The Government in Crisis: Labour looks to Smith for grip on the jugular

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The Independent Online
'HE SHOULD have gone for the jugular,' one of John Smith's more pugnacious backbenchers said yesterday with an air of disappointment, 'and asked Major if he will hold a general election if he loses next week. Labour should be wanting a general election because we would have a very good chance of winning,' writes Nicholas Timmins.

Mr Smith's third successive low-key performance at Prime Minister's Question Time left some of his backbenchers repeating the question they were asking before Black Wednesday: 'Where is the firm smack of opposition?'

Black Wednesday saved Mr Smith from the charge that he was notable only by his absence, the recall of Parliament providing the opportunity for a fine forensic performance that put the Government in the dock over its failure to defend the pound and its place in the European exchange rate mechanism.

Since then, however, the recession has worsened, but Mr Smith's defenders are quick to exculpate him for failing to drive home the advantage.

The Labour leader, one Shadow Cabinet colleague said, 'does believe that if a boil is festering, let it fester'. When the Tories are at each other's throats, kicking them too hard could only reunite them.

Mr Smith is judged to be playing the long game, believing the Government will survive a four-year term. Labour needs to position itself for that, not gamble for short-term gains. And Mr Smith has his own problems with at least 60 Labour MPs prepared to vote against the Maastricht Bill.