''Men of power have not time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power.'' - Michael Foot
Michael Mackintosh Foot (23 July 1913 – 3 March 2010) was a far left British politician and leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983. He was an ardent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and British withdrawal from the European Economic Community. A passionate orator, he led Labour through the 1983 general election, when the party obtained its lowest share of the vote at a General Election since 1918 and the fewest parliamentary seats achieved since before 1945. He was the only Labour Party leader for whom I actually felt a soft spot.
I liked Michael and considered him a friend, not least because he was an ardent Byronist. Anyone who knew Michael would like him. Not all would consider him their friend. I naturally have his book The Politics of Paradise: A Vindication of Byron on my bookshelves weighed down with kindred tomes of the poet and his contemporaries. Radical in his political thinking, Michael Foot was a fervent traditionalist when it came to literary history. He believes in continuity and the ahistoricism of critical judgements. He doesn't hesitate to use phrases like "the greatest English tradition" (referring to Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton), and throughout the foot-notes to this book he conducts a dialogue with his fellow critics, whom he refers to as the "companions .. who have shepherded me along my path." We get guided in the direction of "treasures" and "delightful volumes"; editions and commentaries are "splendid" and "indispensable." The rhetoric of enthusiasm for the critical canon generated by a legion of Byronists is refreshing from such as Michael who was probably the most progressive politician on the far left in my lifetime.
I most frequently found him out walking his dog on Hampstead Heath where he would wave his walking stick and issue a greeting. Curiously enough it was the same topic which introduced me to Spike Milligan, whom I regarded as a close ally and friend, and Susannah York where there was an instant mutual attraction, that brought me into Michael's hemisphere: CND and associated anti-war activities. He knew where I stood on most things and I certainly knew where he stood. Our conversations were about more mundane matters and for that we were both grateful.
My abiding image of him is our last sighting of each other, not on Hampstead Heath, but in Charing Cross Road where we greeted each other and, as he walked off toward the junction with Oxford Street, he waved his stick in the air. "See you again," he cried. But it will now have to be in paradise.