Report from last night’s Foot tribute, by the 18 year old who last interviewed him

by Conrad Landin

LAST NIGHT, family, friends and admirers gathered in the West End to pay tribute to the former Labour leader, Michael Foot. I fit into the latter category. As do many.

But I am probably quite rare in that Foot had already left Parliament by the time I was born. I don’t remember his powerful oratory, which would fill up the Commons on both sides with MPs drinking in the Cicero of their age. Let alone the master journalist speaking out for freedom of the press in the second world war and publishing gripping pamphlets on the perils of appeasement.

In fact, I only heard of Michael Foot by accident, when looking up the Labour party’s history four or five years ago. Researching him, I found it amazing that there was a man who seemed to be a politician of a different age still among us. And after reading of the 1983 “suicide note” manifesto and crushing electoral defeat, my reaction – perhaps to be expected from a twelve-year-old – was that 28 per cent of voters giving the thumbs-up to such an idealistic programme was a triumph.

Tragically, almost every time I read his name in the press from that moment to his death, it was somehow associated with poor approval ratings for the Labour government. But every now and again I saw reminders that he was still a figure of the present – joining a campaign or commemorating forgotten heroes in the local Camden press. Though he lived within walking distance of me, it seemed that in what life he had left, I would only be able to admire him from afar.

Aside from his sheer idealism – identified by Gordon Brown last night as his defining quality – it was one particular aspect of Foot’s politics which struck a chord with me. He certainly had political ambition – but it was something entirely different to what we see in today’s politics. If there is one thing about the Blair-Brown struggle that we’ve learnt from the numerous diaries of the Labour years, it’s that this was a struggle of personalities rather than values. For Foot, ambition was about continuing the struggle for humanity – which he believed could only be served by democratic socialism.

He is such an inspiring figure because his own inspirations are so clear. His politics of struggle and protest can be traced back to his family’s Quaker-Liberal values, his discovery of the Chartist movement, reading Swift and Hazlitt and his conversion to socialism working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool. And, as countless speakers repeated last night, he inspires us not to simply admire his beliefs and work, but to go forward and continue his struggle for equality and representation.

I eventually did meet Michael Foot in the summer of 2009, and interviewed him about his friendship with George Orwell. We hear so often of how his passion and spirit continued to the end – and this is no exaggeration. Still adamant to ‘read every bloody word – the whole damn book’, he kept on stressing how important it was to give the full back-story of the world of Tribune to his friendship with Orwell. It was more than learning of a new approach to Orwell for me; it was discovering a completely different past world from one of its protagonists.

I now realise that the interview was his last. His death was a watershed for the whole Labour movement and the end of an era. I could ask for no greater honour. Michael Foot was – as it was put so brilliantly last night – a figure of four centuries, starting with the 18th. And as we discussed Orwell, Bevan, Plymouth Argyle FC and Ed Balls over tea and cake last July, it became so clear that while Foot’s leadership of Labour was not the most successful, his spirit of inspirational struggle is exactly what we need to revive our party.

Our leaders – present and future – would do well to remember that “men who do not read are not fit to hold power”. If any man was fit to hold power, it was Foot.

Conrad Landin’s interview with Michael Foot is here.

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One Response to “Report from last night’s Foot tribute, by the 18 year old who last interviewed him”

  1. william says:

    A 28 percent thumbs up ,a triumph?Unilateral disarmament, re -nationalisation, both sure fire election winners,of course, and look what happened. The agenda was from the other side,privatisation, council house sales , lower tax, optimism, growth etc.As Michail Gorbachev said to Eric Honeker in 1989, on the collapse of the Berlin Wall,’those who delay are punished by life.’

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