Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Time for Heroes

Very sad news today about Michael Foot, although he certainly had a good innings, and a phenomenal life. I'll post Gordon's tribute to him on here as a separate post, but if you want tears brought to your eyes, read Ellie's blog on how he inspired a young Labour activist who wasn't even born when he was party leader.

I caught the news of his death on Twitter in the middle of PMQs (which was horribly rowdy today, and not in a fun way) and, as duty whip on the front bench, managed to pass the news to Jack Straw just as he was about to introduce the main debate of the day. He'd heard, but wasn't sure if it was true... I said I was pretty sure.

Jack of course used to work for Michael Foot's great pal, Barbara Castle, in the 1970s so would have known Michael way back then, and was an MP under his leadership from 1979 to 1983. His tribute was very moving, very funny - and a poignant contrast to the Punch and Judy show we'd just had to sit through. (I'm not against Punch and Judy PMQs, I just didn't like it this week. There was something quite nasty about it).

I never really met Michael Foot as such, but during the 1983 election campaign Michael Foot gave a speech at what was then Luton Technical College, and I went along to it with my friend Mark and his Dad, a Labour Party member. He was an incredible speaker and also a tall, physically quite imposing man then, far removed from the public caricature of an old man with a walking stick. (Echoes of Gordon Brown and the way in which the press has tried to portray him as a weak, dithering, nervous wreck, whereas he actually has an immensely powerful physical presence. One reason, I suspect, the Rawnsley book hasn't harmed him, in that it's challenged the previous caricature, but that falls under the "I shan't dignify it with a blog post" heading. And no such comments on this post either).

My next encounter with Michael Foot was ten years or so later, at Labour Conference in Brighton. I was working in the City at the time and, having recently started a new job, was still 'in the closet' as a Labour supporter. No-one at work knew I was going to Conference - I think I said I was going to a family wedding - and I spent most of the week trying not to get on television.

In those days the big Conference occasion was the Tribune rally. As I was walking along the carpeted hotel corridor towards the hall where the rally was being held, suddenly I was caught in the full glare of the spotlight, as a host of cameras turned on me. Turned out Michael Foot was hobbling along behind,with his walking stick... It was a very long, slow walk, live on the TV news, and I had to resist the temptation to turn tail and run for it. He was of course, given a hero's welcome when he arrived in the hall.

Michael came to a PLP meeting in Parliament last year, where we paid tribute to him and Jack Jones, who has sadly also died since then. I got both them, and Gordon, Neil Kinnock and Bill Morris to sign a copy of the Minimum Wage Bill. I'd planned to auction it next week at my campaign fundraiser, but not sure I want to let it go now.

Here they are... a great pic of Michael in his Plymouth Argyle scarf.

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