Wednesday, 3 March 2010

THE DEATH OF MICHAEL FOOT: THE LOSS OF A RESPECTED ELDER STATESMAN AND SOCIALIST THINKER

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 consi
derable 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.


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12 comments:

  1. Neither did I denverthen... that is to say, he never dropped round for a cup of tea and a biscuit, but I read a lot about him, mainly in Tony Benn's diaries. He was a good man, I think.

    I think it would have been interesting to have a cup of tea and a biscuit with him. I have the feeling I'd have learned a lot.

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  2. It is a shame when the Labour party loses a real socialist and a real republican. For those reasons I admire Mr Foot for his staunch refusal to accept any honour or title. Too often the Labour party is stuffed with faux-republicans. Lord Foulkes springs to mind, his much trumpeted thin veneer of republicanism is something he can easily shed, like the skin of a snake, when the chance comes of getting his big fat bottom on the red baize seats. No chance of Foulkes refusing anything that is going.

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  3. Spot on Tris and Munguin. Michael Foot and Tony Benn were the 2 people outside of my own immediate circle who inspired me to get involoved in politics as a teenager.

    When Foot was ousted as Labour leader and the Party drifted towards the right wing mess it is today, I lost all interest in it.

    He lived a long and very full life and will hopefully remain an inspiration to those who read about him for years to come.

    Vive la Republique!

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  4. I think he was too much of a dinosaur. Laws allowing the union closed shop and his fondness for the Soviets were against the principles of freedom we should enjoy in the UK. His support for socialism was similar to the other toff Tony Benn. He knew he would never have to suffer the consequences of socialism like the former East German citizens where the dear leaders were guaranteed to live in spleandour while the population drove around in trabants and ate boiled cabbage. Some people are more equal than others as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm.
    No the duffel coated old duffer was a relic from the past. His large country pile and private education and Oxford education allowed him to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of politics without having to ever suffer the consequences. Similar to the present lot I suppose. Harperson, Millipede etc will try and dumb down education while putting their own children through private education.

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  5. I for one shall miss him a great deal.

    I want a return of the intellectual left, just as much as I shall always be a proponent of my One nation intellectual right.

    We need it all, an end to this Blairish 'centre-ground' rhetorical obsession.

    But also an end to weasle wording, let us talk of nationalisation, privatisation, republics and monarchies...of redistribution of equalities and of opportunities!

    That will engage the many, this shall engage us all in an interlocuters paradise!

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  6. Dean

    Ha ha dream on. Cast iron Dave has decided to keep us in the EU so we will just have to go with the EU flow. More regulation and more centralisation with less democracy or accountability. Our dear leader Mr rumpey has never been elected and is in charge of 500 million citizens. Sounds like the old USSR to me.

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  7. Aonon: You don't have to agree with his politics to admire his honesty and his intellectuality. He was a clever man of the left. I agree he was rich, and yes he never had to worry about where his next meal was coming from.

    However I agree with Naldo. I agree with Naldo, Dean and Munguin. His politics was valid and inspiring. Unfortunately it was uncommercial, as is right wing Conservative politics. At least he had a vision. Brown and Cameron have none, except their own careers.

    The centre right is where elections are won in England, and in Scotland the centre left.

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  8. tris

    I'm sorry but I don't think he was honest. He led his troops into socialism telling them it was the fairest system when as an intelligent man he knew that socialism had failed wherever it had been attempted. He indulged himself with his intellect and debating skills but would have led the country into disaster.
    He turned up at the cenotaph like an old tramp. An occasion where we remember millions who gave their lives fighting intolerance and bigotry in two great wars. He acted as if he had other things better to do. I don't buy the rubbish about him being unaware of the message he was sending out. He was the sharpest operator around at the time and knew exactly what message he was sending out.

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  9. Well, I think we are going to have to disagree on this one Anon.

    Firstly, I don't think that socialism necessarily needs to fail, nor that it needs to be a disaster. A type of Scoialism has been made to work pretty well in some of the Nordic countries.

    Secondly, I think that turning up at the Cenotaph was much more important than what the man was wearing (which turned out to be a very expensive warm coat with a hood. Not a bad idea for an ill old man on a cold November day.) It was the right wing papers which said that it was a donkey jacket.

    I've always wondered at people making a fuss about what other people are wearing. It reminds me of an aunt of mine who was affronted that the doctor she saw was not wearing a shirt and tie. She ranted on and on about it, and only when pressed hard admitted that he had been extremely kind and competent.

    I'd prefer a doctor who was competent and kind to one who took care over what he was wearing and then made a wrong diagnosis.

    It's probably a generational matter, but I think it is more important to attend the cenotaph with real understanding, and compassion for the people who died to save us, than it is to worry too much about the cut of your coat.

    As I say, it's probably something which we will not be likely to agree on.

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  10. tris
    Yes we'll have to agree to disagree !
    He managed to avoid fighting in WW2 or even joining Dads Army or working in a munitions factory so I expect the cenotaph didn't mean anything to him. His autobiography said he spent the war in his Mayfair apartment reading and watching plays.

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