Labour's Michael Foot (96) dies

 

Former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot has died at the age of 96.

Mr Foot died shortly before 7am today at his home in Hampstead, north London. He had been ill for some time and had been receiving 24-hour care.

Justice secretary Jack Straw broke the news to MPs today. He said: “I am sure that this news will be received with great sadness not only in my own party but across the country as a whole.” He added: “He was held in very great affection in all sections of the House and across the country.”

Mr Straw told MPs: “Those of us who knew Michael Foot well, have a great many memories of him.

“I simply say that I have one particular memory of Michael Foot - I was a new backbencher sitting on one of the benches over there in November 1980 and there was a run-off competition between Denis Healey and Michael Foot for the leadership of the Labour party.”

The justice secretary told of how Mr Foot had made a speech which “suggested to me that he had a line into the Almighty”.

Mr Straw said: “I witnessed this speech and so did the rest of us with the same incredulity that I witnessed the imagination behind a Mozart concerto. He just held the House, he’d got no notes, just a couple of newspaper cuttings.”

Prime minister Gordon Brown said Mr Foot was a “man of deep principle and passionate idealism”.

Mr Foot took over the Labour leadership after James Callaghan's government was defeated by Mrs Thatcher's Conservatives in the 1979 election. Four years later, Labour suffered its worst defeat for half a century after the party had split, with some lawmakers defecting to form a new Social Democratic Party.

Labour's manifesto for the 1983 campaign advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament, higher taxes and greater government intervention in industry. Labour's Gerald Kaufman described it as "the longest suicide note in history."

First elected to the House of Commons in 1945, Foot retired as a member of Parliament 47 years later. He served as employment secretary under Prime Minister Harold Wilson and as leader of the House of Commons under Callaghan during the 1970s.

Lord (Denis) Healey, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, said today: “I am very sorry indeed. Although I disagreed with him on issues - he was far to the left of me - I was glad to serve as his deputy. The great thing about Michael was that he was a brilliant orator but his judgment was not very good.”

Conservative leader David Cameron said Mr Foot had been a “remarkable man”.

“He was a brilliant speaker,” the Tory leader told Talksport radio. “I’m obviously not old enough to have been in the House of Commons at the same time, but reading some of his speeches (they) were incredibly powerful.” Mr Cameron added: “He had an extraordinary life but they will be mourning the death of a remarkable man.”

Irish Labour Party president Michael D Higgins said Mr Foot was "a politician of unswerving social conscience and socialist conviction".

"Over a period of half a century, he established a reputation as one of the greatest parliamentarians of all time. His political speeches embodied the finest principles of the Labour movement.

"He had a long-standing interest in Ireland, not just in its constitutional issues but also in its culture, and particularly in its writers. He was of the finest critics of the work of Jonathan Swift and his introduction to the Penguin edition of Gulliver's Travels is a magnificent work of scholarship," Mr Higgins said.

Reuters