John Smith 1938-1994: Constituents are united in sorrow

PEOPLE IN John Smith's Monklands East constituency yesterday expressed sorrow and regret at the death of a man who, they said, had restored pride to Labour and to Lanarkshire.

Constituents in the former mining district, 10 miles east of Glasgow, praised their MP for his commitment to 'ordinary Scots and the people of Britain'.

Standing outside Airdrie town hall, where Mr Smith used to meet party workers, Pat McAteer, 55, unemployed, said: 'Some days you would go out and you would see John all over the place - in the high street, at the Highland Games, and in the pub.

'The next thing you knew, he would pop up in Westminster and around England, fighting to rebuild Labour. To see him at work gave us all pride; it restored the self-esteem we lost when the pits and the steelworks closed. Here was our man, working for a better deal for us and for the country. We loved him.'

Three miles away at Coatbridge Town Hall, headquarters of the District Labour Party, flags flew at half mast. In recent years the town hall has become the focus of a bitter row over allegations of council corruption and nepotism, which had embroiled Mr Smith.

But the disputes were forgotten yesterday, when Jim Brooks, the Labour council leader, announced that 'condolence books' would be placed at entrances to public buildings 'so that the thousands of distressed people who have telephoned us can pay their own, permanent tributes to Mr Smith'. A memorial to Mr Smith would be erected later this year, he said.

In the villages that surround the old mining towns, party workers paid tribute to the man who, they said, would have fulfilled his ambition to become the first prime minister born and bred in Argyllshire.

Peter Veldon, chairman of Monklands Constituency Labour Party, said: 'He would have won the next general election and proved himself to be the best leader for 50 years.

'To those of us who knew him well - I met him in Glasgow on Wednesday - the shock is all the more terrible. He looked so healthy whenever he was up here - walking most weekends, bagging Munros (hills), never losing his dry wit - that we had totally forgotten about his heart problems. And now this. It is almost impossible to describe the sense of loss.'

One of Mr Smith's final engagements in Monklands came last month when he attended a dinner in honour of two constituents, Margaret and Alec Murdoch, who were celebrating 60 years as members of Monklands Labour Party.

Mrs Murdoch, 81, said yesterday: 'We were party activists here longer than Mr Smith was alive. That is a tragedy. We will always remember him for his kindness and attentiveness. People say John Major is a nice guy. There was no nicer man than John Smith. He was a gentleman.'

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