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.