Recently my former school invited me, as one of the ‘old boys’, to a politics society talk from former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who also served as the MP for Huntingdon – the constituency the school falls under.
Sir John is a noted and outspoken critic of Brexit, which isn’t surprising seeing as it was his government that dragged Britain into that infernal bureaucratic organisation. During the referendum, I campaigned very closely with Vote Leave in Huntingdon – a constituency very eager for Brexit – and played a role in undoing his legacy. With this being said, you would think that I should despise the man, him being an establishment Tory and a Remainer to boot. The reality is that, despite our differences, I have a significant degree of admiration for the man – an admiration that firmly remains (no pun intended) after meeting him.
As was touched upon in his talk, he had humble origins, growing up in Brixton in a small flat. Hearing him speak it would be difficult to believe that he is one of a very small handful of British Prime Ministers who could be labelled as working class. However, merely being working class is not necessarily a trait worthy of significant admiration. While working his way up from Brixton to Downing Street / Chequers is rather admirable, what’s more, is that Sir John has never forgotten or been shy about his roots. In more recent years, after vacating Number 10 and then the Palace of Westminster entirely, he has written My Old Man – a history of the now ancient working-class tradition of music hall. It was in this definitive working-class pastime that his father worked and Sir John’s personal passion and interest for the subject is evident in the book; I would thoroughly recommend giving it a read.
A further traditional British pastime Sir John has a passion for is cricket, having written a history of it (More Than A Game) as well as serving as president of the Surrey County Cricket Club. Considering this, Sir John’s Britishness is clear – which is something that might not be said of current Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been pictured voluntarily wearing Islamic headscarves and has gone on record about the benefits of ghastly Sharia Law.
His talk, while naturally touching on Brexit, was largely focused on his premiership – most notably about his experiences with and stories of other world leaders, including one memorable story about President Clinton’s appetite. His charm and wit made it near impossible to dislike the man, even if (like me) you disagree with him on many an issue. While briefly talking with him afterwards, mostly about his book on music hall as this will be my upcoming dissertation topic, he was even kind enough to sign my copy of his history of music hall and remained calm, polite and composed even in the face of a rather on the nose question from another member of the audience regarding Tommy Robinson’s arrest.
While Sir John Major’s career might be scattered with several controversial decisions and scandals, including our soon to be reversed entry into the EU and a noteworthy affair, he struck me as a rather respectable and admirable man. In the week that has passed since meeting him, I have been thinking a lot about how we (as a country) conduct ourselves in the realm of politics, particularly on the many divisive issues of the day. While an upfront, bold, no beating around the bush approach is often what I like to see (case and point: Nigel Farage, President Trump and Gerard Batten) I would equally like to see more in the political landscape presenting their ideas with the admirability of Sir John Major. I know that the next time I’m engaged in a heated discussion I will try to take a leaf out of Sir John’s book, even if (and I probably will be) I’m arguing contrary to his political beliefs.