Monday Book;: Foot firmly planted in the air


MICHAEL FOOT is surely unique as a socialist politician. His passion and generosity would be unknown within New Labour. Likewise, the Government would have little respect for Foot's absence of calculation when he was a cabinet minister and leader of the Labour Party at the disastrous general election of 1983.

From his retirement, the ageless radical has returned to the issue that excited his idealism 40 years ago, namely the imperative for nuclear disarmament. Dr Strangelove, I Presume purports to awake the moribund peace movement. There is plenty of evidence to confirm the potency of the world's nuclear arsenal, recently augmented by India and Pakistan. There is also the possibility, perhaps the likelihood, that Iran, Israel, Iraq and Brazil may build nuclear weapons. This development has proceeded with very little public reaction. The passions of Foot's earlier nuclear campaigns seem to have been spent.

This call for a renewed debate is described as "vintage Michael Foot". That may be so, but it neglects lessons from the Fifties that we shall need to learn if the nuclear debate is to be rekindled. First, Foot maintains a romantic view of what was achieved by CND. It was a movement that deliberately campaigned outside the political establishment. He says that CND "provoked furious enthusiasms and enmities, and made a spectacular appeal, particularly to the young".

But did it work? It divided and weakened the Labour Party, and undermined the crucial authority of figures such as Denis Healey. CND street marchers evinced a moral stridency that obscured the sombre and agnostic nuclear evaluation of Lord Mountbatten, Field Marshal Lord Carver, Enoch Powell and Solly Zuckerman.

If there is to be a new popular campaign against nuclear weapons, there is little to suppose that Aldermaston marches will be any more effective than those of the Fifties and Sixties. Foot would have to exchange his street oratory for painstaking negotiations with the political and military establishments of nuclear nations.

There is a further difficulty. The recent measure of nuclear disarmament has engendered public hope rather than public panic. It has been modest, but it has been tangible, and its success has not rested on populist rhetoric. The test-ban treaties have had a material effect in easing anxiety. Furthermore, there was a time when Soviet nuclear power froze the political structure of the Warsaw Pact. Now there has been an unthinkable transformation: the Soviet empire has crumbled. None of this has come about because of the potency of nuclear power.

Of course, there is still an unhappy roll-call of conventional conflict. Yugoslavia has paid its deathly toll, and central Africa has witnessed unbelievable post-colonial barbarism. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and terrorism generally, have placed a burden upon law enforcement. This has not involved the threat of nuclear weapons, but it means that military action has often been taken outside the United Nations, whose authority has been weakened.

It is an unhappy situation, as has been made clear in Iraq, but it does not merit Foot's sharp observation about "American presidents who take the law into their own hands to bomb where they please on the just or the unjust". This remark only shows the traditional radical distaste for the exercise of power.

Foot's analysis of the daunting continuation of nuclear power is timely. It is regrettable, though not unexpected, that his reactions to these dangers lack a hard-headed realism. While he has a number of tactical judgements on how to improve nuclear control - through greater use of an atomic energy authority - he has no credible political initiatives.

He is concerned to establish an international authority that, unlike the UN Security Council, would deliberately have no provisions for major- power veto. Such a body, whose rhetoric would not be matched by reality, would have little impact on the bargaining and eventual confidences which alone would lead to a reduction in nuclear weapons. The patient negotiations of the Eighties - often derided by politicians in a hurry - are what is needed in order to build the bridges of control and disarmament with China and other nuclear powers.

Foot at least acknowledges that nuclear disarmament cannot be a speedy policy. He avows that it is a "step-by-step process indeed" - but one in which, thanks to CND, Gorbachev, Rajiv Gandhi, McNamara and a few others, "we can now take some healthy great strides". He has chosen a fascinating collection of figures, the morally good and great, but I doubt whether they could deliver nuclear control other than by working in a framework provided by the great powers, and particularly the US. My affection for Foot is undimmed, but I have an instinct that nuclear policy is too serious to be left to romantics.

John Biffen

The author was leader of the House of Commons from 1982 to 1987

Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower