Tag Archives: john smith

Remembering John Smith 25 years on…

Twenty five years ago today, I was at work when someone came in and said that Labour leader John Smith had died. I was so shocked and sad at the loss of someone that, as far as I knew, everyone, no matter what party they were in, liked and respected.

He was a thoroughly decent man who, as Shadow Chancellor and Leader of the Opposition, handed the backsides of Tory ministers to them on a plate on a regular basis, but could also engage in constructive dialogue and had good relationships with them. I often wonder what would have happened if he had become Prime Minister, as he almost certainly would have in 1997. His administration may not have had the pizzazz of the Cool Britannia vibe, but I suspect it would have been very steady and not subject to the destructive factionalism that undermined Tony Blair.

The House of Commons held a debate to mark the 25th anniversary of his death. Our Christine Jardine spoke for us.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young TV reporter standing in a car park in Aberdeen with a camera crew waiting to interview Tony Blair. We knew that John Smith had had a heart attack that morning and we hoped that Tony Blair’s delayed arrival would bring a statement that all was fine and that John Smith would recuperate and be back soon. Sadly, by the time Tony Blair did arrive, we knew he had a very different outcome to relay to us. My thoughts that day, as on this day, were not merely about politics. I come from a family of three girls who lost their dad to a sudden heart attack at 44, and my thoughts were, and still are, with his girls. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh South would agree that, wherever Scottish politicians gather, at some point we get to talking about John Smith and what might have been—the country that might have been, the Labour party that might have been, how devolution might have developed differently, how the Labour Government might have acted differently—but we must always remember those lives most closely affected by losing him.

I do not claim to have known John Smith well, but when I was a young reporter he always gave me time and treated my often naive questions with respect, and he never ever patronised me—something we should all think about as Members. I particularly remember one evening when I was a reporter at Radio Clyde and had to phone him about the latest speculation about whether Neil, now Lord, Kinnock, was about to step down as Labour party leader. Once he had dismissed it as nonsense and said there was no way he would comment on such a ludicrous suggestion, he spent about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour, just chatting with me, putting me right about the situation and telling me what was actually going on in British politics and what I should be aware of. I came away from that conversation, which he did not have to have with me, better informed, and from then on in my career, I had much greater insight into and respect for British politics. I was not the only one, and I do not think it was just because I was a graduate of Glasgow University. I was not the only journalist in Scotland who had for John Smith the sort of respect and admiration the rest of us can often only aspire to. Other Members have spoken about the grief felt across Scotland among politicians. I cannot speak for the politicians of that time—I was not one of them, I was a journalist—but every single one of us felt that day that we had lost something that we perhaps had not valued enough. We saw him as a politician committed to an ideal but with a tolerance, understanding and commitment to people and communities that we would do well to emulate here.​

I remember another occasion when I was sent to a pub in Airdrie—if memory serves—on the occasion of John Smith’s first response as shadow Chancellor. I was sent out to get public reaction to what the local MP was going to say, and I came away with a picture of a man regarded in his constituency as “one of us”, as somebody who understood his constituency and spoke for his constituency. He knew exactly what they wanted to hear and what they needed. I contrast that with the detached, two-dimensional picture that politicians often can project today. Maybe we need a little more of whatever it was that John Smith had, because he had something special that gave him a place in the hearts of journalists, politicians, the community and everybody in Scotland.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 9 Comments

Will Ed Miliband “do a John Smith” and push for an early EU in/out referendum? There are advantages, y’know…

John Major and David CameronCould Labour be about to “do a John Smith” to the Tories over the timing of an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union?

In the 1990s, Labour wrought havoc on the fourth-term Tory government by (cynically) teaming up with the right-wing ‘Maastricht rebels’ to inflict damaging Commons defeats on their common enemy, John Major.

Could Ed Miliband try and do the same to David Cameron? That’s the hint in today’s Guardian:

Labour is considering backing an in-out referendum on Europe as early as

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Predicting the future: we didn’t turn Japanese

Shortly after the Conservative Party won its fourth general election in a row in 1992, a symposium met to consider the question of whether Britain – formerly a country with regularly rotating government between the two main parties – was turning into a political version of Japan, where the same party had been in power for nearly forty years.

Even between the event occurring and the publication of a book based on it, Turning Japanese? Britain with a Permanent Party of Government (eds. Helen Margretts and Gareth Smyth), political events in both countries had taken a dramatic turn. In Japan the LDP lost power, starting a period of much greater political fluidity with even subsequent LDP Prime Ministers struggling to restore their party’s previous dominance. Meanwhile in Britain the collapse of the Conservative Party’s economic policies following Britain’s enforced exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) quickly made the government appear very vulnerable, even if debates in Labour continued on whether, as John Smith preferred, one more heave was all that was needed or whether, as Tony Blair insisted on after John Smith’s death, a more radical reshaping of the party was required to win the next election.

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , , , , , and | 5 Comments

PMQs: Hattie opens up the Coalition’s Grand Canyon

I feel as though Norris McWhirter (late of the Guinness Book of Records) ought to have been kneeling at the foot of the Speaker’s Chair with his stopwatch for this momentous Prime Minister’s Questions. There were several records or firsts being set. The first coalition PMQs ever, I would suggest (I doubt whether Winnie or Ramsay or our David held such events). The first with Liberal Democrats on the government benches. The first with a party sporting its second female leader (Margaret Beckett was acting Labour leader after John Smith died). And it’s 13 long years since we had …

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