Michael Foot would rather lose with honour than cheat to win a battle - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Michael Foot would rather lose with honour than cheat to win a battle

John Smith, the former Labour Party leader, used to tell a story about Michael Foot from the dying days of the 1970s Labour government.

Smith was minister for Devolution, struggling in vain to get the Commons to agree to the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

There was one particular clause in the Bill which threatened to cause so much trouble that Smith simply did not know how to present it. He turned to Michael Foot, then Leader of the House, for advice. Foot told him, with mock solemnity: "In politics you should never neglect the possibility that you might have to fall back on the truth."

Michael Foot was not a strong leader. He left behind unbelievable chaos when he stepped down after the debacle of the 1983 election.

But this was not wholly his fault. He presided over a profoundly divided party, torn apart by strong characters such as Denis Healey, David Owen and Tony Benn, none of whom really recognised Foot as a legitimately elected leader.

They were hard-nosed characters prepared to push others aside to get their way. Mr Foot was a gentle man who, at heart, would rather lose a political battle with honour than cheat to win.

During the tributes to him yesterday, numerous people referred to the manifesto on which Labour fought the 1983 election – the "longest suicide note in history"– as if it were Michael Foot's work. It was not. He was the leader, but incredibly he did not control the manifesto. That job was delegated to a committee chaired by Tony Benn.

Foot's obvious weaknesses as a party boss, sadly, obscured what a gifted and attractive human being he was. I was twice guilty, myself, of underestimating him in his old age. I was once at a crowded lunch table where several guests, all from the Labour left, were berating Tony Blair for not being radical enough.

I waited for Michael Foot to intervene, thinking that if he defended Blair or attacked him, it might make a story, but his face was so impassive that I concluded the poor old fellow was stone deaf.

I was disabused when someone down the other end of the table, changing the subject, referred to a woman he named as having been Arthur Koestler's lover. Foot immediately called down the table to correct him. The woman in question was Koestler's former lover's sister.

My second mistake was more recent, when Foot was 88, and overheard me mention the town of St Helens, in Lancashire. He asked what was happening there, so I began laboriously explaining that the Tory MP for Witney, Shaun Woodward, had defected to Labour, and had been parachuted into a safe Labour seat in St Helens. I was cut short in mid explanation. Foot knew all that, and knew that Woodward was facing competition from the far left. He wanted to know if I had polling evidence about what was happening to the Labour vote.

Never, in recent political history, has so appealing a man led so large a political party to so crashing a defeat.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
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

Permanent KS2 Teacher required

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: A Redbridge based Primary School is see...

NVQ Assessor Level 2 & 3 Sport Development

£19200 - £26880 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: In NVQ Ass...

Secondary supply teachers required in Newmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week