JOHN SMITH'S personal relations with Mr Kinnock may not always have been easy, but yesterday at the Royal Horticultural Hall the new Labour leader paid handsome tribute to his predecessor. History would judge that 'Neil had the courage, conviction and resolve to lead a party from the edge of the precipice to the verge of victory', he said. 'I do not believe any other Labour leader could have done that.'
But amid the praise of Mr Kinnock for remaking Labour as a modern European party, the question in the minds of many delegates at yesterday's conference was: 'What will he do now?'
In theory, the die is already cast. Mr Kinnock intends to remain as MP for Islwyn, and has been nominated for election to Labour's national executive.
Mr Smith is said to take the private view that it would have been more logical for him to stand for the Shadow Cabinet and no doubt he would have given him an important job. The obvious precedent is Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who went into the Shadow Cabinet under Edward Heath after the Tories lost the 1964 election and became Foreign Secretary in 1970-74.
In one respect, Mr Kinnock has done Mr Smith a favour by not standing for the Shadow Cabinet, since he will not now be metaphorically looking over the new leader's shoulder at its regular meetings. On the other hand, he will be not be bound by collective, Cabinet-style responsibility. Not that Mr Kinnock wants to be disloyal, but as he wrote on Thursday in a letter to the Financial Times calling for German revaluation: 'This morning I can write without my words being taken as formal Labour Party policy.'
The question is whether Mr Kinnock will regard a return to the NEC even with the challenge of ensuring that the party reforms continue as sufficient use of his talents, particularly since Labour's opponents will pick on every nuance of what he says and does to exploit potential differences with Mr Smith. Which is where the ever-growing chatter about him replacing Bruce Millan as the second British EC Commissioner in Brussels comes in.
For Mr Kinnock it is a painful dilemma. His whole life has been in party politics. It would be a big change to take on a job which is partly albeit in the best sense bureaucratic. He also reveres his bond with his constituency.
On the other hand, it presents him at the age of 50 with a new challenge not unlike that faced by Chris Patten in taking the governorship of Hong Kong offering the opportunity to improve the lives of millions. And he is now a serious European.
Leading article, page 24Reuse content