John Reid, Baron Reid of Cardowan
John Reid, Baron Reid of Cardowan PC (born 8 May 1947), is a British Labour Party politician. He was a Member of Parliament from 1987 to 2010, and served in the Cabinet under Prime Minister Tony Blair in a number of positions. He was Health Secretary from 2003 to 2005, Defence Secretary from 2005 to 2006, and Home Secretary from 2006 to 2007.
The Lord Reid of Cardowan
5 May 2006 – 27 June 2007
|Prime Minister||Tony Blair|
|Preceded by||Charles Clarke|
|Succeeded by||Jacqui Smith|
|Secretary of State for Defence|
6 May 2005 – 5 May 2006
|Prime Minister||Tony Blair|
|Preceded by||Geoff Hoon|
|Succeeded by||Des Browne|
|Secretary of State for Health|
13 June 2003 – 6 May 2005
|Prime Minister||Tony Blair|
|Preceded by||Alan Milburn|
|Succeeded by||Patricia Hewitt|
8 May 1947
Bellshill Maternity Hospital, North Lanarkshire, Scotland
|Political party||Labour (1979-present)|
|Communist Party of Great Britain (1972-1979)|
Young Communist League (1972-1979)
|Children||Kevin · Mark|
|Alma mater||The Open University|
University of Stirling
Born in Bellshill to working-class, Roman Catholic parents, Reid first became involved in politics when he joined the Young Communist League in 1972. He later joined the Labour Party, working for them as a senior researcher before being elected to the House of Commons in 1987 as the MP for Motherwell North.
He retired from frontline politics in 2007 following Gordon Brown's appointment as Prime Minister, taking on a role as the Chairman of Celtic Football Club. After stepping down as an MP in 2010, he was nominated for a life peerage in the Dissolution Honours and elevated to the House of Lords. Reid took a leading role in the campaign for a "No" vote in the 2011 AV referendum, appearing alongside Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, and also took a leading role in the campaign opposing Scottish independence.
Reid was born in Bellshill Maternity Hospital, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, to working-class Roman Catholic parents; his grandparents were of mixed denomination. His grandfather was "a staunch Church of Scotland Presbyterian and his grandmother a poor and illiterate Irish peasant." His mother, Mary, was a factory worker and his father, Thomas, was a postman.
Reid attended St Patrick's Secondary School, Coatbridge. The adolescent Reid showed an early talent for organisation and political activism by leading a student strike in protest at a school rule. Reid initially decided not to go to university but instead took a series of jobs, including construction work on an oil pipeline and another in insurance; at the latter job, which Reid later claimed opened his eyes politically, he was assigned to the tenements in the East End of Glasgow after the city was hit by storms in late-1968 and saw poverty of a kind he did not know existed. Soon after this experience, he joined the Labour Party.
Around this time Reid's passion for history was kindled when his girlfriend (and later wife), Cathie McGowan, bought him a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. Reid was spellbound. Following this he attended the Open University in his mid-twenties to study a Foundation Course and then later attended the University of Stirling, becoming rector of the Students' Union and gaining a BA in history and a PhD in economic history, with a thesis on the slave trade written as a critique of the Marxist model of historical change, entitled Warrior Aristocrats in Crisis: the political effects of the transition from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Dahomey.
From 1979 to 1983, Reid was a research officer for the Labour Party in Scotland, and from 1983 to 1985, was a political adviser to Labour leader Neil Kinnock. From 1986 to 1987, he was Scottish Organiser of Trade Unionists for Labour. He entered parliament at the 1987 general election as MP for the Motherwell North constituency. After boundary changes, he was returned at the 1997 election for the new constituency of Hamilton North and Bellshill; and after further boundary changes in 2005, he was returned at the 2005 election for the new constituency of Airdrie and Shotts with 59% of the votes cast.
Reid was married to Cathie McGowan from 1969 until her sudden death from a heart attack in 1998. They had two sons, Kevin and Mark. In 2002, he married film director Carine Adler.
