John Smith (Labour Party leader)

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John Smith QC (13 September 1938 – 12 May 1994) was a British politician. Born in Argyllshire, he became involved in politics while at Glasgow University where he won awards for his debating skill. He qualified as an Advocate and worked in the Scottish courts before he was elected to Parliament for the Labour Party in 1970. He was largely responsible for conducting the legislation devolving power to Scotland and Wales through Parliament in the late 1970s and served briefly in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Trade in 1978–79.

Largely staying out of the troubled internal debates affecting the Labour Party in the early 1980s, Smith built up a considerable reputation for forensic debating skill. From 1987 to 1992 he served as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and was known as a clear leadership contender, despite suffering a severe heart attack in 1988 which put him out of operation for several months. In 1992 he was elected Leader, and effectively led the attack on the government of John Major which was beginning to get into trouble. He died suddenly from a second heart attack when the Labour Party was being seriously talked about as the next party of government.


  • If it is the case that one Department of this Government deliberately organised a leak to frustrate a Minister in the same Government, that is not only dirty tricks but a habit that is inimical to the practice of good government in this country.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 89, col. 1157.
    • Speech on the Westland affair, 15 January 1986.
  • In the course of a few weeks the one policy with which the Prime Minister was uniquely and personally associated, the contribution to policy of which he appears to have been most proud, has been blown apart, and with it has gone for ever any claim by the Prime Minister or the party that he leads to economic competence. He is the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 212, col. 22.
    • House of Commons speech, 24 September 1992, referring to Black Wednesday.
  • In response to the plummeting popularity of the Administration itself, revealed at Newbury and in the shire county elections, we have the Prime Minister's botched reshuffle. 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". The tragedy for us all is that it is really happening—it is fact, not fiction. 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.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 226, col. 292.
    • House of Commons speech, 9 June 1993. That year's Grand National horse race had been declared void after a start-line mishap. The Holbeck Hall Hotel in Scarborough began to fall into the sea on 3 June 1993 due to coastal erosion.
  • The opportunity to serve our country—that is all we ask.
    • Speech to Labour Party fund-raising dinner, 11 May 1994 (the night before his death).


  • It can fairly be said of John Smith that he had all the virtues of a Scottish presbyterian, but none of the vices.

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