Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Profile: John Reid

Labour's new Transport Minister

There are remarkable similarities between former Transport minister Gavin Strang and his replacement John Reid. They were born in Scotland within four years of each other, Strang in Dundee in 1943, Reid in Lanarkshire in 1947. Both have humble backgrounds, Strang's father was a tenant farmer, Reid's a postman. Both were academically successful, eventually securing doctorates (agriculture and economics). They're both big football fans.

Yet politically they are chalk and cheese, or in this case Old and New(ish) Labour.

Strang became an MP in 1970, served in the Callaghan Government, was a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner and voted for Tony Benn as party leader as late as 1988. Talk of his vulnerability as a cabinet member began almost as soon as he gained ministerial office and his demotion was one of the most widely trailed.

His lack-lustre performance - in which he was over-shadowed by juniors Glenda Jackson, Baroness Hayman and Nick Raynsford, as well as his boss John Prescott - sealed his fate.

Reid, on the other hand, is a close friend of Defence Secretary George Robertson and played a significant role in securing the leadership for Neil Kinnock, to whom he was adviser between 1983 -1985. Kinnock's present position as EU Transport Commissioner will provide a useful contact in Reid's new job.

As agriculture was Strang's abiding passion, so defence is Reid's. He became an opposition spokesman on defence in 1990, three years after becoming an MP, and was appointed Armed Forces minister following Labour's victory last May. Reid has done a good job, in particular proving both effective and sensitive in his handling of the Defence Review and the row over Gulf War Syndrome.

Respected by Tony Blair, he was clearly seen as ready to run his own department. With the Defence Secretary's post filled, he was given Transport, a move he accepted with mixed feelings. But he has risen to the challenge, announcing the Government's roads review last Friday and displaying a strong grasp of the issues for one so new to his job.

Reid got his first political post, as a Labour Party research officer, in 1979. He moved to Kinnock's office four years later, before becoming Scottish organiser of Trade Unionists for Labour in 1985. In the 1987 election he won a seat in the Hamilton North and Bellshill constituency, an economically disadvantaged area ten miles south east of Glasgow.

He first captured the headlines in 1988, revealing his contempt for Old Labour sensitivities following Labour's loss of the Govan seat to the SNP. He claimed Labour would have to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats to defeat the Conservatives. Failure to do this would mean 'many people in Scotland perceiving the only choice as between Thatcherism and separatism - which for most Scots is like the choice between being shot or being hanged.'

Reid again upset the old guard in 1995, when he actively supported the scrapping of Clause 4 - the part of the Labour constitution backing public ownership - against the wishes of his sponsoring union, the TGWU. Making a speech to the Scottish Labour Party Conference, he was warned 'Remember who pays your money.'

Reid has only once attracted accusations of sleaze. In the middle of last year, he admitted hat he was 'bloody wrong and stupid' for failing to declare an expenses paid trip to meet controversial Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in an exclusive Swiss hotel. However, he claimed this was a simple mistake and escaped censure.

The new Transport Minister recaptured any respect he may have lost six months later. First his 49 year-old wife died suddenly, while Reid was overseas, then - three weeks later - she was named in a Tory attack on 'junketing ministerial spouses'. Reid's dignified handling of this won praise from all sides of the House.

Unlike his predecessor, Reid is not a fully-fledged member of the Cabinet, although he will attend Cabinet meetings. Transport therefore does not have a dedicated cabinet minister for the first time in well over a decade. Prescott, of course, remains Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, as well as Deputy Prime Minister.

Reid has one other thing in common with Strang: this is his first job at the highest political level. In this he follows a long established tradition - being one of many to be given the transport portfolio as his first or last cabinet job. However, Reid is no lightweight and is likely to have the time, ability, inclination and encouragement to make his name in his new portfolio. Which after years of greenhorns and has-beens can only be a good thing.

Lord Larry Whitty is the new Roads Minister, replacing Baroness Hayman, who did most of the legwork on this week's roads review. Whitty is a high profile Labour figure, having been General Secretary between 1985 and 1994.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.