The Thick of It


Friday, May 22, 2009

John Smith

Recently linked to Labour blog Red Threads tagged me in a post about John Smith to mark the fifteenth anniversary of his death. The idea is to get as many Labour people talking about our late (great) leader.

Where were you when you heard John Smith had died?
I had just got home from secondary school, I was 14. My mum was standing by the radio in our kitchen and told me the second I walked in the door. When she told me I felt like the world I had hoped for had just been snatched away from me. I felt a slightly desperate. I can remember staying up late with my dad in 1992 to watch the election results come in and getting deeply upset. John Smith was Labour's last hope and he was no longer.

How did you view John Smith when he was leader and how do you view him now?
In the run up to the 1992 election it had seemed that the media and much of the public was deeply suspicious of Neil Kinnock. John Smith was painted as the sensible alternative who would have led Labour to victory - despite his disastrous shadow budget and the subsequent Tory Labour's tax bombshell adverts.

At the time I viewed him as the only man left who could lead Labour back into government. Now I view him as a man who probably would have led Labour to victory in 1997, but who would have led a different party to that which Tony Blair took into government. Reform of the party would have been less aggressive than under Blair, Smith's victory was OMOV, I'm not sure he'd have wanted to take on more. As a result it could be argued that Labour might not have been able to hold onto power for as long as it has. Or it could be argued that he might have kept Labour old and that the party would have remained stronger. I'm not necessarily convinced of the latter. Key strands of his policy as Shadow Chancellor in 1992 were a national minimum wage - something enacted by Blair's government.

Do you think he would have made a good Prime Minister?
Smith would have made a good PM. I don't know if he'd have been able to decimate the Tories in parliament and in elections as the centrist Blair managed. They were so tired by 1997 though, so who knows?

What do you think is his lasting legacy?
Smith carried on necessary reform of the Labour Party and his commitment to social justice was undoubted. It is important that we continue to remember him in the Labour movement. It is so easy to forget that Blair's dominance of British politics and Labour Party came about by accident.


Colm said...

I was in the Watford branch of Pizza Express with my Mum when I found out. I remember there being a copy of the Standard on the way in.

I think the most negative legacy of his death is the completely fatuous Blairite/Brownite split, which is of interest to no one apart from those in the upper reaches of the party machine. I think factions are part and parcel of the Labour Party's broad church nature, but they shouldn't be based on personality alone.

Brendan said...

I was working at North West Water at the time - now United Utilities - and I could hear people talking about it. I thought they must have meant a different John Smith.

His legacy is probably that he made the Labour party acceptable to the public, continuing the work Kinnock did but without Kinnock's egotism.