Michael Foot: 1913-2010

Tributes have poured in from across the political spectrum today following the death of Michael Foot, leader of the Labour party from 1979-1983, who died today.

Tributes have poured in from across the political spectrum today following the death of Michael Foot, leader of the Labour party from 1980-1983, who passed away shortly after 7:00 this morning at his Hampstead home. He had been ill for some time, with fading health, and had been receiving 24-hour care.

Alastair Campbell, on his blog, described him as “above all else a lovely man”, writing:

“The sadness I feel at his death is exacerbated by the fact I was away when Fiona went with Neil Kinnock to see him recently. She came away sensing he did not have that long to live. But at least he was still in his own home, the one he shared for so long with his wife Jill Craigie, and still surrounded by his books and his memories…

“He and Jill invited us over to dinner at their home on the edge of Hampstead Heath regularly, often with the Kinnocks and Salman Rushdie. The author found in the Foots a passionate supporter when ‘Satanic Verses’ made him the target of such hatred that he required round the clock protection. Michael’s home was one of his sanctuaries. Michael was an engaging companion because nothing passed him by, he was well read, on top of every detail of every major debate, full of strong views but also an understanding of the views of others…

“Even as his health failed, his eyesight virtually gone, his legs weak, he was still able to engage in debate. Last summer Fiona got in touch with him to ask if he would have some time for a 16 year old pupil from a local school. He wanted to discuss George Orwell with Michael for an essay he was writing. Michael invited them both to tea and spent over an hour with the boy in his garden, reminiscing about Orwell and the rise of fascism.

“When they left he gave the young man one of his precious books. It was typical of Michael, his mind and memory as sharp as ever, gracious and decent to the end.”

David Blunkett, reports Alex Smith in Labour List, hailed him as “the greatest parliamentarian of his generation”. He said:

“In the 47 years that I have been a member of the Labour Party, I have rarely come across anyone as gracious, thoughtful and intellectually sharp as Michael Foot.

Ken Livingstone said he was “the nicest person I ever met at a senior level in politics”, adding:

“Michael Foot was consistent in his politics and principles throughout his political life from the 1930s until his sad death today. He was right on the majority of issues when the political establishment were wrong as his staunch anti-fascism and his dedication to the abolition of nuclear weapons demonstrated.”

Even hardened Tories were heartfelt in their tributes. Daniel Hannan, writing in the Telegraph, called him “God’s Englishman”:

“Britain is a poorer place without Michael Foot. He may have been the least successful Labour leader of the post-war period. But he was a committed patriot, who saw Labour politics as being part of a continuing tradition that stretched back to the Civil War…

“I was lucky enough, as an undergraduate, to listen to one of Michael Foot’s last great orations, when he spoke to a spell-bound Oxford Union about the iniquities of the EU. True heir to the English radical tradition, he had little time for “-isms” of any sort, and was one of the few Lefties of his generation never to have flirted with either Mussolini or Stalin…

“Yet he was ill-suited to the politician’s trade. Cerebral, incorruptible and curiously innocent, he represented a noble and exalted tradition on the British Left.

Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian Politics Blog has more reaction, including from Lady Thatcher’s office, which issued a statement saying:

“I was very sorry to hear the news. He was a great parliamentarian and a man of his priniciples.”

And from Tony Lloyd, chair of the PLP, who said:

“Michael Foot passing away signals the end of a great life and an era in politics but his memory will live on in the work of those inspired by him and in those who will read his writings. Michael was at the heart of the Labour Party and was inspired by the values of democratic socialism; in turn, he inspired those around him to work to promote those ideals.

“He will be missed by his many friends and admirers from all walks of life.”

David Miliband tweeted:

“Michael Foot led a remarkable life. I remember meeting him on the Tube in the 80s; for a famous speaker he really listened.”

Followed by:

“Ironic to hear news of Michael Foot’s death while welcoming south african president. He hated apartheid with a vengeance.”

The news was broken to the House of Commons by Jack Straw, writes Paul Waugh on his blog, the justice secretary recalling Foot’s “conjuror’s speech”.

Watch it:

Tribune has published a detailed obituary to Mr Foot, which begins:

“To chronicle the life of Michael Foot, who died on Wednesday aged 96, is to embrace the canvas of 20th century British radicalism.

“The great cavalcade of his life was the essence of that word “radical”: tempestuous, full of a courageous integrity, which sometimes may have seemed a touch eccentric; unyielding in its moral code and, even in old age, astonishingly vigorous in its execution; scion of a remarkable family in which all his brothers and sisters were fed on the unshakable West Country liberalism of Isaac, their puritan father, and the fiery principles of their Scottish-born mother, the redoubtable Eva Mackintosh.

“So it was with Michael Mackintosh Foot in his world of politics, literature, journalism, history, Byronic poetry, Cromwellian purpose and exceptional oratory. Throughout a remarkable lifetime, he encompassed all these and offered the gift of honest enlightenment to enhance the quality of British political and cultural life.”

It ends, quite simply, with the words of Byron:

“And I will war, at least in words (and – should

My chance so happen – deeds) with all who war

With thought.”

Michael Foot, 23rd July 1913 – 3rd March 2010


Iain Dale has a fascinating podcast of an interview with Michael Foot which marked his 90th birthday.

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