Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mike Ion's interview with Jacqui Smith

Prior to Christmas 2006 I interviewed Jacqui Smith for this blog and for LabourHome. Now that she has been appointed as the new Home secretary I thought it worth posting the interview again.

I arrived in central lobby a little early and was met by a very pleasant young lady who told me that "the Chief is still in a meeting but should be out soon." Ten minutes later and the same young lady appears and escorts me into a side room just off central lobby, "the Chief will see you now" she told me. "Mike is here Chief" and suddenly Jacqui (the Chief) appears, "cup of tea Chief?" she is asked, "can I see you later Chief?" is the request of two of her assistants.

I begin by asking Jacqui if she now encourages her children to address her as 'Chief' - "you can just imagine how my 13 year old would respond to that" she tells me. I have to point out it had been my intention to record my interview with Jacqui and to post it as my first podcast. I spoke with Alex Hilton (of Recess Monkey and LabourHome fame) who gave me very detailed, expert advice. I downloaded all of the right software but... I forgot to buy a bloody microphone!

So below is the transcript of the interview where Jacqui rules herself out of the race for the deputy leadership, admits that Tony Blair is one of her political heroes and that she was clearly a 'bit of a madam' at primary school!

PS: I have to admit to really liking Jacqui Smith - she is able, hard working, has integrity and comes across as a fully paid up member of the human race.

Interview with Labour's Chief Whip: Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP

Mike Ion (MI): What is your earliest political memory?

Jacqui Smith (JS) : When I was about 7 a council official came to my primary school to tell my class that we were not allowed to ride our bikes on the pavement. I was outraged and immediately set about organising a petition. I also remember as a young girl accompanying my mum to Downing Street and standing in the main entrance lobby of No 10. When I attended my first Cabinet meeting and looked back towards that same entrance area I have to admit to choking and thinking how incredibly privileged I am.

MI: Who are your three political heroes, living or dead?

JS: Nelson Mandela – I was active in the anti-apartheid movement (I met my husband at an anti-apartheid rally) and Mandela’s approach to politics, his tolerance and capacity for forgiveness cannot help but inspire all those who aspire to hold office.Tony Blair – He has been brilliant at being able to translate the values of our party into a modern setting and in bringing those values to the attention of the wider public. He never fails to remind you what you are in Government for and why we need to focus on the needs of those we serve.Mrs Gill Smith (my mum) – decent, hard working and principled. Everything I want to be.

MI: What are you reading at present?

JS: The Devil wears Prada and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty

MI: Why did you feel it necessary to introduce the so called 'yellow card' when you became Chief Whip?

JS: Because loyalty is very important in politics and I personally believe in the strength and virtue of collective endeavour. The code of conduct in my view needed tightening and we needed to provide a sanction other than a mere reprimand or withdrawal of the whip. I wanted colleagues to remember that when we behave in a discourteous and disloyal manner we not only damage our own personal and professional relationships but we also damage our movement as a whole.

MI: Was Tom Watson (and the other Labour MPs) right to do what he did with regard to writing to the PM and telling him he needed to set a date for departing office?

JS: I was not consulted about the letter. It is not a mistake to hold a view but I believe that it is a mistake to believe that more than one person writing a letter is not making a public statement. I totally disagree with the sentiments expressed in the letter but I am also keen – and sense the party is too – to move on.

MI: Have you ruled yourself out of standing for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party?

JS: Absolutely – I think it is important that a few of us rule ourselves out and as Chief Whip it is probably a good idea that I begin this process!

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