In anticipation of a potential Labour victory, Norma Major discreetly relocated her clothing from Downing Street.

Declassified files from John Major’s private secretary reveal the extensive planning involved in a transition of power.

According to declassified files from the National Archives, John and Norma Major anticipated a Conservative party defeat by Labour in the 1997 election. Norma discreetly moved her clothes out of Downing Street before polling day.

In an advisory note dated October 2000, Alex Allan, former principal private secretary to both John Major and Tony Blair, provided advice to Jeremy Heywood, who held that role under Blair at the time. Allan shared insights from a manual on “procedures for general elections” exchanged between private secretaries.

Allan wrote, “John and [Norma] Major obviously understood that the odds favored Labour winning the 1997 election. I had private discussions with them. Norma discreetly moved a significant amount of clothes out of Downing Street before the election, making the moving process easier if they were to lose. If they had won, it would have been a joy to bring back their clothes and belongings!”

The note further describes the detailed planning involved in a handover of power after an election, including the diplomatic challenges that aides must navigate when transitioning incumbent ministers.

Allan recounted how he showed Jonathan Powell, who later became Blair’s chief of staff, around 10 and 11 Downing Street while the prime minister, chancellor, and their families were away. “That’s when we realized the No 10 flat was too small for the Blairs.”

Major insisted that no removal van should be visible on or near Downing Street on polling day, as mentioned in the note. However, a van did cause a panic among advisers on the prime minister’s street. Upon investigation, it was discovered that a Cabinet Office accommodation officer had scheduled the move on that day, assuming it would be quiet.

Allan also recalled Major’s dissatisfaction with the Cabinet Office the day after the election. He felt the office was insensitive in their eagerness to ensure no government property was mixed up with the Majors’ belongings.

In addition, Allan mentioned the effort required to persuade the Chancellor, Ken Clarke, to vacate No 11. Clarke was not the type to rush, according to Allan, and he kept suggesting a delay of a day or two, believing Tony Blair wouldn’t mind.

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