Published on 3 Mar 2010

I feel fortunate to have known Michael Foot as a friend

When you went into Michael Foot’s study, of course there was his desk groaning with books – half of them biographies, half of them great literary works.

Of the four study walls one had shelves completely full of books by Byron – many first editions; the next cascaded with Keats and the third was awash with Shelley.

Michael Foot was above all a romantic, an idealist, a scholar, a humanitarian and perhaps in the end quite simply too good for politics.

Our generation will remember him for the disaster that he was as Labour Party leader, but many believed politics could still rise to contain and allow to flourish an idealistic romantic.

Foot believed in a better world for all. Unlike just about every other Labour leader he was never interested in money, accepted no political honours, did not go to the House of Lords, and did not bask in the political world of “when I was”.

He was a decent and accomplished man. He was superb company, a fantastic gossip and married to a wonderful woman in Jill Craigie, the film director. They ran an almost open house of endless meals, drinks, conversation and walks with dogs on Hampstead Heath.

I feel fortunate to have known him as a friend. He lived a full life to the end, his body seeming to desert a still vibrant mind. History will eventually recall that he was a remarkable force for principle and morality in the unprincipled and immoral age in which he lived.

Article topics

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

33 reader comments

  1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    Yes.. He will always be at the dinner table of many .especially if pontification needs a thrash of the knuckles.

    A wonderful man, who mocked convention:yet he still had lucky life.A lucky life to have warmth , friends and yes, money around him.He had an impact on mine and my mothers life.

  2. Rob Bradford says:
  3. adrian clarke says:

    It is a shame when anyone dies , but i believe although an educated and literate man he will be remebered by the older populace as myself , for the grief he got over the donkey jacket, and his dismal leading of the Labour Party .That i hope does nothing to detract from his worth.He always came over to me as a man you would have liked to be your venerable uncle.

  4. Cait Hurley says:

    Jon, I thought of you this morning when I heard the news.

    I remember the first time I was aware of Michael Foot was him holding me up and giving me a hug when he spent time with the Slough Labour Party lot, honouring his good friend Fenner Brockway by being wheelchair bearer for the day. My Dad, who led the council was I think enormously influenced by him. By his great oratory but also by his conviction, his passion and his intelligence. Not just that though. He seemed to be able to spend time with anyone, regardless of who they were. I know that that great love of humanity was something my Father aspired to.
    The last time I saw him was at Joan Lestor’s funeral back in 1998. John Prescott spoke, badly as I recall. When Michael spoke, his physical frailty was obvious but we would have waited all day for him to finish. Every word was well chosen and meaningful.
    He was a great man, and with his passing, that great generation of anti-fascist, humanist campaigners of the mid-20th century has slipped further away.
    Rest well.

  5. the-Richard-of-Nottingham says:

    I never understood a word he said. Listening to him was like reading one of Hugh “the voice of sport” McIlvanney’s pieces, by the time you get to the end you are left wondering what the subject matter is/was. A plain English speaker he was not. I wonder what that infers about his thinking ?

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      This seems clear enough and perhaps even more valid than when it was written in 1954:

      ‘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?”

    2. anniexf says:

      IMPLIES, you mean?

    3. the Richard-of-Nottingham says:

      Very good Sam, and very pertinent to today.

      I saw him at rally in Norwich back in 83. There was a massive crowed waiting with great expectation. And then nothing. The people at the back couldn’t hear, the people in the middle couldn’t understand, and the people at the front stood patiently. To be honest I think the poor old fella knew he was on a hiding to nothing.

      He wrote a few great quotes for some special interest mags. But his son wrote something better (A history of Italian football).

      I just don’t see why the media revere him as some great political Titan from some golden age that never was. When in fact he was some bloke in a baggy suit who happened to an MP and lead his party to their biggest ever defeat.

  6. Saltaire Sam says:

    Thaks for that, Jon. A sad but timely reminder that there used to be politicians driven by higher motives than self glorification and greed.

  7. signifier says:

    I’m in the states, so I just become aware of this news. I’m genuinely sad. He was an extraordinary man.

  8. dirk van der werff says:

    Michael Foot … a man who was regularly trashed by the tabloid and broadsheet press who tomorrow will no doubt be hailed by the same papers as an honorable man who stuck to his principles …. makes me sick

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      Well that is the duplicity the paradoxes, the contrasts, the hypocrisies of life . I bet he even hid behind his own name,

  9. Philip Palmer says:

    A major influence on me. I will miss his politics, eloquence and decency, all so lacking in today’s crowd of self seekers. I spoke to him on Hampstead Heath a year or so after the 1983 election defeat. He was walking “Dizzy” as usual. I said I was so sorry that he had not become Prime Minister. He replied “I can tell you we would have had a very different country if I had”. So true and for me very sad. He is the last great political orator of the past 100 years.

  10. Iain Lowson says:

    Sorry but do not agree with any of the statements above. Like all socialists he thought he knew better on how society should be and did not respect the freedom or responsiblities of the individual! May he rest in peace and be glad he was not able to impose his model on the free British! Yes we still survive! Beware of us Brown and Blair!

  11. Jim Flavin says:

    So he was not a ” great leader ” – what is meant by that – that he was not a very good at misleading people or he was not ” great ” because he stuck to what he believed in and lost elections . Hopefully !! we will see his likes again . I think Kennth Galbariths quotes are of relevance — ” There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose. ” and ” The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”

    1. adrian clarke says:

      it really means he tried to lead the country,and his party, in a direction neither wanted to go

    2. Jim Flavin says:

      Thats correct – the country and the Party wnt in the opposite direction via Thatcherism – and look where both are now .

