John Major: Je ne regrette rien

Several things I find surprising about the former British prime minister John Major. (Yes, Virginia, I know that his full name is John Major-Balls, and I know that he ran away from the circus to become a bank clerk.) The first is that he ever became British prime minister  – before his ascension post-Thatcher he’d been a grey political nonentity. The second thing is that he had an affair with Edwin Currie: somehow I never imagined Major removing his glasses and putting them on top of his neatly-stacked clothes, before directing his attention to the salmonella woman. The third thing is that despite appearing as a decent, dull man, he put political response well ahead of human response.

We learn this from recently-released British documents. In 1997, twenty-five years after Bloody Sunday, the British secretary of state Patrick Mayhew urged his prime minister to issue a statement of regret over what happened on Derry’s streets twenty-five years earlier. (Mayhew wanted that, not for any human reason either, but because he thought it’d give a boost to the SDLP.) Major, in a hand-written note, told his minion “I am not at all attracted to this. It’s got big downsides and small upsides. We’ll discuss next week.”

Forget about the families of the bereaved. Forget about doing the right thing. One question sits at the top of the pile: will this play well with the electorate? No? In that case, je ne regrette rien.

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