26th May 2007 Book Reviews
Michael Foot was the great rhetorician of his age. His tirades against government enlivened politics and helped sustain the credibility of parliament.
Most politicians vanish from memory as rapidly as the controversies they spin. It is ideas, institutions and rare inspirational individuals that linger, and even the last of these often survive with little reference to their political careers. Who thinks of Tocqueville as Louis-Napoleon’s foreign minister, or even Madison as a two-term president?
I therefore expected this biography of Michael Foot to be of interest mainly to students and political survivors of the dismal 1970s and early 1980s—the only periods of his long career in which the 93-year-old former Labour leader has exerted much direct influence on events. Yet within pages, I was engrossed. Kenneth Morgan’s superb portrait quickly takes shape, and the only dullish part is the chapter on Foot as employment secretary in Harold Wilson’s 1974 government, where the detail of successive trade union and labour relations acts is as tedious to recall as it was unfortunate to the body politic at the time. (Not that Morgan shares this judgement: he thinks the legislation was not at fault but rather the actions of the unions under it, which Foot could not have been expected to foresee.)
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