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Jacqueline Jill "Jacqui" Smith (born 3 November 1962) is a Britishmarker Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Redditchmarker since 1997, and notably served as the first ever female Home Secretary, thus making her the third woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State — after Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister) and Margaret Beckett (Foreign Secretary).

She was one of the MP investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards over inappropriate expense claims, though no action was taken. On 2 June 2009, it emerged she would stand down at the Cabinet reshuffle on 5 June 2009.

Early life

Born in Malvern, Worcestershiremarker, Smith attended Dyson Perrins High Schoolmarker in Malvernmarker. Her parents were teachers. Her local MP, Conservative backbencher Sir Michael Spicer, recalled in Parliament in 2003 how he had first met her when he was addressing the sixth form at The Chase Schoolmarker, where Smith's mother was a teacher. "So great was my eloquence that she immediately rushed off and joined the Labour Party." Smith went on to study for a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Hertford College, Oxfordmarker. After Oxford, she studied for a PGCE at Worcester College of Higher Education.

Working as a school teacher, from 1986 to 1988 she taught Economics at Arrow Vale High Schoolmarker in Redditch Subsequently she taught children at Worcester Sixth Form Collegemarker, before becoming Head of Economics and GNVQ Co-ordinator at Haybridge High Schoolmarker, Hagleymarker in 1990.

Political career

Member of Parliament

Smith was selected to stand for election for Labour through an all-women shortlist. This method of selection was subsequently declared illegal in January 1996 as it breached sex discrimination laws. Despite the ruling she remained in place as the candidate for the following year's election.

She was elected MP for Redditch at the 1997 general election, as part of a (then) record number of female MPs elected to the House of Commonsmarker who were pejoratively tagged "Blair Babes". Smith was re-elected in 2001 and 2005. Due to boundary changes, she currently has a majority of 1,948 (4.6% of the 2005 vote). This is the smallest majority of any current Cabinet member and makes her a prime target for the Conservatives in the next general election.

Smith entered the Government in July 1999 as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Employment, working with the Minister for School Standards Estelle Morris. She then became a Minister of State at the Department for Health after the 2001 general election. She was appointed as the Government's deputy Minister for Women in 2003, working alongside Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt. In this role she published the Government's proposals for Civil Partnerships, a system designed to offer same-sex couples an opportunity to gain legal recognition for their relationship with an associated set of rights and responsibilities.

Minister for Schools

Following the 2005 general election, Smith was appointed to serve as the Minister of State for Schools in the Department for Education and Skills, replacing Stephen Twigg who had lost his seat. She received praise in this role – often outperforming her superior Ruth Kelly. Teacher trade union sources stated that Smith "talked to us on our level".

Government Chief Whip

In the 2006 reshuffle she was appointed as the Government's Chief Whip. In a period when supporters of Gordon Brown were pushing Prime Minister Tony Blair to resign, she was successfully able to calm the situation down. The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson described her as being effective at "making peace between the warring Blair and Brown factions".

Smith was regarded as a loyal Blairite during Tony Blair's premiership, a position reflected in her voting record, and she was brought to tears by Blair's farewell appearance in the House of Commons.

Home Secretary

Smith was appointed Home Secretary in Gordon Brown's first Cabinet reshuffle of 28 June 2007. Just one day into her new job bombs were found in Londonmarker and a terrorist attackmarker took place in Glasgowmarker the following day.

On 24 January 2008, she announced new powers for the police, including the proposal to hold "terrorist suspects" or those "linked to terrorism" for forty-two days without charge. In the same month Smith was involved in controversy when she admitted that she would not feel safe on the streets of London at night. Such statements were compounded by her suggestion that walking on streets at night was not "a thing that people do". Critics suggested her statements were an admission that the government had failed to tackle crime effectively. Smith also introduced legislation to toughen the prostitution laws of England and Wales, making it a criminal offence to pay for sex with a prostitute controlled by a pimp, with the possibility that anyone caught paying for sex with an illegally trafficked woman could face rape charges.

Smith will introduce a crime mapping scheme which will allow for citizens of England and Wales to access information about local crime information and how to combat crime. As Home Secretary, she was pleased to announce that minor crime has dropped year on year under the Labour government, and continued to do so in 2008. Her officials, however, acknowledge that major crimes such as serious assault, rape and murder have increased year-on-year under the Labour government and are at their highest level since at least 1997.

Smith managed to pass the 42 day detention law plans in the House of Commons, despite heavy opposition. The House of Lords voted overwelmingly against the law, with some of the Lords reportedly characterising it as "fatally flawed, ill thought through and unnecessary", stating that "it seeked to further erode fundamental legal and civil rights".

When Damian Green was arrested in his commons office, Smith stated that she was not informed of the impending arrest. The Metropolitan Police said that Green was "arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office". A junior Home Office official Christopher Galley was later arrested regarding the same alleged offences as Green, and was released on bail. He was not charged, but he was suspended from his Home Office job while the investigation continued. He was later sacked from his position for gross misconduct. Green did not dispute having dealings with the Home Office official.

In March 2009 a leaked poll of Labour Party members revealed that Smith was considered to be the worst performing member of the cabinet, with only 56% of her party believing she was doing a good job.

