British politics is in mourning today with the sad news of the passing of the legendary parliamentarian Michel Foot, aged 96.
The death of Mr Foot was announced to a hushed House of Commons by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP. Mr Straw paid a full and effusive tribute to the man who had been his former party leader.
“He was held in very great affection in all sections of the house and the country”, he said, and also said that one speech given by Michael Foot in 1980 was like listening to a Mozart concerto.
As tradition dictates, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, also added his tribute stating that Mr Foot had been “a quite extraordinary parliamentarian.
Michael Foot’s longevity is unparalleled in British politics. He was active within the Labour Party well into his nineties and had first stood for parliament as early as 1935.
Mr Foot came from a political family, his father Isaac, a successful solicitor was twice elected Liberal MP for Bodmin in the days before the formation of the Labour Party. Two of Michael’s brothers eventually became peers in the House of Lords, an honour that Mr Foot turned down as being against his strong socialist principles.
Michael Foot was a brilliant scholar, rising to become President of the Oxford Union but it was his first job as a shipping clerk in Liverpool that opened his eyes to the terrible squalor and conditions that the working class faced in pre-war Britain. From this moment on, Michael Foot became a committed left wing activist and unwavering supporter of socialism.
His principles brought him political enemies as well as plaudits. Foot was bitterly opposed to nuclear weapons and to Britain’s entry into the Common Market. His opposition to defence spending led to him being expelled from the Labour Party in 1961. Although he was re-admitted two years later he refused to serve in the cabinets of Harold Wilson, angry at his neutral stance on Vietnam.
He eventually became known as the elder statesman of the Labour Party and was a surprise choice to become party leader in 1980. His uniquely shambolic dress sense and refusal to compromise his dress sense made him unpopular with the public at large who also accused him, unfairly, of being unpatriotic and behind the times. He led Labour to a record defeat in the 1983 General Election and although remaining as an MP until 1992 he never tasted senior office again.
Michael Foot saw his reputation soar after his retirement, both as a politician and a brilliant writer and essayist. We will not see his like again.
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