Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Smith of Finsbury
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
In office
2 May 1997 – 8 June 2001
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Virginia Bottomley (National Heritage)
Succeeded by Tessa Jowell
Shadow Secretary of State for Health
In office
1 July 1996 – 2 May 1997
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Harriet Harman
Succeeded by Stephen Dorrell
Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
In office
19 October 1995 – 1 July 1996
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Donald Dewar
Succeeded by Harriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage
In office
20 October 1994 – 19 October 1995
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Mo Mowlam
Succeeded by Jack Cunningham
Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
In office
18 July 1992 – 20 October 1994
Leader John Smith
Margaret Beckett (Acting)
Preceded by Bryan Gould
Succeeded by Frank Dobson
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury
In office
10 June 1983 – 11 April 2005
Preceded by George Cunningham
Succeeded by Emily Thornberry
Personal details
Born (1951-07-24) 24 July 1951 (age 67)
Barnet, United Kingdom
Political party Labour (Before 2005)
Independent (2005–present)[1]
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Harvard University

Christopher Robert Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury, PC (born 24 July 1951) is a British politician and a peer; a former Member of Parliament (MP) and Cabinet Minister; and former chairman of the Environment Agency. Although[citation needed] he is currently not aligned to any party, for the majority of his career he was a Labour Party member. He was one of the first openly gay British MPs, coming out in 1984, and in 2005, the first MP to acknowledge that he is HIV positive.[2][3]

Early life

Chris Smith was born in Barnet,[citation needed] London, and educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh and Pembroke College, Cambridge. At the latter he gained a first class honours degree in English, and a PhD with a thesis on Coleridge and Wordsworth.[4] He attended Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar,[4] and was president of the Cambridge Union Society.

Member of Parliament

He worked for a housing charity and became a councillor in the London Borough of Islington. He came third at Epsom and Ewell in 1979 before narrowly winning the seat of Islington South & Finsbury at the 1983 general election, defeating George Cunningham. Cunningham stood against him a second time at the 1987 General election when Smith again defeated him.[5]

In 1984 he became Britain's first gay MP to choose to "come out". There had been several gay MPs before this whose homosexuality had been common knowledge in some circles, including their constituents in some cases, but they had not been completely open about it. (Maureen Colquhoun and Jeremy Thorpe had earlier effectively been "outed" by press revelations about their personal lives, and both lost their seats at the next general election, although it is moot whether their homosexuality led to this.) During a rally in Rugby, Warwickshire, against a possible ban on gay employees by the town council, Smith began his speech: "Good afternoon, I'm Chris Smith, I'm the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury. I'm gay, and so for that matter are about a hundred other members of the House of Commons, but they won't tell you openly."[6] He immediately received a standing ovation from most of the audience.

He became an opposition whip in 1986, a shadow Treasury minister from 1987 to 1992, and shadowed the environment, heritage, pensions and health portfolios between 1992 and 1997.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

In 1997 he was appointed to Tony Blair's Cabinet as the first Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As a Minister known to have a close connection with the arts scene in Britain his time at DCMS is generally regarded as a success as many projects funded through the National Lottery came to fruition. There were controversies most notably his approval during his first week as minister of the appointment of Mary Allen to the Royal Opera House in which case a Select Committee report found that he had exceeded his authority and failed in not seeking advice from his Permanent Secretary.

In 2000 he managed to secure a tax rebate that enabled many museums to give free admission. He held this position throughout the Labour government's first term, but was sacked and returned to the back benches after the 2001 election, replaced by the up-and-coming Tessa Jowell. Tony Blair later hinted at his regret at losing Smith's services, particularly his strong relationship with the arts world.[citation needed].

Appointment to the House of Lords

After over 20 years in Parliament, Smith stepped down from the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. It was announced on 30 April 2005 that he was to be created a life peer, and the title was gazetted on 22 June 2005 as Baron Smith of Finsbury, of Finsbury in the London Borough of Islington.[7][8]

Retirement from politics

Smith was appointed Chair of the London Cultural Consortium (the successor body to the Cultural Strategy Group) by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, and served from 2005 to 2008.