National identity legislation

In May 2009, Smith announced that the cost of introducing the National Identity Card project had risen to an estimated £5.3 billion, and that they are first to become compulsory for foreign students and airport staff. The cards would be made available from high-street shops at an estimated cost of £60. "Smith ID comments 'beggar belief'", BBC News, 7 November 2008, Accessed 10 December 2008 Smith defended her decision to use high street shops, and stated that the hope was to make enrollment in the scheme a less intimidating experience, and to make the cards easier to access. She has claimed, despite evidence to the contrary, that the majority of the population is in favour of the scheme. In another privacy-related issue, Smith said she was disappointed at the European Court of Human Rightsmarker' decision to strike down a law allowing the government to store the DNA and fingerprints of people with no criminal record, in December 2008 an estimated 850,000 such DNA samples were being held in England and Wales. Her compromise was to scale down the length of time that data could be kept, with a maximum limit of 12 years. A number of commentators felt that this went against the spirit of the Court's decision.

Drug policy

On 19 July 2007 Smith admitted to smoking cannabis a few times in Oxford in the 1980s. "I did break the law... I was wrong... drugs are wrong," she said. Asked why students today should listen when she urged them not to try the drug, she said that the dangers of cannabis use had become clearer, including mental health issues and the increasing strength of the drug over the past 25 years. Smith's admission was made public the day after Gordon Brown appointed her head of a new government review of the UK Drugs strategy.

In May 2008, against the recommendations of her own scientific advisers, Smith reversed the government's 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, returning it back to the higher penalization status of class B, with the law change taking effect on 26 January 2009.

In February 2009 Jacqui Smith was accused by her most senior expert drugs adviser Professor David Nutt of making a political decision in rejecting the scientific advice to downgrade ecstasy from a class A drug. The advisory council on the misuse of drugs (ACMD) report on ecstasy, based on a 12-month study of 4,000 academic papers, concluded that it is nowhere near as dangerous as other class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine, and should be downgraded to class B alongside amphetamines and cannabis. The advice was not followed; the government saying that it was "not prepared to send a message to young people that we take ecstasy less seriously". Smith was also widely criticised by the scientific community for bullying Professor David Nutt into apologising for his comments that, in the course of a normal year, more people died from falling off horses than died from taking ecstasy.

Expenses controversies

Smith was investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards over accusations that she inappropriately claimed expenses for her sister's home in London and no action was taken. Smith has claimed over £116,000 on the property since becoming an MP, however she contends that she has done nothing wrong.

On 8 February 2009, it was revealed in the press that Smith had designated a house in London owned by her sister as her main residence in order to claim a parliamentary allowance for her house in Redditch as a secondary home, despite explicitly stating on her website that she "lives in Redditch". She has claimed more than £116,000 over six years from this arrangement. When asked whether it was fair that she made claims believed to have been made for items such as a flat screen TV and scatter cushions, she said that analyses of her receipts had been very particular. In response to criticisms over her housing allowances, she said it was the "nature of the job" that MPs had to furnish and run two properties. However, Sir Alistair Graham, the former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life was critical of her actions stating that naming her sister's spare bedroom as her main home was "near fraudulent". In reply to this comment, it was reported that Smith threatened to take legal action for 'malicious falsehood'

It was also reported that Smith had claimed expenses for an internet bill that contained two adult films and two other pay-per-view films. Smith said it was a mistake, and she would repay the amount. This and other cases prompted calls for reform of the additional costs allowance and a new system of payments to be introduced. Gordon Brown supported her and said she had done nothing wrong.

On 5 June the Police at Scotland Yardmarker said that they had not found evidence of criminal activity and that it was 'highly unlikely' that MPs would face charges, however there was still a small number of allegations' involving 'phantom mortgages' that needed further investigation. The Police said that the incidents of 'flipping'second homes was not a matter for Police investigation.

In October 2009, it was reported that the Standards Commissioner, John Lyon, had looked into complaints over her expense claims. He concluded that her constituency home was in fact her main home, and that she was in breach of Commons rules, despite "significant mitigating circumstances". The claims for pay-per-view films were also found to be in breach. Ms Smith was told to "apologize to the House by means of a personal statement." Ms Smith reacted by saying that she was "disappointed that this process has not led to a fairer set of conclusions, based on objective and consistent application of the rules as they were at the time."

Exclusion list

On 5 May 2009, Jacqui Smith named 16 'undesirable individuals', including convicted murderers and advocates of violence, who were to be banned from entering the United Kingdommarker over their alleged threat to public order. Controversially, the exclusion list included outspoken American talk radio host Michael Savage, who instructed London lawyers to sue Smith for 'serious and damaging defamatory allegations'. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The home secretary has made it clear that if such a case was brought that any legal proceedings would be robustly defended."Smith defended the choice of individuals by declaring, 'If you can't live by the rules that we live by, the standards and the values that we live by, we should exclude you from this country and, what's more, now we will make public those people that we have excluded.'

After the Home Office

On 2 June 2009 Smith confirmed that she would leave the Cabinet in the next reshuffle, expected after the local and European elections. She left office on 5 June and returned to the back benches. She was replaced by Alan Johnson. In a subsequent interview with Total Politics Magazine regarding her time as Home Secretary, Smith said, "When I became home secretary, I'd never run a major organisation. I hope I did a good job. But if I did, it was more by luck than by any kind of development of skills. I think we should have been better trained. I think there should have been more induction."

Personal life

Smith married Richard Timney (born 1963 in Ealingmarker, Londonmarker) in October 1987 in Malvernmarker, Worcestershire, and they have two sons. She is a season-ticket holder at football club Aston Villa, who currently play in the Premier League.

In December 2008, Richard Timney was discovered to be behind a series of letters praising the work of Smith that were sent to newspapers; however, he had failed to disclose that he was her husband and managing her constituency office.

References

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