Thursday, 4 March 2010

Michael Foot and the end of an era

There is something nauseating about Tories - like Cameron and even Thatcher - now queuing up to heap praise on Michael Foot when whilst he was alive and active he stood for everything they detest. 

The same people who are now talking about a man of principle and an honoured elder statesman hounded him as a dangerous lunatic socialist who threatened the moral fabric of society  because he dared to wear a duffle-coat to the cenotaph parade.

It's tempting to say that the death of Michael Foot - the last of the 1945 generation of Labour MPs is symbolic of the death of the vision of that generation who marched into parliament after the landslide election singing the Red Flag (it really did happen). But a more honest balanced sheet should be drawn.

Unlike Tony Benn, Foot's politics took a distinctly right-ward trajectory as he got older and his finest hours were definitely in his early years as the firebrand anti-fascist journalist  who attacked the policies of appeasement in 'Guilty Men', or the public face of CND who opposed the Vietnam war.  

My own memories from the 1980's were of an inept Labour leader trying to plot a precarious balance between Left and Right within the party. Ultimately he did the work of the Right when he presided over the witch-hunt of Militant Supporters and  supported the Tories over the Falklands war. More so than the so called 'suicide note' manifesto of the 1983 election, this sowed the seeds of the steady degeneration into New Labour .

But despite all this, and despite his patrician background firmly rooted in the political ruling class, he was at least an honest Left Reformist / social democrat. In that respect he stands head and shoulders above the present generation. Can you imagine Blair or Brown's  well-spun media-savvy soundbites having the conviction of any of  these quotes ?:

''People must learn more and more that the strength of this country is the democratic power of the trade union movement''
''Is the Labour Party to remain a democratic party in which the right of free criticism and free debate is not merely tolerated but encouraged? Or are the rank and file of the party to be bludgeoned or cowed into an uncritical subservience towards the leadership?''
 or just:
''Most liberties have been won by people who broke the law''

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