British Labour politician
Doctor John Reid as he likes to be known, is the current Home Secretary, presently engaged in his self-proclaimed mission to "sort out the Home Office" which he has described as "not fit for purpose. It is inadequate in terms of its scope, it is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes". (1)
Early life and politics
Born on the 8th May 1947 at Bellshill in Lanarkshire, John Reid was the son of a postman and a factory worker. Raised in a working class environment Reid attended St Patrick's High School in Coatbridge and left at the age of sixteen to work as an insurance clerk in Glasgow. It wasn't until he was in his twenties that he took an Open University foundation course, and went on to read history at Stirling University, staying on to take a doctorate in Economic History, chosing as the subject of his thesis the nineteenth century West African slave trade (2). Whilst at university he became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, although he was later to claim that this was simply because, apart from the chess club, it was the only student society at Stirling not run by some Trotskyite group or other (3). (Or as he later defended himself, "I used to be a Communist. I used to believe in Santa Claus".)
After completing his doctorate he worked as a research officer for the Labour Party from 1979 to 1983, until he came to the attention of Neil Kinnock(4), then party leader and worked for him as political adviser, being described as "the philosopher king behind Kinnock". He afterwards worked for Scottish Trade Unionists for Labour from 1986 to 1987, before he was selected as the Labour PPC for Motherwell North, described as "the sort of constituency where even the dogs in the street vote Labour" and was returned to parliament in the 1987 General Election.(5)
Once elected to Parliament it wasn't long before he was promoted to the status of Opposition Spokesman on Children in 1989 followed by Defence from 1990 to 1997. He was also one of the first, and certainly the most prominent Scottish Labour figure, to back Blair in the contest for the leadership after John Smith's death in 1994. One of the true founders of New Labour, he is a confirmed Blairite and it is very clear that there will be no place for John Reid in a future Brown administration, if and when such an event comes to pass.
Career in Government
With the election of a Labour government in 1997 he became Minister of Defence where he was responsible for the strategic defence review, and then Minister for Transport in 1998 before becoming Secretary of State for Scotland in 1999. It was as Secretary of State for Scotland that he became involved in a 'turf war' with Donald Dewar, the Scottish Parliament's First Minister, as to who was really in charge of post-devolution Scotland. This dispute was exacerbated by the so-called 'Lobbygate' scandal in which Reid's son Kevin was caught by an undercover reporter boasting of his influence with the words, "I know the secretary of state very, very well because he's my father". Reid apparently objected to the way that Dewar had launched an enquiry into the affair without asking him first.
Reid came off worse in this tussle but in January 2001 he was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in place of Peter Mandelson after his enforced resignation over the Passports for Cash scandal, becoming the first Roman Catholic to hold that office. Although he maintained a lower public profile that his two predecessors in that office, he was regarded as having accomplished a good deal more. In October he succeeded in getting General John de Chastelain to issue a press release saying he had witnessed the destruction of some IRA weapons somewhere. Although largely a symbolic act, since the IRA clearly had a whole load of other weapons stashed elsewhere, it succeeded in restarting the peace process.
After a year at Northern Ireland he became Party Chair and Minister without Portfolio and then in 2003 the Leader of the House of Commons, a post that he held for only a few months, before he was called upon to become the Secretary of State for Health. It was reported that he was not happy with the choice, his reaction being variously reported as "Oh fuck, not health" and "Oh fuck, its health". Neverthless he accepted the appointment and made the best of it until
May 2005 when he became the Secretary of State for Defence a job that was much more to his liking. He remained at Defence for only about a year, being appointed Home Secretary on the 5th May 2006 in place of Charles Clarke, sacked for failing to deal with the foreign prisoner scandal.
Since that time he has managed to survive the steady stream of revelations about general incompetence in the Home Office including the somewhat embarassing revelation that five Nigerian illegal immigrants have been working as cleaners in an Immigration and Nationality Directorate office. Most recently he took the lead role during the government's response to the discovery of an alleged major terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic air flights. It was most particularly noticeable that it was John Reid who emerged as the public face of the administration, and not John Prescott who as the Deputy Prime Minister was nominally in charge of the country whilst Tony Blair was away on holiday.
