Michael Foot was a decent and sincere man who was wholly unsuited to be leader of the Labour Party. I have one fond memory of his personal kindness. In the disastrous 1983 election I was a Labour Candidate in Nottingham; Michael came to speak at a big city rally and I was sitting next to him on the platform. Before the speeches began I waved to my two sons, then of primary-school age, who were sitting in the front row. Michael asked me if they were my boys and, once the meeting ended, as he left the platform they were the first two people that he approached to shake hands. He thoughtfully gave them an enduring memory.
Poor old Michael Foot deserved better than to be remembered as the person who produced Labour’s lowest percentage vote. It was an unusual set of circumstances that resulted in him defeating the far more suitable Denis Healey for the Party Leadership in 1980. The election was solely in the hands of MPs and stories circulated that some who were about to defect to the SDP voted for Foot to hasten the Labour Party’s demise. At the outset of the 1980 Leadership election many questions were asked about Michael Foot’s personal style. He responded by getting a haircut and buying a suit. Unfortunately he wore the new suit every day thereafter, merely reinforcing doubts about his sartorial savvy.
Jeremy Corbyn appears to be adopting a similar approach. Once he started to take his prospects seriously he produced a whole series of policy initiatives. Like Michael Foot’s shopping expedition to the tailors, such behaviour is wholly out of character. In the past Jeremy Corbyn has displayed little interest in policy: his taste is for the gesture politics of positions and slogans. He is of opposition not of government. There is always a place of such people in the Labour Party but never as Leader.
Neither can I be as positive about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal qualities as I have been about Michael Foot. I had a great deal of contact with Jeremy in Haringey and Islington in the early 1980s. Winning elections did not seem to matter to him. He was an uncompromising factionalist who seemed wholly without the occasional redeeming passage of self-doubt. The crushing certainty of the evangelist never plays well with those who are not converts.
On 21st August I will be publishing a short book:
Labour’s failure and my small part in it: a memoir for my grandchildren
It will be made available free of charge as a download on this site and my personal website http://www.martynsloman.co.uk. I also intend to produce a Kindle edition. The book is based on my experiences of 50 year’s activism, my despair about the current state of the Labour Party, and the steps that we need to take to regain credibility.