The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1997Prime Minister (1990-1997)

General Election Night 1997 – 1 May 1997

The text of Mr Major’s account, from his book, John Major – The Autobiography, relating to the General Election night of May 1st 1997.


At 10pm, ballot boxes all over Britain were sealed, and the television companies revealed the results of their exit polls. They warned us what the outcome would be. Then the results began coming in. Conservative seats tumbled, with little regard to the quality of the candidate of their views about the single currency or any other matter. I sat in the sitting room alone with Norma watching the results. We said little, except to express sadness at particular results. Arabella, Howell James and Norma’s secretary, Lorne Roper-Caldbeck sat in another room, while Sheila Gunn and Shirley Stotter based themselves in the kitchen. Elizabeth, James and their partners Luke and Elaine mooched restlessly from room to room with consoling words.

At about 2am I asked Alex Allan to get Tony Blair on the telephone, so that I could congratulate him on his success. I spoke to the new prime minister from my study, with a gloomy Howell James at my side. I can remember little of what I said, I was so exhausted, but we were both friendly enough. There was much noise in the background in his constituency of Sedgefield – the beginning of celebrations, no doubt. Then I left for my own count.

It was a subdued affair. No one quite knew where to look or what to say when Norma and I arrived. Everyone seemed downcast, and even our opponents were not remotely triumphant. I saw how the count was progressing, chatted to the other candidates, and waited in an adjoining room, watching the election coverage on television. There were rumours that Michael Portillo had lost his seat, and pictures of Gillian Shephard at her count, sitting on an upturned box and shaking her head sadly. Thankfully, she won, but many others had not.

Central Office was a mixture of long faces, etched with tiredness, and forced jollity. But they cheered and clapped and were wonderful. I thanked all the workers, made a brief speech from the stairs, shared a drink or two, and then, for the final time as prime minister, set off for the place that had been my home for the last few years, 10 Downing Street.