Aristocracy of the left turns out for Foot

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Gordon Brown leads the tributes at the funeral of 'one of the greatest parliamentarians'

The age of great political oratory came quietly to a close in a north London crematorium yesterday. There is no practising politician now who could work a live audience like Michael Foot, the man they laid to rest who died this month aged 96.

The crowd of mourners were mostly grey and wrinkled – old socialists saying farewell to a dream that never came true. It included only a few representatives of an internet generation that wasn't born when Mr Foot stomped the country at election time, filling town halls to capacity, and drawing audiences to their feet in ecstatic applause.

It was magnificent, and hopeless. While hundreds were inspired by the oratory of this witty, erudite and eloquent man, millions were turned off by television images of a party veering to the left under the unsteady hand of a white-haired old gentleman with a walking stick.

The tributes were led by Gordon Brown, who first entered the Commons during the last months of Foot's leadership. He praised Mr Foot as "one of the finest writers, one of the canniest of journalists, one of the most eloquent of orators, and one of the greatest parliamentarians ever". He added: "So many talents and it is to our benefit and the world's that, early in his life, Michael decided to bring these talents to bear, not for himself, but for others. It was a life which spanned almost a century, a life lived in the service of the greatest of progressive causes."

The Prime Minister told fellow mourners that, when he and Sarah Brown took their infant son John to meet Mr Foot at his Hampstead home, which was notoriously crammed from basement to loft with books, Foot said he was going to give the child "a little gift". "Only for Michael could a 'little gift' mean a first edition of Gulliver's Travels", Mr Brown said.

After he became an MP in 1945, Mr Foot acquired a reputation as a left-wing rebel with no apparent interest in holding office. In the early sixties, his refusal to toe the party line earned a period of expulsion from the parliamentary Labour party.

He was finally persuaded by Harold Wilson to join the opposition frontbench in 1970 and started his ministerial career when he was 60. Mr Wilson's widow, Mary, was among the mourners at the Golders Green Crematorium yesterday. She was accompanied by another former prime minster's wife, Cherie Blair. Tony Blair is abroad.

Mr Foot became leader of a deeply divided party in 1980, when the left wing, lead by Tony Benn, appeared to be on the point of gaining control of Labour. His first months as leader were taken up with a doomed attempt to persuade the former cabinet ministers Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and David Owen, and others to stay in the Labour party. Despite his pleading, they broke away to set up the short-lived Social Democratic Party. At the election in 1983, the anti-Tory vote divided so evenly that Labour only narrowly avoided coming third in the popular vote, while Margaret Thatcher was returned with a huge majority.

Yesterday, Mr Foot's successor, Neil Kinnock, said that Mr Foot deserves praise for taking on a thankless task. "His most self-sacrificing act was to agree to become leader of the Labour party at the age of 67," Lord Kinnock said. He added that Mr Foot was put through "agony" by the "self-indulgence" of the Labour left and by "desertions" on the right, but ultimately "his dedication and raw courage saved the Labour party". Lord Kinnock added: "In thought and in word and in deed, Michael Foot was brave and brilliant."

A family friend Peter Jones, paid tribute to Mr Foot's devotion to Plymouth, where he was brought up and where his father, Isaac, was Lord Mayor. Mr Foot was MP for Plymouth Davenport from 1945-51, and later succeeded Aneurin Bevan as MP for Ebbw Vale.

He became a lifelong supporter of Plymouth Argyle after being taken to his first game in 1921. He stuck with them, as Mr Jones put it, "through thin and thin". At the age of 90 was made a member of the squad. His player's profile on the club website described him as a left-winger who was unlikely to veer to the right.

The other speakers at yesterday's ceremony were Mark Seddon, former editor of the left-wing newspaper, Tribune, for which Mr Foot worked for many years; Ruth Kent, his colleague in the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament; his stepdaughter, Julie Hamilton; and his great-nephew Tom Foot.

Mr Foot was not religious, but the crematorium is secular so the family were able to choose the form of the service. There were speeches, but no hymns, though at the end the crowd stood for a noisy rendering of "The Red Flag".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing