Sunday 23 July 2017

Tributes pour in for Michael Foot, the Labour legend

Andrew Woodcock in London

TRIBUTES flooded in from all sides of politics last night for a former leader of the British Labour Party, Michael Foot, following his death yesterday at the age of 96.

British prime minister Gordon Brown hailed him as "a man of deep principle and passionate idealism" who fought all his life for his beliefs and for the Labour Party.

Mr Foot's former adversary, Baroness Thatcher, described him as "a great parliamentarian and a man of high principles".

His great-nephew, the historian John Foot, said Mr Foot died "peacefully" shortly before 7am yesterday at his home in Hampstead, north London. He had been ill for some time and under 24-hour care.

Born into a prominent Liberal family, Michael Foot was active in Labour politics from the 1930s, when he campaigned as a radical journalist against the appeasement of Hitler.

He was appointed by Lord Beaverbrook as editor of the 'Evening Standard' in London and entered parliament in 1945.

Mr Foot was universally respected as a brilliant orator and eminent journalist and historian, but opinions were more divided on his political beliefs.

In 1980, he won the race for the Labour leadership against Denis Healey in 1980 as the candidate of the left.

Manifesto

He led the party through its blackest period of vicious in-fighting and the defection of senior figures to found the rival Social Democratic Party. It attracted many voters who were disaffected by Labour's lurch to the left.

His manifesto for the 1983 election -- featuring unilateral nuclear disarmament, the abolition of the House of Lords and withdrawal from Europe -- was described by one of his own MPs as "the longest suicide note in history".

The party went down to its worst defeat in 60 years, with just 27pc of the vote.

Mr Foot's protege and successor as Labour leader, Lord (Neil) Kinnock, told Sky News: "He knew that he was letting himself into purgatory in becoming leader of the Labour Party in its darkest, grimmest hour.

"But if he hadn't done it, I don't think Labour would have survived as a political force."

Lord Healey, who served as Mr Foot's deputy from 1980-83, said he was "very, very sorry to hear of his death".

Tony Benn hailed him as "a very formidable writer and a very powerful speaker . . . a great credit to the Labour movement".

Born in Plymouth, Mr Foot first entered parliament as MP for Plymouth Devonport in 1945. He later represented Ebbw Vale (1960-83) and Blaenau Gwent (1983-92), both in Wales.

He was employment secretary between 1974-76 under Harold Wilson and went on to become leader of the Commons between 1976 and 1979.

After quitting the Labour leadership in 1983, he remained in the Commons until 1992, before retiring to a life of reading, writing, talk and conviviality with beloved wife, Jill Craigie, who died in 1999.

See Obituary Page 27

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