According to The Guardian, in 1991, Reid arrived at the House of Commons "drunk one day and tried to force his way on to the floor to vote. When an attendant stepped forward to stop him, Reid threw a punch". Reid stopped drinking in 1994 and gave up his 60-a-day cigarette habit in 2003.
At university, Reid was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. With the support of Communist and Labour students, he became president of the students' union. After leaving university, he became a researcher for Scottish Labour. Reid believes that any socialist, or indeed any rational person, should be a revisionist on principle.
As an advisor to Neil Kinnock, Reid was one of the earliest advocates for reforms to the Labour Party. In 1983, after the Labour Party's worst electoral defeat in 65 years, and at Kinnock's request, he put on a single sheet of paper what he thought had made Labour unelectable: "Leaderless, unpatriotic, dominated by demagogues, policies fifteen years out of date". Elected to Parliament in 1987 as the Member of Parliament for Motherwell North, within two years he was appointed to the Shadow Front Bench as spokesperson for Children. In 1990, Reid was appointed as Defence spokesperson.
When the former Yugoslavia was breaking up in the 1990s, Reid was in dialogue with the Bosnian Serbs. During the Bosnian War, Reid struck up a friendship with Radovan Karadžić, later to be indicted as a war criminal. Reid admitted he spent three days at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel as a guest of Karadžić in 1993.
Minister of State for the Armed Forces
After Labour came to power at the 1997 general election, Reid became Armed Forces Minister, where he played a key role in the Defence Secretary George Robertson's Strategic Defence Review. Reid gained considerable praise for the review; with some commentators going so far as to describe his success in cutting military expenditure at the same time as winning over the defence chiefs as "brilliant". As Minister he lobbied for the release of two Scots Guards convicted of murdering teenager Peter McBride in Belfast in 1992. At the same time he refused requests to meet the McBride family. Reid eventually met with the McBride family whilst he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Minister for Transport
In 1998, Reid moved from Defence to become Minister of State for Transport. Prime Minister Tony Blair then sent Reid to the Department of Transport to ensure the late-running and over-budget London Underground Jubilee Line Extension was completed by the end of 2000. He and John Prescott brought in Bechtel as Project Managers, ensuring Phase 1 was opened on 1 May 1999, and the whole Jubilee line with the exception of one station (Westminster) was ultimately open for business by the Millennium. Reid demonstrated several aspects: he negotiated strongly; he was a political fighter; he had a "capacity for non-dogmatic adaptability and reliability"; and was described as "a safe pair of hands".
Secretary of State for Scotland
In his first month, the Scottish Parliament was re-established after an interval of 300 years. The reconstituted Scotland Office had been much reduced in importance with devolution but Reid used the position to build his profile, prepared to put the government's case on any issue against TV interviewers.
After Donald Dewar, Scotland's respected First Minister, died in 2000 Reid's name was even mentioned as a possible replacement. In fact Reid was left to deal with much of the fall-out after the death and would be increasingly at loggerheads with the new Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, whom Reid felt was taking the Parliament down a nationalist path. The situation became so strained between the two that in an unguarded moment McLeish publicly labelled Reid "a patronising bastard".
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Reid became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in January 2001 following the resignation of Peter Mandelson. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold the position. While dismissing the personal significance of this, he used it to insist that every person in Northern Ireland, from whatever background or tradition, wanted a prosperous future.
Throughout his period of office he was continually engaged in talks with all side of the community in an attempt to reduce the level of inter-community troubles. He blamed Paramilitaries from both sides of the community for on-going violence. He confronted both, on the ground, at a violent east Belfast interface, where he met loyalist residents of Cluan Place and then had talks with nationalist residents in the nearby Short Strand.
Reid ruled that ceasefires proclaimed by the Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Volunteer Force could no longer be recognised by the government because of their involvement in sectarian attacks and murders. At the same time he put pressure on the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) to make a move on arms decommissioning to help end the political impasse, whilst acknowledging that putting its weapons beyond use would be a difficult step to take.
