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Sir John Major whispers what Downing Street is saying privately -- a slow recovery is underway

By Tim Montgomerie
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Major John Sept 2012 470

John Major was the main guest on this morning's Andrew Marr show and his interview was notable for five main things...

First, he suggested that economic recovery was probably underway. Twenty years ago Norman Lamont said that the green shoots of recovery were emerging and he was shot down for saying so. But, said Sir John, he was right. Today, he suggested, it was also probably true: "Recovery begins from the darkest moment. I am not sure but I think we have passed the darkest moment." The former PM pointed to employment and manufacturing data that suggested Britain had turned the corner, as did stock market sentiment. The recovery would be slow, he continued, but it was underway. This was Lord Bates' argument this time, last week, on ConHome.Downing street thinks the same but won't say so until there's a lot more data in. What they can't work out is whether economic recovery will lead to political recovery. Will the return of a modest feel good factor overwhelm the pain of difficult cuts?

Second, Major urged the Conservative Party to unite behind David Cameron. There is, he said, an "inevitability" about division and leadership speculation in politics. For the last thirty years the Conservative Party has been divided in different ways - first between economic wets and dries and then, in the 1990s, over Europe. “If the Conservative Party has learnt anything," Sir John told Andrew Marr, "it’s that regicide is not a good idea.” The man who benefitted from Lady Thatcher's "regicide" and went on to win the 1992 election as a result, praised the Mayor of London as an "attractive, able" politician who is "doing a supremely good job". Boris Johnson is not in parliament, however, and keeps saying he has no intention of challenging David Cameron. People talking of a leadership challenge were filling newspapers but weren't living "in the real world". The party, Sir John said, needed to remember that "disunity costs votes".

Third, the PM during the first Gulf War, more or less admitted that the game was up in Afghanistan. After praising Prince Harry for his military service the former PM essentially conceded that we had lost Afghanistan. The moment Barack Obama announced that US troops would be out of the country by 2014 the Taliban knew that they simply had to retreat to the hills and wait for a few years. Giving notice of day you intend to leave, Sir John said, changed the game and not to the advantage of the counter-insurgency.

Fourth, he lambasted the European media that have published photographs of a naked Duchess of Cambridge from her recent holiday. The photographers and their publishers were, he said, acting like a "peeping tom".

Fifth, Sir John Major was a reminder that there's a lot to be said for grey power. It was a good, reassuring TV performance. Freed from the burdens of daily office and able to focus on big picture causes Sir John is one of a number of politicians - another stand out example being Alistair Darling, leading the campaign against Scottish independence - who, like fine wines, are getting better with age. I can't help but think the Government would be stronger if more politicians of vintage sat around the Cabinet table.

> Lord Lamont writes for ConservativeHome this morning, busting myths about the ERM on the 20th anniversary of "Black Wednesday"; Yes, Britain benefited from getting out of the ERM, but we also first benefited from being in it.


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