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'Credible and radical': John Smith remembered 30 years after his death – LabourList


Yvette Cooper and others have paid tribute to former Labour leader John Smith 30 years on from his death, with the Shadow Home Secretary saying his “determination to be both credible and radical” is as important now as it was during his lifetime.

Cooper – who worked as an economic researcher for Smith in her early career – delivered a keynote speech at the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary, University of London earlier this week, marking 30 years since Smith’s death.

She told attendees that his death on this day in 1994 “stole from the Labour Party a great politician, a great leader and, for many of us, a great mentor and a friend”, describing his style of politics as “rooted in decency and respect”.

Cooper described Smith as a “realist and a pragmatist” but argued that the former Labour leader also showed a “determined radicalism on the economy, on devolution and reforming the Labour Party”.

“Contrary to that picture often painted of John as cautious, he in fact developed bold and brilliantly progressive policies, which did ultimately help change the face, not just of the Labour Party, but change the country too,” she said.

Cooper recalled people asking her what Smith was like to work for, telling attendees: “I think really what you saw was what you got. What the public saw was what I saw in those offices, too. That sense of decency, integrity, deeply caring family man.”

She continued: “The wit and the humour. His love of the absurd, the twinkle in his eye. And someone who was as happy debating with the CBI as with the Scottish TUC, talking to Edinburgh lawyers or to Ravenscraig steelworkers. He was as happy drinking in the Airdrie working men’s club or in the House of Commons bar.

“And his love of argument, as well, but also the respect he held for the people he argued with and the respect that he inspired in people in return. The way that he argued was about, in the end, building consensus. It was about persuading people.”

The Labour frontbencher recalled the “fierce, controlled anger” that Smith felt “about the damage the Tories were doing to Britain” and the “forensic focus that he had in pulling them apart in the most scathing of ways”, adding: “I learnt a lot about how to do politics from John Smith.”

She continued: “John’s determination to be both credible and radical, his passionate advocacy for social justice and economic efficiency going hand in hand, his combination of principle and pragmatism and his willingness to work to bring people together… are as important now today as they were 30 years ago.”

The Labour frontbencher argued that “we feel the echoes of John’s experience again today… not just in the state of the country, the state of the government, the state of the Tory Party, but in a re-energised Labour Party coming back from defeat”.

Cooper was joined at the event by David Ward, who served as Smith’s head of policy and adviser from 1988 to 1994, as well as former Labour MEP Pauline Green and Richard Johnson, a senior lecturer in politics at Queen Mary.

Ward argued that Smith’s legacy is “far more enduring than people realise”, noting that he only served as leader of the Labour Party for 22 months but that “the impact he made was really substantial”.

“Probably the greatest legacies of the Blair government if you do a list of them, quite a lot of them were really put in place by Smith,” he said.

Green recalled Smith’s “energy and enthusiasm” that “drove the discussion and drove him and drove the people around him”, adding: “He made a huge impact on my life.”


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