As others saw him: Britain's loss

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BEYOND the appropriate phrases, the death of John Smith was cruelly felt in Britain, so respected was the leader of the Labour Party by his political adversaries. A man of moderate convictions, he had succeeded in changing Labour's image, turning it into a group ready to take power. It is this psychological and political success, this ray of hope, the prospect of a much-awaited change after 15 years of Conservative government, which his sudden disappearance has put in question, rocking the British political landscape.

Labour . . . could reasonably hope that the hour of reckoning was approaching after its April 1992 defeat. This momentum is shattered today . . .

For the death of John Smith, paradoxically, will re-open the core debate between 'modernisers' and 'traditionalists' which, fearing an irreparable split, the Labour leader had preferred not to push to the limit . . . The left and the right of the party have not yet finished this synthesis, this indispensable 'facelift' which has to propose a new blueprint for society which is both modern and responsible.

'Le Monde', French daily

FOR LABOUR, (John Smith's) death is a severe blow. Smith, who became Opposition leader two years ago, was seen as the most credible claimant on the post of prime minister, though some blamed him for the election defeat of 1992. As Shadow Chancellor, Smith had presented a Budget, against the will of the then party leader, Neil Kinnock, which frightened off many voters. Today, many talented MPs are gathered in the Shadow Cabinet, but there is no natural successor. The dismay that his death caused in Westminster is an indication of how much he was appreciated, well beyond his own party. Many had difficulty in holding back tears. The Labour Party is mourning the best prime minister it never had.

'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung', German daily

JOHN SMITH, who spent two years as party leader, helped Labour establish an opinion poll lead of more than 20 percentage points over the Conservatives . . .

His death provides breathing space for the embattled Prime Minister, John Major, who has faced calls from his own Conservative Party to resign.

The (Labour) party is split between self-styled modernisers and traditional socialists. The modernisers, mainly from the younger generation, want a more democratic, less left-wing party. They favour cutting all links with trade unions, and they advocate lower taxes and fewer commitments to social services. The traditionalists have a more left-wing agenda. They want to maintain close relations between the party and the trade unions and advocate economic and social policies that would redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

'Washington Post', US daily