John Major Born: 29 March 1943 in St. Helier, Carshalton, Surrey
First entered Parliament: 3 May 1979
Age he became PM: 47 years, 245 days
Maiden Speech: 13 June 1979 during the debate on the new Government's Budget
Total time as PM: Six years, 154
Facts and figures
Education: Rutlish Grammar School, Wimbledon
Family: John Major is the fourth son of four children. He is married to Norma Elizabeth Johnson, and has one son and one daughter
Interests: Cricket, football, theatre,
Although born in the Worcester Park area of Sutton, Major grew up in the much poorer Brixton where the family were forced to move after the failure of his father's business.
Major left school at 16, largely due to his family needing the income he could earn. He continued studying at home to qualify as a banker. In the interim, he took whatever jobs were available, working as a labourer, insurance broking clerk, and even made garden ornaments with his brother.
Britain fought the First Gulf War while John Major was PMHis political career began as a Conservative councillor in the London borough of Lambeth, and continued when he won the constituency of Huntingdon for the Conservatives in 1979, at the election which brought his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, to power.
He joined the Cabinet in 1987 as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In the summer of 1989 John Major became Foreign Secretary after Geoffrey Howe was moved from the Foreign Office to become Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister. Major became Chancellor of the Exchequer less than 100 days later when Nigel Lawson dramatically resigned.
It was during Major's tenure at the Treasury that Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in October 1990.
Thatcher's leadership at this time was under increasing pressure, and when she was challenged, John Major supported her in the leadership election of November 1990.
When she stepped down, Major entered the contest himself, and with Thatcher's support he went on to beat Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd. Major appointed both colleagues to his new Cabinet. When elected, he was the youngest Prime Minister for over a century.
Once installed in the post of PM, Major had immediately to deal with an international crisis when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. He led Britain successfully in the short war waged by the Allies against Saddam Hussein. Early into his term, he announced the abolition of the poll tax which had caused so much controversy during Thatcher's final years in office.
A particular personal initiative was the Citizens Charter, a code designed to introduce greater accountability to public services and to drive up standards of service. The Charter has been built on by the present Labour Government and copied around the world.
Major's style was radically different from his predecessor. His unassuming and down-to-earth manner was considered a breath of fresh air, and a contrast to Margaret Thatcher's forcefulness.
He established the Northern Ireland Peace Process in the early 1990s and agreed the 'Downing Street Declaration' and 'Joint Frameworks Document' with successive Irish Premiers. These formed the necessary building blocks for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
John Major also established the National Lottery as a personal initiative which has provided billions of pounds for good causes.
Under Major the Conservatives went on to win the 1992 election with a workable majority, despite opinion polls which had predicted a hung parliament. However, over the next five years by-election losses and defections would whittle the government's majority down to single figures.
Perhaps the lowest point of John Major's premiership came soon after the election: the sterling crisis of September 1992 forced the pound to leave the ERM. A new economic policy was swiftly devised and led to five successive years of growth between 1992 and 1997 with falling unemployment and inflation.
In 1995 Major made a bold move to reassert his authority within the Conservative Party when he resigned as leader (but not as Prime Minister) and submitted himself for re-election.
In the subsequent contest he was challenged by the Welsh Secretary, John Redwood, whom he defeated.
However, the Conservatives were defeated by Labour in the 1997 General Election, and John Major resigned as leader, having been PM for seven of the Conservatives eighteen consecutive years in power.
John Major has now retired from the
House of Commons and in 1999 published his political memoirs.
"Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers."
Did you know?
He was christened 'John Roy Major'
but only the name John is shown on his birth certificate. He used the middle
name Roy until the early 1980s.
Norma MajorNorma Major was as a teacher and has a strong interest in art and music. She wrote the official biography of the opera singer, Dame Joan Sutherland, and also served on the Board of Directors, Welsh National Opera for several years.
She joined the Young Conservatives but had never been very passionate about politics until she met John on polling day for the GLC elections in London. It was rather strange, she recalled, to find love and politics on the same day. They became engaged ten days later.
Aged 48 when her husband received the key to Number 10, Norma was exposed to plenty of media attention - the press had gone more than a decade without a PM's wife to focus on. A popular hostess, she enjoyed the privilege of being at Number 10 and carrying out the demanding role of PM spouse.
She has been a long-time supporter and fundraiser for the charity MENCAP, and became its national Vice Chairman. She used Number 10 and Chequers regularly to help raise funds for various other worthy charities.
Described as a resilient and self-sufficient women, Norma grew into her role and provided sterling support to her husband. Long-standing supporters of charity, the couple have a son and daughter. She wrote an official history of Chequers that became a bestseller. In 1999, she was awarded a DBE for her charitable work.
Baroness Thatcher Born: 13 October
1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire
First entered Parliament: 8 October 1959
Age she became PM: 53 years, 204 days
Maiden Speech: 5 February 1960 during the second reading of her Private Member's Bill
Total time as PM: 11 years, 209 days
Facts and figures
Nickname: "The Iron Lady"
Education: Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School and Somerville College, Oxford
Family: Margaret Thatcher is the younger of two daughters. She married Sir Dennis Thatcher, and has one son and one daughter
Interests: Music, art, opera and reading
Breaking the barriers
Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving Prime Minister for more than 150 years and was the first woman ever to take the role.
