After two previous failed attempts, 1970 saw Smith finally win a seat, capturing the North Lanarkshire seat. 

    During his first term, Smith had an impact. He was one of 69 Labour rebels, led by Labour Deputy Leader Roy Jenkins, who defied the party whip to support UK entry into the European Economic Community. Biographer Andy McSmith noted it was the only occasion in his career in which he deliberately disobeyed the party whip.  

    That same year, he remarked in the House of Commons: “economic forces must somehow be brought under popular control and be fashioned towards social and political ends which the people determine. If we do not enter Europe, we shall not be in a position to control them.” 

    In the 1976 leadership contest, Smith supported James Callaghan, who entered Smith into the Cabinet. The rising star Smith was the youngest Cabinet member and would be the final individual from that Cabinet to depart from frontline politics. 

    (Photo: Daily Express)

    He would work under Labour Deputy Leader and bigwig of the socialist wing Michael Foot, where Smith was charged with the task of pushing controversial devolution proposals through the Commons. This took up the most parliamentary time of any such bill since the granting of Indian independence. 

    This further proved Smith’s adeptness to work alongside those of a different ideological position to himself, having previously too worked with Tony Benn on establishing the British National Oil Corporation. 

    He was subsequently made Secretary of State for Trade. 

    In 1983, Smith’s seat was abolished, with Smith representing the Monklands East constituency for the rest of his political career. 

    After Labour fell out of government, Smith would place within the top dozen individuals in the Shadow Cabinet elections for an unprecedented 13 years. This would include coming 2nd in the years 1986, 1988, and 1989. He would come first in 1990, winning 141 votes. 

    Smith rose through the Shadow Cabinet ranks of the 1980s, through roles such as Shadow Energy, Employment, and Trade Secretary. In 1986, he was crowned Parliamentarian of the Year, praised for his remarks during the Westland affair which sharply divided the Cabinet. He proclaimed that “the standards of good government in Britain have been steadily deteriorating under the Prime Minister and her Ministers,” calling the whole ordeal – which involved leaked government disputes – a “sorry tale of woeful incompetence.” 

    In 1987, he attained his biggest position to that point when elevated to Shadow Chancellor after the Labour Party’s general election defeat. Despite this, he reportedly had a somewhat stilted relationship with leader Neil Kinnock.

    (Photo: The Independent)

    A political moderate in a party floating increasingly to the centre, Smith was a reliable hand aiding a party vying for electoral success. 

    Here, Smith suffered a heart attack – a notable fact in hindsight – though seemed to make a full recovery. 

    Smith’s Shadow Budget ahead of the 1992 election has often been credited with costing Labour victory. In what The Daily Mail called “politics of envy, the party pledged to raise the top rate of income tax from 40p in the pound to 50p whilst those earning over £20,000 would see a rise in the rate of National Insurance. 

    When leader Neil Kinnock resigned, Smith seemed the obvious successor, with pre-election polls showing Smith more popular among the electorate. Indeed, Smith trounced nearest opponent Bryan Gould, winning with 91% of the vote. Margaret Beckett served as Deputy Leader. 

    A skilled orator, he too was chosen for his loyalty, having stayed true to Labour through the SDP split (even if he voted for Denis Healey in both 1980 and 1981 contests). 

    (Photo: The Independent)

    The government gave the opposition various points of attack in which Smith’s witty oneliners could be unleashed, perhaps none more so than Black Wednesday. In this, the government had to withdraw sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, with Smith having supported the ERM as Shadow Chancellor since 1989. In the Commons, he famously referred to Prime Minister John Major as “the man with the non-Midas touch.” 

    During the 1993 vote of no confidence in the Major ministry, Smith did not relent, noting how Major was “backed against the wall and forced to threaten his own party with electoral suicide.” 

    As for policy, Smith’s cautious “one more heave” approach reflected his time as a uncontroversial Chancellor. 

    Despite this, he was able to make big changes during his brief tenure. During the 1993 party conference, he abolished the trade union block vote, replacing it with the “one member, one vote” system – which predecessor Kinnock failed to do a decade earlier. Also at the event, Smith endorsed all-women shortlists, having previously noted female under-representation. 

    He also set out the blueprint for later reforms, calling for a “citizen’s democracy” and a written constitution. 

    In the 1994 local elections, the Conservatives had their worst result in over 30 years whilst they fell 20 points behind Labour in opinion polls. 

    (Photo: LabourList)

    All of a sudden, on May 12th, John Smith passed away, aged 55, from a heart attack. 

    His death made him the first leader of a major political party in the post-war era to never contest a general election. 

    The Daily Express called it “The Day Grown Men Cried” whilst The Daily Mirror, who gave a 17-page tribute, labelled him “The Best Prime Minister We Never Had.” In its obituary, The Guardian referred to Smith as having “achieved a personal ascendancy unmatched by any Labour leader since Clement Attlee,” 

    In the Commons, Prime Minister John Major called him “one of the outstanding parliamentarians of modern politics,” noting “when I think of John Smith, I think of an opponent, not an enemy. And when I remember him, I shall do so with respect and affection.” Also paying tribute were Margaret Beckett, Neil Kinnock, and Tony Benn. 

    The subsequent leadership race was won by Tony Blair, who, with Smith’s Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, went through the fastest rise through Opposition ranks since the 1950s. In 1997, Blair triumphed in the general election which John Smith would have doubtlessly won had he lived just long enough.[1,000 words]