Goodbye Footie.
March 3, 2010 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Michael Foot, leader of the British Labour Party from 1980-83 and principally responsible for the longest suicide note in history, is dead at 96.
posted by unSane (58 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
RIP Mr Foot. A man of integrity, and cause of one of the best newspaper headlines of all time: "Foot heads arms body".
posted by handee at 6:05 AM on March 3, 2010 [28 favorites]


On an entirely personal note, I met him once in the mid 90s while making a film about the founding of the National Health Service, and he was (by then, anyway) a sweet, rambly, but still startlingly intelligent old man with a wonderful rollicking laugh. He had none of the brittle hardness you sometimes encounter in politicians after years in the hurly burly. Meeting him, the 1983 manifesto wasn't surprising at all. He wasn't a fool -- it's hard to imagine anyone less foolish -- but perhaps the most complete idealist I'd ever met. The years hadn't taken that away from him in the slightest degree.

And so

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posted by unSane at 6:05 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't usually do the dot, but in Michael Foot's case, I'll make an exception.

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posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:09 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never heard of him, but now that I have I wish we had more like him.

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posted by DU at 6:11 AM on March 3, 2010


I don't normally do the dot either, but this is a special case.

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posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:13 AM on March 3, 2010


My first dot.

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I'm off to buy a donkey jacket.
posted by vbfg at 6:14 AM on March 3, 2010


By the way, here is the 1983 manifesto. It is quite a document. Scroll down to the 'emergency program'. It takes your breath away.
posted by unSane at 6:15 AM on March 3, 2010


Saw this quote from him on an obit thread elsewhere:
We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. The is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer, to hell with them. the top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.
posted by Abiezer at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2010 [34 favorites]


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posted by idb at 6:20 AM on March 3, 2010


The 80s were a horribly bleak time for the UK left wing, and it's sad to reflect that Michael Foot was both a cause and a symptom of this.

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posted by daveje at 6:21 AM on March 3, 2010


From the manifesto....

Telecommunications

A national cable system will make possible a wide range of new telecommunications services, greater variety in the provision of television, and a major stimulus to British technology and industry. But it must be under firm public control. A publicly-owned British Telecommunications will thus be given the sole responsibility to create a national, broadband network (including Mercury, the new privately-owned telecommunications system for business), which integrates telecommunications and broadcasting.


Private interests seem to have taken care of this one rather well.
posted by three blind mice at 6:29 AM on March 3, 2010


97! It's a good age.
to create a national, broadband network (including Mercury, the new privately-owned telecommunications system for business), which integrates telecommunications and broadcasting.

Private interests seem to have taken care of this one rather well.
Broadband? What exactly where they referring to here?
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 6:48 AM on March 3, 2010


Broadband? What exactly where they referring to here?

The cable system I think, which was incredibly underdeveloped in the UK at that time.
posted by unSane at 6:56 AM on March 3, 2010


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posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2010


The 83 manifesto is absolutely fascinating, thanks for the link.

It's interesting to see what has been done since then (a minimum wage), what hasn't ("Treat prisoners as human beings by providing reasonable conditions in our prisons") and what I'm probably glad wasn't ("Give priority to the coal industry and the use of coal as a fuel.")
posted by patricio at 7:16 AM on March 3, 2010


I wish five more like him would spring up in his place. Idealism is a word we don't hear enough of.

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posted by readery at 7:19 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by ged at 7:20 AM on March 3, 2010


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Growing up in a very right-wing household in the 1980s, I often wondered why my parents villified people like Foot and Benn.
posted by scruss at 7:22 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea that the '83 manifesto was at the root of Labour's disastrous showing is largely a myth. Of course it's true the manifesto was the outcome of the conflict between left and right wingers in the party that was also the background to the split which did most of the damage to the core Labour vote, but in the wider election no-one was going to beat Thatcher the year after the Falklands whatever policies they stood on.
The 'donkey jacket' smear (it was a top coat from Saville Row, ffs) was part of what I think was the first really vicious sustained tabloid smear campaign against a politician. The press was always partisan and mostly the plaything of the owners but was any mainstream party leader vilified quite so heavily before? The gloves came off in the Thatcher years, primarily led by Kelvin McKenzie's Sun, though I stand to be corrected as i can't recall much further back than that.
posted by Abiezer at 7:29 AM on March 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Broadband? What exactly where they referring to here?

