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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why Michael Foot would have made a good Prime Minister

This tribute piece of mine to the former Labour Party leader Michael Foot, appears in The First Post.

On Michael Foot's death, Neil Clark remembers not a woolly old dreamer but a shrewd political operator.

The popular image of Michael Foot, the former Labour party leader whose death at 96 was announced today, is of an intellectually brilliant but rather dreamy political incompetent: a sweet and immensely loveable eccentric, who despite his great gifts, was silly enough to wear a donkey jacket to the Cenotaph and whose romantic attachment to old-fashioned socialism caused his party to suffer - in 1983 - their heaviest electoral defeat for 50 years.

The reality is rather different. Far from being a hopeless dreamer, Foot was in fact a shrewd and pragmatic political operator whose career was far from unsuccessful. He was much more than a great orator; he was in fact much more special than people have given him credit for.

Michael Foot was a man of enormous talents. A superb polemical journalist, who made his name attacking the Tory appeasers of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, he became the editor of the Evening Standard before his 30th birthday. His biography of his socialist hero Nye Bevan remains one of the greatest political books of all time. He was also arguably the most inspirational public speaker of his generation.

Foot, who first became a Labour MP in 1945, did not serve in government until he was in his 60s. But his record in office was impressive. In the Labour government elected in February 1974, Foot, as Minister of Employment, acted as a conduit between the unions and the government at a time of great industrial unrest.

You can read the rest of the article here.

While here you can read my 2008 Guardian article on why the much maligned Labour election manifesto of 1983 could have saved us from decades of neo-liberal disaster.


jock mctrousers said...

Great piece, that Guardian article. " The REAL suicide note was the TORY manifesto " That's it! The UK committed suicide when it re-elected Thatcher. Assisted suicide, actually - assisted by the loathsome SDP - Owen, Steel, Williams - who sacrificed the country to their petty vanity.
Generally speaking, when we look at the healthcare fiasco in the US just now, and the direction Britain has taken since Foot's defeat, it could seem that there's a big percentage of the human race, not just the rich, who would rather see everyone go down the drain - commit suicide - than share with their fellow man.
How far we've got to go now to get back to the point we were at when Foot was within reach of power, if we ever get back!

Neil Clark said...

Hi Jock, Many thanks.
Totally agreed. The Foot critics say that if he had become PM, it would have been a 'disaster' for Britain. As if what has happened in the past thirty years in Britain has not been disastrous!
A wrecked economy, destruction of manufacturing, huge levels of personal and government debt, massive increase in crime and anti-social behaviour and huge inequalities in wealth. Just to think, Michael Foot might have prevented some of this. What a 'disaster' that would have been!

Alex said...

Have you seen this bitter dose of vitriol, it really annoyed me!