Childhood & Early Life
Michael Mackintosh Foot was born on July 23, 1913, in Lipson Terrace, Plymouth, Devon. He was the fifth of the seven children of his parents. His father, Isaac Foot, was the ‘Liberal Party’ M.P. for Bodmin in Cornwall. Isaac was also a lawyer and founded the Plymouth-based law firm ‘Foot and Bowden’ (which later became ‘Foot Anstey’).
His mother, Eva, was of Scottish descent. “Mackintosh” was his mother’s maiden name. Their house overlooked Freedom Fields, where a civil war battle had been fought.
Foot studied at ‘Leighton Park’ in Reading, Berkshire. It was a fee-paying school established by ‘Quakers.’ He earned a second-class degree in ‘Classics’ from ‘Wadham College.’ There, he met renowned personalities such as David Lloyd George and Bertrand Russell, when they visited the college. He became the president of the ‘Oxford Union’ in 1933. Four of the Foot siblings became presidents of either the ‘Cambridge’ or the ‘Oxford’ union.
Foot's siblings were Sir Dingle Foot (who later became a ‘Labour’ M.P.), Hugh Foot, Baron Caradon (who was the governor of Cyprus and represented the U.K. at the ‘United Nations’ from 1964 to 1970), John Foot (later Baron Foot, who was a ‘Liberal’ politician), Margaret Elizabeth Foot, Christopher Isaac Foot, and Jennifer Mackintosh Highet.
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As a Journalist and a Budding Politician
Following his university days, Foot took up a job at a shipping firm in Liverpool. He also started working actively for the ‘Labour Party’ and contested (unsuccessfully) for Monmouth in the 1935 general elections.
Foot then shifted to London to try his luck in journalism. There, he worked with the ‘New Statesman’ for a while but was rejected by Kingsley Martin, the editor. He then began working for Stafford Cripps’s ‘The Tribune.’ There, he came in touch with writers Barbara Betts and Aneurin Bevan.
However, in 1938, Foot resigned because William Mellor, the previous editor of the paper, was sacked unfairly. Soon, on politician Aneurin Bevan’s recommendation, Foot joined the ‘Evening Standard,’ owned by Lord Beaverbrook.
Beaverbrook initially believed in pro-government policies, but his views changes later. He instructed Foot to attack the government’s policies through the paper. Foot, along with Peter Dunsmore Howard and Frank Owen, released ‘Guilty Men’ in 1940.
The book was published under the pseudonym "Cato." It attacked the appeasement policy of the government and those associated with it, such as Neville Chamberlain, John Simon, Lord Halifax, Samuel Hoare, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, and Kingsley Wood.
Soon, Foot and his friends formed the ‘1941 Committee.’ Its members included Tom Hopkinson, J. B. Priestley, Edward G. Hulton, Tom Winteringham, Kingsley Martin, Richard Acland, Peter Thorneycroft, Michael Foot, Thomas Balogh, Tom Winteringham, Vernon Bartlett, Richie Calder, Violet Bonham Carter, and others.
In December 1941, the committee released a report stating the need for public control of the railways and mines and demanding a national policy for wages. In May 1942, another report suggested the need for works councils, free education, jobs, and a “civilized standard of living for everyone."
The following year, Foot was made an acting editor of the ‘Evening Standard.’ However, Foot's marked socialism clashed with the views of Beaverbrook. Foot thus resigned in 1944. Foot then began working as a columnist with the ‘Daily Herald’ and also as a contributing writer for the ‘New Statesman’ and ‘The Tribune.’
Foot won the Plymouth Devonport constituency during the general election of 1945. Soon, Foot sided with the left-wing of Bevan’s party. Foot criticized Clement Attlee’s government, especially his foreign policy.
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Foot also became one of the founder members of the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ (CND). In 1947, he joined Richard Crossman and Ian Mikardo and wrote the pamphlet titled ‘Keep Left.’ In 1948, he joined ‘The Tribune’ as an editor and worked in the same capacity for 4 years.
