Yesterday I attended a book launch at Liverpool University's impressive London premises for a book on the Major premiership to which I contributed. Contributors were invited to make presentations.
A view that emerged was that John Major was more successful than he appeared at the time, also a theme in the book. For example, he did much of the heavy lifting on Northern Ireland, although Tony Blair took much of the credit.
Professor Lord Norton pointed out that he was actually the third longest serving continuous prime minister of the last hundred years (the 2017 date excludes Asquith).
One view was that it takes a good jockey to ride a difficult horse, but perhaps there had been too much emphasis on the horse in terms of the political context at the time.
Major was first elected in 1979 and hence never served in opposition. He had no opportunity to prepare to be prime minister and to think through what he wanted to do. He fell into the pragmatic category of Conservative prime ministers. His lack of principle and philosophy was to some extent his undoing. However, he did have deep Conservative instincts as well as being pragmatic.
One speaker drew a comparison with Theresa May, asking what does she believe in? The electorate seem to compare her with Mrs Thatcher.
He has been one of the most successful post Prime Ministers, making rare and judicious interventions with good timing. Of course, in a way that is faint praise. It is rather like saying Jimmy Carter was a better post president than he was president.
His long autobiography was one of the best written by a prime minister since Churchill and was characterised by his dry wit.
The book concludes, 'In history, Major is not a towering figure like Attlee or Thatcher, but nor is he a failure like Balfour or Eden, nor a footnote in the party's evolution like Bonar Law or Douglas Hume.'