John Smith (UK politician): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to John Smith (Labour Party leader) article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Right Honourable
 John Smith MP

In office
18 July 1992 – 12 May 1994
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Neil Kinnock
Succeeded by Margaret Beckett (acting)
Tony Blair

In office
12 June 1987 – 18 July 1992
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by Roy Hattersley
Succeeded by Gordon Brown

In office
11 November 1978 – 4 May 1979
Prime Minister James Callaghan
Preceded by Edmund Emanuel Dell
Succeeded by John Nott

Member of Parliament
for Monklands East
Lanarkshire North (1970-1983)
In office
18 June 1970 – 12 May 1994
Preceded by Margaret Herbison
Succeeded by Helen Liddell
Majority 11,747 (37.7%)

Born 13 September 1938(1938-09-13)
Ardrishaig, Scotland
Died 12 May 1994 (aged 55)
London, England
Resting place Iona
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Smith, (nee Bennett) (1967-1994)
Children Three daughters, including Sarah Smith
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Religion Church of Scotland

John Smith (13 September 1938 - 12 May 1994) was a Scottish Labour politician who was the Member of Parliament for Monklands East from 1970 and the Leader of the Opposition from July 1992 until his sudden death from a heart attack in May 1994.


Early life

John Smith was born in Dalmally, the son of a Headmaster, and grew up in Ardrishaig in Argyll and Bute. He joined the Labour Party in 1956. He attended Dunoon Grammar School (Dunoon, Cowal), lodging in the town with a landlady and going home only during the holidays, before enrolling at the University of Glasgow, where he studied History from the Autumn of 1956 to 1959, and then Law, from 1959 to 1962.

He became involved in debating with the Glasgow University Dialectic Society and at the Glasgow University Union and, in 1962, won The Observer Mace debating championship with Donald Dewar. After his death, this was renamed the John Smith Memorial Mace in his honour.

After graduating, Smith practised for a year as a solicitor. He was then elected to the Faculty of Advocates, and later to the United Kingdom Parliament.

Member of Parliament

John Smith first stood as a Labour parliamentary candidate at a by-election in 1961 in the East Fife constituency, and contested that seat again in the 1964 General Election. At the 1970 general election he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for North Lanarkshire. Smith defied the Labour whips in 1971 and voted in favour of entry to the European Economic Community, along with Roy Hattersley and David Owen.


In Government

In October 1974, Harold Wilson offered John Smith the post of Solicitor General for Scotland. Smith turned it down and was instead made an Under-Secretary of state at the Department of Energy. In December 1975 he was made a Minister of State. When James Callaghan became Prime Minister, Smith became a Minister of State at the Privy Council Office, where he piloted the highly controversial devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales through the House of Commons. Smith's handling of these proposals impressed the Prime Minister, and in November 1978, when Edmund Dell retired, Callaghan appointed Smith Secretary of State for Trade. In this post, Smith was the youngest member of the cabinet, and served there until the 1979 General Election.

Shadow Cabinet

In the early 1980s Smith was Shadow Energy Secretary. He became a QC in 1983, the same year that the constituency became Monklands East. Smith acted as Roy Hattersley's campaign manager for the party leadership election in October 1983 and after serving a year as Shadow Employment Secretary, was Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry between late 1984 and 1987.

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

John Smith was appointed Shadow Chancellor by Neil Kinnock in June 1987 after Party's General Election defeat. However, he suffered a heart attack whilst Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on 9 October 1988 and was forced to spend three months away from Westminster to recover. On that occasion, he had complained of chest pains the night before, and had to be persuaded to cancel a flight to London so he could go to hospital for a check up. He was examined at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by an ECG. The doctor who examined him said "Whatever it is, we don't think it is your heart". Then Smith suddenly collapsed and was briefly unconscious before coming around. He spent three days in intensive care before leaving hospital on 20 October 1988, to make a full recovery.