Cable TV with a few bolt-ons. At that point nobody could have predicted how effective smart-edge networks would be, but I'm very happy that we didn't end up with an entrenched, nationalized telecoms/broadcast industry.

Worth mentioning that Foot was apparently a member of an Auxillary Unit in WWII
posted by Leon at 7:32 AM on March 3, 2010


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posted by hubbit at 7:33 AM on March 3, 2010


Private interests seem to have taken care of this one rather well.

You obviously didn't like through the cable wars of the Nineties. It is a good example of the fact that Thatcherite freemarket competition is bullshit and we would have been a lot better off if it had been done Foot's way.
posted by ninebelow at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Worth mentioning that Foot was apparently a member of an Auxillary Unit in WWII
There was a big left influence in the notion of the Home Guard overall.
posted by Abiezer at 7:44 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by WPW at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2010


My first dot too. A very very sad loss. One of the few true Socialists of our country and a hero in our very left-wing household in the 1980s ;0)

He was a wonderful man and will be greatly missed

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posted by meosl at 8:41 AM on March 3, 2010


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posted by motty at 9:03 AM on March 3, 2010


Foot was one of the last surviving links to the campaigning left of the 1930s. He was a friend and colleague of George Orwell, took his political cues from Nye Bevan, and carried all that into a world where such things are studied in history class. (Alistair Campbell writes about how he was happy to talk about those days with young people right up to the end of his life.)

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posted by holgate at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2010


Will also doubtless forever hold the record as the oldest player ever signed by his beloved Plymouth Argyle.
posted by Abiezer at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm very happy that we didn't end up with an entrenched, nationalized telecoms/broadcast industry.

I and nearly everyone I know has to pay a £17 monthly fee to an entrenched inefficient national monopoly for broadband access, before even paying the company that provides it. I have no leverage with this institution because they know I can't go anywhere else, the costs increase above the rate of inflation each year to cope with its monstrous bureaucractic overheads, and the service I get is way behind the market leading products elsewhere. In short the benefits of being a free agent in a free market are utterly denied me.

I am a British Telecom customer.
posted by cromagnon at 9:36 AM on March 3, 2010


Foot was one of the last surviving links to the campaigning left of the 1930s. He was a friend and colleague of George Orwell, took his political cues from Nye Bevan, and carried all that into a world where such things are studied in history class.

That was both his blessing and his curse really. He had lived through that extraordinary moment in 1948 where the British kicked Churchill into the gutter and brought about what really amounted to a socialist revolution in three years flat. The audacity of Nye Bevan was something he never forgot and it gave him a massive faith in the innate socialism of the British people. I think he honestly thought that the early 80s presented a similar opportunity, which explains at least in part the incredible ambition of the '83 manifesto.
posted by unSane at 9:41 AM on March 3, 2010


In short the benefits of being a free agent in a free market are utterly denied me.

Come to America. We have Comcast!
posted by eriko at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like many Londoners, I can remember encountering Michael Foot walking his dog on Hampstead Heath. Even when he was Labour leader in the 1980s, and one of the most high-profile politicians in the country, he still behaved like any ordinary member of the public. We all responded, in our very British way, as though it was a perfectly natural thing to turn a corner and meet the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition out walking his dog. 'Morning to you.' 'Morning.'

Innocent days! It's hard to imagine any politician behaving like that nowadays. I don't suppose there will ever come a time when Tony Blair can show his face in public without provoking a riot.
posted by verstegan at 9:58 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sad day. Abiezer is right in saying that nothing could have beaten Thatcher in '83, so why not go down fighting on a principled manifesto?
posted by DanCall at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2010


I and nearly everyone I know has to pay a £17 monthly fee to an entrenched inefficient national monopoly for broadband access, before even paying the company that provides it. I have no leverage with this institution because they know I can't go anywhere else, the costs increase above the rate of inflation each year to cope with its monstrous bureaucractic overheads, and the service I get is way behind the market leading products elsewhere. In short the benefits of being a free agent in a free market are utterly denied me.

I hear you brother. Also forced to pay for a landline account I do not need.

