Michael Foot was born in Plymouth in 1913. His father was a solicitor, Foot was educated at a Quaker school and went on to study at Oxford University becoming president of the Oxford Union in 1933. Joining the Labour party Foot stood for election as MP for Monmouth in the 1935 General Election, but lost the campaign.
Earning his living as a journalist, Foot wrote for The Tribune, The Daily Herald and The New Statesman. In 1940 he co-wrote Guilty Men attacking the appeasement policies of the Chamberlain Government, and during the wars years edited the London Evening Standard, before leaving after a clash with proprietor Lord Beaverbrook.
In 1945 Foot was elected MP for the marginal seat of Plymouth Devonport and would continue his writing with further pieces for the Tribune. Foot was a critic of the then Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and became involved with the campaigns against nuclear weapons which would lead to the formation of the CND. In 1955 Foot lost his seat to the Conservative candidate Joan Vickers, due in part to the dockland voters turning against him due to his anti-nuclear position.
Foot would re-enter politics after the death of his mentor Aneurin Bevan, winning the vacated Ebbw Vale seat. Back in parliament his left-wing views continued to make him unpopular with the party leadership, and Foot would have the Labour whip withdrawn from 1961 to 1963 when Harold Wilson became party leader. Foot supported Wilson and though he would continue to disagree with certain Labour policies behind closed doors, party unity prevented the writer in Foot from expressing his views in print.
After Labour's defeat in the 1970 General Election, Foot began to progress towards the front bench, and when Labour regained power in 1974 he was give the post of Employment Secretary. The biggest achievement in this role was in helping the Health and Safety at Work Act onto the statute books. In 1976 he was moved to become Leader of the House an essential role in the House of Commons for governments with small majorities.
After Wilson's resignation in 1976, Foot was persuaded by his supporters to stand for leader, but was defeated by James Callaghan. The Callaghan government suffered from battles with the trade unions and was decisively defeated by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The Labour party turned in on its self as left and right fought for control of the party. Foot stood for leader again, and to most observers surprise, won, coming from behind to defeat Denis Healy by ten votes in the final ballot.
Foot, although a decent, honourable man, was unable to steer his party effectively, and his image was tainted by bouts of bile from the right-wing press. This reached its height after he wore a donkey-jacket whilst attending the Cenotaph during Remembrance Day in 1981 and was shrilly accused of dressing scruffily. His continued support for the CND, although popular with many Labour activists, gave the press another stick to beat him with and the left-wing position adopted by Labour saw the centre ground relinquished to the Conservatives, and led to the 'Gang of Four' - Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen breaking from the party to form the SDP. On the other side pressure from the Benn-ites and the hard left wing militant tendency led to policy-making that saw the Labour manifesto in the 1983 General Election being described as "the longest suicide note in history".
Thatcher was re-elected with an increased majority, and it was only thanks to the first past the post electoral system that the SDP/Liberal Alliance failed to take any more seats from Labour. Foot resigned, to be replaced by Neil Kinnock but would remain an MP until 1992. Foot has remained fairly uncritical of his successors as leader, despite the change in direction taken by Tony Blair which has transformed 'New Labour' into a vastly different beast from its 1983 vintage. Foot's nephew, the journalist Paul Foot, also entered politics; running for Mayor of Hackney on behalf of the Socialist Alliance. Is this is a reflection of the current inability to reconcile the views of the Labour leadership and natural supporters? Or will twenty-first century politics leave the Foots in the past? (UPDATE 31/1/05:Paul Foot did fight several election campaigns representing the Socialist Alliance prior to his death in 2004. His investigative journalism, particularly for Private Eye is likely to be a more permanent memorial.)
Outside politics Michael Foot has gained a reputation as an acclaimed writer, and has published respected biographies on Aneurin Bevan and H.G. Wells. He was married to the film-maker Jill Craigie until her death in 1999, they had no children but Dizzy, their dog, was a much loved part of the family. (JudyT says "many a time I've seen Mr Foot walking Dizzy on the heath"). He is also a keen fan of Plymouth Argyle football team, where he has been a director for over 20 years.