John Smith legacy ‘can help image of politics’

Labour MP John Smith with his wife Elizabeth. Picture: PA
Labour MP John Smith with his wife Elizabeth. Picture: PA
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A new centre dedicated to rehabilitating the image of public service has been launched at Glasgow University as a lasting tribute to the life and work of John Smith, the former Labour leader.

On the 20th anniversary of the MP’s death, the John Smith Centre for Public Service is being set up to “promote public service as a noble vocation”.

The MP’s daughter, Catherine Smith, yesterday said the expenses scandal had sent the image of politicians and public service into a downward spiral and that it was important to rebuild the reputation of public service so that it continued to attract the best and the brightest in Scotland.

Ms Smith, a lawyer, said: “My own view is that the expenses scandal was a pretty seminal moment and that was because the perception – and the reality too – was that it wasn’t one or two bad apples, that it was widespread.

“If you have a situation where the profession is held in such low regard it is hard for me to understand why the talented and best of the United Kingdom would choose to enter it.

“The centre’s research will go wider than politics but it seems a good place to start and will look at the whole aspect of public life and what does it mean today?”

The John Smith Centre for Public Service, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year, will focus on encouraging debate and provide research around the value of public service, as well as attracting young people to contribute to public life.

The centre is based at Glasgow University, where John Smith and his wife Elizabeth both studied and first met.

Baroness Smith said: “The night before he died, John gave a speech at a Labour Party Gala Dinner in London concluding with the words: ‘The opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask.’ It is that single phrase that encapsulates a lifetime of seeking to help others through efforts in public service.

“I am sure if he was still with us today it would trouble John greatly to find public life held in so low esteem.

“Given all he stood for, I believe John’s life can still serve as an inspiration to a future generation who at present may not see the value of such work.

“I am hugely excited by this new initiative. The work of the Centre will seek to define what public service is in the modern age, how it should be conducted and how everyone can consider contributing to it, whether in local communities or on the world stage.”

The centre will soon begin the process of recruiting a director to oversee its work and also to secure funding for its research programme for 2015.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “As a university we are delighted to be part of an initiative for which we think we are the perfect home. John Smith was one of our most distinguished alumni.

“His influence and impact were, and are, profound.”