Labour politician Michael Foot dies

 

FORMER BRITISH Labour Party leader Michael Foot, one of the giants of the Labour movement who led the party in its disastrous battle against Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher in 1983, has died at the age of 96.

Mr Foot, a noted journalist and author who was first elected as an MP in 1945, was one of the founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and campaigned against British membership of the European Economic Community in the 1970s.

He became Labour leader in 1980 after the resignation of Jim Callaghan when he narrowly defeated Denis Healey, though his term was hindered from the start because of the vicious divisions then within the party.

More than two dozen Labour MPs quit for the then recently created Social Democratic Party, and Labour was split when Mr Healey and Tony Benn fought a bitter battle for the deputy leadership.

His slim election chances in 1983 were reduced to naught after Mrs Thatcher’s popularity soared because of the Falklands War, and Labour’s own drift to the left turned off voters in the middle-ground.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, said Mr Foot was “an indomitable figure”, “a man of deep principle and passionate idealism and one of the most eloquent speakers Britain has ever heard”.

Born into a Liberal family, he joined Labour in the 1930s and worked for two left-wing publications, the New Statesman and Tribune, before surprising colleagues by accepting the editorship of the Evening Standard from the right-wing Lord Beaverbrook in 1942.

He entered parliament in 1945 and went on to become a hero of the left, championing nuclear disarmament and campaigning against British membership of the European Economic Community in the 1975 referendum.

A pacifist in later life, Mr Foot co-wrote an influential book, The Guilty Men in 1940, which criticised those who had appeased Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Refused by booksellers, it was first sold from street stalls, eventually selling 200,000 copies.

Though frail in later years, Mr Foot wrote an admired biography of author HG Wells in 1995 and published a collection of his own writings in 2000.

Neil Kinnock, who succeeded him as Labour leader, said he was “a supreme parliamentary democrat” who had urged “peace, security, prosperity and opportunity for humanity and punishment for bigots and bullies of every kind.

“His bravery and generosity were unsurpassed. He used both to ensure that the Labour party survived as a political force when self-indulgent factionalism could have doomed it to irrelevance,” said Mr Kinnock.

Conservative leader David Cameron said Mr Foot had entered “politics because he loved his country”, adding: “I think he will be remembered as a great speaker, a fantastic orator, a beautiful writer.”