John Major has now been prime minister for four years. For us, as presumably for him, it often seems a lifetime, so crowded has his premiership been with crises of one sort or another. Dennis Kavanagh and Anthony Seldon not unreasonably, therefore, think this the moment to assess his prime ministerial career; the result is The Major Effect, a collection of 26 essays by a distinguished group of commentators - including the editors. Five years ago they edited another collection, since widely-read: The Thatcher Effect, published to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Mrs Thatcher's premiership. Studying Mr Major's 'effect' is, however, self-evidently more difficult. Whatever one thinks of Mrs Thatcher she was undoubtedly a larger-than-life figure who, one way or another, dominated her cabinet and party. Furthermore, in 1989, though it was clear the whole enterprise was going wildly off the rails, she was still in high mood, still celebrating her achievements, as were her admirers. Mr Major's career, however, has hitherto been an almost uninterrupted failure; its one success, the General Election of 1992, usually being deemed a puzzle which needs explanation. Ten years also gives commentators a wider sense of perspective. Four years is a narrow historical term - even if it seems a lifetime. And Mrs Thatcher had opinions on everything, even on policies which she little influenced - and that gave her premiership a certain unity. Mr Major is more modest and some of the authors of this collection confess that in their areas Mr Major has had little or no 'effect'.
LRB 20 October 1994 | PDF Download