Ok maybe the title is misleading… I don’t mean the Smiths but the late Rt Hon John Smith QC MP. It was 15 years ago that Labour leader and PM in waiting died and Paul Burgin over at Mars Hill has tagged me to answer the following:

Where were you when you heard John Smith had died?

I think I was in the basement of ULU. I was a postgrad by then and doing stuff for “London Student” as well as being NUS London Area’s Black student officer. It was the editor Ben Oliver who told me, a first year at LSE who was already flogging copy to Fleet Street. Not precisely sure of his exact whereabouts now. We were both incredulous.

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

I actually was introduced to him once. I was a work experience bod/intern/assistant to Patrica Hewitt during the Summer of 1992 when she was deputy director of the IPPR. Smith was elected leader throughout that time and we went to the Commons to meet him and float the idea of the Social Justice Commission. Hewitt said something like “How does it feel Mr 99%?”. I shook his hand but was so starstruck I could not think of anything witty (or unwitty) to say and was genuinely lost for words. He was a larger than life figure – literally.

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

Yes. The 1994 European elections saw Labour taking south east seats we never had. At the time I thought it was a John Smith sympathy thing but then even greater heights were scaled in 1997 so it’s difficult to hypothesise in a crystal ball way but I think Smith would have been a good continuity (with Labour history) and change (OMOV etc) PM. People always compare him to Hugh Gaitskell, another Labour rightwinger who also died on the cusp of power. I think despite his positioning in the party Smith would not have shied away from the word “socialist” which the Labour party has done ever since. He also promised a referendum on proportional representation which never happened – mind you I am not PR fan. I think it was a disasterous decision for the European Parliament.

What do you think is his lasting legacy?

Well to answer literally the Labour HQ at Walworth Road was renamed John Smith House afterwards. There is the John Smith Memorial Trust, which promotes democracy overseas and is headed up by ex Kingston University staffer Brian Brivati. Channel 4 News presenter Sarah Smith is I think a daughter or his. I suppose in terms of Labour party structures it was the removal of union block votes and electoral colleges. His tragic passing is proof of the way the turn of events politics takes can be unforseen, unpredictable, unplanned: Tony Blair’s entire post 1994 career was based on Smith’s premature death.

I hereby nominate the following to answer the same

Dave’s Part
Anthony Painter
Socialist Unity
Democrat’s Diary

and fab new entry to the blogroll Redthreads – not to be confused in any way, shape or form with aborted Draper/McBride baby RedRag mind.e