The Spectator

Michael Foot, R.I.P.

Michael Foot, who died on Wednesday, aged 96, was a wonderful man.

Michael Foot, who died on Wednesday, aged 96, was a wonderful man. A major politician and an accomplished writer, he stood firmly in the great British tradition of literary radicals. There was something defiantly unmodern and unspun about him, but this was the point of Mr Foot: he was a leader who saw politics as a battle of ideas. The idea of spin was utterly alien to him. From his early days in journalism and the New Statesman, to Tribune magazine, which he edited after the war, to his last days, he maintained his intellectual integrity. This was what guided the radical Labour manifesto of 1983. It was, electorally, spectacularly unsuccessful. But it was, nonetheless, a work of immense honesty.

Conservatives often remind themselves that, much as Foot’s campaign was derided in 1983, he returned to parliament more MPs than now sit on Tory benches. His campaign also contained a set of clear principles — all too rare a thing in modern politics. His was an era where people became MPs because of what they believed, rather than to acquire power for its own sake. The books Foot loved were not simply political tracts but novels and poetry. It is hard to think of another frontbencher who would or could have produced A Vindication of Byron. His vast intellectual breadth and brilliant, spontaneous oratory could not strike a greater contrast to the all-too-homogenous political class of today. His was a politics of passion and authenticity. For him, elections were battle of ideas. It is a type of politics which has steadily drained from the current Westminster scene. And we are the poorer for it.

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