Page last updated at 05:59 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 06:59 UK

Jacqui Smith adjusts to life after election defeat

By Katie Townsend
BBC News


Smith claims media 'were unfair'

In 2007 she became the country's first female home secretary 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 frank first interview since losing her Redditch seat to the Conservative candidate, Karen Lumley.

The disappointment of the past two weeks was evident and, despite saying she had been "pretty sure" she was going to lose, it still seemed as though this had come as a shock and one that would take some time to recover from.

Ms Smith experienced a steady rise through the political ranks from delivering leaflets as a child to being 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 wasn't always treated fairly.

Commenting on the lack of women in the new cabinet she said she was pleased Theresa May was home secretary but "they've already started with bloody silly comments about her hair and shoes, like I had".

Adult movies

While her time in the role wasn't without controversy, it was the expenses scandal which brought her career crashing down rather unceremoniously.

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

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

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

On the latter she holds her hands up for what she describes as a "monumental mistake" but she feels the spare-room story has been "misreported" and is frustrated by the "over the top" focus on her.

Family life

The stories increased Ms Smith's disdain for the media in an already fractious relationship, and took its toll on her family life.

She said her husband, her sister and her children didn't deserve the treatment they got.

"For your kids to have to go out the back-gate because there are television cameras and snappers outside the front for weeks on end, that's no fun for them.

"For Richard to have to literally stay in the house with the curtains drawn for weeks on end. It was hard and I don't see why they should have to put up with it."

Looking almost tearful, 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 have survived, and offered a passionate defence of her husband.

"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".

When I jokingly asked whether any press would be invited to her farewell constituency party she answered without hesitation.

"Only my sister." (Her sister works for the BBC). One of her sons recently said he hated all journalists and Auntie Sarah wasn't entirely spared. "I love her when she isn't being a journalist".

Labour leader

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

"He certainly never bullied me and I never saw that side of him," she said, describing the outgoing PM as "pretty tough" and "determined" before adding "he was personally incredibly kind to me and my family including when the going got tough".

While 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 said adamantly, declaring he "absolutely can be a future prime minister".

As she does a D-Miliband style post-mortem of where Labour went wrong and where they go from here, Ms Smith talks as a passionate, campaigning politician. So what now for her?

"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".

The Aston Villa season ticket-holder doesn't rule out standing as an MP again but for the moment her concern is whether Martin O'Neill will remain the boss at Villa Park.

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