John Major’s rise to the post of British prime minister is a puzzle of modern politics that his lengthy autobiography fails to resolve. It is clear, as we follow him from his modest origins in south London to his work as a local councillor and his remarkable ascent at Westminster under the eye of Margaret Thatcher, that he was driven by a determination to prove himself. But now that we are growing used to the messianic zeal that Tony Blair brings to the role of prime minister, it seems extraordinary that John Major should have achieved the position with such little evident vision or relish. Here is the man we thought we knew, decent, hard-working; at the mercy of events rather than their master.
So we find him bowed down by the misfortunes of an ungrateful world, rendered defensive by problems with the economy, by arguments over Europe, by the intractability of politicians in Northern Ireland, by attacks from within his own party.