Michael Foot is best known for having led the British Labour Party to the greatest defeat in its history, in the 1983 election. After the 1979 defeat of James Callaghan, Foot was the choice of the far left of the Labour Party and so helped produce the “longest suicide note in history” as the 1983 Labour Manifesto was called. It openly called itself a programme of socialist reconstruction.
It offered, at the height of the Cold War, to scrap Britain’s nuclear arsenal, withdraw Britain from the EEC, nationalise more industries, raise taxes, and return to the economy being run by diktat by meetings between government, unions and business. It promised massive increases in welfare, and new bureaucracies across many aspects of life, including consumer shopping advisory centres!
Foot was unashamedly socialist, he took on Margaret Thatcher and the result was a split in the Labour Party, as moderates fled to a party that eventually merged and formed the Liberal Democrats.
Had Foot won the 1983 general election, it would have been a disaster both economically and strategically for Britain. It may have been a turning point in the Cold War, as the UK stepped to one side, and the West would have been weakened, heightening Reagan’s resolve, but isolating Britain. The withdrawal from the EEC would have further isolated Britain, as investment would have dropped away, and the long slow decline of post war Britain would have accelerated once more. The dream of so many on the left was not wanted by the majority of voters. His election would have emboldened the likes of Constantin Chernenko, and would not have provided sustenance for the Solidarity movement in Poland, but rather the intellectual pygmies that ran their criminal states east of the Iron Curtain. He would have eviscerated friendship between the US and the UK, and frightened those on the front line of the Cold War. A socialist wet dream of accelerated decline, economic deception and surrender to the Soviet threat.
The 1983 election, in the height of recession and high unemployment, saw the Conservatives pick up an additional 58 seats, Labour losing 60 and the SDP/Alliance (which would become the Liberal Democrats) picking up 12 more seats. It also saw Gordon Brown get elected to the seat of Dunfermline East, his second attempt to get elected. You may think Labour in the UK today is far removed from that of Michael Foot, but Brown still espouses much of the philosophy of Foot.
Foot, you see, once said this:
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.
He didn’t believe people existed for their own purposes, to pursue their dreams, their endeavours, but for others. He was a committed altruist. He believed good only came from helping others, he believed in redistributing wealth, he didn’t care how it was created. Therein lies the practical failings of the man.
Morally he expressed the view that people existed for the sake of others. I would condemn that, but then why pick on him? He was, at least, open and honest about his principles and convictions. The likes of Gordon Brown are not, yet they have the same philosophical approach. Conservatives do as well, as do almost all across the political spectrum. The belief not that your life is your own and your purpose is to pursue your values, but that your life has an unchosen obligation to provide for others.
Fortunately Michael Foot did not get to impose democratic Marxism on the UK. Sadly, whilst a man of principle and honesty, he still, fundamentally, held the belief that is basic to what most politicians believe in – that the individual does not primarily exist for his or her own purposes. That philosophy, as important in all major political parties across liberal democracies, has not died with Michael Foot - all he did was espouse it more openly, consistently and radically than others.
Curious, you see, that the 1983 manifesto did include a national state owned broadband network...