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Michael Foot: tributes to old Labour leader at memorial

11 November, 2010

Published: 11th November, 2010
by DAN CARRIER

OPTIMISM, generosity, unshakeable loyalty to the causes he believed in – and the uncanny ability to sing tunelessly every word of Ella Fitzgerald’s back catalogue – were just some of the characteristics remembered by friends, family, colleagues and political bedfellows at a memorial for former Labour leader Michael Foot on Monday.

They gathered at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue to celebrate the Hampstead-based writer and politician who died in March, and while Mr Foot’s own inability to carry a tune was recalled, he would have enjoyed the music on stage: opera singer Lesley Garrett, The Tredegar Brass Band and the London Welsh chorale provided music, while his passion for standing on the terraces at Plymouth Argyle Football Club was writ large throughout the evening. 

Gordon Brown spoke of Mr Foot’s skills as an orator – and of his self-deprecating humour.

“The first time I met him he made a speech I’ll never forget,” recalled the former Prime Minister. “He said, ‘the good people of Plymouth elected me in 1945. In 1955, the bastards threw me out!’”

Mr Brown spoke of how Mr Foot had long been a guiding light for the party. He added: “He put before us a vision not just of world peace, but a world without poverty.”

Other contributors included Lord Kinnock, who was Labour leader after Mr Foot in 1983. He said: “The most fitting tribute is for us to sustain his mission to promote morality, freedom and justice.”

Great nephew Matt Foot spoke of his uncle’s love for Plymouth Argyle – as did fellow Argyle club director Peter Jones.

Matt spoke of Mr Foot’s lifelong love for his wife, Jill Craigie, who he met in 1945. He said: “Being with them made you feel younger. It was like being with two people who had recently met and fallen in love.”

He said the family had brought up the difficult subject of what type of funeral Michael would like. He recalled: “We asked him where he would like to be buried, Michael typically replied, ‘nowhere near a bloody church’.”

Former Unison leader Rodney Bickerstaffe spoke of how Mr Foot’s  fight to offer better protection to people at work had saved countless “fingers, toes, limbs, lungs, eyes – and lives”. 

He said: “People said he was an impractical politician – not for those who have been protected by the Heath and Safety at Work Act.”

Mr Foot’s friend and lawyer Geoffrey Robertson recalled how they had plotted to sue Rupert Murdoch over a book serialisation in the Sunday Times that claimed he was a KGB agent. 

And he revealed his own disappointment that after their preparation, the night before he was due to have his day in court, Murdoch settled.

He joked: “My wife calls it ‘Courtus Interruptus’.” He added that Mr Foot had long campaigned both for Press freedom – but also for a responsible Press.

Mr Foot’s former ­Daily Herald colleague Geoffrey Goodman recalled one of the many tales his friend shared with him. He remembered how on the eve of Mr Foot heading to Oxford University, his father Isaac had sworn him to secrecy over dinner about a report he had helped compile on the future of India.

“It was 1931,” recalled the journalist. “Isaac had just completed his role as part of a round table conference on the future of India, and Michael said: ‘tell me all about it.’ Isaac said it is all very secret and confidential but after swearing his son to secrecy he discussed everything in the report.

“Michael went up to Oxford the next day to sit an exam, and the first question on the paper was: What should Britain agree to do regarding India? and Michael said to me: ‘Well, I told them.’ I asked him if it was not cheating a little and he replied: ‘Geoffrey, that was my first scoop’.”

Other speakers inclu­ded Cherie Blair, reading a tribute from her husband Tony; CND chairwoman Kate Hudson; Roy Hattersley; former Liberal leader David Steel; biographer Brian Brivati; current deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman and journalist Francis Wheen. The audience included MP Frank Dobson, former House of Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd and MP Margaret Becket.

This is your life Brand, no Miliband

THIS was Labour’s version of an Academy Award, posthumously awarded. In the course of three and a half hours, we watched what was in fact a “This Is Your Life – Michael Foot 1913-2010.” Jon Snow was being battered by storms in Haiti. Thankfully, Jo Brand stepped in to the anchor ­position, for which she is well-suited. 

But the leading act on the bill, Red Ed, was unable to appear. Miliband, was wrestling with his new script on how to bring up a new baby without a midwife or health worker. His message – crisp and pointed – could have been from a left-wing Vicar’s study. Read by Harriet Harman, her strained performance calculated not to inflame the very respectful audience. The Tredegar brass band, one of the few left in working-class areas, blared out the curtain-raiser: Men of Harlech. Then the play became a speechfest. Gordon Brown is now ready to give his tormented Heathcliff in Jane Eyre, whilst splendidly dressed Cherie Blair should be snapped up to play the evil housekeeper in Daphne Du Maurier’s thriller Rebecca. Neil Kinnock read the melancholic poem And Death Shall Have No Dominion, by Dylan Thomas.  

It should all have ended with Michael in heavenly garb coming down the ceremonial stage, the traditional end to all pantomimes.

ILLTYD HARRINGTON

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