Political Promise

Interview with Jacqui Smith

In Archie Manners on April 22, 2011 at 9:00 am

Jacqui Smith is famous for a plethora of achievements, some of which are admirable, and some of which she’d probably rather forget herself. Despite being a high profile loss at the last election for the Labour Party, Smith was one of the few women to hold one of the High offices of state – as Home Secretary, something she later called a ‘poisoned chalice’ to the current Home Secretary, Theresa May. Archie Manners interviews her in a Political Promise exclusive.

You lost your seat in Redditch in a storm of controversy. Do you have aspirations to be an MP again?

Well I’ve already said that I won’t stand again, and almost certainly I wouldn’t stand anywhere else. I’ve been involved in Politics for more years than I care to remember, and for the majority of those years I wasn’t in parliament and I think that politics is a lot more than what happens in Parliament. Politics can take place campaigning, in local parties and outside what’s happening in Westminster.

What do you think caused your majority in Redditch to collapse, and reverse to a 5000 Tory majority?

Well it wasn’t steady, in 1997 it was just over 6000, and in 2001 it fell to just over 2000. That falls to local issues – like the Kidderminster Hospital. In 2005, against Karen Lumley, I was against the run as I had a small swing and increased my majority. I think 2010 was down to a variety of things, firstly the fact that I had done disproportionately well in the election before. Secondly, It was the unpopularity of the government as the whole, and finally I think that there was an element of it that was about the profile I received as a result of my expenses. I don’t think I could have won my seat. If I had won my seat, I would have been the miracle woman of the Labour party, as I had the most marginal seat in the Cabinet, for the duration of my time in the Cabinet.

Who did you support in the Labour leadership election?

I supported David Miliband publically and I helped campaign for him.

So presumably you were disappointed when Ed won the election instead?

To the extent that I wanted David, I was slightly disappointed but actually I think Ed’s doing an extremely good job. This is a leader who was not elected to become  Prime Minister now, but to be in a position to become Prime Minister in three or four years time. I think he’s growing in stature and I’m very pleased at how he’s doing as our leader.

Do you really think he’s really Prime Ministerial material? There’s a huge amount of negative publicity surrounding him, and some people would regard him as a bit of a joke.

Well what I remember is when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party they called him ‘Bambi’, and when David Cameron leader of the Conservatives people said hes too inexperienced to be a Prime Minister. Now, both of them are or were able to do the job. So what I would suggest is that in three years time, when Ed will be going to the country when the general country comes with a program and with a lot of experience behind him. It is then that people can judge whether or not he can become Prime Minister and I’m very confident that he’ll be in a position to do that.

Would you like that next election to be under the Alternative Vote?

No, I’ve said publically that I don’t support the Alternative vote system and I’ll be voting ‘No’ on the 5th May.

When you were the minister for Schools, you were praised highly for that role, but received less praise for your job as Home Secretary. Was the gradual move a mistake?

If you ask my colleagues, and officials at the home office, or senior police chiefs who wrote to me after I resigned they think I was a successful home secretary, and I think I was a successful home secretary. The things I set out to do I achieved – crime was lower when I left than when I started, we brought about the biggest reforms to the immigration system in 40 years, we foiled numerous terrorist attacks, we published the first counter-terrorism strategy. I issued the first ID cards which I considered to be a success. We reformed the way we did policing by removing all of the targets for policing apart from one. So the things I set out to do I achieved in the two years that I was Home Secretary and I did the job longer than any of my two predecessors. I was honoured to have the job, and I think I did a god job.

How do you rate what David Cameron and the Coalition government are doing at the moment?

I think David Cameron has been a quite effective Prime Minister. I think he’s running into rocky ground.  He seems to have taken the approach of slightly floating above the detail as a chairman-of-the-board type role, but what I think he’s discovered in the last couple of months is that it’s not possible to not get into the nitty-gritty. Why are the government running into some of the problems with the NHS? I think its because he, or Number 10 have looked at the detail, even though he does sign up to the reforms.

But wasn’t that exactly what Tony Blair did, and he managed to achieve a great deal?

Well Tony Blair had Number 10 organized so well were he was incredibly clear about what he wanted to do, and he’d have ministers stock take, and take you through your places. He’d want detail of what you wanted to do, and evidence of how you did it at the beginning. Of course, no Prime Minister can be over the detail of everything but they have to have a structure around them so that they, and their advisers in Number 10, so that they can really get into the detail of things. Now, David Cameron made quite a thing about having fewer Special Advisors and Number 10 was going to be less controlling. Well, he’s gone back on that, and incidentally I think he’s right to. There’s a reason why you need to have advisors around you in Number 10 and he should have started off with more.

You were one of the first women to hold a Great office of state. How can we get more women involved in politics and get the House of Commons more balanced gender wise?

I think that there’s a whole range of things we can do. It’s a chicken and egg situation here; one of the reasons that women don’t get involved is because they look at parliament and look at the government (both this government and the last) and don’t see women in positions. I think that’s bad and we need to do more to change that. I would like to see more all-women short lists, which was how I was selected, and I believe that parliament should be done on the basis of merit. But I know damn sure that there aren’t four good men for one good women, which is what the figures would tell you at the moment. So we’re failing to find women who are equally good as men, and I think we need to get into training women who are thinking of standing for Parliament. I am on the management committee of the Labour Women’s network which does precisely  that task: of training up women who want to be the Labour candidate. I think that political parties need to actively encourage women, and I think that some of the things that have been done by Theresa May are good with regards to women in politics. They’ve had a bit of an effect, but not quite enough yet. As far as the Lib Dems are concerned it seems to me that they’ve done absolutely nothing to encourage more women. So I’m slightly condemnatory of them.

Since leaving politics you’ve been doing a Radio documentary on Pornography. Will you continue to delve into contentious issues, or was this just a one off?

There are some plans that I’ll do some other radio and television things, and some of them will be on controversial social issues like that, and some will be on less controversial things. But I’m done with Pornography now, I won’t be doing any more of that!.

Is that where you see yourself in 10 years time, going into the media?

I have no idea, I have had a successful career as a teacher, a successful career as a minister and MP and I’m young enough to begin the third stage of my career. What that’s going to be, I’m not quite sure.

And Finally, who do you think will be the next person to leave Cabinet will be, and who will win the next general election?

What I’ve learnt over the years is its not the people who are tipped to be booted out who are the ones who leave. For example, I don’t think it will be Andrew Lansley, and I don’t think it will be Caroline Spelman. I think it will be somebody who you haven’t seem coming and something bad happens  to them and they just decide to walk. As you can’t see it coming I can’t tell you who that is! To win the next election? I think it will be Labour but that answer is a triumph of heart over head!

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