whip, told us: "From Mr Major’s day, a small majority leaves you absolutely in the hands of oddballs. When I first became an MP, we had a majority of 21, by the time it was over we had a majority of nil. So literally one person going sick or going off the rails – and you were sunk! It was a great achievement of Major to steer the course."

Brandreth suggests the current prime minister will draw lessons from John Major, as he tries to keep the coalition together.

"I think Cameron will remember that [Major's government]. Cameron is a realist - the truth is, in the UK, most people live in the centre ground.”

Also on The Huffington Post

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