Her father, a shopkeeper and Mayor of Grantham, was a major formative influence.
Thatcher was educated at the local grammar school and at Oxford where she studied chemistry. She also became president of the university Conservative association.
Mrs Thatcher later read for the Bar, before being elected in 1959 as the Conservative MP for Finchley.
Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falklands IslandsShe held junior posts before becoming shadow spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970.
In Opposition she stood against Edward Heath for the party leadership in 1975. Her victory was considered a surprise by many. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Margaret Thatcher succeeded James Callaghan as PM.
Thatcher's first two years in office were not easy. Unemployment was very high, but the economy gradually showed improvement. She brought more of her supporters into the Cabinet, and bolstered her reputation by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.
The Conservatives went on to win the 1983 election by a landslide, aided by a fragmented opposition. Margaret Thatcher's government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the Trade Unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance.
Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan enjoyed a close relationshipShe also became a familiar figure internationally, striking up a famous friendship with US President Reagan and gaining the praise of Soviet leader Gorbachev.
One great difficulty during her time in office was the issue of Europe. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1990 in protest at Thatcher's attitude to Europe.
His resignation speech set in train events which were to lead to Thatcher's downfall later that month.
Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes - enough to make it evident that a crucial minority favoured a change. Thatcher was eventually persuaded not to go forward to the second ballot, which was won by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major.
She left the House of Commons in 1992, and now sits in the Lords as Baroness Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher's writings include two volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power.
The Baroness is still seen at Tory
party gatherings and has endorsed party leaders such as William Hague and
Iain Duncan Smith.
"It will be years before a woman either leads the Conservative Party or becomes prime minister. I don't see it happening in my time" (in 1970)
Did you know?
Before Thatcher became an MP, she worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and then Lyons & Company, where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream.
Sir Denis ThatherDenis Thatcher, as the first male PM spouse in history, was always likely to be the centre of media attention - and he didn't disappoint.
When she met him, Baroness Thatcher remarked that "it was clear to me at once that Denis was an exceptional man - he had a certain style and dash." Described as a man of integrity, humour and common sense, he had a strong business background and fought with the Royal Artillery during the war.
It was said that Denis was in 'the Thatcher party not the Tory party'. He once famously remarked: "it's better to keep my mouth shut and be thought a fool rather than open it and remove all doubt."
When he died in 2003 his wife paid tribute to the man she loved by saying: "Being PM is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be - you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend."
Prime Minister Tony Blair1997 - Present
born: 6 May 1953
"Education is the best economic policy there is."
The son of a barrister and lecturer, Tony Blair was born in Edinburgh, but spent most of his childhood in Durham. At the age of 14 he returned to Edinburgh to finish his education at Fettes College. He studied law at Oxford, and went on to become a barrister himself.
After standing unsuccessfully for the Labour Party in a by-election, Mr Blair went on to win the seat of Sedgefield in the 1983 General Election, aged 30.
Tony Blair made a speedy rise through the ranks, being promoted first to the shadow Treasury front bench in 1984. He subsequently served as a trade and industry spokesman, before being elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 1988 where he was made Shadow Secretary of State for Energy. In 1989 he moved to the employment brief.
After the 1992 election Labour's new leader, John Smith, promoted Blair to Shadow Home Secretary. It was in this post that Mr Blair made famous his pledge that Labour would be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
John Smith died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1994, and in the subsequent leadership contest Tony Blair won a large majority of his party's support.
Blair immediately launched his campaign for the modernisation of the Labour Party, determined to complete the shift further towards the political centre which he saw as essential for victory. The debate over Clause 4 of the party's constitution was considered the crucial test of whether its members would commit to Mr Blair's project. He removed the commitment to public ownership, and at this time coined the term New Labour.
The Labour Party won the 1997 General Election by a landslide, after 18 years in Opposition. At the age of 43 , Tony Blair became the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812.
The government began to implement a far-reaching programme of constitutional change, putting the question of devolution to referendums in Scotland and Wales.
An elected post of Mayor of London was established at the head of a new capital-wide authority, and all but 92 hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords in the first stage of its reform. The government has also implemented an investment programme of £42 billion in its priority areas of health and education.
Tony Blair was re-elected with another landslide majority in the 2001 General Election.
His second term was dominated by foreign policy issues - notably the 'war on terror' which followed the September 11 attacks in New York, and the war in Iraq.
The Labour Party went on to win a third term for Mr Blair in May 2005, albeit with a reduced majority.
Outside Number 10 on the day after his victory, the PM said that 'respect' would play a big part in his third term agenda.
He said he wanted to bring back:
"A proper sense of respect in our schools, in our communities, in our towns and our villages."
Mr Blair is married to the barrister Cherie Booth QC, and they have four children. Their youngest, Leo, was the first child born to a serving Prime Minister in over 150 years.