How Michael Foot joked that Nye Bevan could use stammering to his advantage

Michael Foot

LISTEN: Michael Foot recalls Nye Bevan’s stammer at home in Hampstead 

MOCKED from the government benches for a couple of stumbles in the Autumn Statement debate on Wednesday, Labour’s money man Ed Balls blamed his stammer. He said: “Sometimes it gets the better of me in the first minute or two, when I speak, especially when I have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and 300 Conservative MPs yelling at me.”

Nye Bevan, the Labour health minister during the creation of the NHS, had a similar impediment, but his old friend and former Labour Party leader Michael Foot reckoned he at least once worked it to his advantage, rather than. In private company, Foot would recall a time when Bevan got stuck on his words while talking about Conservative PM Anthony Eden, leading him to say Eden was too “stu-stu-stu-stupid to be Prime Minister”. It sort of emphasised his point.

Foot, who lived in a cavern of books in Hampstead, would joke: “I think he put it on”. The snippet of audio you won’t have heard before (apologies for poor quality) is Foot at home enjoying himself among friends, mimicking Bevan mocking Eden. 

Foot is referring here to a speech made by Bevan at the time of the Suez Crisis on Nov 4 1956. It was delivered at the Law not War rally in the Trafalgar Square. Bevan “Sir Anthony Eden has been pretending that he is now invading Egypt in order to strengthen the United Nations. Every burglar of course could say the same thing, he could argue that he was entering the house in order to train the police. So, if Sir Anthony Eden is sincere in what he is saying, and he may be, he may be, then if he is sincere in what he is saying then he is too stupid to be a prime minister.”

Of all the words to get stuck on, he’d probably have chosen ‘stupid’.


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