After Smith

Ross McKibbin

Like many others I have been puzzled by the reaction to John Smith’s death. It was reported as though it were at least that of a prime minister, and his funeral was, as the BBC noted, in effect a state funeral. The decision of both the BBC and ITV to double the ordinary length of their evening news broadcasts on the day of his death could be put down to the social democratish inclinations of the programmers, but the speed with which the coverage had to be assembled suggests that it was more instinctive. Furthermore, the reaction of the press wasn’t very different. All the quality papers reported Mr Smith’s death and its consequences copiously, and in general (with the conspicuous exception of the Financial Times) what was said was sympathetic, even elegiac. Most of those papers who a week earlier were noting how fragile the local elections showed Labour’s position to be, were now lamenting the loss of the next prime minister. The same was true of the tabloids. We might expect the Mirror to grieve at length; more unexpected was that the Sun should do so as well.

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