When you meet people in the public
domain, you're often disappointed by the experience.
contact with him was at a PASALB do about ten years ago and I was
greatly impressed by his stirring oratory and obvious personal charm. I
happen to be firmly on his side of the political spectrum and found it
gratifying to share so much common ground and allegiance with him.
was delighted to be asked to drive him home to Hampstead after another
PASALB event during the first Championship season and again to ferry him
to Barnet for a game. On each occasion, he insisted that I should come
into his house for a cup of tea and a chat, charitable with his time as
memorable speeches at a number of PASALB do's - often they seemed to be
meandering into a cul-de-sac, but he would then thunderously declare
"AND I REMEMBER WHEN" and you would be carried away on a tide of his
memories and experiences of watching the Greens over the decades.
so many stories that come to mind that I could very easily fill up a few
sides of A4. But what I was always struck by was his incredible
generosity and warmth of spirit.
I visited him, he would insist on signing a copy of one of his books as
a gift - and he would remember which ones he had already given me.
me a foreword for one of my books on Argyle and he later agreed to a
recorded interview for a radio course I was doing at the time. It was a
glorious afternoon for me - three hours spent in his book-lined study,
framed with political cartoons that often lampooned himself, wallowing
in memories and anecdotes about Argyle, Labour politics and his love of
the Welsh national rugby team. He got his wish that year - the Grand
Slam did indeed go to Cardiff a few weeks later.
his entire working life campaigning for the improvement of the lot of
the working classes and he knew about values - the important ones. As
well as the familiar facts of his incredibly packed professional life in
journalism and politics, little nuggets of less well known information
often emerged, to add yet more colour to his personal history.
example, he was one of the "Scallywags" - a proposed final line of civil
resistance to the Nazis, should they be successful in conquering
Britain. Michael was afflicted by asthma, which prevented him from
active service, but he was ready to carry out acts of insurrection that
would almost certainly have been suicidal. He was quoted as saying that
he was prepared to kill Lord Halifax, the British politician most ready
to work in partnership with the Nazis, in a kind of Vichy Britain.
hard to count on the fingers of one hand how many current politicos
would be ready to volunteer for such service. On the day his death was
announced, Prime Minister's Questions had been particularly juvenile and
distasteful, serving only to emphasise the vast gulf between the quality
of the politicians of today and those of Michael's vintage.
The fulsome tributes that flowed
following the news of his passing have been universal in acknowledging
that his political life was defined by a desire to help his common man,
conducted without rancour or personal animosity. It demonstrates that it
was once possible to be a principled politician and an active campaigner
for important issues, without losing personal integrity. His consistent
refusal to accept honours and peerages confirmed his independence of
mind. The one thing that I ever found him ready to be peeved about was
the tiresome and inaccurate reference to that donkey jacket - actually
purchased in Harrods and complimented by the Queen Mother at the time.
remember helping him along the road after a PASALB do in Kings Cross
back to my car - we were stopped three times in 200 yards by people who
wanted to clasp his hand and declare that they had voted for him.
if they had - but it doesn't matter. They knew the quality of the man.
I'm grateful that I had an opportunity to appreciate that as well.
4 March 2010
I feel enormously privileged to have
known Michael Foot.
He was a man of great intellect, who
achieved an extraordinary amount over the course of his long life.
Editor of the Evening Standard during the dark days of the World War 2;
one of the great parliamentarians; a respected authority on a broad
range of writers, notably his beloved Hazlitt; the leader of the Labour
Party who held it all together at the time of the potentially fatal SDP
But what struck everyone who met
Michael was his accessibility, his warmth, his charm, and his humanity.
He always seemed to have time for people. Time and time again during our
time watching Argyle together, fans, often of the opposing team, would
hesitantly approach him, just wanting to shake his hand and say a few
words. He’d have them at their ease in an instant.
Michael was also an utterly loyal
man. To Byron, Swift and countless others whose books populated the
shelves of his marvellous study in Hampstead; to the Labour Party; to
the causes he supported; to his family; to his friends. If you had
Michael on your side, you had very special support indeed.
It’s important also to recognise
Jill Craigie in this narrative. Jill played a massively important role
in his life for all the 55 or so years that they were together. Although
she died ten years ago, Michael still talked about Jill as though she
were still here with us, right to the end.
Michael and Jill had met as a result
of the film that Jill was making about the reconstruction of Plymouth at
the end of the war, “The Way We Live”. Michael’s love of the city
remained undimmed for the whole of his life. He was of course MP for
Devonport for the key post-war years, and like his father Isaac, he was
a fanatical supporter of Argyle.
I saw Michael at his home just a
couple of weeks ago. He wanted to talk about the upcoming election, of
course; but he was more interested in my views on whether “we” (Argyle)
had any chance of beating Barnsley in that coming weekend’s match. He
was sure they would, and they did. He was also convinced that Argyle
would recover, and beat the drop. Paul Mariner and colleagues: over to
you. Do it for Michael.
4 March 2010