He was one of the founding directors of the Clore Leadership Programme, an initiative aimed at helping to train and develop new leaders of Britain's cultural sector.[9][10] He is also currently Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust.[11] In November 2006, he was appointed as Chairman of The Advertising Standards Authority.[citation needed] Smith is a keen mountaineer and was the first MP to climb all the 3,000 ft "Munros" in Scotland;[12] in April 2004 he was elected as the Ramblers' Association President.[13] He is a patron of London-based HIV charity, The Food Chain.[citation needed]. He is also Patron of the HIV support charity, The National Long-Term Survivors Group (NLTSG).

On 30 January 2005, Smith revealed to the Sunday Times that he had HIV and was first diagnosed in 1987.[3] He stated that he had decided to go public following Nelson Mandela's announcement of his son's death from AIDS.[2]

On 8 May 2008, he was announced as the new Chairman of the Environment Agency and took up the new role in mid July.[14] In an interview with The Independent in August that year, he said Britain faced hard choices over which coasts to defend and which to leave to the sea because it would not be possible to save all coastal homes from sea erosion.[15] Lord Smith was re-appointed as Chair of the Environment Agency for a further three years by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman in 2011. On re-appointment he received £100,813 pro rata for 2011/12, based on working three days per week.[16] Lord Smith continued in this role until 13 July 2014.

In December 2014 it was announced that Lord Smith would become the next Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2015, succeeding Sir Richard Dearlove. He accepted an invitation to become the Chairman of Trustees of the Cambridge Union Society in 2015.

Personal life

In 2005, Smith entered a civil partnership with Dorian Jabri, his partner since 1987. The couple separated amicably in 2012.[17]


  1. "Lord Smith of Finsbury". Parliament of the United Kingdom.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Former minister is HIV positive". BBC News Online. 30 January 2005. Retrieved 28 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Why this is the time to break my HIV silence, Chris Smith writing in The Sunday Times, 30 January 2005
  4. 4.0 4.1 [1], Environment Agency. "Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman." Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  5. According to Election Demon, in 1983 Smith got 13 460 votes to Cunningham's 13 097, in 1987 the respective totals were 16 511 to 15 706
  6. Campbell, Dennis (30 January 2005). "The pioneer who changed gay lives". The Observer. Retrieved 28 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. The London Gazette: no. 57685. p. 8317. 27 June 2005.
  8. [2] Archived 9 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "The Clore Leadership Programme". Retrieved 2015-12-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "GOV.UK". Environment Agency. Retrieved 2015-12-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Trustees". Retrieved 16 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Scottish Mountaineering Club
  13. Pyke, Nicholas; Lacey, Hester (25 April 2004). "Rambling Tsar comes to the aid of Madonna". The Independent on Sunday. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 28 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Gerrard, Neil (9 May 2008). "Chris Smith becomes new Environment Agency chairman". Contract Journal. Reed Business Information Limited. Retrieved 28 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Morris, Nigel (18 August 2008). "Stark warning on Britain's shrinking coast". The Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 28 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Re-appointments to the Environment Agency". Defra. Retrieved 5 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Kay, Richard (26 November 2012). [3], "Gay pioneer's heartbreak: Lord Smith splits from partner of 25 years." Mail Online. Retrieved 2 August 2013.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Cunningham
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury

Succeeded by
Emily Thornberry
Political offices
Preceded by
Bryan Gould
Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
Succeeded by
Frank Dobson
Preceded by
Mo Mowlam
Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage
Succeeded by
Jack Cunningham
Preceded by
Donald Dewar
Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
Succeeded by
Iain Duncan Smith
Preceded by
Virginia Bottomley
as Secretary of State for National Heritage
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Succeeded by
Tessa Jowell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Maggie Rice
Chair of the Fabian Society
1997 – 1998
Succeeded by
Margaret Hodge
Government offices
Preceded by
John Harman
Chair of the Environment Agency
Succeeded by
Philip Dilley