Smith made modifications to his lifestyle by going on a 1,000 calorie diet, cutting down on rich foods and fine wines, giving up smoking and taking up Munro bagging and by the time of his death he had succeeded in climbing 108 of the 277 Scottish Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet above sea level at the summit). His weight dropped from 15 stone 5 pounds (98 kg) at the time of the first heart attack, to 12 stone 10 pounds (81 kg) when he returned to Parliament on 23 January 1989.

Despite a quiet, modest manner, and his politically moderate stance, he was a witty, often scathing speaker. Smith was named as Parliamentarian of the year twice; the first time in November 1986 for his performances during the Westland controversy, during which Leon Brittan resigned and the second was in November 1989 for taking Nigel Lawson to task over the state of the economy and over his difficult relationship with Sir Alan Walters, the Prime Minister's Economic Adviser. Smith made two notably witty attacks on Lawson that year. On 7 June 1989 he sang the theme tune for the soap Neighbours at the dispatch box, lampooning the differences between Lawson and Sir Alan Walters, who was critical of Lawson's policies and who Thatcher refused to sack. Then on 24 October he made another scathing attack on the differences. Two days later, Lawson resigned, followed shortly afterwards by Sir Alan.

Leader of the Opposition

Following Labour's fourth successive defeat at the 1992 general election, Neil Kinnock resigned as leader and John Smith was elected Labour leader.

In September 1992, he made his maiden speech as party leader, about the Government's ERM debacle eight days earlier, saying that John Major was "The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government". At the party conference he referred to Major and Norman Lamont as being the Laurel and Hardy of British politics. This echoed his attacks on Major's government which he had made before the 1992 election while still shadow chancellor, most memorably when he attacked Tory plans for cutting income tax to 20% as "irresponsible" [1] and joked at a Labour Party rally in Sheffield that the Tories would have a box office disaster with "Honey, I Shrunk the Economy" - in reference to the recent Disney motion picture Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - mocking the recession which was plaguing the British economy at the time. [2]

In a June 1993 debate, Smith again savaged the Conservative Government, saying that under John Major's premiership, "The man with the non-midas touch is in charge. It is no wonder that we live in a country where the Grand National does not start and hotels fall into the sea". During the same debate, Smith referred to a recent Government defeat in the Newbury by-election, a poor showing in the local elections, and a subsequent Cabinet reshuffle by saying that, "If we were to offer that tale of events to the BBC Light Entertainment Department as a script for a programme, I think that the producers of Yes Minister would have turned it down as hopelessly over the top. It might have even been too much for "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em"". He also performed very well in the motion of confidence debate in the Conservative government in July 1993.

Despite his dispatch box successes, (Smith was always more effective in the House of Commons than on Platforms or at Prime Minister's Questions, though he began to improve at the latter during the final months of his life), Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were, under Smith's leadership, restless and anxious in private that the party had adopted a "one more heave" approach and had become overly cautious in tackling the legacy of "tax and spend".

Despite this, during his time as leader of the Labour Party he abolished the trade union block vote at Labour party conferences, and replaced it with "one member one vote" at the 1993 party conference and committed a future Labour government to establishing a Scottish Parliament, a policy which was followed through by his successors (most notably his close friend Donald Dewar) after his death. Also, during his time as leader, the Labour party gained a significant lead in the polls over the Conservatives and on 5 May 1994 the Conservatives received a severe drubbing in the council elections in the UK. Their opinion poll lead was 23% in early May 1994.


On the evening of 11 May 1994, John Smith made a speech at a fund raising dinner at Park Lane Hotel with around 500 people present, saying famously "The opportunity to serve our country - that is all we ask". The following morning, at 8.05am, whilst in his Barbican flat, Smith suffered a massive heart attack. His wife phoned an ambulance and he was rushed to Saint Bartholomew's Hospital where he died at 9.15am on 12 May 1994 having never regained consciousness. Only two weeks before his death, on 28 April, Smith had visited the same accident and emergency department to campaign against its proposed closure. The very doctor who served as his tour guide, Professor Mike Besser, two weeks later tried unsuccessfully to save Smith's life.

