Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Michael Foot: 1913-2010
I was sad to hear about the death of such a great, West Country socialist.
As with many socialists of his era, Michael Foot started off from liberal, non-conformist roots. Born in Plymouth in 1913, he went to Oxford University and got his first job in Liverpool. The unemployment and poverty of 1930's Liverpool certainly influenced his conversion to socialist politics.
He stood unsuccessfully for Labour in Monmouth in the 1935 general election. Foot become and journalist and continued this throughout the war, as he failed to medical to join the armed services.
Foot was elected for the first time in Plymouth Devonport at the 1945 Labour landslide election. he was associated with the Keep Left pamphlet, that advocated an independent foreign policy instead of a subservient relationship with the USA. He was very much on the Bevanite wing of the party, until he fell out with the old warhorse when Bevan rejected Nuclear disarmament. Michael Foot was a founder member of CND and abided by this moral outlook for his entire life. Fittingly Michael Foot was re-elected to Parliament at a 1960 by-election for Bevan's old Ebbw Vale constituency when he died.
Foot found Gaitskell's leadership to be inadequate and he had the Labour whip withdrawn in 1961, only to be returned two years later when Harold Wilson took over. He refused to become a prominent figure in Wilson's government, prefering to remain on the backbenches and to maintain a socialist attitude to Britain's membership of the Common Market. he unsuccessfully stood for Labour's deputy leadership in 1972, but when Labour was returned to power in 1974 he became Secretary of State for Employment. He through himself into the 'no' campaign in during the 1975 referendum on the EEC and became the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party the following year after losing out on the leadership to James Callaghan.
Michael Foot became leader of the Labour party in 1980 at the age of 67 a year after Thatcher was elected. He played a fantastic role in attempting to keep the left and right of Labour party together, but this didn't stop the treachery of the 'gang of four' who left to form the SDP. Despite Thatcher's huge unpopularity, she was re-elected in 1983. Although the Falklands did help Thatcher win, the traitors of the SDP certainly helped the country to suffer her wrath for another 7 years. Foot's eccentricity was what made him who he was. He prefered principles to the soundbites that vacuous, media-savy M.Ps produce today. This eccentricity was firmly displayed when he wore the 'donkey-jacket' on Remembrance Day in 1982. While our moronic right-wing press tore into him for this, the Queen Mother complimented him on it, you can judge for yourself, as it is now on display in the People's History Museum.
Michael Foot will always be remembered for Labour's 1983 defeat, but the 'longest suicide note in history' promised peace and socialism. It's policies for the banks and finance sector certainly don't look so silly now! While those on the right of the Labour movement have used this as a stick to beat the left and to justify the Labour party's tranformation into a party of inequality, imperialist war and big business. What the apologists for New Labour do not understand is that the idea of the abandonment of socialist policies in order to get elected did not start with New Labour, but with the 'gang of four'. If the SDP did not break away from Labour, Thatcher could have lost the 1983 election.
Instead of sticking to our guns, the New Labour team proposed that we do exactly what the SDP did. We have seen that New Labour was no triumph for electoral tactics to beat the tories, it represents a complete and utter capitulation to Thatcherism. While Michael Foot's personal leadership was seen to have lost the 1983 election, I think that he is exactly the sort of leader that Post-Blair Britain is crying out for. We are sick of the polished spin that spills from the mouths of those self-serving Tory-LibDem-New Labour creatures. In his book Debts Of Honour, Michael Foot wrote that "Men of power have not time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power." Today we need men and women who read, who have principles, who do not conform to the corrupt standard of poltician.
Although you might be forgiven for thinking of a certain not the nine o'clock news sketch(At 4 minutes 34 seconds on this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy0Ax9CVvzo)the universal expressions of sorrow for Michael Foot from all political perspectives are genuine. He was a great parliamentarian, a witty speaker and an all round good bloke. For instance, he was a prominent republican, but well liked by the Royal family. He was everything Thatcherism is not, yet he was respected by Mrs T herself. He was a loved man and deserved his 90th birthday present, when, becoming the oldest footballer on the planet, he was registered with the Football League as an honorary player (number 90!) for Plymouth Argyle.
I do not think I am exaggerating when I say he was the best Prime Minister Britain never had. As he declared at a Morning Star rally in 1980, "In my opinion, Marxism is a great creed of human liberation. It is the creed which says that when all other empires fade and vanish, our business is to enlarge the empire of the human mind." I couldn't agree more.