Cover 9781785908231

May 1994 saw the sudden and tragic death of John Smith, cut down at the moment he appeared set to become the next Prime Minister after successive electoral defeats for his party. His death, it is no exaggeration to say, changed the entire course of history, paving the way for the accession of Tony Blair and the advent of New Labour.

Smith presided over far-reaching and at times controversial reform of the Labour Party and its policies, committing his party to constitutional reform, devolution and greater European integration – policies that we attribute to his successor today, despite Smith’s crucial role. Yet for some in the party, his changes didn’t go nearly far enough.

Thirty years on from his death, this fascinating collection offers a comprehensive assessment of Smith’s leadership of the Labour Party, written by academic experts in their chosen fields and by those who knew him as advisors, MPs and journalists. Taking a wide-ranging look at all aspects of Smith’s rule – from his legacy and popularity to his policies and priorities – the book seeks to answer the crucial question of whether his leadership was a continuation of the ‘Old Labour’ attitudes that had come before him or the harbinger of the transformed New Labour that followed his tragically short time as Leader of the Opposition.


“Kevin Hickson has gathered valuable insights into John Smith, a superb Commons presence whose untimely death was a great loss to his family, to Labour and to our country. The interest in a man who led the Labour Party for less than two years, thirty years after he died, is a testament to his potential.”

Lord Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party 1983–92

“This book provides a timely re-evaluation of John Smith’s legacy. Based on a wide range of perspectives in an accessible format, it fills a research gap on a key transition period for Labour.”

Emmanuelle Avril, professor of contemporary British politics at Sorbonne Nouvelle University

“John Smith never became Prime Minister but was one of the most significant leaders Labour ever had. This book examines his real significance and brings different perspectives to the table. It will be an important contribution to our understanding of what the Labour Party is today and how it got that way.”

Francis Beckett, author

“I welcome the publication of this book on John Smith. Kevin Hickson and his contributors discuss, in an accessible and comprehensive way, his personal qualities, his very real achievements as leader and what a Smith premiership would have looked like. As Labour Party chair at the time of his premature death, holding the post of shadow Secretary of State for Health in his opposition team, I shall always remember him with respect and affection.”

Lord Blunkett, Home Secretary 2001–4
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  • Hardback, 304 pages
  • ISBN: 9781785908231
  • 30 May 2024
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