Sad To See You Leaving 2010: Michael Foot

by George_East on December 25, 2010

Sadly destined to be remembered by wider public opinion as the wild haired man who led the Labour Party to its worst defeat since the war in the general election of 1983 and (falsely) for turning up to the cenotaph in a donkey jacket, Michael Foot was both a poltical giant and a thoroughly decent man. He is for me one of the saddest losses of 2010, though at 96 there can be little question he had a very full life.

He is a reminder of how diminished the current generation of politicians are with their narrow world of politics since they left university and their limited world views.

Foot’s unwavering opposition to fascism in all its guises throughout his life defined his politics. From his authorship of The Guilty Men about the appeasers in UK politics in the 1930s to being one of the first and most powerful voices calling for intervention in the former Yugoslavia as Serbian nationalists laid seige to Sarejevo backed by Slobodan Milosovic’s former communist regime in Belgrade. The latter was particularly important in providing a moral case for intervention in Britain as John Major’s government indulged in a realpolitik foreign policy and other voices on the left (John Pilger for example) denounced potential western intervention as imperialism. It is now almost wholly forgotten but he was also one of the earliest voices calling for intervention against Argentina following the invasion of the Falklands War. He knew what a fascistic military regime would mean.

In stark contrast to the political and intellectual pygmies of today Foot was an erudite man, as at home with the writings and thoughts of William Hazlitt and Jonathan Swift as he was in the machinations of keeping the Callaghan (by then) minority government in office as Leader of the House.

He was reluctant to stand for leader of the Labour Party in 1980 then spiralling into civil war. He was 67 and understood that the task was likely to be thankless. However he saw it as his duty and in retrospect with Sunny Jim standing down he was probably the only man capable of holding the party together once the SDPers had split. One only has to read the Tony Benn diaries for the period to realise just how self-indulgent the left was in that period – as Thatcher pursued economics which stretched the dole queues to lengths they had not seen since the 1930s, Benn and his followers became wholly obsessed with the Labour Party’s rule book and how it could be exploited. Only Foot’s presence stopped further schism.

The fact that this decent, wise man was criticised more by the press for his dress sense at the cenotaph than Thatcher was for destroying the lives of a generation or more in the industrial heartlands of the country says more about the British media than it does about Michael Foot. We are considerably poorer as a nation without him.

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