Michael Foot 1913 - 2010

Michael Foot died today, at the age of 96
Michael Foot died today, at the age of 96

By Ian Dunt

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

An unpopular figure when he was leader of the opposition between 1980 and 1983, recent analysis has been much kinder to Mr Foot, and stressed the extreme difficulty of the events he faced during his political career.

Mr Foot was already frail when he took the Labour leadership at 67 years of age.

He immediately faced the crisis of the 'gang of four' - a breakway group of senior Labour figures who created the Social Democratic party.

The victory in the Falklands and a return to economic growth hugely increased support for the Conservatives and Mr Foot found his period as leader typified Labour's stint in the electoral wilderness.

He resigned after the 1983 general election, which saw Labour campaign on a resolutely socialist platform, with a manifesto demanding greater state intervention in the economy, nuclear disarmament, higher personal taxation, a retreat from the EEC and the nationalisation of Britain's banking sector.

Gerald Kaufman, an important figure on the right of the party, famously branded it "the longest suicide note in history" - a phrase which was only partly a metaphor, given that the manifesto ran to over 700 pages.

Ironically, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both elected under the manifesto, but the Tories swept home.

Mr Foot soon handed over the party to Neil Kinnock, who began the slow process of bringing it to the centre completed by Tony Blair.

He will be remembered by many as a dignified and principled politician who stuck by his convictions.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Everyone will be saddened by the death of Michael Foot - a man who personified decency and integrity in politics.

"Simply to mention his name is to be taken back to an era when every politician needed to be an orator and command an audience."

Jack Straw announced the news to the Commons after PMQs, telling MPs: "I'm sure that this news will be received with great sadness not only in my own party but across the country as a whole."

He said he witnessed Foot's speech seeking leadership of the Labour party "with the same incredulity that I witnessed the imagination behind a Mozart concerto" before Speaker John Bercow called Mr Foot "a quite extraordinarily distinguished parliamentarian".


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