It is a pleasure to take part in this debate today. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Ian Murray on securing it and on his wonderful opening speech. It is also a pleasure to follow Stephen Kerr.
I did not work for John Smith for a huge length of time—for about a year before he died. One of the truisms of life is that we do not know what we have until it has gone. Many people felt that about John Smith after he died. I remember well the tributes paid in this Chamber by MPs from both sides on that day and how moving and genuine they were.
It could be said that the podium at our conference or an outside event was not John’s natural habitat, but this Chamber was—particularly at the Dispatch Box, when holding forth in debate. He enjoyed it, the challenge and the back-and-forth. He loved to take interventions, like notes in a song to guide the rhythm of his speech. He would challenge the opposition. Having a master of parliamentary debate at the Dispatch Box cheers the troops. It gave heart to the MPs sitting behind John to see him perform in parliamentary debate.
He came up with some memorable lines. I remember him giving John Major a very hard time when things were going wrong—the grand national had failed to start, hotels were falling into the sea, and he called him:
“The man with the non-Midas touch”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 226, c. 292.]
For all the barbs, there was always a glint in John’s eye as he faced the person opposite.
John’s funeral was at Cluny parish church, and I had some part in organising it. It was a combination: it was a private family occasion but turned into something like a state funeral. We all remember the words of his lifelong ally, Donald Dewar, who said:
“The people know that they have lost a friend”.