Chris Smith (UK politician)

From Academic Kids

The Rt. Hon. Christopher Robert Smith (born July 24, 1951) is a British Labour Party politician and former Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister. He was the UK's first openly gay MP, coming out in 1984 and the first ever MP to acknowledge that he is HIV positive.

Born at Barnet, Greater London; Chris Smith attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he gained a PhD with a thesis on Coleridge and Wordsworth, and was president of the Cambridge Union Society. He worked for a housing charity and became a councillor in the London Borough of Islington before narrowly winning the seat of Islington South & Finsbury at the 1983 General election.

In 1984 he became Britain's first openly gay MP. There had been several gay MPs before this where there homosexuality had been common knowledge in some circles, including their constituents in some cases (e.g. Jeremy Thorpe) but they had not been completely open about it. During a rally in Rugby against a possible ban on gay employees by the town council, he began his speech: "Good afternoon, I'm Chris Smith, I'm Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury. I'm gay (most of the audience rose in a standing ovation at this point) and so for that matter are about a hundred other members of the House of Commons only they won't tell you openly".

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. 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 UK arts scene his time at DCMS is generally regarded as a success as many projects funded through the National Lottery came to fruition. 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.

On 30 January 2005 Chris Smith revealed to the Sunday Times that he has HIV and was first diagnosed in 1987. He stated that he had decided to go public following Nelson Mandela's announcement of his son's death from AIDS. Private Eye, however, maintained that the genuine reason for Smith's decision to go public was taken in light of the fact that The Mail on Sunday had contacted him and told him it was preparing a story about his condition.

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 is to be granted a Life Peerage. He took up a position as Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, an initiative aimed at helping to train and develop new leaders of Britain's cultural sector. He is also currently a board member of the Royal National Theatre and Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust. Smith is a keen mountaineer and was the first MP to climb all the 3,000ft "Munros" in Scotland.

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Preceded by:
Virginia Bottomley
Sec. State Heritage
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Succeeded by:
Tessa Jowell

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