Tony Blair: Hunter recalls Smith’s reaction to 1992 magazine cover
‘Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution’ charts the meteoric rise and difficult legacy left by New Labour under the leadership of Mr Blair and Mr Brown. The show’s first episode, sees the two men as young MPs with burgeoning reputations, who were determined to modernise Labour after the party suffered years of terrible election failure. After Neil Kinnock resigned as Labour leader following the party’s narrow loss in the 1992 general election to Tory leader John Major, Mr Smith was elected his successor in July 1992.
Mr Smith’s generally cautious approach to reforming the Labour party, which was dubbed pejoratively as “one more heave”, sought to win the 1997 general election by avoiding controversy and capitalising on the unpopularity of the Conservatives.
This frustrated modernisers like Mr Blair who wanted a more proactive opposition party.
In the BBC documentary it is revealed that Mr Blair caused uproar within the Labour party leadership after he was featured on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine with the headline “The Leader Labour Missed”.
Tony Blair’s research assistant Anji Hunter said: “Just after John Smith had been elected as the leader of the Labour party the Sunday Times, a magazine, [had on its] front page cover ‒ ‘The Leader Labour Missed’.
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Gordon Brown and John Smith were furious at Tony Blair after his magazine cover
Tony Blair’s research assistant Anji Hunter recalled John Smith’s people’s anger
“I can remember it because I can remember John Smith’s people ringing me up saying ‘for f**** sake’.
“And Gordon, Gordon’s people were not very pleased by that.”
Mr Blair was upset that his friend and political ally, Mr Brown had not stood for the Labour leadership election in 1992 due to his close loyalty to Mr Smith.
It spurred him on to make moves to become the party’s leader and rebelliously “articulate a case” for an electable Labour party.
John Smith died of a heart attack in 1994
In the documentary Tony Blair said: “It’s not that my respect for Gordon was diminished at all.
“But I started, I guess, to feel that the change that we needed was change I understood very clearly and I just thought ‘somebody’s got to go out and articulate that case.”
Former Labour spin-doctor Peter Mandelson added: “It had a profound effect on Tony ‒ he thought that if Gordon wasn’t up for running because he had previously made a commitment to John Smith perhaps he never would.
“And I think at that moment the scenery shifted in Tony’s head.”
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Peter Mandelson revealed Gordon Brown’s “immense hurt” after standing down from leadership race
Mr Blair, who had garnered huge popular support, would go on to win the 1994 Labour leadership election after the sudden death of Mr Smith from a heart attack on May 12.
He convinced his friend Mr Brown, who had been a rising star of the party, to stand down from the leadership race and support his claim as leader in the interest of “party unity”.
Three years later, Mr Blair won the general election by a landslide 179 seat majority, having presented bold policies and constitutional change.
On Mr Brown stepping down from the leadership in support for his friend, Mr Mandelson said: “What Gordon had gone through was immense hurt.
Mr Blair struck a deal with Mr Brown over the Labour leadership
“At first he had been disbelieving but then almost inconsolable and he didn’t know who to rely on.
“He didn’t know who his true friends were.”
There has long been speculation that Mr Brown and Mr Blair struck a deal over the Labour leadership, which was confirmed in the documentary.
Mr Brown agreed not to stand in the forthcoming leadership race and in return, if Blair was appointed Prime Minister, he would remain in the job for two terms before resigning in his ally’s favour.
Despite having given a “personal assurance” to Mr Brown, Mr Blair famously ran for a third term before resigning in 2007 amid low approval ratings and backlash faced by the Iraq war.
Mr Brown said: “Well it was simple and it was straightforward and I’m surprised it’s misunderstood.
“Basically it was that he would be leader and serve to the end, or near to the end of a second term, so he had 10 years if we could win government and I would be in charge of economic policy and get on with it.”
Mr Brown inherited the role of Prime Minister from Mr Blair in 2007 before losing the 2010 election.