T. Dan Smith

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Thomas Daniel Smith (1915-1993), known as T. Dan Smith, was probably the most significant English regional political figure of the later twentieth century, but his conviction and gaoling for corruption did much to undermine the cause of English regionalism.

Smith was born in the Tyneside industrial town of Wallsend, east of Newcastle upon Tyne, the son of a coal miner. He left school early and was apprenticed as a painter in a local shipyard. As a young adult, he increasingly made a name for himself as a political agitator. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party, but simultaneously (and covertly) a member of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party. He campaigned against British participation in the Second World War (he was exempted from service through deafness), while working as NE regional organiser for the ILP and as a painter; in 1943 he was elected to the ruling ILP National Administrative Council.

Smith was expelled from the ILP in 1945 and left the RCP a year later; in the meantime he had started a painting and decorating business. He subsequently joined the Labour Party, and became a councilor for the working class Walker ward of Newcastle in 1950. When Labour gained control of Newcastle in 1958 he became deputy leader, and, in 1960, leader of the council. Between then and his resignation from the council in 1965, he brought about massive changes to the structure of the city and the organization of its council, for which he has been described as 'the first American-style city boss in Britain'. In association with his protégé, the planner Wilfred Burns, a major plan was drawn up and partially implemented to rebuild the Victorian centre of Newcastle as a twentieth century 'regional capital'; in the media it was likened to a 'new Brasilia'. He encouraged the use of arts and education as instruments of urban and economic renewal, and was instrumental in the foundation of the city's polytechnic, now Northumbria University. He also streamlined the organization of the council, creating a cabinet government and appointing senior officers as dynamic as himself.

In 1965 Smith resigned from the council and was appointed chairman of the newly formed Northern Economic Planning Council; its aim was to stimulate the northern economy through integrated planning but Smith also used his position to urge the creation of a Northern Assembly and the rationalization of local government. In the early 1960s he was a member of the Royal Commission which produced the influential Buchanan Report 'Traffic in Towns', and in the late 1960s he sat on the Redcliffe Maud Commission, which drew up a plan for the reform of English local government.

However, from the early 1960s Smith had also run a string of public relations companies, which benefited from providing PR and lobbying for building and development companies, notably that of John Poulson. Poulson built up a large architectural practice, specializing in shopping centres, town centre developments and other large projects, by bribing local councilors and officials. Smith, with his wide range of contacts through British local government and the Labour Party, was an ideal go-between and fixeer for Poulson. In 1970 he was tried, but acquitted, for corruption over a housing project in the south London borough of Wandsworth; the former council leader was gaoled. When Poulson's company collapsed in 1972, the extent of his corruption was revealed, and he, Smith, and many others were tried and gaoled. Smith was tried in 1974 and received a six-year sentence, of which he served a little over half.

On his release from prison he tried to rebuild a political career but was refused re-entry to the Labour Party (although the party relented towards the end of Smith's life). He therefore devoted his energies to working for The Howard League for Prison Reform and the pensioners' movement.

See also