Reid the man
Reid has the distinction of being the first senior cabinet member ever to be severely censured by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin over the alleged misuse of his parliamentary allowances to pay the salaries of staff, including his son, who were involved in campaigning for the party rather than constituency business. It later emerged that Reid had held what are termed 'discussions' with other witnesses prior to their giving evidence, but he escaped any punishment for these transgressions as the Labour-dominated House of Commons Standards committee simply over-ruled Ms Filkin. He also raised few eyebrows when it was revealed that he had spent three days in 1993 at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel as a guest of Radovan Karadžic.
He is however one of the few genuine members of the working class present in the modern Labour Party, learning his political skills in the combative atmosphere of the Lanarkshire Labour mafia. Thus variously described as tough talking or thuggish, (once called "an attack dog" by Jeremy Paxman, Reid retaliated by describing Paxman as a "West London wanker") he is clearly regarded by Tony Blair as a safe pair of hands and has been described as "Alastair Campbell's first media weapon of choice", as it often seems that whenever the government is in trouble, the first reaction is to wheel out Reid to firmly lay down the latest Blairite line.
He prefers to be referred to as 'Doctor Reid' and is certainly one of the brightest minds in the cabinet, fond of quoting Hegel or Gramsci, his favourite being "the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the coming of dusk" (which apparently translates as "hindsight is a wonderful thing"). Not everyone however is impressed by his intellect, Henry McLeish, the former Scottish First Minister, has called him a "patronising bastard". Of course Gordon Brown and his supporters do not like him at all, one of the reasons being that he remains one of the few remaining Labour politicians of sufficient weight to mount a credible challenge to Gordon as and when Tony Blair eventually decides to name the date. Although Roy Hattersley has said that he will shoot himself should Reid ever become leader; Reid apparently believes this to be the best argument he has heard in favour of the idea.
He met his first wife Cathie McGowan, at a school party while both were still teenagers and went on to have two sons, before she unexpectedly died of a heart attack in January 1998. His second wife whom he married in 2002 is the Brazilian filmmaker Karine or Carine Adler. His hobbies include football (he is a supporter of Glasgow Celtic), history, crosswords and playing the guitar. He is apparently an honorary member of a Scottish group known as The Big Elastic Band and once promised to play guitar on their next album.
He once had an alcohol problem, until he was told to sober up by John Smith, and although he was once awarded the honour of being Scotland's Champion Smoker by the pro-smoking group FOREST he has since quit the habit. It was also reported on the 29th April 2006 that the Strathclyde Police had found a quantity of cannabis with "a street value of approximately 85p" in the guest bedroom of his Scottish home during a routine security sweep. No charges were forthcoming.
(1) Oddly enough Reid's views on the capabilities of the Home Office echo those made by his predecessor David Blunkett. It is a sad indictement of New Labour that they can after ten years in power find themselves in more or less exactly the same position as they began.
(2) The title of his thesis was Warrior Aristocrats in crisis - the political effects of the transistion from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the 19th century kingdom of Dahomey
(3) It is an absolute certainty that the Labour Club at Stirling University in the 1970s would have been 100% Trotskyist in membership.
(4) The story is that Reid was engaged in an argument in a bar during the 1983 Labour party conference, during which he espoused the view that the battle in the Labour Party was between the Leninist faction led by Tony Benn, who believed in authoritarian control of the party, and the Luxemburgist faction led by Neil Kinnock at the head of a coalition of more democratically-minded forces. Summoned into the presence of the member for Bedwellty, Kinnock apparently shook his hand and said "Thank Christ someone else knows what is going on in the party".
(5) Thanks to a boundary reorganisation, since 2005 he has been the MP for the Airdrie and Shotts constituency.
- Kevin Toolis, The operator, The Guardian March 2, 2002
- Dr John Reid
- Dr John Reid: Profile, 24 January, 2001,
- Profile: John Reid, 14 September 2006
- Cannabis found at John Reid home, 29 April 2006