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John Marwood Cleese (born October 17, 1939) is a retired English politician who served as Prime Minister of the Republic from 1990 to 1998, as Leader of the Conservative Party from 1988 to 1998, and as the MP for Weston-super-Mare, his small hometown on the Bristol Channel, from 1978 to 1999. He was one of the architects and leaders of the 1990 Tory landslide that brought a center-right government to Parliament for the majority of the 1990's and oversaw several popular measures. His assistance with other NATO countries in campaigns in Scotland and Cyrene earned him ire among voters, as did high inflation and gas prices in his final term, and he pledged to step down as Prime Minister after the 1998 Conservative leadership conference, where his successor, Peter Stuart, was chosen. Still, he is regarded as one of the more popular Prime Ministers and one of the most successful legislative executives.
Early Life and Anarchy
Education and Business Career
Member of Parliament and Cabinet Appointment
Cleese decided in 1978, upon learning that the MP for Weston-super-Mare was retiring, to return to his hometown, where he still retained property, to run for Parliament in the upcoming election. Filing as the Conservative candidate only months before the election, Cleese won the constituency comfortably, and would win with almost 75% of the vote in every ensuing election until his retirement.
Cleese arrived in London along with a number of "New Tories," who tended to be moderates and often disaffected Labour members. While Cleese believed that this tide of moderate infusion to the Conservative Party, along with Prime Minister Minor's own moves towards the center, would cement the Tories as the chief party for years to come, was surprised by Labour's victory in 1981 following the worldwide economic downturn. With the clearing of the deck of many Conservatives from the Minor and even the Morgan years, the New Tories were seen as the youthful future of the party.
Cleese became a well-known broker of agreements between the Brantle government and the Opposition during 1982 and 1983, and was a fierce critic of the public workers' strikes which paralyzed the country, endearing himself to many right-wing elements of the party. In late 1983, Cleese was appointed as Shadow Transportation Minister, and following the Conservative victory in 1984 became the Transportation Minister in full.
Despite not serving in a traditionally powerful or influential Cabinet position, Cleese set out on an ambitious public tour to promote the Norrington government's train modernization initiatives and also proposed government investment into updating London and Birmingham's dilapidated, crumbling airports. His efforts allowed him to survive the 1986 Cabinet reshuffle, but he resigned his position out of dismay in January of 1987 out of disagreement with Norrington, whom he felt was insufficiently alleviating the English economic problem and for acquiescing to Irish military pressure. Cleese, elected initially as a moderate, became a broad consensus choice amongst both the party's right, which had grown tired of Norrington's ineffectiveness and abrasiveness, and the party's moderate wing, which respected his pragmatism, his willingness to compromise with Labour, his successful stimulus measures in transportation and his general charm. Following the narrow loss by the Tories to Labour in the May 1987 election, Cleese was viewed as the likely successor to Norrington, and the stage was set for the contentious showdown between the two men in the latter half of the year.
Leader of the Opposition and Landslide of 1990
As early as June 1987, powerful right-wing elements of the Conservative Party had begun to coalesce around Cleese, who already commanded the respect of many moderates. Cleese was viewed as a broad compromise candidate for party leader, due to his acceptance of the right's anger over Irish and French military provocations and frustrations with powerful unions, as well as his pragmatism and openness to various social programs broadly accepted by the English public, including hospital and housing reform in the mold of his transportation initiatives as Transportation Minister. Norrington, meanwhile, had lost almost his entire base on the right and had completely alienated the moderate wing of the party, setting up a showdown between the popular Cleese and Norrington in late 1987. The two men exchanged barbs throughout the year, and Norrington began grooming James Foote as his potential successor should the party refuse to nominate him at the January party convention, where the showdown was expected to come to a head.
At the January 15-21 convention, Cleese directly challenged Norrington for the leadership of the party and Norrington was stripped of party leadership by a strong margin on the 17th. Foote, from further on the right than Norrington, announced his candidacy the next day and a leadership election was held on the 19th with five candidates. Cleese won both rounds of voting and accepted his new position the evening of the 20th. On January 24th, upon returning to London, Cleese appeared in his first Prime Minister's Questions, challenging Prime Minister John Oliver on a highly-viewed national broadcast.
Premiership of John Cleese: 1990-1998
Economic Policy and Taxation
Leadership Challenges and Resignation
Cleese was only directly challenged for party leadership once, in 1994 when Labour came ahead of the Conservatives in major opinion polls for the first time since 1991. Little-known backbench MP Tom Kensington declared he would challenge Cleese for the leadership in September of 1994 to the surprise of the entire English political community. Cleese easily defeated Kensington, although the episode became sensational in the English media and started rumors about discord within the party to Cleese's rule that would continue throughout the next four years he was in power.
By 1998 Cleese, who had aged significantly and noticeably following the 1996 elections, faced deep personal opposition in his third government due to the war in Cyrene, which a majority of Englishmen opposed, the 1997-98 recession, and the 1998 Birmingham riot. Senior Tories, concerned about Labour's 17% lead in the polls following the elevation of John Lennon to the leadership earlier that year, began to advise Cleese to step down for the good of the party, although there was no mention of a leadership challenge occurring during the summer of 1998, as the 1999 general election was less than a year away. Frustrated with what he viewed as an intransigent and increasingly right-wing Cabinet, dismayed that his loyal participation in NATO operations in Scotland and Cyrene had found so little support amongst the English populace, and disheartened after hearing that rioters in Birmingham blamed his policies for their poverty, Cleese privately decided to resign from party leadership and allow for a leadership election at the August 1998 party conference. He delivered a speech at 10 Downing Street on August 8, declaring his intentions, stating in his speech, "I feel now, more than ever, that I am the wrong man to live at this address, that though my intentions for England were only good, now they have become controversial. As a believer in the ability of capitalism to provide opportunity and as a staunch proponent of future Conservative majorities in government, it is in the best interests of the England I believe in to stand aside as Prime Minister following the Party Conference."
At the Party Conference in Brighton, Cleese received a standing ovation during his address, in which he encouraged his potential successors to continue his policies and not apologize for conducting NATO operations in Cyrene, which had become the new focus of the upcoming election. He refused to back a particular candidate to be his successor, stating that his vote would only be known following the election. In the August 20 election on the last day of the conference, Minister of Agriculture Peter Stuart defeated Deputy Prime Minister John Bell on the second ballot, and Cleese moved out of 10 Downing Street on the 22nd. Later, he revealed that he had supported Bell, who had long been regarded as his protege, in the election against the younger, more conservative Stuart.