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Wednesday, March 03, 2010 

Michael Foot, 1913-2010.

It's become a cliché to say when someone truly great or stratospheric passes away that we'll never see their like again, yet I challenge anyone to say that it isn't true of Michael Foot, who has died aged 96. Not only was he the last socialist to lead the Labour party, something which will certainly never happen again, but he was also the last great, genuinely principled leader of any mass political party. In an age where presentation and pretence trump integrity and honesty every time, we've lost one of the few remaining reminders of why politics truly matters, something which challenges even the most committed and well-meaning of us at times.

Foot will partially be so fondly remembered because he lost, and as a nation there's little we love more than a romantic loser. Who knows what kind of prime minister he would have made had history been different, but he could hardly have been worse than the alternative. It was as a parliamentarian though that he truly excelled, and he's bequeathed us one of the greatest insults in the House of Commons during the 20th century, accusing Norman Tebbit of imitating a semi-trained polecat every time he rose to speak. Nigel Farage take note. He was never more right than when he made the unquestionable point that "most liberties have been won by people who broke the law", something completely anathema to today's generation of Labour politicians to whom the state in all its guises is never wrong.

As a 17-18-year-old it was Foot's even more left-wing nephew Paul who I wanted to emulate: the investigative journalist who through his campaigns freed more innocent people than almost any other in this country. When he died back in 2004 it was the tribute and image painted of the two men in Private Eye which has always stayed with me: the comedic vision of the two Feet, walking down a London street, arguing and debating as they went, both gesticulating to make a point with their sticks, other pedestrians fleeing from their path. That both have now left us is deeply sad, but the memory of these two great contributors to British cultural and political life will live on for a very long time yet. As the Guardian's obituary finishes:

Michael gave love and earned love as few politicians do in any age. He was wonderful company, a marvellous comrade, a magnificent man, a great socialist and libertarian. The only tribute that he would want, the only memorial that would do him justice, is enduring application of his values in the cause of progress.

Let us give him that.

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A very good well-written article. A great man indeed

Lovely piece, I share your sentiments.

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