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Foot

The Rt Hon. Michael Foot MP

The Rt Hon. Michael Mackintosh Foot PC (born 23th July 1913) is the former leader of the Labour Party, serving from 1980 to 1981.

Early Life Edit

Michael Foot was born in Plymouth, Devon, and educated at Plymouth College Preparatory School, Leighton Park School in Reading, and Wadham College, Oxford. 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 and a Lord Mayor of Plymouth. Michael Foot is the younger brother of the late Sir Dingle Foot MP, the Liberal politician Lord Foot (previously John Foot), and of the late Lord Caradon (previously Hugh Foot), a Governor of Cyprus, whose late son was the campaigning journalist Paul Foot.

Political Career Edit

Before the cold war began in the late 1940s, Foot favoured a 'third way' foreign policy for Europe (he was joint author with Richard Crossman and Ian Mikardo of the pamphlet Keep Left in 1947), but in the wake of the communist seizure of power in Hungary and Czechoslovakia he and Tribune took a strongly anti-communist position, eventually embracing NATO. Foot was however a critic of the west's handling of the Korean war, an opponent of West German rearmament in the early 1950s and a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Under his editorship, Tribune opposed both the British government's Suez adventure and the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956. Foot returned to parliament in 1960 at a by-election for Ebbw Vale in Monmouthshire, left vacant by Bevan's death. He had the Labour whip withdrawn in March 1961 after rebelling against the Labour leadership over air force estimates. He only returned to the Parliamentary Labour Group in 1963 when Harold Wilson replaced Hugh Gaitskell as Labour leader.

Harold Wilson – the subject of an enthusiastic campaign biography by Foot published by Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Press in 1964 – offered Foot a place in his first government, but Foot turned it down. Instead he became the leader of Labour's left opposition from the back benches, dazzling the Commons with his command of rhetoric. He opposed the government's moves to restrict immigration, join the Common Market and reform the trade unions, was against the Vietnam war and Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence, and denounced the Soviet suppression of "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia in 1968. He also famously allied with the Tory right-winger Enoch Powell to scupper the government's plan to abolish the voting rights of hereditary peers and create a House of Lords comprising only life peers – a "seraglio of eunuchs" as Foot put it. In 1967, Foot challenged James Callaghan but failed to win the post of Treasurer of the Labour Party.

As Leader of the Opposition Edit

Following Labour's 1979 general election defeat by Margaret Thatcher, Foot was elected Labour leader in 1980, beating the right's candidate Denis Healey in the second round of the leadership election (the last leadership contest to involve only Labour MPs). Foot presented himself as a compromise candidate capable, unlike Healey, of uniting the party, which at the time was riven by the grassroots left-wing insurgency centred on Tony Benn. The Bennites demanded revenge for the betrayals, as they saw them, of the Callaghan government, and pushed the case for replacement of MPs who had acquiesced in them by left-wingers who would support the causes of unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the Common Market and widespread nationalisation. (Benn did not stand for the leadership: apart from Foot and Healey, the other candidates – both eliminated in the first round – were John Silkin, like Foot a Tribunite, and Peter Shore, an anti-European right-winger.)

Foot's reign at the top of the Labour Party was short-lived however, as he resigned from the post in January 1981. Following a divisive Wembley conference, and the subsequent resignations of Denis Healey and the "Gang of Four" - Foot felt incapable of maintaining a united Labour Party, and was "honour bound to step aside for someone who is."

Political Offices Edit

Preceded by:
James Callaghan
Leader of the Opposition
1980 - 1981
Succeeded by:
Richard Chapman
Preceded by:
James Callaghan
Labour Party Leader
1980 - 1981
Succeeded by:
Richard Chapman
Preceded by:
Aneurin Bevan
Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale
1960 - Present
Succeeded by:
Incumbent