20th Anniversary of Election as Conservative Party leader
In November 1990, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned as Deputy Prime Minister. The resignation of an important figure in the Thatcher administration meant that a leadership contest seemed more likely, and this was triggered by Michael Heseltine.
The first round of voting was not enough for Margaret Thatcher to win an outright victory, with the Prime Minister gaining 204 votes, Michael Heseltine gaining 152 votes, with 6 abstentions and 17 void ballots. Despite initial plans to stay on, on 22nd November, Margaret Thatcher resigned, saying she was persuaded after advice from her colleagues to stand down.
John Major, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, both announced their intentions to stand. On 27th November 1990, the second ballot took place, with John Major obtaining 185 votes, Michael Heseltine obtaining 131 votes and Douglas Hurd 56 votes. Mr Heseltine and Mr Hurd withdrew, and Mr Major was therefore elected as leader of the Conservative Party.
On 28th November 1990, John Major became Prime Minister after being summoned to Buckingham Palace by the Queen. He was the youngest Prime Minister, at the age of 47, since Lord Rosebery in 1894.
Mr Major spoke to journalists outside Number 10 on his return from the palace. In his autobiography, Mr Major wrote of his first entrance into Number 10 as Prime Minister;
“As I walked into Number 10 I was met by Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, and the staff, who were lined up from the front door down the long corridor which leads to the Cabinet Room; they greeted my entrance with applause. Andrew Turnbull escorted me into the Cabinet Room; Norma went upstairs to the flat. There were already decisions waiting which needed prime ministerial approval”.
On the 29th November 1990, Major had his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister at 11am, with full details of his new Cabinet published that day. He then faced his first Prime Ministers Question Time as Prime Minister that afternoon.
Mr Major wrote later of the situation which existed when he became Prime Minister;
“My inheritance was unpromising. We were on the eve of a war. The economic bubble
of the 1980s was bursting. Inflation was approaching double figures. Interest rates
were at 14 per cent. Unemployment had begun to rise by fifty thousand a month. House
prices were falling. The economy was in the first phase of acute recession. Ahead
lay a collapse in growth, equity values, sales and confidence -
When he left office on 2nd May 1997, the economy was transformed. There had been five years of growth, unemployment was falling sharply, interest rates were 6% and inflation was 2.6%.
Mr Major handed over the most vibrant economy of any Prime Minister in modern times.
Prime Minister 1979-
Prime Minister 1990-
Prime Minister 2010-