Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The John Smith Meme

Turns out I wasn't the only blogger who remembered that today was the 15th aniversary of the death of John Smith. Paul Burgin remembered too, and tagged me in a meme about Labour's lost leader. Happy to oblige, Paul.

Where were you when you heard John Smith had died?

I was at work in the South Wales Echo newsroom in Cardiff. It was the year before I went into the Lobby, so I ended up playing a supporting role in our coverage while our then Lobby men, Bill Doult and Bill Jacobs, did the business. I remember a conversation with a newsroom colleague, now a reporter on The Times, about who the likely successor would be: she said she thought it ought to be Blair, but we would probably end up with Brown. Ho hum.

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

Like Margaret Thatcher, I think John Smith would have turned out to be a better Prime Minister than he was a Leader of the Opposition. Doubtless the pace of reform in the party at the time could have been faster, but I have never bought into idea that this would have cost Labour the election, and Smith's essential decency coupled with the Tory disarray after Black Wednesday would have got him very comfortably into No 10.

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

I think he would have been a great Prime Minister. He would not have electrified the country in the way Blair did, but that would ultimately have been no bad thing - we would have had good, solid, responsible Labour government but without all the meretricious Cool Brittania nonsense that surrounded it, or the corrosive spin that ultimately destroyed the New Labour brand. He would also not have made the mistake of staying on too long, and would probably have handed over to Blair (or Brown) at a time when the political wind was still behind Labour. And of course, he would not have invaded Iraq, or built the Dome, or employed Alastair Campbell.

What do you think is his lasting legacy?

Devolution would clearly have been one of them - he would have embraced this enthusiastically rather than grudgingly as Blair did, and might well have extended it to some of the English regions as well as Scotland and Wales. He would certainly have pursued a more aggressive regional policy, rather than allowing inequalities between parts of the UK to widen as Blair did. More broadly, I think he would have restored trust in politics after the Major years, instead of which it has been steadily dragged down to new depths.

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Laban said...

"might well have extended it to some of the English regions"

except that the English regions don't want it and never have. England is a country - like Scotland and Wales - not an assemblage of 'regions'.

paul.linford@and.co.uk said...

I knew that would get 'em going.

hotspur said...

Paul, you were the first journalist in England to call for an English Parliament.When we get our English Parliament I will put your name forward for a Cross of St George in the new English honours system anyway.bad lad.