The text of Mr Major’s tribute to John Smith, made ten years after his death (12th May 1993) in December 2003.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE JOHN SMITH QC
It seems impossible that it is ten years since John Smith died.
John was Leader of the Opposition during part of my time as Prime Minister and I learned to respect his skills as well as his principles. Although we were political opponents we were at ease in each other’s company and liked one another.
I briefed him when appropriate and our exchanges remained private. I negotiated with him on Parliamentary matters and we often agreed. Where we did not, there was no rancour. After Prime Minister’s Questions, a raised eyebrow across the mace was a signal for us both to repair to my Office behind the Speaker’s Chair – for a whisky and an uninhibited chat that often covered the deficiencies of our respective colleagues.
I was sitting at the Cabinet table in No. 10 when my private secretary came in with the news that John had died. It was tentative and uncertain at first but, sadly, was all too rapidly confirmed. I was immensely sad. John was a man of conviction and ability, with standards appropriate to high Office, and his loss to Parliament was personal as well as political.
Would John have become Prime Minister? Yes, I think he would. We Conservatives had overstepped the normal span of Governmental life and were always likely to lose. It would have been a different form of Labour Government under his leadership: based on our private exchanges it would, I think, have concentrated far more on domestic matters and far less on foreign affairs.
But this can only be conjecture: a malign fate has meant that we will never know. An anniversary tribute is well-deserved: John is still missed.