John Smith

I am currently digesting Mark Stuart’s biography of the great John Smith who died exactly twenty years ago today RIP. It is amusing to read first hand accounts of the formation of the SNP which was of course created largely by a gaggle of right-wing student bores, afew racial bigots and other such sectarian creeps who spent their time Sieg Heiling at debates at the University of Glasgow when arguing became abit too tricky for them. I take this moment to remind those short-sighted among you who wish to vote for Scottish ‘independence’ that if you believe yourself to value social justice then you are highly mistaken and should respect our ancestors and what they *really* fought and stood up for. As John Smith himself said, there would be- “No more spectatular folly” than “to sunder the Union.” Mark his words.

Here are some interesting contributions to the conversation:

And the following from the Left Economics Advisory Panel:

On the 20th anniversary of the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith, Andrew Fisher remembers his commitment to workers’ rights and economic intervention
Addressing Labour Party conference in 1993, John Smith pledged:

“Our charter of employment rights will give all working people basic rights that will come into force from the first day of their employment. We will give the same legal rights to every worker, part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent.

“We will give every working man and woman the right to protection against unfair dismissal, and access to health and safety protection. And every worker will have the right to join a trade union and have the right to union recognition.”

The speech is worth reading in full. But I want to concentrate on the above paragraphs for a moment.

The Agency Workers’ Directive, agreed by a triumvirate of the government, CBI and TUC in the dying days of the last Labour government, reneged on that historic pledge of employment rights from day one. Instead, agency workers are only granted some limited equal rights after 12 weeks.

Likewise, Blair’s 1999 Employment Act did not give every worker the right to join a trade union – only those in workplaces with 21 or more employees.

Today, the current government has diluted the protection against unfair dismissal. For those who started their employment after April 2012, you have to have been employed for two years before you have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. And even after this inordinate qualifying period, workers now face deterrent fees to even bring their case.

Instead of a “charter for workers’ rights”, as John Smith phrased it to the TUC in the same year, we have today a charter for workers’ exploitation.

There was also a recognition that government should have an industrial strategy that commits to full employment.

“This commitment to the goal of full employment is central to our economic approach. It means using not just interest rates – which now even the IMF believe should be cut – but all the instruments of economic policy to go for growth, jobs and investment. It means what we, as democratic socialists, have always believed, that it is the duty of Government to match unmet needs with unused resources.”

Given Smith wanted to use interest rates, we can deduce from this that Smith would not have allowed Brown to fulfil Nigel Lawson’s aim of making the Bank of England independent. But more importantly neither would he have allowed the sort of rhetoric we heard from Blair, Hutton, Purnell and Byrne demonising welfare claimants. After all, “it is the duty of Government to match unmet needs with unused resources” – so unemployment is a government failure, not a personal one.

This is not to say that life under a John Smith-led government would have seen a workers’ paradise created. As John McDonnell MP put it:

“Smith came from the right-wing tradition within the party but he was Labour. You couldn’t contest that he was a traditional Labour, social-democratic politician. And he was committed to the elements of the Labour Party which represent the ‘broad church’ coalition.”

Some see Miliband in a similar mould to Smith. If so, he could do a lot worse than read John Smith’s 1993 party conference speech, and make similar commitments for a Miliband government.


This impressive piece by David Lindsay is also very much welcomed as The One Nation Society is launched appropriately today. Good to see my local PPC David Drew among the opening signatories-

“On this twentieth anniversary of the death of John Smith, the One Nation Society seeks a broad alliance between the confidently urban and the confidently rural, between the confidently metropolitan and the confidently provincial, between the confidently secular and the confidently religious, between those confident in their liberal social values and those confident in their conservative social values. It seeks that alliance across all ethnic groups, across all social classes, and across all parts of the country: One Nation.

The basis of that alliance includes the contribution-based Welfare State, with contribution defined to include, for example, caring for children and caring for elderly relatives. It includes workers’ rights, with the trade unionism necessary in order to defend and advance them. It includes John Smith’s signature policy that employment rights must begin on the first day of employment, and apply regardless of the number of hours worked…..” Read on at-  (

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