Michael Foot’s magic trick

PEOPLE often talk about Labour’s dark days under Michael Foot. The biggest electoral defeat of 1983 was easy to recall for his critics. But they didn’t seem so dark last night as Labour’s old guard, relatives, friends and admirers filled the Lyric Theatre in Piccadilly to celebrate his life. It was an evening of special wit and fondness.

There were, of course, politicians from a more recent history there, telling how they loved him so much. You had to wonder if that was the case why some of them abandoned his values and ideas as soon as his back was turned. And of course, Tony Blair is a busy guy but if he is so held up he can neither make the funeral or this memorial event, maybe he might as well have not sent Cherie with a note.

Yet, wherever you stand on Footy’s good-hearted socialism this night, which saw Lesley Garrett sing and Roy Hattersley trade anecdotes with David Steel, a spotlight appearance from Gordon Brown and a switcheroo gag to remember from his nephew Matt (the worst defeat he suffered was Plymouth losing to Leyton Orient), the old statesman’s trick for compelling oratory shone through. Brian Bavarti, his biographer, said sometimes Foot cared more about poetry than ideology. I don’t know about that, but when you listen to the tapes, his ability to weave words inside out, illustrating his point with style and good grace, was almost mystical.

They played a well known exchange on the big screen, a moment plucked from a different time where you can hear the hush of the House of Commons as Foot takes to his feet. He begins like he’s narrating Bagpuss, the menace building before he delivers a killer punchline with the house in hysterics. There is hardly an MP at Westminster today who is capable of keeping a room of allies and rivals hanging for that final line.

Play it again below.

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