    3. Jim Flavin says:

      Looks like some want more of the same – be sure – u will get it via Brwon or Mr C . Socilaism is not a sucess because many people are corrupt and nasty – capitalism ” succeeded” for the same reasons .

  12. Frank Wintle says:

    I met Michael Foot at his old family home outside Callington in Cornwall in 1974, interviewing him for the Western Morning News. He explained to me that since this was in his father’s old constituency, Bodmin, and Isaac Foot was a Liberal, he would never talk Labour politics there. Imagine that integrity, today? Instead, we discussed books – “my father had to smuggle them in, to avoid my mother noticing, he had so many” – Plymouth Argyle – “we used to walk the twenty miles from here to watch them on Saturdays” – the high visible bulk of Cadsonbury Tor – “As a boy I ran up there and back before breakfast” – and poetry. This was one of the most memorable encounters of my career. Years and years later, I saw him on the 214 bus between Camden and Highgate, on which he rehearsed a speech, oblivious to an unintended audience which was transfixed.
    His departure gives us many reasons to mourn, his life, many more to celebrate.

  13. Wilma Miller says:

    Interestingly my husband reminded me that it was Michael Foot who -when Leader of the House- suggested to MPs that they couldn’t ask for higher salaries in a time of belt-tightening but that the syatem of expenses would be quite leniently supervised to compensate them. He would never have been as greedy or grasping as so many of them but it meant to be a way of remunerating MPs without scandal.

  14. Mike Smith says:

    I was astonished at Jon Snow’s pathetic attempt on last night’s CH 4 news to browbeat the Electoral Commission’s rep,Mrs Watson – what an appalling bias you have displayed,Jon – you looked pathetic in your attempts to dig up something that never existed.
    Channel 4 news impartial? You’ve been got at by the nasty Mandelson,just like the BBC have.
    Shame on you.

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      Jon doesn’t ever look pathetic… he just does what he does.. and enjoys being a member of the awkward squad himself, which ever way the wind blows.That is why we blog ,because we like him the way he is.

  15. Kes says:

    Michael Foot should have stayed in academia. He was a nice man and a strong intellect but, like all socialists, all dogma and no reality.

    He was part of a government that did incalculable damage to our industrial base and to our freedom.

    Well placed socialists are continuing that process (yes, I include Jon in that group, sadly).

    You will be glad to hear that I am not going to blog here any more. I am just too bored with the bias in the leader blog.

    1. Nathan P. Bridle says:

      1.) Michael Foot was never an academic.

      2.) Dogma and Reality- I think the same can be said of most Conservatives. Michael Foot was an idealist who enacted what he wanted.

  16. Tom Wright says:

    Michael Foot was a man of principle, upright, erudite, forthright and a true public servant. Everything indeed that in ’96 we hoped New Labour would be, and isn’t. the polar opposite in everything except electability.

    I don’t see how the likes of Mandelson and Blair can claim him as one of their own. He wasn’t.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      They virtually did everything he was opposed to – and now they ”honour ” him – sickening .

  17. phil dicks says:

    Michael Foot’s epitaph: Wrong.
    Becoming a National Treasure is no excuse for the maudlin nonsense that the qui bono vultures (Kinnock, Blair and Channel 4) have peddled about this dangerous man.
    He was supposed to be an intellectual – an intellectual is drawn, if only for perverse reasons, to this one question – how can intelligent men and women reach the exact-opposite conclusions to me? Foot never asked. He was an ideologue, to be wheeled on (like Benn and Scargill) when Newsnight fancies a laugh.
    Have you noticed how left-wingers (like me) grow sclerotic with age, whereas the nasty right-wingers (Portillo, Hague, Duncan Smith, even Redwood), seem humbled, if not slightly broken, by the facts of an unequal society?
    Why do the Right grow wise, while the Left grow hard?
    Foot – wrong, always, lovably, pathologically wrong.

  18. Nathan P. Bridle says:

    Thanks for this Mr Snow. Do you have a recording of your whole interview?

  19. Claire French says:

    A very special socialist and never to be forgotten! Very much enjoyed Jon’s video

  20. Huw Spanner says:

    I remember Kenny Everett entertaining the Conservative Party conference by urging them to “kick Michael Foot’s stick away”. A nasty party then, and nasty still behind the mask, I think.

  21. Robin Cruikshank says:

    Comment sent to Channel 4 News

    We have been regular viewers of Channel 4 News for many years but recently the programme would seem to have lost it’s ‘Snap Crackle and Pop’ and not to say the ‘Plot’.

    You have excellent newscasters, especially in Jon Snow, Chris Guru Murphy and Alex Thompson but we are now frequently subjected to long dirges of up to 20 minutes plus on selected subjects (maybe these should be subject to separate programmes if they warrant such time) which has one looking for the remote and inevitably one is more and more frequently moving to Richard Quest on C&N where the pace is quick and the world coverage is well balanced, informative and upbeat.

    Channel Four seems to be preoccupied these days with the endless UK social/crime scene and other such tabloid subjects, leaving one in a state depression by the end of the programme. We know bad news sells but we think you have gone way to far on these parochial matters and that perhaps you should give consideration that we live in the wider World and little more consideration given to success and important achievements!

    Be positive Channel 4!!!

Comments are closed.