Thursday, March 04, 2010

Goodbye Michael Foot

Sad to hear of the death of Michael Foot at the wonderful age of 96.

My favourite memory (only from recordings - I was too young when it happened) is Michael Foot's wind up speech in the confidence motion that brought down Callaghan's government in 1979.

His oratory therefore wasn't just good for barnstorming rallies and wooing the faithful at Conference (great though he was at that). He was a great parliamentary performer as well as actually doing Parliamentary business - keeping a minority government afloat during the most testing of times in the 1970's by working with minority parties.

His greatness didn't translate as Leader of the Labour Party. I don't think he was ever going to be Prime Minister at the best of times but after the loss of the SDP and the Falklands it was always a very long shot and, although he was always a sincere (and indeed unspun - I can't think of anyone further from the world of political spin, though the result wasn't great in a TV age) he believed his own rhetoric and therefore didn't succeed in translating the radicalism of the Party into anything likely to get a good showing.

On the other hand I don't think anyone else would have done much better given the material.

He did at least lead the Party in the way it wanted to be led at the time and keep the show together (more or less) and allow a fightback.

That's the reason Foot is remembered with so much fondness by the Party.

Only in his passing is the wider culture becoming aware of Foot's bigger history as a journalist, campaigner against fascism, erudite lover of literature and representative of an English liberal take on socialism.

Hopelessly romantic in the end, and the antithesis of modern politics I remember he had the humility to have never spoken out against his successors (Kinnock, Smith, Blair and Brown) even though he had many opportunities to do so. Not many have displayed such loyalty and ability to efface themselves.

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