In the General Elections
Foot lost the 1955 general election and focused on his job as an editor of ‘The Tribune.’ He released ‘The Pen and the Sword’ in 1957.
In November 1960, Foot went back to the ‘House of Commons’ when he acquired Bevan's old seat at Ebbw Vale (renamed Blaenau Gwent in 1983). Foot then came into conflict with party leader Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell died in 1963.
In the campaign for the 1964 general election, the new party leader, Harold Wilson, promised to transform Britain. Soon, Wilson came into power. Foot criticized many of the government’s policies, including those on the Vietnam War and wage restraint.
After the ‘Labour Party’s loss in the 1970 elections, Foot became an opposition frontbencher. His major task was to oppose British’s entry into the ‘European Economic Community.’
Edward Heath, the newly elected prime minister clashed with the trade unions. In the 1974 elections, the ‘Labour Party’ returned to power.
As a Secretary of State for Employment
Wilson, after coming back to power, made Foot the secretary of state for employment. Foot handled the miners' strike that had created problems for the ‘Conservative’ government.
Soon, Foot restored the rights of the trade union that were lost due to Heath's ‘Industrial Relations Act.’ Foot created the ‘Health and Safety Executive’ and the ‘Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’ (ACAS). In April 1976, he quit the post.
Foot contested for the leadership of his party, against James Callaghan, after Wilson’s retirement in 1976. Foot lost but was made the leader of the ‘House of Commons’ and “Lord President of the Council.”
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As the Leader of the Labour Party
The 1979 elections saw Margaret Thatcher win. Foot again became a backbencher. In 1980, Callaghan resigned. Foot defeated Denis Healey and became the leader of the party. Following this, several right-wing M.P.s of the party created the ‘Social Democratic Party.’
Foot surpassed Thatcher’s popularity until the 1982 Falklands War. Foot’s left-wing manifesto during the elections of 1983 included issues such nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the ‘Common Market,’ control over industries that were privatized by Thatcher’s government, a yearly wealth tax, and more public investments. However, the party lost after securing just 27.6 percent votes, the lowest-ever since the 1920s.
Foot resigned soon and owned up to his mistakes as a leader. He continued as an M.P. for Ebbw Vale till 1992.
Apart from ‘Guilty Men’ (1940) and ‘The Pen and the Sword’ (1957), Foot had written a two-part biography of Aneurin Bevan, titled ‘Aneurin Bevan: 1897–1945’ (1962) and ‘Aneurin Bevan: 1945–1960’ (1973).
Some of his other notable works were ‘Another Heart and Other Pulses’ (1984), ‘Debts of Honour’ (1980), ‘Loyalists and Loners’ (1986), ‘Politics and Paradise’ (1988), ‘Dr. Strangelove, I Presume’ (1999), ‘HG: the History of Mr. Wells’ (1995), and ‘The Uncollected Michael Foot’ (2003).
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Foot got married to Jill Craigie in 1949. Craigie was one of the first women documentary filmmakers of Britain. She was also a prominent socialist and feminist. Foot and Craigie met when Craigie was making the 1946 film ‘The Way We Live.’
Foot and Craigie did not have any children together. However, Craigie had a daughter named Julie from her first marriage. They remained married till Craigie’s death in 1999.
In February 2007, reports suggested that Foot had had an extramarital relationship with a woman who was 35 years younger than him, in the 1970s. The year-long affair affected his marriage.
Foot suffered from asthma and eczema in his youth. In 1963, he almost died in a car accident, which eventually gave him his signature lopsided walk. In 1976, after suffering from shingles, he lost sight in one eye.
On July 23, 2006, Foot celebrated his 93rd birthday and thus became the longest-living leader of a primary British political party.
Foot died on March 3, 2010, in Hampstead, North London, after a prolonged illness. He was 96 years old at the time of his death.
On March 15, 2010, Foot's funeral was held at the ‘Golders Green Crematorium’ in North-West London.