It was in this context that, in October 2001 he welcomed a Gerry Adams speech as a "highly significant" step which he hoped would pave the way for a "groundbreaking" move by the IRA to disarm which would transform the political situation. And following the IRA's decision Reid responded by announcing the immediate demolition of British Army security bases and announcing a reduction in troop levels as the security situation improved, effectively beginning a process which culminated in September 2005, when the disarmament monitor for Northern Ireland, the Canadian General John de Chastelain announced that the IRA had given up its entire arsenal of weapons after more than three decades of armed struggle against British rule.
Political problems continued, resulting in the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly a year later in October 2002. The peace process was to be put on hold until there was a "clear and unequivocal commitment" that the IRA would disband. Reid made an emergency statement to Parliament announcing direct rule in the interim.
In the interim, Reid also had to deal with continuing domestic problems; including those with loyalist ceasefires, sectarian murders and the tinderbox of Holy Cross primary school in north Belfast (that ignited the worst rioting in the city in years). But, so far as 10 Downing Street was concerned, Reid had gone a long way to delivering the rarest of political commodities – success in Northern Ireland.
Chairman of the Labour Party and Minister without Portfolio
Reid was appointed Chairman of the Labour Party and Minister Without Portfolio on 24 October 2002.
As a purely political post his trouble-shooting skills were employed as the Labour Government's chief spokesperson earning him the nickname "Minister for the Today Programme".
One of Reid's key challenges was to keep the trade unions (the Labour Party's main funders) on-side despite the antipathy shown by the Unions to many of the Government's proposals. As part of this Reid agreed to look at proposals to stop private contractors exploiting low paid workers (a key Union demand).
Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council
In March 2003, Robin Cook resigned as Leader of the House of Commons due to his objections to the legality of Britain's involvement in the Iraq War. Reid was appointed to take over the Office brief on 4 April as a heavyweight figure was more likely to ensure the Commons' continued support for the war. He held the position for only just under three months and was succeeded by a more junior member of the Government, Peter Hain.
Secretary of State for Health
Reid was made Secretary of State for Health in June 2003, replacing Alan Milburn after the latter's resignation. He was reportedly less than happy with the appointment. He was reported by Private Eye at the time as reacting "Oh fuck, not health." But Reid had established himself as one of Tony Blair's most trusted ministers and his appointment as Health Secretary took him into his fourth cabinet job in less than a year.
At Health Reid saw himself as a reformer, controversially increasing capacity by introducing private companies to run treatment centres for knee, hip and eye operations. He claimed this provided extra staff and extra capacity to help treat more patients in the NHS at an unprecedented rate.
Reid also introduced plans to increase the number of smoke-free workplaces and improve diet and sexual health as part of a major drive to improve public health in England and began a major public consultation as a precursor to parliamentary proposals aimed at improving the nation's health. He also encouraged volunteer engagement in the health service.
Many of his changes caused criticism and controversy, which Reid was not afraid to take head on, delivering a staunch defence of Labour's reform programme to the party's annual conference. He made the case for extending to all the choices normally only available to those who could afford them. Reid's management style was considered autocratic by some and he came under considerable fire from National Health Service (NHS) leaders. He was criticized for giving GPs a 22% pay rise while also allowing them to opt out of providing weekend and evening treatment.
As Health Secretary, Reid had been in favour of limiting the government's proposed smoking ban as much as possible. In their 2005 election manifesto, he introduced a pledge to ban smoking in all places where food was served. His successor Patricia Hewitt favoured a complete ban. Reid won in the cabinet, gaining an exemption for private clubs and pubs that did not serve food. The House of Commons rebels proposing a complete ban were successful when MPs were given a free vote on the issue. Patricia Hewitt voted with the rebels against the Cabinet's proposals.
