Feature

Michael Foot

The fiery Laborite who challenged Margaret Thatcher

Michael Foot1913–2010

In 1980, Britain’s Labor Party was in turmoil. The party’s left and centrist wings blamed each other for the previous year’s defeat at the hands of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives. Foot, a socialist, ran for Labor Party leader on a unity platform and prevailed. In the run-up to the 1983 elections, he produced a 700-page manifesto calling for nuclear disarmament, the state takeover of banks, and abolition of the House of Lords. After Labor was obliterated at the polls, the document became known as “the longest suicide note in history.”

Born into a prosperous family in 1913 in Plymouth, England, Foot honed his verbal skills as a journalist, writing articles for left-wing publications. First elected to Parliament in 1945, he was “uniquely lovable,” said the London Independent, gaining the affection, if not the support, of political adversaries.

“With his unruly white mane, thick glasses, and scruffy jackets,” said The New York Times, Foot looked out of place in the button-down Parliament. But he was a compelling orator, widely thought of as the “conscience of the Labor Party.” The “bookish” Foot also was a prolific writer, and he continued his literary pursuits throughout his political career, writing dozens of books, including biographies of left-wing press baron Aneurin Bevan and writer H.G. Wells.

While many on his side of the political spectrum were pushing a less confrontational course, Foot never stopped railing against the capitalists. “To hell with them,” he once bellowed. “The top is greedy and mean and will find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.”

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