I was first introduced to Sir John Major at his talk at the China Exchange on 17th October 2017. Sir John Major was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997.
I had the opportunity to ask him one critical question and this was his response.
TM: Sir John, your energy of patience seems to emanate the room and I seem to soak it in as I'm listening to you...my question is, is it possible at all for a human being to be Prime Minister of a country and be consistently kind and be consistently giving unconditionally, or the system itself is designed to not allow these things to be possible i.e. there are ties [to corporations] that are hidden and not seen from financial forces to conglomerates that revolve around our lives? What are your thoughts?
JM: Well is it possible to for a human being to be Prime Minister…I don’t know it’s never been tried [laughter in the room]. The substance of your question is quite complex, every Prime Minister I’ve known had been essentially human – don’t believe behind the façade that they’re not – I promise you that however calculating, however severe they may seem in some cases in public – in private you see a different side of them. They are no different from you they are just in an extraordinary job and they have had a background which enables them to cope with the pressures of their job – but they are very human, I do assure you.
Is it possible always to put humanity first? Well actually no it isn’t – a prime minister essentially has two personas – there’s the person as he really is – and there’s the person who has to make judgments on the basis of the position in which the country finds itself and the circumstances and finances available to the country.
Let me give you a practical example…they’re many Prime Ministers who I’ve known who would love to do a great deal to make significant changes to the living standards of people who are at the bottom of the heap – of which they are too many. But without the money to do it they can’t do it. They can’t just say we’re going to do it and it doesn’t matter how much extra we tax people because that affects our competitive structure and it affects our fiscal balance and a whole range of other things – so the belief that a Prime Minister has untrammelled freedom to do what he or she wishes isn’t true – there’s actually quite constrained. And there’s a very famous quote by – and that is even more so if you have a small majority as is evident on many occasions – but even when you have a big majority that is so – there’s a very famous quote by Douglas J. who was a minister, a very junior minister in Mr. Attlee’s government in 1945 and that government had a socking great majority of over 150 and he wrote that he had expected the Prime Minister to be the master of all he surveyed and what he found when he came to know Clement Atlee well, was a man who has his own ideas, his own attitudes that was hemmed in by events even with a massive majority. So it is not the case that there is total freedom, it is not the case that you can do exactly what you wish – the circumstances, the events of the day, circumstances of the hour may determine exactly what a Prime Minister can or cannot do.
What are your thoughts?