Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Remembering John Smith

A couple of months ago, I promised Rupa Huq that I would answer some questions about John Smith and his legacy on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. I failed to do so- slap wrist. So I am making amends today:

Where were you when you heard John Smith had died?

I was doing a bar job during a year out between school and Uni and was taking a food order when someone came and told me. I found it deeply upsetting as just a few weeks before I had heard him speak- the first Labour leader I had heard speak- in Symphony Hall in Birmingham. When I was at school- a very Tory school- people would mock the Labour party and I'd be able to retort, yes, but what about John Smith? He had respect beyond the Labour party.

How did you view John Smith when he was leader and how do you view him now?

How did I view him? Moral, sturdy, reassuring, decent, intelligent.
And now? The same.

Do you think he would have made a good Prime Minister?

Well, the first question is would he have become Prime Minister? I believe he would have done. A lot of people blamed his shadow Budget for Labour's defeat in 1992. There is little doubt that NI increases and the new top rate of tax kicked in at far too low an income level. You have to wonder from that whether he did have a strong understanding of middle England in particular. However, he probably learned a hard lesson from that experience. So I believe that Labour would have won in 1997 with him at the helm but probably with a much smaller majority as middle England would still have been a bit jittery with him.

Those qualities I outlined above are good qualities for a Prime Minister. Yes, I believe he would have made an excellent Prime Minister. You can't predict how it would have been different....more social democratic, less reformist perhaps.....but his personal qualities were many of the right ones.

What do you think is his lasting legacy?

Three-fold:

i) Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It was Smith who nurtured them.
ii) Vince Cable. He was his SPAD in the 1970s but then he jumped onto the SDP ship....whereas John Smith:
iii) Stayed with the Labour party through the dark days of the early 1980s and kept a centre of gravity that would enable Labour to compete for office effectively once again.

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