Major steals the show with `secret siblings'
The forthcoming publication of the memoirs of the former prime minister, Mr John Major, threatens to overshadow all other issues at the Tory Party conference this week. Disclosures regarding Mr Major's "secret siblings" and his personal opinions about other politicians are already making waves after the book began serialisation in yesterday's Sunday Times.
The SDLP leader, Mr John Hume, is one of the major targets of Mr Major's candid work. In a chapter entitled Into The Mists: Bright Hopes, Black Deeds, Mr Major vehemently defends British policy in Northern Ireland between 1993 and 1996 and alleges that Mr Hume became an obstacle to progress in the peace process by constantly taking the side of Sinn Fein.
He also asserts that the SDLP leader was "loath to reciprocate unionist concessions".
The Hume-Adams document also comes under attack as Mr Major insists that it was "utterly one-sided, so heavily skewed towards the presumption of a united Ireland that they had no merit as a basis for negotiation.
"They were little more than an invitation to the British government to sell out the majority in the North and the democratic principles that we had always defended," he adds.
"An Irish official privately acknowledged that the Provisionals were not aiming at general acceptability. Their aim was to unite the Irish government and the SDLP in a pan-nationalist front in order to negotiate Northern Ireland's future with the British government over the heads of unionism."
He also attacks his predecessor, Baroness Thatcher, for being "unconservative" and "shrill": "Too often she conducted government by gut instinct: conviction, some said admiringly, but at any rate without mature, detached examination of the issues. She lost her political agility; the poll tax and crude antiEuropeanism were the policies that resulted."
It is not only the revelations concerning Mr Major's political life that have been drawing attention, however. Disclosures regarding his colourful family history have also been whipping up a storm.
It is revealed in the autobiography that he has a half-sister, a 75-year-old widow, Mrs Kathleen Lemon. She lives in Whitchurch, Shropshire, and is the illegitimate daughter of John's playboy father, Tom Major-Ball. She was the result of an affair the travelling showman had with her mother, Alice Maude Frankland.
Tom Major-Ball had just married his "leading lady" Kate Grant when Ms Lemon was born and they cared for her together for a time, until she was adopted by William Sandland, a Higher Heath cowherd.
Ms Lemon, who is herself a mother of four, is said to have watched her brother's ascent to political power with great interest. She never made any attempt to contact her long-lost sibling, however, and chose to keep her presence secret, for fear that any disclosure might damage his political career.
It was only after his crippling defeat in the 1997 general election that Ms Lemon came forward. The two have built a warm friendship since.
And his half-sister is not the only "sibling-surprise" revealed in Mr Major's new book. It is also divulged that he has an illegitimate half-brother who was the result of another of his father's sexual adventures. Tom Moss, an opera singer, was born after Tom Major-Ball seduced a married singer, Marie Santoi, in 1900.
John Major: The Autobiography is to be published on October 11th by HarperCollins.