Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What today's politicians can learn from Michael Foot

For all his faults – not least that he was a disastrous leader of the Labour Party in opposition – there is good reason to keep Michael Foot’s memory alive regardless of your politics.
I was one of many hundreds at the event Celebrating Michael Foot at the Lyric Theatre in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue last night. The great and the Left turned their thoughts to the grand old Parliamentarian who died in March at the age of 96.
Gordon Brown came in person as did Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley; Tony Blair – away fixing the Middle East – was represented by wife Cherie; while the new Labour leader Ed Miliband was busy changing his new son’s nappies so he sent his deputy Harriet Harman to deliver some platitudes.
Foot’s Welsh connection – he was Ebbw Vale’s MP for many years – was acknowledged by performances from the Tredegar Band and the London Welsh Chorale. Surprisingly there was little else reflecting the valleys. Rather Foot’s ties with Plymouth and particularly its under performing football team Plymouth Argyll were frequently mentioned.
Foot was an esteemed journalist before he came to politics and his Wikipedia entry gives generous coverage to both.
Gerald Kaufman’s description of Foot’s 1983 General Election manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history” at 700 pages was apt. It was wrong at every turn from unilateral nuclear disarmament and widespread nationalisation to isolation from Europe and higher personal taxes. The Tories won by a landslide.
And yet, and yet. Lady Thatcher’s passing will attract international attention. But I’m willing to bet there will be nothing to equal the outpouring of admiration and affection for Michael Foot that I witnessed last night.
He was a whole man. Clearly he had great personal charm and was a good friend to many. But for me what marks Foot out is that he stands as an intellectual giant compared to the mental pygmies who populate Westminster now.
He loved the world of ideas – a very unEnglish trait - and was an orator in the finest tradition of the House of Commons.
Where today’s crop will trim their statements to capture the day’s headlines, Foot had actual beliefs. Unpopular or muddle-headed, he was a conviction politician first and foremost.
Eccentric, badly in need of haircut and a new wardrobe, Foot was not built for the television age. But Labour could use him on the Opposition benches now.
He was a passionate advocate of equality and the foe of injustice. He would have been withering in his analysis of the Tory-LibDem Coalition’s claims of fairness as it attacks the deficit with unprecedented ferocity.

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