John Smith (Labour Party leader)

John Smith QC (13 September 1938 – 12 May 1994) was a Scottish Labour politician who served as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party from July 1992 until his death from a heart attack in May 1994.


John Smith

Smith on Question Time shortly before the 1992 election
Leader of the Opposition
In office
18 July 1992  12 May 1994
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byNeil Kinnock
Succeeded byMargaret Beckett
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
18 July 1992  12 May 1994
DeputyMargaret Beckett
Preceded byNeil Kinnock
Succeeded byTony Blair
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
13 July 1987  24 July 1992
LeaderNeil Kinnock
Preceded byRoy Hattersley
Succeeded byGordon Brown
Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
26 October 1984  13 July 1987
LeaderNeil Kinnock
Preceded byPeter Shore
Succeeded byBryan Gould
Shadow Secretary of State for Employment
In office
2 October 1983  26 October 1984
LeaderNeil Kinnock
Preceded byEric Varley
Succeeded byJohn Prescott
Shadow Secretary of State for Energy
In office
24 November 1982  2 October 1983
LeaderMichael Foot
Preceded byMerlyn Rees
Succeeded byStanley Orme
Shadow Secretary of State for Trade
In office
4 May 1979  24 November 1982
LeaderJames Callaghan
Michael Foot
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byPeter Archer
Secretary of State for Trade
In office
11 November 1978  4 May 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded byEdmund Dell
Succeeded byJohn Nott
Minister of State for the Privy Council Office
In office
8 April 1976  11 November 1978
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded byThe Lord Crowther-Hunt
Succeeded byThe Baroness Birk
Minister of State for Energy
In office
4 December 1975  8 April 1976
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byThe Lord Balogh
Succeeded byDickson Mabon
Member of Parliament
for Monklands East
North Lanarkshire (1970–1983)
In office
18 June 1970  12 May 1994
Preceded byMargaret Herbison
Succeeded byHelen Liddell
Personal details
Born(1938-09-13)13 September 1938
Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland
Died12 May 1994(1994-05-12) (aged 55)
Smithfield, City of London, England
Resting placeReilig Odhráin, Iona, Scotland
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)
(m. 1967)
Children
EducationDunoon Grammar School
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow

Smith first entered Parliament in 1970 and, following junior ministerial roles as Minister of State for Energy (1975–1976) and Minister of State for the Privy Council Office (1976–1978), he entered the Cabinet towards the end of James Callaghan's tenure as Prime Minister, serving as Secretary of State for Trade and President of the Board of Trade (1978–1979). During Labour's time in Opposition to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, he rose through the Shadow Cabinet, serving as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade (1979–1982), Shadow Secretary of State for Energy (1982–1983), Shadow Secretary of State for Employment (1983–1984), Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1984–1987) and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (1987–1992).

After Labour leader Neil Kinnock resigned following the Party's surprise loss in the 1992 general election to new Conservative leader John Major, Smith was elected his successor in July 1992. He continued Kinnock's moves to reform Labour, abolishing the trade union block vote at Labour party conferences and replacing it with "one member, one vote" at the 1993 party conference. However, his overall cautious approach to reform, which was dubbed "one more heave", sought to avoid controversy and win the next election by capitalising on the unpopularity of the Conservative government. This frustrated many modernisers like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and following Smith's sudden death in 1994, he was succeeded as Leader by Blair, who would became prime minister three years later.