. to Michael Foot. At least we still have Wedgie Benn.
posted by Summer at 11:02 AM on March 3, 2010


The idea that the '83 manifesto was at the root of Labour's disastrous showing is largely a myth. Of course it's true the manifesto was the outcome of the conflict between left and right wingers in the party that was also the background to the split which did most of the damage to the core Labour vote, but in the wider election no-one was going to beat Thatcher the year after the Falklands whatever policies they stood on.

If this is true, why did the conservatives win the next 3 elections all the way up to 1997? He was an old guard when the winds of change were upon the UK.

As somebody else said, it's sad that idealists like Foot don't exist anymore.

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posted by hylaride at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2010


It's a shame that more idealists like Michael Foot aren't around. RIP.

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posted by arcticseal at 11:46 AM on March 3, 2010


If this is true, why did the conservatives win the next 3 elections all the way up to 1997?
You might be misinterpreting my point there. To me, the myth is that the manifesto was too left wing for its time, perhaps especially the commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, and hence lead to Labour's lowest poll showing since the war. But they'd been leading by some margin in opinion polls under Foot on largely the same manifesto before the Falklands changed the game entirely.
To give a crude generalised take, the subsequent Tory election victories were built on the 80s boom fuelled by the general monetarist shift to a finance and services rather than manufacturing with the City of London well placed to reap the benefits, the short term bonanza from privatisation particularly the sell-off of council housing and the wider neo-liberal triumph in the Atlantic alliance. That later history can't be back-projected onto '83 I think.
posted by Abiezer at 11:57 AM on March 3, 2010


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posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:11 PM on March 3, 2010


Agree with the Falklands changing the game but don't forget the influx of North Sea Oil to fund all those tax cuts.
posted by i_cola at 12:19 PM on March 3, 2010


True, i-cola. Realise that potted history of the subsequent victories is more than a bit half-arsed, but I think the basic point stands that what came later can't be used to interpret what was possible in '83.
posted by Abiezer at 12:29 PM on March 3, 2010


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posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:54 PM on March 3, 2010


The newspaper he and Orwell worked on is still going, just, as a weekly magazine. I've already ordered next week's copy.

A lot of people are saying we need more people like him in politics, and I think that's right, although sort of backwards. Really, we need a politics that allows a wider range of people to come through, rather than the professionalised hyper-competitive upper-middle-class sport we have at the moment.

I say that as a professional, relatively competitive upper-middle-class person who loves, obsesses and writes about politics.
posted by athenian at 12:58 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by GeckoDundee at 1:04 PM on March 3, 2010


hylaride: If this is true, why did the conservatives win the next 3 elections all the way up to 1997?

Abiezer: You might be misinterpreting my point there. To me, the myth is that the manifesto was too left wing for its time, perhaps especially the commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, and hence lead to Labour's lowest poll showing since the war. But they'd been leading by some margin in opinion polls under Foot on largely the same manifesto before the Falklands changed the game entirely.

Falklands (and later monetarist policies) aside, there's also another factor: given the socialist nature of the manifesto, and the massed forces of capital that stood to lose so much if it ever came to pass (even if only in part), the demonisation and smearing of Foot and Labour had to be so total and complete that it would not just ruin Foot and Labour in 1983, but make the general political environment so toxic to actual socialism that Labour would by necessity have to reinvent themselves as a more centrist, business-friendly party. Which is exactly what they did; shocking in hindsight to think that the halfway point between the '83 manifesto and the present day is, roughly, Mandleson's infamous proclamation that Labour were "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

Of course, there's more to it than that; the right of the Labour party saw an era-defining chance to reshape what they stood for, much of it based on never returning to the supposed "bad old days" of '80s Labour – viz. the dropping of Clause IV in '95* – which may have happened anyway; but the campaign by the Tories and their allies against Foot, and what he stood for, certainly made it a much easier sell to Labour doubters.

Anyway. All that said, I'll miss him; never met the man, though my dad did many times and he was a true treasure. But I've read enough of his writings to know that we'll probably never see his like again, though we can but hope.

Oh, and if anyone gets a dot, it's this man.

