I've just heard that Michael Foot, ex-Labour Leader, has died. It's sad news indeed as Foot had a large impact on my politics, although not always in a way he may have intended.
Foot was probably responsible for my first ever truly political thought, which was during the Falklands War. I remember watching him on TV attacking Thatcher for not pursuing the war hard enough, for not being patriotic enough and for not putting the boot in hard enough. Even at my tender age (twelve I think) I thought "This is wrong, you're meant to be in CND and against war. This can't be right."
From that day on I described myself as a socialist - although my understanding of that word has certainly developed in the intervening twenty eight years.
The one thing that is likely to come up in the numerous obituaries over the next few days will be the fact that Michael Foot led Labour into their worst poll defeat in sixty years at the 1983 general election. The myth that has gone down in history is that this was due to Labour being 'too left-wing' and their manifesto was the 'longest suicide note in history'.
I think that needs correction as a large part of the 1983 poll defeat was a combination of the patriotic fervour of the Falklands War combined with a Labour Party split the SDP which took millions of votes.
As you can see from the figures the Tories actually lost ground at this election but because of the ridiculous system we use in this country the SDP-Liberal Alliance took a quarter of the votes but only twenty three seats, a tiny fraction of their fair share. However, those votes were largely lost from Labour and it was enough to crush them in Parliament.
|Party||Standing||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Conservative||633||397||47||10||+ 37||61.1||42.3||13,012,316||- 1.5|
|Labour||633||209||4||55||- 51||32.2||27.6||8,456,934||- 9.3|
|SDP-Liberal Alliance||633||23||14||0||+ 14||3.5||25.4||7,780,949||+ 11.6|
If anything it was the SDP "splitters" combined with the stupid electoral system that created the extent of the defeat of 1983 not Labour's manifesto nor the style of jacket that Foot used to wear.
Anyway, despite his pro-war wobble Michael Foot was someone who helped strengthen the Labour left for many years and those who replaced him were sadly not his equal.