12th May 1994

Labour leader John Smith dies

John Smith was born in Argyll in 1938 and elected to Parliament in the general election of 1970, representing North Lanarkshire. In later years, after boundary changes, his seat was split and Smith represented the people of Monklands East.

He held several cabinet positions in the 1970s governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, and in the shadow cabinet during the Thatcher years, including shadow chancellor. He succeeded Neil Kinnock as leader of the Labour Party after it lost the 1992 election that brought John Major to Downing Street.

Election battles

Smith had joined the Labour Party in 1955 while studying history and law at the University of Glasgow. He fought two unsuccessful election battles before winning his seat and supported Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community.

Smith died of a heart attack – but not his first. He had attended hospital six years earlier, complaining of chest pains, and collapsed while on site. He spent the next eleven days receiving treatment, of which three days were in intensive care, and didn’t return to Parliament until the start of the following year. By then he was on a fitness and diet regime with a view to preventing a second attack.

Smith elected leader

When Smith was elected leader in 1992, things started to improve for Labour as he made gradual, cautious changes to both policies and the way the party was run. By early summer 1994, Labour held a commanding lead over the Conservatives, and it was very possible that Smith could have become the next prime minister.

However, on the morning of 12 May, he suffered his second heart attack. This time, he wasn’t already in hospital, as he had been at the time of his first, but in his flat in London. He died at St Bartholomew’s Hospital just over an hour later.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

Tony Blair was elected Smith’s successor, and Gordon Brown became the party’s shadow chancellor. Together, Blair and Brown pursued a more radical agenda, which helped the party to increase its lead in the polls. At the next general election, on 2 May 1997, Labour won a landslide, taking more than 43% of the vote and bringing 18 years of Conservative rule to an end.



Other events that occured in May

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