It has been fascinating to contrast the praise for Sir John Major’s interventions yesterday with the derogatory and dismissive way in which he was treated by the media during his premiership.
History is all about timing.
Key to a good legacy is knowing when to stop. Imagine how different the views would be of Anthony Eden if his health had forced him to retire just after winning the 1955 election, or if Winston Churchill had retired before the 1945 election, or if Tony Blair had resigned in 2002 before the Iraq invasion. Imagine Ramsay MacDonald’s reputation if he had retired in 1930, before heading the National Government.
Imagine Margaret Thatcher’s reputation, if she had stepped down after her 1987 victory. It is now clear that someone who won three consecutive general elections cannot have been all bad, but someone who stayed on and was ousted from the premiership by her own MPs cannot have been all good.
Imagine John Major’s legacy today if he had retired just after winning the 1992 election.
As John Major knows better than most, politics is a high-wire act where timing is critical.