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A night of celebration of the life of Michael Foot

Posted on 9 November 2010 | 6:11pm

I hope you don’t mind me reprinting in full here the comment posted by Jacquie Reed on the blog I did earlier about the coalition cutting off their noses to spite their faces by cutting government spending which is shown to have generated investment.

And I hope she doesn’t mind me saying it is for the second part of her posting – about Michael Foot – that I wish to do so.

‘It’s senseless to cut budgets which could lead to increased revenue,’ she says. ‘Where I now live, tourism from abroad is crucial for the local economy. If any of those tourists choose another destination in another countries, we all lose out.

‘Forgive the deviation, Alastair, but you Tweeted yesterday that you were about to attend a life celebration for Michael Foot. I was hoping you’d tell us about it and give me an excuse to add my bit – but I will anyway, if that’s ok….

‘I used to live in Michael Foot’s neck of the woods and for many, many years he was a familiar sight on the Heath or in South End Green, often struggling with his walking stick, often chatting to people who came up to him. There was absolutely no side to him and he was a very popular member of the community and fequenter of the 24 bus!

‘Most of the media set out to destroy him from the start. It was his politics they really disagreed with but what they went for was his appearance. This was the way to ridicule and undermine him and it certainly succeeded. It was also completely irrelevant – although I would argue that Michael Foot’s sartorial indifference was an admirable quality. It demonstrated a value system that put compassion, commitment and intellect at the top of his priorities, and vanity at the very bottom.

‘It still makes my blood boil when I remember the outrageous and shallow personal attacks in the right-wing media but we shouldn’t forget them. They happen with even more frequency today, and they are as politically and morally dangerous as they are personally offensive.’

Jacqui may be pleased to know that her comments were echoed by some of the speakers at last night’s event, which was compered superbly by Jo Brand and where hundreds were entertained at the Lyric Theatre by a Welsh choir and band, and by singer Lesley Garrett.

There were tributes and poems from Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, Cherie read out a message from TB who is in the Middle East, Harriet Harman read one from Ed Miliband who is at his son’s side. Roy Hattersley focused on Michael’s love of books (many of which are currently in our house because Fiona helped the family clear the house when he died), Geoffrey Goodman on his journalism, Kate Hudson on his commitment to nuclear disarmament, Rodney Bickerstaffe on the changes he made as a minister, Helena Kennedy on his commitment to liberty, Geoffrey Robertston on the money he took from Rupert Murdoch over allegations that Michael was a KGB agent, Francis Wheen on the absurdity of said allegations, Peter Jones on Michael’s love of Plymouth Argyle. There were contributions from his great nephew Matt, Michael Cashman and historian Brian Brivati who was one of those echoing the comments above, not least by reminding us of Michael’s sheer niceness and his optimism.

There was a mention too of the so-called donkey jacket when former Liberal leader David Steel told the story of how he had tried to alert Michael to the dangers of the coat he was wearing shortly before all the politicians walked out into Whitehall for the Remembrance Day ceremony. Michael was having none of it. His lovely wife Jill had bought it for him, it was a lovely coat and that was that.

Lord Steel also told of the best put down he ever received – and it came from Michael – who said in one debate that the Liberal leader had gone from rising hope to elder statesman with nothing much happening in the intervening period.

We also heard a brilliant example of Michael’s Commons oratory when he tore into Thatcherite ‘philosopher’ Sir Keith Joseph by comparing him with a Plymouth conjuror who used to take watches from the audience, wrap them in hankies, smash the watch with a hammer, then say ‘oh dear, the trick doesn’t work’ as the watch owner looked on aghast. Written down like that, it does not capture the brilliance of the man, nor the laughter that echoed round the Commons many years ago, and around the Lyric last night.

And Rodney Bickerstaffe had dug out Michael’s first speech from the front bench where he protested at the horror of fat men asking all the thin people to tigthen their belt. Could come in handy as the cuts programme rolls out.

Anyway Jacquie thanks for prompting me and I hope that gives you a feel for the event.

  • Julie

    It was a truly great evening – moving, funny and inspiring. Michael Foot, along with Tony Benn, was my Dad’s political hero and he became mine. He would have absolutely loved to be there last night, but he is, unfortunately, too ill. I’m glad you commented on that quote from Michael’s first speech about the absurdity of fat men forcing thin men to tighten their belts. I left the theatre with the timeliness of that line ringing in my ears.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, those horrid personal attacks by the right wing are soooo low.

    Stil, you have the champagne on ice for when the ‘evil’ Thatcher dies though right?

    • Dave Simons

      No champagne on ice, but I have got a little quatrain ready, based on one Lord Byron wrote after the death of Castlereagh.

      GOTCHA!

      Posterity will never see
      a nobler grave than this.
      Here’s what’s left of Mrs T.
      Coachload, stop – and p***’!

  • Lyn

    Michael was devoted to the cause of supporting working people and would respond willingly to any request to speak. Our local party asked him to come and speak and he travelled to the depth of North Wales to the George Edward Hall in a former mining village to speak to us. He had a stick and his dog with him. He was inspirational speaking humour and without notes. He gave us hope for the future and his writing still does that

  • Gareth

    Alastair, thank you for that description of the event. Sadly, just after you posted this, Argyle capitulated to that northern mob up the A38 (Exeter City) in the JPT. Although it’s painfully sad he’s no longer here to excoriated those who deserve it, I’m glad he’s not witnessing Argyle’s race to the bottom.

  • Olli Issakainen

    In 1983 Labour got 27.6% of the votes with Mrs Thatcher winning a 144-seat Commons majority. Much have been made of the 1983 election manifesto. But what was in it?
    First Labour called for nuclear disarmament by unilateral action. This was supposed to bring about worldwide disarmament, peace and co-operation. But the Cold War was ongoing, and the voters did not like the idea.
    It is now OK for politicians to say that Trident should not be renewed.
    On Europe Labour in 1983 wanted withdrawal from EEC. But there were divisions within the party.
    Nowadays the Lib Dems are the most pro-European party. Labour´s position has, of course, reversed. But Ukip wants withdrawal.
    On banks Labour wanted the Bank of England to have close direct control over bank lending. After 2008 this sounds somewhat sensible. Labour also considered taking some banks under public ownership!
    Labour also wanted to have National Investment Bank.
    And Labour promised to start discussions with TUC about minimum wage.
    The odd thing is that Labour´s 1983 election manifesto does not feel so outlandish today.

  • SimonB

    Tribalism – great, isn’t it ? One one side of the line heroic figures who can do no wrong. On the other side, the scum of the earth.

  • Richard

    Why are you guys, including Kinnock, lauding the man who last led the Party into the wilderness, from which Kinnock, John Smith and Blair rescued it?

    Oh, I forgot, that is where Moribund and you are headed again isn’t it?

    PS Why have you nothing to say re the Woolas affair? Surely you cannot stand by and watch the lamb get slaughtered, merely for telling lies?