Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 09:14 UK

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith criticises media

By Katie Townsend
BBC News


Smith claims media 'were unfair'

She was the country's first female home secretary in 2007 and yet just three years later Jacqui Smith is the highest profile casualty of Labour's election defeat.

"I'm out of a job and like lots of people in this country at the moment, I need to find one," she told the BBC in a first interview since losing her Redditch seat to the Conservative candidate, Karen Lumley.

The disappointment of the past two weeks is evident, despite her revealing she was "pretty sure" she was going to lose ahead of election day.

Ms Smith experienced a steady rise through the political ranks from delivering leaflets as a child to becoming a councillor, MP, schools minister and finally home secretary.

"Looking back the main emotions are pride and happiness," she said.

But there is an edge of sadness - perhaps that she was not always treated fairly by the media.

Commenting on the lack of women in the new cabinet, she said she was pleased Theresa May had been appointed home secretary.

But she adds: "They've already started with bloody silly comments about her hair and shoes, like I had."

Adult movies

While her time in the role was not without controversy it was eventually the expenses scandal which brought her career crashing down rather unceremoniously.

Ms Smith designated her sister's house in London as her main home and then claimed second home allowances on her family's house in Redditch.

David Miliband
David Miliband should be the next Labour leader, Ms Smith said

A standards inquiry found that she "wrongly" designated her main home but had followed officials' advice at the time.

She also claimed for two adult movies purchased by her husband Richard Timney.

On the latter she holds her hands up for what she said was a "monumental mistake" but she said she felt the coverage of her use of her sister's house had been "misreported".

The stories increased her disdain for the media - an already fractious relationship - and took their toll on family life.

"For your kids to have to go out the back-gate because there's TV cameras and snappers outside the front for weeks - that's no fun," she said.

"For Richard to have to literally stay in the house with the curtains drawn for weeks on end because he didn't want to go out and be yelled at by the press, it was hard and I don't see why they should have to put up with it.

"Given the reality and the facts of what I did, the focus on me was over the top."

She described how more than one national newspaper contacted her friends and family to tell them the couple's marriage was in trouble.

She said they had survived in spite of the stories.

'Never bullied'

"Richard gave up his main career to support me and the children. One small mistake in no way wipes out all the support he's provided over the years," she added.

If people were expecting Ms Smith to blame her defeat and indeed that of the party on its former leader Gordon Brown they would be wrong.

The nice thing about being a private citizen is I don't have to tell you every detail of my private life

"He certainly never bullied me and I never saw that side of him," she said.

She described the outgoing PM as "pretty tough" and "determined", adding: "He was personally incredibly kind to me and my family, including when the going got tough."

She said she believed Labour lost the general election because "people wanted a change".

"There was the economic situation, people worried about jobs, [thinking] are politicians bothered about us?".

While she is relatively sanguine on the future of the Lib-Con coalition, she is unequivocal on who should be the next leader of the Labour party.

"David Miliband," she says adamantly, declaring he "absolutely can be a future prime minister".

As she continues her post-mortem examination of where Labour went wrong and where they go from here, Ms Smith comes across as a passionate, campaigning politician.

So what now?

"The Labour Party is part of my life and always will be" is as far as she will go, adding: "The nice thing about being a private citizen is I don't have to tell you every detail of my private life."

She does not rule out standing as an MP again and has indicated she has no plans to go back into teaching.

But for the moment the Aston Villa season ticket-holder's concern is whether Martin O'Neill will remain the boss at Villa Park.

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