Great sadness has been expressed from across the political spectrum at the news that the Labour politician, peace campaigner and life-long Plymouth Argyle fan Michael Foot has died at the great age of 96. He had been ill for some time.
For me Michael Foot was an emblem of the time when I first began to have an interest in politics. He became Leader of the Labour Party in 1980 having been a parliamentarian since the Attlee landslide of 1945. Although he was ridiculed by his opponents in the print media for his appearance and lack of image-consciousness, he was perhaps the only man who was capable of holding the Labour movement together in its dark days of idealogical splits and in-fighting.
He was a highly intelligent man of deep principle as well as being a gifted orator. He was also something of a legend at Home Park, Plymouth and, as a board member towards the end of his life, had been honoured with a squad number and a special place in the hearts of Argyle fans.
His death serves as a reminder of a time when politics was perhaps more honest and certainly more colourful. He gave many great speeches but the rhetorical flourish I remember best (it has been on my office wall for years) was this one, defiantly delivered on the eve of the 1983 General Election:
“We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer ‘To hell with them.’ The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.”