Michael Foot had a great mind and wanted a fairer world. His misfortune however was to be elected leader of the Labour Party. The 1983 Labour manifesto “New Hope For Britain” published under his leadership, was longer than both the Liberal SDP and Conservative manifestos put together.
It promised unilateral nuclear disarmament, re-nationalisation, an end to council house sales and withdrawal from the EEC.
It was famously described by Gerald Kaufman as “The longest suicide note in history” and the label stuck for many years. With the media playing up the cold war, Maggie T throwing out a few crumbs via shares in BT etc. and folk being able to buy their homes for a fraction of their true value, Foot’s Labour Party had no chance. He led the party to its worst election result for 60 years.
Just as opposition to state control in Eastern Europe was finding its feet and the political wind in the “free world” was shifting rightwards, was obviously not the time for such policies to gain popularity.
As is the case with many politicians however it was a relatively trivial event for which Foot was condemned and for which he is always remembered.
In November 2001 he appeared at the cenotaph for the remembrance service wearing what the press described as a “donkey jacket”
Actually it was a duffle type coat which was dark green. Foot had put it on over his black suit. The Telegraph/Mail et al however had a field day. Whilst it was true to say that Foot could never have been confused with a fashion icon, it was clear he meant no disrespect. He should have known to wear a black coat, he didn’t – and he didn’t.
However if the press hadn’t got him with this they’d have got him anyway. His appearance, shambolic demeanour and other worldly outlook (Amongst which he was an atheist and Plymouth Argyle fan) made him an easy target. And it wasn’t just the right wing usual suspects who formed the firing squad.
Scots MP, later Scotland’s first minister, Donald Dewar lodged with the Foots (Feet?) when he first ventured to London. Whilst the two men came from opposite wings of the Labour Party, their love of books and a reputed common trait of untidiness were their bond.
Being thoroughly decent, an intellectual and a great wit are quite a combination in one man but a leader he wasn’t.
That said, if everyone had an outlook more like Michael Foot, socialism could probably move from being a worthy philosophical notion, to a workable system of society and government.
And before anyone of a certain age guffaws at that, think of the man rather than the media image and remember it wasn’t a donkey jacket.