Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"I Hope Gordon Gets through These Difficult Times: In 1983 Michael Foot Led the Labour Party into a General Election with a Manifesto Dubbed "The Longest Suicide Note in History". One Proposal, to Nationalise Banks, Seems Rather Prescient. Now 95, Foot Talks to MarkSeddon

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"I Hope Gordon Gets through These Difficult Times: In 1983 Michael Foot Led the Labour Party into a General Election with a Manifesto Dubbed "The Longest Suicide Note in History". One Proposal, to Nationalise Banks, Seems Rather Prescient. Now 95, Foot Talks to MarkSeddon

Article excerpt

I've just arrived at Hampstead Tube station. I'm going towards Michael Foot's house down the hill. Just to the right is Tribune; it's based at the headquarters of Aslef, the train drivers' union, in an old mansion once owned by Sir Thomas Beecham. Michael and the paper go all the way back to the 1930S, when he was a cub reporter. His first printed story was as an industrial correspondent, when he covered the aftermath of the General Strike and the bitter disputes in the Nottingham coalfield. Michael has lived on Pilgrim's Lane for many years, most of them with his late wife, the film-maker Jill Craigie. and I'm thinking about the first time that I met him in 1.983. Great campaigner that he is, Michael had come from the north-east of England to Norwich on what was known as the People's March for Jobs. As Britain goes into recession, it's easy to forget that back in the early 1980S there were more than three million people out of work. That's when I began a relationship with Michael that's lasted until this day, through the peace movement, through my own attempts to get elected to parliament and all the travails at Tribune over the years.

Nowadays Michael moves around the house with the aid of a walking frame. The sun is pouring into the downstairs kitchen through French windows as he sits reading the Guardian and prepares to talk.

Mark Seddon: It's looking good in here. I suppose you can thank [Rupert] Murdoch for that.

Michael Foot: Well 1 don't know what to tell you, because he paid for my kitchen, you see [laughs]. The money came from the Sunday Times, they coughed up when we were really up against it, when we had our libel action.

MS: 1 remember that. That was in 1995 when the Sunday Times accused you of being Agent Boot.

MF: They called me a traitor, er, what was it they called me, a Russian agent. And they stuck to their story until we were absolutely sure that we had a decent lawyer. Jill was very concerned, because in a previous libel action it looked as if we might go under. She didn't want that to happen again. She had some legitimate anxieties, although she was of course very angry about what they'd said in that bloody paper about us.

MS: I remember going on the radio with George Robertson, who was later a Labour defence secretary. We were agreed this was all complete nonsense. But your libel winnings from Murdoch not only helped Jill and you with the kitchen and to recarpet your house but some of it also helped save Tribune [Foot gave [pounds sterling]10,000 to the publication]. [Foot stumbles.] Are you all right there, Michael? MF: I just fall sometimes and it makes me nervous.

MS: So, I was thinking about when I first met you in 1983.

MF:Yup.

MS: You came into Norwich.

MF: Ya.

MS: You spoke to an absolutely packed meeting and we all felt like a lot of people do now about Obama--you were going to win! The manifesto then, which talked about the banks being nationalised if they behaved irresponsibly, seems to have been adopted by the government.

MF: Yes, well, they got it all slightly wrong, I thought, when they attacked that manifesto back then. "The longest suicide note in history", that was what Gerald Kaufman called it. Gerald was actually elected on the same manifesto, so I do still hold that against him, you know. We proposed taking over the banks, not being at the mercy of capitalist forces and all the rest of it. Although it was Jill who suffered the worse from all of that media attention.

MS: Now what is your happiest memory from your time in the Labour Party? I seem to remember you mentioning the CND marches, the peace marches.

MF: Oh, well, the one against the Iraq War. Ken Livingstone came of course, It wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been there. Some of the papers wobbled on the war. Tribune didn't and so I hope it should always survive. The Labour movement needs the Tribune arguments more than ever. …

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