In response to his death, John Major made a fitting tribute in the House of Commons to Smith, culminating in the now well known line, that John Smith "would share a drink: sometimes tea, sometimes not tea".[1][2] It was reported that there was weeping in the chamber.[3]

On the day of his death, the BBC 9 o'clock news was extended to an hour as opposed to the usual half hour. This replaced the medical drama which was due to follow at 9:30, coincidentally entitled "Cardiac Arrest".

On 20 May 1994, after a funeral in Cluny Parish Church, Edinburgh attended by 900 people and after which 3,000 people lined the streets, John Smith was buried in a private family funeral on the island of Iona, at the sacred burial ground of Reilig Odhráin, which contains the graves of several Scottish kings as well as monarchs of Ireland, Norway and France.[4]. On 14 July 1994, his memorial service was attended in Westminster Abbey by over 2,000 people. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address.

Following Smith's death, the Labour Party renamed its party headquarters in Walworth Road John Smith House in his memory.


John Smith, ironically for someone who was on the Gaitskellite wing of the party, has become an iconic figure for Labour's left-wing and centre since his death[citation needed], because of his perceived traditionalist approach and the contrasts between his leadership and those of Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair. This perception has also arisen as many on the Labour left have argued that the party had swung too far to the right under Blair's leadership. Smith, though he introduced OMOV, refused to amend Clause IV because he thought it was irrelevant. (It was eventually amended on 29 April 1995.)

John Smith's biographer, Mark Stuart, claimed that Smith could have won Labour a Parliamentary victory in 1997 on a similar scale to that achieved by Tony Blair due to the combination of the Black Wednesday debacle and ongoing Conservative divisions over Europe between 1992 and 1997; however, Stuart argues that the lack of a Blair effect would have meant that the Conservative Party would have held slightly over 200 seats in the House of Commons, leaving the Conservatives in a position similar to that of Labour in 1983 than to the actual Conservative result in 1997.[5] The sense that Smith's untimely death cheated him of the premiership may well have contributed to the nostalgia for his leadership by the Labour left; a common sentiment is that Smith was the "best Prime Minister we never had".

Personal life

John Smith was married to Elizabeth Bennett from 5 July 1967 until his death. Elizabeth Smith was created Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill in 1995. They had three daughters, one of whom, Sarah Smith, is Washington correspondent for Channel 4 news.

Further reading

  • McSmith, Andy (1994). John Smith: A Life 1938-1994. Mandarin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7493-9675-6. 
  • Brown, Gordon; James Naughtie, (1994). John Smith, Life and Soul of the Party. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85158-692-9. 
  • Christopher Bryant, ed (1994). John Smith, An Appreciation. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-62801-0. 
  • Rosen, Greg (2006). Old Labour to New. Politico's Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84275-045-2. 
  • Stuart, Mark (2005). John Smith - A Life. Politico's Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84275-126-8. 
  • Brian Brivati, ed (2000). Guiding Light: The Collected Speeches of John Smith. Politico's Publishing. ISBN 978-1-902301-62-4. 


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Margaret Herbison
Member of Parliament for Lanarkshire North
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Monklands East
Succeeded by
Helen Liddell
Political offices
Preceded by
Edmund Emanuel Dell
Secretary of State for Trade
1978 – 1979
Succeeded by
John Nott
Preceded by
Roy Hattersley
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
1987 – 1992
Succeeded by
Gordon Brown
Preceded by
Neil Kinnock
Leader of the Opposition
1992 – 1994
Succeeded by
Margaret Beckett
Party political offices
Preceded by
Neil Kinnock
Leader of the Labour Party
1992 – 1994
Succeeded by
Margaret Beckett


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address