Comment at end
3rd March 2010
UPDATE – He would, wouldn’t he? I just posted this a few minutes ago, and now on the BBC Radio4 10:00pm news, TONY BLAIR HAS PAID TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL FOOT, praising him as “an inspiration for many many people.” What kept him? (So, I suppose I should just delete three of the paragraphs below, then!? OK. I heard you.)
Michael Foot’s Death
THE PASSING OF “OLD LABOUR”? MAYBE
On Tuesday a famous, even at times infamous politician announced his retirement from British parliamentary politics at the age of 83.
Today a former leader of the then Left, very Left Labour party, Michael Foot, died at the age of 96. He led the Labour party for three years from 1980-1983, but never to electoral victory at a general election. He was famously leading his party when their “longest suicide note in history” helped persuade him to give up his leadership to Neil Kinnock.
This tribute and the above picture appears at Tony Blair’s Office website with this text:
Tony Blair today paid tribute to former Leader of the Labour Party, Michael Foot. He said:
“Michael Foot was a giant of the Labour movement, a man of passion, principle and outstanding commitment to the many causes he fought for. He took over the leadership at the most difficult time in Labour’s history and conducted himself with huge dignity. I will always remember his personal kindness to me from the time of Beaconsfield byelection onwards. Even when he disagreed with me, he was immensely supportive and kind. His book Debts of Honour is still one of my favourites. We shall greatly miss him and always revere his memory.”
So, as I humbly apologise for not watching TV – it’s just SO-O-O-O boring – here is Tony Blair’s tribute to Michael Foot, thanks to Margaret, a regular reader:
‘Mr Foot was a giant of the Labour movement who took over the leadership at the most difficult time in Labour’s history and conducted himself with huge dignity. I will always remember his personal kindness to me. Even when he disagreed with me, he was immensely supportive and kind. Michael foot was a radical almost in an 19th century sense. He was a brilliant orator. He was a brilliant writer. He was a great Parliamentarian. He was as far removed from the techniques of modern politics as one can possibly imagine. He was an inspiration to many, many people.
OK? Am I forgiven? And Blair’s tribute is also now mentioned here at the BBC website.
THE SILENCE OF BLAIR
On neither the retirement or the death have we heard from Tony Blair, although both men were of great importance to him personally and politically. Mr Blair will have heard about both, even if presently in the Middle East, and it is more than likely that he has been in touch with Mr Paisley and Mr Foot’s family privately.
But it is a measure of the sensibilities around today’s Labour party over its past and future, and particularly in this pre-election period, that Mr Blair hasn’t uttered anything publicly on this. Even senior and retired Conservatives and many from the Labour party, both Old and New have been moved to emote on the airwaves.
Tony Blair may be damned for his silence right now from some quarters. But he’d be damned even more if he’d said anything at all. That is the simple truth and it is a measure of the weight of the cross that Tony Blair bears right now. Silence is the safer option.
I will write on Paisley at the next post. Meanwhile on Foot and his Marxist ‘influence’ or not on Blair and New Labour (ie. prior to Brown’s muddied version) – in the absence of Mr Blair…
THERE’S ALWAYS RENTOUL
John Rentoul reminds us here of what he describes as “One of his [Foot’s] lesser contributions to the nation […] his part in the rise of Tony Blair.”
Rentoul then goes on, in his inimitable way, to dismiss the opining of Robert Taylor and others on the Marxist Left (Taylor had uncovered a 1982 letter from Blair to Foot) thus:
Rentoul: “Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even as I congratulate and envy Taylor for his find, I must take issue with his interpretation. He [Blair] told Foot: “I actually did trouble to read Marx first hand”, although he does not say what. Probably The 18th Brumaire and The Communist Manifesto, like the rest of us. But the only thing he says in his letter to Foot about Marxism as an ideology is that he found it “stifling” because it becomes “an excuse to stop searching for the truth”. He would not have needed to say more to Foot, possibly the greatest authority on the history of British socialism …
His political formation was, thus, not like that of many of his co-conspirators in the making of New Labour. Peter Mandelson, John Reid, Alan Milburn and Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, were Marxists of varying rainbow stripes in their youth. Blair was never tempted by the certainties of that world-view …
That Blair could not bring himself to use Benn’s first name is a clue to his true feelings. In fact, Blair and Foot had been co-conspirators against Benn at the Beaconsfield by-election, which Blair fought and lost in May 1982. Foot was asked on television what he thought of the failure of the organisers to invite Benn to campaign on Blair’s behalf. “I think they’ve exercised their discretion very well,” he smiled. Later in the letter Blair urges Foot to “go on the attack” against Benn for his refusal to condemn the “quite horrendous practices of TB’s ultra supporters” (a phrase that means something different now) in the 1981 deputy leadership election.
This is a must-read for anyone who lives under the misapprehension that Blair was once a true Marxist. More here. Whatever would those of us who have never been members of the Labour party do without Mr Rentoul and his ability to set records straight? I suppose wed’ have to read the rest of the press and come to the same wrong-headed conclusions as they do.
Saints preserve us!
1) Taken from Alastair Campbell’s comments: “Blair’s former chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell insisted Foot did not condemn Blair and Brown for taking the party down a more centrist, voter-friendly path.
“He did not agree with everything the Labour government did. But he delighted in so much of the change made under first Tony and now Gordon, two men of whom I never heard him say a bad word,” he wrote on his blog.
Foot helped Blair campaign for his first general election in 1983 and 12 years later was quoted as saying: “No rising hope on the political scene who offered his service to Labour when I happened to be leader can be dismissed as an opportunist.”
2) Michael Fitpatrick here says this: “I recall attending a Labour Party rally addressed by Michael Foot in the course of the 1979 General Election campaign. In the spirit of the radical tradition of heckling at election meetings, I advanced the view from the floor that it was time for the left to break with the Labour Party and establish a serious alternative. I was thrown out.”
THE LABOUR PARTY’S LEADERS IN RECENT YEARS
Notable reference and comment today:
Gerald Kaufmann, who famously referred to “the longest suicide note in history” – Labour’s 1983 election manifesto, said today that Foot was “a very fine man, a very nice man, a man of high principle. But he didn’t know how to lead a political party.”
After Foot Neil Kinnock did a very good job of leading and moving the party away from the disastrous left-leaning policies, until the press destroyed his chances at the 1992 election.
But it was not until Tony Blair emerged as party leader in 1994, and in 1997, 2001 and 2005 broke the party’s habit of its lifetime with three historic wins that Labour became the natural party of government.
That is too easily forgotten today. I am reminding leaders here, because for reasons best known to themselves, I am as sure as I can be that many of today’s Labour activists and our press will somehow forget this.
Kinnock: “I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council! – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.
The rest was Tony Blair, party re-positioning and historical victories, right up until his retirement in June of 2007. History has yet to be written fully and fairly on his legacy to the Labour party and the country, and of course on that of his successor, Gordon Brown.
Michael Foot will be remembered fondly by many in his party.
Winston Churchill, former Tory MP and grandson of the wartime leader also died recently – yesterday, Tuesday.
See, as soon as I finish it, the next but one post on Ian Paisley’s retirement: ‘There WERE two Ian Paisleys. And Blair uncovered the second one.’