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*The point where I tore up my membership card and posted it back to them, I think
posted by Len at 1:18 PM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Someone who used to work for me just messaged me on Facebook with the following, which I had forgotten.
I was thinking about you today and remembering the joyful day in my early days of television when you asked me to remove the soup stains and dandruff from Michael Foot's jumper before you filmed him. Without him noticing of course!
Michael Foot was many things, but kempt he was not.
posted by unSane at 1:43 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and:

Jon Snow interviews Michael Foot on his 90th birthday

Foot on the freedom of the press, 1942
posted by Len at 1:57 PM on March 3, 2010


A life to be proud of.
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Remember when you used to be able to vote FOR Labour, rather than just NOT FOR the Tories?
posted by runincircles at 2:04 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


A leg end in his own lifetime.
posted by kcds at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by ashaw at 3:07 PM on March 3, 2010


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posted by Flitcraft at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2010


Fellow did a really nice remembrance of his father's obsession with books. Can't recall where exactly (memoir? Book of essays?), but it has stayed with me for years.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:58 PM on March 3, 2010


Len - Seumas Milne, who must admit I usually don't have a deal of time for, put it pretty well in his piece which I don't know if you saw:
...It is with Foot as emblem of the folly of the left and the dead end of Labour radicalism that the real mythology kicks in. In New Labour's version of history, more or less adopted wholesale in British public life, the sensible if tired administration of Jim Callaghan was brought down by mindless trade unionists, who then made common cause with a leftist Labour insurgency headed by Tony Benn. This unholy alliance took over the party and met its Waterloo – under Foot's leadership and the banner of the "longest suicide note in history" manifesto – in the disastrous election defeat of 1983. It then took the patient work of Neil Kinnock, John Smith and finally Tony Blair to bring Labour back to sanity and office 14 years later.

The reality was, of course, altogether different. By the time Callaghan took over in 1976, the western world's economies were tanking, the cabinet majority decided to go to the IMF and impose the most savage spending cuts since the 1930s, and the prime minister informed the Labour conference that governments could no longer spend their way out of recessions. Postwar social democracy was in crisis, and the choice was either to go for more radical forms of intervention or lurch towards pre-Thatcherite monetarism.

A demoralised Labour right opted for the latter, and forced through three years of the deepest real wage cuts in modern British history. The good work in government done by ministers such as Foot, in employment and union rights, or Benn, in taking public ownership of North Sea oil, was overwhelmed by the impact of such an attack on the living standards of Labour's core supporters – which in turn triggered the "winter of discontent" strikes by low-paid public sector workers in the early months of 1979.

They also paved the way for Margaret Thatcher's election, and a determination across the Labour party to prevent a repeat of such self-destructive folly by making its leaders more accountable. That in turn led to the bitter internal struggle between a left and right divided on everything from the US relationship and membership of the European Common Market to unilateral nuclear disarmament, public ownership and incomes policy.
posted by Abiezer at 7:17 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Growing up in a very right-wing household in the 1980s, I often wondered why my parents villified people like Foot and Benn.

Having met both of them, I'd say Foot was an idealist while Benn was (and is) an idealogue. Foot was the kind of person who would listen to what you said and then engage with it in an intellectual way, while Benn (at least the couple of times I interviewed him) would respond on an ideological level in a much more predictably rote kind of fashion. In my brief experience they were both very funny men, but Benn was a much less malleable character. Foot wanted to know what you thought, and then argue with you about it, whereas Benn mostly wanted to make sure you knew what he thought.

The thing that they had in common was that they were both, in their own way, very lovable and inspired near idolatry in those who knew them well. Foot was in many ways more a partisan journalist than a politician, while Benn was born into politics (and money).
posted by unSane at 7:41 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Abiezer – cheers, I didn't see that piece originally, but I think Milne nails it pretty effectively.
posted by Len at 6:22 AM on March 4, 2010


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posted by asok at 7:43 AM on March 4, 2010


Don't forget that in 1940 he co-wrote the seminal anti-appeasement pamphlet Guilty Men.

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posted by Baldons at 7:05 AM on March 5, 2010


Speaking as another idealist, I think Michael Foot was exactly the type of person who should lead countries.

A great loss.

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posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 9:36 PM on March 5, 2010


RIP Mr Foot. A man of integrity, and cause of one of the best newspaper headlines of all time: "Foot heads arms body".

I have nothing to add, except I just heard this: "Foot kicks bucket."
posted by Sova at 7:31 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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