May 12 marks the 20th anniversary of death of John Smith. He died in office as leader of the British Labour Party ahead of elections that he was expected to win easily. In the two years that he led the Labour Party John Smith introduced important reforms in the Party that constituted the basis of the Party’s later electoral successes.
John Smith was an impressive debater and a visionary leader who believed in compassion, honesty and committment in public life, making him a role model for successive generations of young politicians and public servants in Britain and beyond. His death in 1994 stunned the British political establishment and British society, and he was genuinely mourned in a way politicians are often not. Tributes came from all sides of the political spectrum.
The John Smith Memorial Trust was established in 1996 by his widow, Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill, as a living tribute to his life and work.
Now, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of John Smith’s death, another initiative has been launched in the form of a new Centre to “promote public service as a noble vocation” and provide a lasting, fitting and meaningful tribute to the life and work of John Smith. Appropriately housed at the University of Glasgow, where John and his wife Elizabeth Smith both studied and first met, the John Smith Centre for Public Service will be operational by the end of this year. Its focus will be to encourage debate on and provide research into the value of public service, as well as attracting young people to contribute to public life, with a view to restoring the reputation of the role of public servants.
Commenting on the new Centre, Baroness Smith said:
“The night before he died, John gave a speech at a Labour Party Gala Dinner in London concluding with the words: “The opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask.” It is that single phrase that encapsulates a lifetime of seeking to help others through efforts in public service.” “I am sure if he was still with us today it would trouble John greatly to find public life held in so low esteem. Given all he stood for, I believe John’slife can still serve as an inspiration to a future generation who at present may not see the value of such work.”
The John Smith Centre for Public Service will soon begin the process of recruiting a director too oversee its work and also to secure funding for its research programme for 2015.
Image: John Smith with his wife Elizabeth at a Labour Party Conference shortly before John’s death.