Email will never catch on! What aides told John Major

Email will never catch on! What aides told John Major

Email will never catch on! What aides told John Major (before urging the PM to join the internet revolution before Tony Blair)

  • Comical memos show John Major’s fusty Downing Street being encouraged to connect to the internet for the very first time
  • A note written by Damian Green in August 1994 encouraged Alex Allan to move forward with ‘signing up’
  • In another memo, Alex Allan, Major’s Principal Private Secretary, mused on the benefits of unveiling a public email address for the Prime Minister

Comical memos show John Major’s fusty Downing Street being encouraged to connect to the internet for the very first time – amid fears that young upstart Tony Blair may beat them to it.

A note written by Damian Green in August 1994 encouraged Alex Allan to move forward with ‘signing up’, correctly predicting that ‘internet users will be a growing group of opinion-formers’.

‘Various MPs who are computer-literate have made the point to me that it would be advantageous for No 10 to be seen to be up with developments in this area.

John Major’s fusty Downing Street being encouraged to connect to the internet for the very first time – amid fears that young upstart Tony Blair (pictured) may beat them to it


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‘Specifically, connecting No 10 with the Internet would keep us up with the White House, which has made a big thing of the modern way the Clinton/Gore administration deals with communication’, Mr Green opined in the newly released document.

‘Internet users will be a growing group of opinion-formers, and I can just imagine Tony Blair showing how he belongs to a new generation by signing up’, he added.

Back in 1994, only just over 1% of the population were connected to the internet, according to World Bank figures. In just six years the figures surged to above 25%.

In another memo, Alex Allan, Major’s Principal Private Secretary, mused on the benefits of unveiling a public email address for the Prime Minister.

A letter released by the National Archives showing how Damian Green urged John Major’s government to embrace the internet in 1994 to catch up with the White House and stay ahead of young Labour leader Tony Blair

‘I do not believe we would get a huge volume of E-mail in the long run, but we could expect an initial flood as people around the world tried it out for fun’, he commented.

Another memo sent by Allan the previous year tends to suggest that Downing Street was not always at the forefront of technology, however. 

In the November 1992 note, Allan reveals the PM’s private office at No 10 had no direct fax line, despite the technology being widely used by business, government and in the home.

He wrote: ‘I have to say that I do think that a direct fax line would be sensible. We must be the only office in the public or private sector who does not have one, so I do not believe that the security problems of people misdirecting faxes would be significantly increased.’

He concluded: ‘I should be grateful if you could investigate with the Cabinet Office for the scope of having at least one direct fax line in. 

‘I would suggest that we kept the knowledge of the number restricted to a small group of people as possible, primarily other Private Offices.’

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