Secretary of State for Defence
At Defence, Reid questioned "the adequacy of the international legal framework in the light of modern developments in conflict". He suggested that "the body of relevant international rules and conventions should, where beneficial, be strengthened", especially "to cope with conflict against non-state actors such as the international terrorist… this means extending, not reducing, such conventions".
Reid committed 3,300 troops to Helmand province, Afghanistan in January 2006. Despite a lack of detailed intelligence, the Army anticipated the Helmand mission would be straightforward compared to its difficult mission in Basra it was withdrawing from, with short small patrols from fixed bases. In speaking to the media Reid said "We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction." In the first year about 4 million bullets and 25,000 artillery rounds had been fired by the British armed forces.
Reid took an aggressive approach to defending his government's international policy. Speaking ahead of a conference on NATO modernisation in Germany on 4 February 2006, Reid asserted in a press interview that "no institution has the divine right to exist". Similarly on 19 March 2006, in response to former interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi's claim that Iraq is in the grip of civil war, Reid defended the British Government's contrary view. He stated: "Every single politician I have met here [in Iraq] from the prime minister to the president, the defence minister and indeed Iyad Allawi himself said to me there's an increase in the sectarian killing, but there's not a civil war and we will not allow a civil war to develop".
On 3 February 2010, Reid gave evidence about his role as Defense Secretary to the Iraq Inquiry. He said that America's experience of the Vietnam War had impacted negatively on US post-invasion planning in Iraq because US military chiefs "weren't thinking of detailed nation-building". Reid also said he had "deep sadness at the loss of life" in Iraq.
On 2 July 2006, Reid proposed a Bill for the autumn Queens Speech, to be brought into law at the next session of Parliament. He proposed a new Official Secrets Act, the first since the 1989 OSA, to punish intelligence officers with longer prison sentences, who blow the whistle on government policy by leaking secret information. To remove their key legal defence of necessity and/or defence of public interest.
By the time he arrived at the Home Office, Reid was seen as one of the government's most effective performers over the previous decade, being described by many commentators as a bruiser, but with a strong academic leaning.
At the Home Office Reid hit the ground running. He contended that rapid global change and the associated challenges of mass migration, terrorism and organised crime had overwhelmed the outdated Home Office approach. Reid caused considerable controversy by attacking the leadership and management systems previously in place in the Home Office. He infamously declared it to be "not fit for purpose", adding the phrase to the British political lexicon, and vowed to "make the public feel safe".
Within 100 days of joining the Department, he had published three reform plans for a radical transformation. They included 8,000 more prison places; a 40 per cent reduction in headquarters staff by 2010; a commitment to making the Immigration and Nationality Directorate an agency with a uniformed border staff and tough new powers. radical overhaul of the core systems and structures within the Home Office itself, reform of IND, re-balancing of the criminal justice system, reform of the probation service and the review of counter-terrorist capabilities.
He condemned the probation service for letting people down, and argued for fundamental reform. An early decision during his time at the Home Office was to move child molesters living in hostels near schools further away from them. Reid also caused controversy in August 2006 by calling for the creation of an independent committee to impose a national annual limit on the number of immigrants entering the UK. The Guardian claimed that Reid was "playing to the racist gallery" and compared his plans to Soviet-style central planning of the economy.
Because of the prisons' overcrowding crisis in Birmingham, on 9 October 2006 he announced emergency measures amid fears that the prison population was nearing maximum capacity. Reid has announced his support of measures to restrict the ability of extremist messages to be disseminated on the Internet so as to make the web a more hostile place for terrorists.
In 2006 Reid and the Home Office lost their appeal against the High Court ruling in the Afghan hijackers case 2006. In this controversial case, a group of nine Afghan men who hijacked a Boeing 727 in February 2000, while fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, were granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom. The original ruling in 2004 ruled that returning the men to Afghanistan would breach their human rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. The Home Office granted the men "temporary leave to remain", which involved restricting their freedom of movement and did not allow them to work; in 2006, the High Court ruled that the men must be granted "discretionary leave to remain", which includes the right to work. Reid challenged the ruling in the Court of Appeal, arguing that the Home Office "should have the power to grant only temporary admission to failed asylum seekers who are only allowed to stay in the UK due to their human rights".
