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Michael Foot

Michael Foot

Rt Hon Michael Mackintosh Foot (born July 23, 1913), British politician, was leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983. He is the brother of the late Sir Dingle Foot, and of Hugh Foot, whose son is the campaigning journalist, Paul Foot.

Michael Foot was born in Plymouth, Devonshire. His father, Isaac Foot, was a solicitor and founder of the Plymouth law firm, Foot and Bowden. Isaac Foot was an active member of the Liberal Party and was Liberal MP for Bodmin in Cornwall 1922-1924 and 1929-1935. Despite his Liberal family, Michael Foot was attracted to the Labour Party. He first stood for Parliaent at the age of 22 in the 1935 election when he contested Monmouth. He became a journalist. Under the pen-name "Cato" he published Guilty Men, a famous attack on the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government.

Foot became the first Labour MP for Devonport in 1945. He held the seat until his surprise defeat by Dame Joan Vickers in 1955. During the early 1950s he became a close supporter of Aneurin Bevan, the leader of the Labour Party left. It has been suggested that Foot's pacifist stance led many of the dockyard workers, who made up a significant percentage of his constituency, to abandon him. He returned to Parliament in 1960 at a by-election for Ebbw Vale in Monmouthshire, left vacant by Bevan's death.

Foot was considered too left-wing to be offered a place in Harold Wilson's first government, from 1964 to 1970, but after 1970 the party moved to the left and Wilson came to an accommodation with Foot as its leader. When Wilson returned to office in 1974 Foot became Secretary of State for Employment. When Wilson retired in 1976, Foot contested the party leadership but was defeated by James Callaghan. Later that year he was elected Deputy Leader and served as Leader of the House of Commons.

Following the Labour Party's 1979 general election defeat by Margaret Thatcher Foot was elected leader, gaining support through appearing to offer a compromise between Denis Healey (the candidate of right of the party) and the leftwing feeling centered around the figure of Tony Benn. Foot was already 66, and was neither a natural leader, a good orator or a political campaigner. He was also hampered by his casual appearance (he was heavily criticised for appearing at an Armistice ceremony in a so-called "donkey jacket").

During Thatcher's first term, Foot struggled to make an impact, despite the unpopularity of many of Thatcher's policies. His leadership was further destabilised by Benn's decision to conduct a campaign to challenge Healey for the deputy leadership through much of 1981. Foot failed to control the far left-wing elements within the Labour party and they consequently gained control the party's agenda.

In response to this leftward shift, in 1981 a number of centrist Labour Party members, led by Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and William Rogers (the so-called "Gang of Four"), formed a breakaway party called the Social Democratic Party, which further re-enforced the public perception that the Labour Party was divided and unelectable.

The 1983 Labour manifesto, strongly socialist in tone, advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament, high taxation, and a huge expansion of public ownership of industry. The manifesto also pledged to abolish the House of Lords, and for Britain to leave the EEC, and also pledged huge cutbacks in millitary spending. Among the Labour MPs newly-elected in 1983 in support of this manifesto was Tony Blair.

Coupled with a poorly conducted election campaign, this policy proved unpopular with the electorate, and Thatcher was able to exploit Labour's policy divisions. Gerald Kaufman, a senior Labour politician, later described the manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history." After losing to the Conservatives in a landslide in the 1983 general election, Foot resigned and was succeeded by Neil Kinnock.

Foot retired from the House of Commons in 1992 and returned to work as a journalist, interested in humanitarian issues, especially concerning the Baltic States. He is the author of several books, including highly-regarded biographies of Aneurin Bevan and H. G. Wells. Many of his friends regret that he ever gave up literature for politics.

In 2003 Foot turned 90. He remained a director of Plymouth Argyle F.C, the football club he had supported since childhood. For his 90th birthday present, the club registered him as a player and gave him the shirt number, 90. Foot was married to the film-maker, author and feminist historian Jill Craigie from 1949 until her death in 1999.