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article imageFormer Labour leader Michael Foot dies

By Andrew John     Mar 3, 2010 in Politics
The former UK Labour leader Michael Foot, writer, journalist, MP and campaigner, has died. He was 96 and had been ill for some time.
He died shortly before seven o’clock this morning at his home in Hampstead in north London. During his illness he had needed 24-hour care.
Foot succeeded James Callaghan as Labour leader in 1980, but stepped down in 1983, when the party was heavily defeated by the Tories as they swept to power for the second successive time.
He was first elected to parliament in 1945 and was an MP for 42 years.
The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has described Foot as a “man of deep principle and passionate idealism”.
He continued: “Michael Foot was a man of deep principle and great idealism. He was the best parliamentary debater of his generation and one of the most eloquent, and indeed one of the most humorous, speakers I think the country has ever had.”
Foot’s death was announced in the House of Commons (Britain’s lower legislative chamber) by Jack Straw, the Culture Secretary, who compared one speech Foot gave in 1980 to a “Mozart concerto”, saying he was “held in very great affection in all sections of the House and the country”.
Foot was known for his left-wing views and peace activism and was a much-admired orator. He led the Labour Party during one of the most troubling periods in its history, with senior figures on the right breaking away to form their own party, the Social Democratic Party (which eventually merged with the Liberals to become the present Liberal Democrats).
As well as a great orator, Foot is remembered as an intellectual. He was also a prolific writer.
Michael Foot was also an early supporter of gay rights, and today the gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has paid his own tribute to the politician, saying, “Michael Foot was a supporter and defender of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] community many decades before it was popular and acceptable. He loathed all intolerance and bigotry, and was a strident critic of religious prejudice, dogma and obscurantism.”
Denis (now Lord) Healey, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom Foot defeated in the 1980 Labour leadership contest, said today, “I am very sorry indeed. Although I disagreed with him on issues – he was far to the left of me – I was glad to serve as his deputy.”
And another veteran left-winger, Tony Benn, also paid tribute. He told BBC News that Foot always “meant what he said” and was “what the Labour Party’s all about”.
The Conservative leader David Cameron described Foot as a “remarkable man”, adding: “I’m obviously not old enough to have been in the House of Commons at the same time, but reading some of his speeches [they] were incredibly powerful.”
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Foot’s “intellectual integrity” was an example to everyone in politics. “Michael Foot was a great parliamentarian, a great intellectual and a great idealist,” said Clegg. “He always stood up for what he believed in, even if that meant inviting unpopularity at times.”
Foot was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and espoused many causes seen as left-wing. After he had opposed defence spending, he was thrown out of the Labour Party for two years.
Foot was also a journalist, and worked briefly on the New Statesman when it was established in 1937. He was soon hired by Lord Beaverbrook to work on the London Evening Standard. Foot became editor of the Standard in 1942, at the young age of 28.
Foot was married to the auhor, filmmaker and feminist historian Jill Craigie from 1949 until her death in 1999.
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