From 1 August 2006, Reid introduced a new warning system to alert the public to the threat of attacks by al-Qaeda and other terror groups in order to increase public understanding and awareness of the terrorist threat. Announcing the plans, Reid told MPs that the terrorist threat would only be overcome by "united action by all of us" and urged the public to remain vigilant at all times. The threat level, already at "Severe", the second highest level, then moved even higher.
On 10 August, Reid announced that the UK had been put on its highest state of security alert, after police said they'd thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft flying between the UK and the US using explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. Extreme security measures had been put in place at all the country's airports.
Reid revealed that the alleged terror plot could have caused civilian casualties on an "unprecedented scale" and security sources said an attack was believed to have been imminent. With 21 people in custody, Reid said he believed the 'main players' had been 'accounted for' but emphasised that that still left possible "unknown" players. Reid also revealed that at least four major plots had been thwarted in the previous year and security sources confirmed that two dozen major terrorist conspiracies were under investigation. Reid issued a dire warning against losing the "battle of ideas" with al-Qa'eda, and called for an urgent but controversial escalation in the propaganda war, saying that the government needed to do much more to win the battle of ideas.
In September 2006, Reid addressed Muslims in a run-down part of east London, warning them that fanatics were looking to groom and brainwash children for suicide bombings. During the speech he was confronted and barracked by Abu Izzadeen, also known as Omar or Trevor Brooks. Mr Brooks is a leader of the UK-banned Al Ghurabaa, an offshoot of the terrorist-supporting Al-Muhajiroun – a man who many accuse of glorifying terrorism and inciting racial hatred during nightly conversations (often using the nom de plume Abu Baraa) on a New York-based chatroom service.
After the high-profile at the Home Office, his tough stance on terrorism and his domination of the headlines in the aftermath of the alleged terror plot, Reid was increasingly tipped by Labour MPs to run for the party's leadership.
In fact, Reid kept everyone guessing about his leadership intentions until the very end. Ultimately the surprise was that, having decided not to stand, he announced his intention to quit frontline politics and return to the backbenches. It was speculated that, as a true Blairite believer, he either wanted to carry the torch of reform himself as Labour leader or else quit the scene altogether to make way for new blood.
Resignation from government
In May 2007, Reid announced his intention to resign from the Cabinet when Tony Blair left office, and stated his plans to return to the Labour backbenches. He stated he would support Gordon Brown in the leadership election and his administration. Reid left office as Home Secretary on 27 June 2007 and was replaced by Jacqui Smith the next day.
Reid was linked with a return to cabinet in June 2009 under Gordon Brown but reportedly turned down the offer.
In December 2004 and October 2005, Reid voted in favour of a bill to introduce a compulsory British national identity card. He voted for the NHS Foundation Trust proposal. He also voted in favour of allowing unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples to adopt, and for lowering the age of consent for gay sex to 16. Reid voted for the replacement of the Trident system. He voted against all the House of Lords reform options except a fully appointed House of Lords.
On the introduction of Labour's anti-terrorism laws, he opposed an amendment that would have limited the fingerprinting and strip-searching of persons detained at a police station to those detained in connection with a terrorism investigation. He voted against changing the text in the Prevention of Terrorism Bill from "The Secretary of State may make a control order against an individual" to "The Secretary of State may apply to the court for a control order...."
In March 2003, he voted against a motion that the case had not yet been made for war against Iraq, and voted for the declaration of war against Iraq. In June 2007, he voted against a motion calling for an independent inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors into the Iraq War.
