Christian MP to stand down at next election
The former culture secretary and prominent member of the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) Chris Smith, has announced he will stand down as an MP at the next election.
Mr Smith, who emerged as a leading anti-war rebel after being dropped from Tony Blair's cabinet in 2001 is taking up a high-profile job in the arts world. He will become director of the Clore Cultural Leadership Programme, which has been set up to improve standard of arts management across the country.
The job will initially be part-time with the 53-year-old MP for Islington South devoting half his working week to the new project, while seeking to fend off any criticism by stressing that constituency and parliamentary business will take up the other half.
"I will have been in parliament for 22 years by the next election," he said last night. "It's time to take up a new challenge. This is a new and exciting project that will make a real difference to the capabilities and confidence of the cultural sector as a whole."
His departure from Parliament caused surprise and dismay among fellow Labour MPs at Westminster.
Mr Smith became vice-president of the Christian Socialist Movement in 1986 and is known as someone who does not like to land unnecessary partisan blows.
He has no mass political fan club but is widely admired outside Labour as a modernising, caring Christian socialist.
As Secretary of State he had overall responsibility for the Millennium celebrations, and had to deal with many competing agendas, including from Christian groups who wanted to ensure the ìChristianî dimension to the celebrations was not lost.
Mr Smith, whose Cambridge PhD was on the Romantic poets, proved a knowledgeable and popular culture secretary, despite some rough rides over Wembley stadium and other projects - although on Wembley's long delays he said last night: "I feel vindicated".
He cited restoration of free entry to museums and galleries as his best achievement in office, along with rescuing regional theatre, a record arts settlement and setting up the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts with lottery money.