The Grey Man's Writing Is Predictably Blue; Ex-Prime Minister John Major Has Put His Staid Image Behind Him and Written Bitter Memoirs on His Political Career. Don't Be Surprised, Says Chief Feature Writer Jason Beattie, He's Just Following a Long Line of Distinguished Tory Backstabbers
Beattie, Jason, The Birmingham Post (England)
So even the most honourable are fallible. The quality of dignity, articulated better than most by the former Prime Minister John Major, can be vanquished by pride and avarice.
But surely not in John's case? Oh no John, no John, no! Not you as well, the man we thought was too dull, too respecting to fall for the opportunity to vent his petty spleen and nurtured bitterness in print.
If you can succumb to publisher's millions, if you are too feeble to keep your discretion, then what hope is there for the rest of the weak-willed politicians who litter the corridors of Westminster?
The draw-bridge of self-respect, which has been buckling under the pressure of tittle-tattle masquerading as political memoir, has finally crashed open to allow any peevish minister or opportunistic MP to hawk their gossip around the public arena.
We expect such things of faded movie stars lured out of insignificance by the Max Cliffords who peddle such kiss-and-tell tales around the tabloids like modern-day Autolycuses snapping up other people's unconsidered trifles.
But politicians? Do they have to fall for the quick buck? Do they have to tap their bilious veins so the vampires of Wapping can feed on sullied blood?
Accusations and recriminations have come dripping from Mr Major's pen. As is befitting of a man who turned greyness into an art form, they are not the most poetic of words but they are no less incendiary for that. A fire does not discriminate about the type of wood on which it feasts.
Speaking of his predecessor, Baroness Thatcher, Mr Major says: "In retrospect, I think her behaviour was intolerable."
Champagne corks must have popped at Harper Collins. The newspaper which bought the serial rights must have held an impromptu jig. The bright young producers at the BBC, which is producing a programme to accompany the launch of Mr Major's book, will be cock-a-hoop.
Far from being a pretender to the crown of Sir Norman Fowler, who was anointed king of ennui for writing the dullest autobiography in history, Ministers Decide, the Brixton boy has defied the odds and written something approaching interesting.
Imagine, if you can, Mr Major wearing a sari and you will have some idea of the shock of his remarks. It's just not a Majorish thing to do. He watches cricket, speaks kindly to people, puts on a brave face when his son marries a game-show hostess and indulges Norma in her love of opera. He does not normally make remarks of substance.
Why has he done it? It may be because he is a Tory. Despite being the party of gentlemen and good manners it would appear its members are incapable of withdrawing from the battle with dignity.
Labour is free from this insidious virus. Tony Blair has never publicly attacked Neil Kinnock (he actually embraced the cause of Labour's election woes on May 1, 1997), Mr Kinnock has never poured scorn on Michael Foot nor has Jim Callaghan ridiculed the failings of Harold Wilson.
For all the socialist party's faults, and there are many, their leaders manage to leave the centre stage with some grace.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, bear more grudges and exercise more vendettas than The Sopranos. No slight is too small to be overlooked, no jibe too petty to be forgotten when the time comes to dip your quill in the poisoned ink.
Edward Heath has spent his whole post-Prime Ministerial life carping and caterwauling about the excesses of Margaret Thatcher. …