I was sad today to read of the death of Michael Foot. So too were many others as tributes were made from all sides of politics to one of the great Socialists of the last century, who died peacefully at his home at the age of 96. He had been ill for some time.
Mrs Thatcher, who faced him over the despatch box in the House of Commons when he was Labour leader, described him as "a great Parliamentarian and a man of high principles".
Michael foot was born into politics; his family were prominent Liberal intellectuals. He was introduced to Socialism whilst at Oxford and was active in Labour politics from the 1930s, campaigning against the appeasement of Hitler when he was a journalist for the New Statesman and Tribune. He was later editor of the Evening Standard.
He entered Parliament in 1945, and quickly became a hero of the left, renowned for his motivating oratory and clear thinking. He was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and he became a thorn in the side of successive Labour leaders, perhaps mainly because he wanted to do the socialist thing! Although he was respected by all as a brilliant speaker, a first class writer and an historian of note his political views caused considerable controversy.
He was a republican, although he rubbed along well with the Queen and the rest of the royal family whom he met frequently. He believed in the abolition of the House of Lords. Unlike so many faux socialists, he refused titles and honours, including ones offered personally by the Queen. Although he was offered a seat in the House of Lords, he did not accept and he remained plain Mr Foot to the end of his life. He was passionate about nationalising industry, and equally passionate about keeping Britain out of the European Union (or its predecessor).
He won the leadership of the party in 1980, and led Labour through its darkest days, as its survival was threatened by infighting and defections of people like Baroness Williams, David Owen, and Bill Rodgers to the Social Democratic Party. He was not in the best of health by this time and although he performed brilliantly at the dispatch box, he was generally considered not to be a good leader.
He was not overly concerned by his appearance. Some would say he wore his hair too long for the times, his position and his age, and his suits often looked rumpled and dirty and his broken spectacles were repaired with sticking plaster.
An amusing anecdote about him on his presentation: the right wing press lambasted him for wearing what they described as a “donkey jacket” to the remembrance service at the Cenotaph. Of course it wasn’t a donkey jacket, but an extremely expensive duffle coat, which would have been suitably warm for a man in his 70s on a cold November day. It is typical of Foot that he thought that the service was a tribute to brave dead men, not a fashion show. (Actually rumour has it that the Queen Mother complimented him on its warmth.)
Gordon Brown in his tribute called Mr Foot "a man of deep principle and passionate idealism" who fought all his life for his beliefs and for the Labour Party. It’s a pity Brown couldn’t emulate him a little more.
The UK lost an eminent and respected elder statesman today. I am sorry to see him go.