On 10 May 2010, Reid argued on BBC television that David Cameron should become the next Prime Minister in the interests of honouring the democratic wishes of the British people, with the Conservative Party having received more votes than any other party. Had Labour and the Liberal Democrats formed an alliance, their combined votes would outnumber Conservative votes at the 2010 General Election, but Reid noted that a Labour/Liberal Democrat alliance would not have the numbers to form a parliamentary majority by themselves.
The same month, it was announced that Reid had been made a life peer in the dissolution honours after the 2010 election. He was created Baron Reid of Cardowan, of Stepps in Lanarkshire on 16 July 2010.
In April 2011, to the discomfort of Labour colleagues, he campaigned with the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and others against changes to the UK's voting system. During the campaign, he made the claim that the Alternative Vote would violate the principle of 1 person 1 vote. He wrote that "it gives the supporters of unpopular fringe candidates numerous votes, while mainstream voters only get one". The referendum on the Alternative Vote was won decisively by Reid's "No" side.
In June 2014, Reid appeared in a full-page advert in the Scottish Catholic Observer, encouraging readers to vote against Scottish independence in the September referendum. The advert failed to state who had paid for it, which is a breach of Electoral Commission rules, and following complaints, Reid revealed that it had been paid for by an organisation led by Willie Haughey. The referendum resulted in a "No" vote.
Following the political scandal over MP expenses in 2009, Sir Thomas Legg requested Reid repay £2,731.88 of his claimed expenses. Reid chose to repay a total of £7,336.51. He was later one of 23 MPs who asked for a refund of some of the money they had repaid, and received £4,604.63 back.
On 28 September 2007, it was announced Reid would become Chairman of Celtic Football Club taking over from Brian Quinn. His appointment was ratified by Celtic's shareholders on 19 November 2007. Sports journalist Graham Spiers found him "an engaging and intriguing Celtic chairman".
University of London
In late 2008 it was announced that Reid would be taking up the post of honorary Professor at the University College London and become the chairman of the newly created Institute of Security and Resilience Studies (ISRS) at UCL.
On 18 December 2008, G4S (Group 4 Securicor) announced that Reid would be taking up a post with the company as group consultant.
Top Level Group
Reid is currently a member of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, established in October 2009.
- Tom Bower (22 September 2006). "The dark horse". Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
...Reid stood in the elections. Success depended upon support not only from Labour students but also from the communists. Approaching Jim White, the secretary of the Young Communist League, Reid professed to be a convert seeking membership. "He told us he was a Leninist and Stalinist," White recalls. "Although I was suspicious about his transition, we couldn't tell if he was acting. We let him join." With White's support and Reid's good organisation, he won the vote.
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- RUC title 'may go' by November BBC News, 21 September 2001.
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- Campaigners welcome smoking ban BBC News, 15 February 2006.
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- I can fix the problems, but I need three years Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2007.
- Note: in fact the term was already in use from Section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which requires that "goods sold in the course of a business" must be "fit for the purpose".
- Reid vowing to make Britain safer BBC News, 24 May 2006.
- Key quotes: Clarke's anger BBC News, 27 June 2006.
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- John Reid orders probation review Home Office, 7 November 2006.
- Abusers moved from near schools BBC News, 18 June 2006.
- Reid calls for migration debate BBC News, 6 August 2006.
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- Police cells to ease prison crisis Birmingham Mail, 9 October 2006.
- John Reid & EU partners to crack down on the web used as propaganda BBC News, 26 October 2006.
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- Timeline of Afghan hijacker case BBC News.
- Reid fights Afghan hijack ruling BBC News, 31 July 2006.
- Anti-terror critics just don't get it, says Reid The Guardian, 10 August 2006.
- John Reid calls for human rights law reform The Telegraph, 17 September 2007.
- Terror warnings to be made public BBC News, 10 July 2006.
- MI5 web page says attack threat is severe The Times, 2 August 2006.
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- Political Hot Topics CNN Situation Room, 10 August 2006.
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- Judging the terror threat BBC News, 6 August.
- UK says more terror plots thwarted Taipei Times, 14 August 2006.
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