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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 09:09 GMT
First 100 days: John Smith
'Could do better' was the verdict of many pundits on John Smith's first 100 days as Labour leader.

JOHN SMITH
John Smith
Elected leader: July 1992
Age when elected: 53
Defeated rival: Bryan Gould

Even Mr Smith's predecessor, Neil Kinnock, joined in, with thinly veiled criticisms in the press of Mr Smith's alleged failure to come up with any new policies.

But it was Mr Smith's apparent unwillingness to go for the jugular over the Maastricht Treaty that was causing the most irritation.

Maastricht was tearing John Major's Conservatives apart - and the newspapers were full of un-named Labour MPs calling on the new Labour leader to force a general election, which, with Labour riding high in the polls, they were convinced they could win.

"The chaos in the Tory ranks which has been hitting the headlines in the past five weeks has obscured the awful state of the Labour Party and it shiny new leader," said the Daily Express.

"And even some of their own members are asking whether they really have a future at all - or will Britain go the way of nations where the political battlefield has been left to different strands of Conservatism?"

'Courage'

Alan Watkins, writing in The Observer, said Mr Smith could probably bring down Mr Major or the "entire government" over Maastricht but was "unlikely to make the attempt".

All that we see for the moment is that Smith is not cutting much of a figure
Martin Kettle, The Guardian

Reaching for a boxing metaphor, Mr Watkins said: "Though there is no doubting his courage, both his boxing skill and his punching power are questionable."

In a lookahead to Labour's autumn conference, Times journalists Nicholas Wood and Robert Morgan wrote: "No one could accuse the new Labour leader of repeating the 100 days of unceasing activity that Napoleon and later John Kennedy and Harold Wilson had promised their followers."

In fact, The Times was particularly vociferous in its criticism of Mr Smith, attacking him in a series of leader columns for "coasting" and being "dangerously complacent".

"Since the government's retreat over pit closures, Tory backbenchers have scented blood. Yet the real opposition is acting like it has lost its appetite for the chase," the paper said.

'Frustration'

It urged Mr Smith to scrap Clause IV of the party's constitution committing it to state ownership of industry - a move later embraced by his successor Tony Blair - as a symbolic gesture to show it was in tune with the times.

Martin Kettle, in The Guardian, said Mr Smith was "not doing a bad job", claiming criticism of his low-key style was born partly out of "frustration".

"People see the Tories on the rack but they also see them surviving. They think Smith should be able to perform a miracle and get the government out."

But despite Mr Smith's claims that, with a general election four years away, he is playing the long game, it all had to be "taken on trust".

"All that we see for the moment is that Smith is not cutting much of a figure and all that we hear is that he does not intend to change for two years," Mr Kettle wrote.

The now defunct Today newspaper was more blunt, simply asking "What is wrong with John Smith?", saying his recent performances at the dispatch box had been "pathetic".

What happened next: John Smith's death in 1994 meant he never had time to prove whether his longer term strategy would succeed. However the party was ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls throughout his period of leadership.



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