Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Foot, Michael (1913–)

British journalist, socialist politician, and Labour Party leader (1980–1983). Born on 23 July 1913 in Plymouth, Devon, England, the son of Liberal member of Parliament Isaac Foot, Michael Foot joined the Labour Party at an early age and became president of the Oxford Union while studying at Wahdam College, Oxford. Much of his life was devoted to leftist journalism. He first gained journalistic notoriety in 1940, when he coauthored a blistering denunciation of the British prewar policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany in a tract published as The Guilty Men. Elected to Parliament in 1945, Foot was an ardent supporter of the left-wing Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan, whose biography he would later write. Foot would remain a Labour member of Parliament until his 1992 retirement, except for the 1955–1960 period. He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, established in 1958.

In February 1974, Foot was appointed secretary of state for employment and in 1976 stood unsuccessfully against James Callaghan for the leadership of the Labour Party. The victorious Callaghan named Foot deputy leader of the party that same year. Foot won the party leadership spot in 1980, taking the post when the party had moved to the Left, with calls for withdrawal from the Common Market (European Union, EU), abandonment of Britain's nuclear arsenal, and opposition to the basing of U.S. cruise missiles in Britain—policies that very much reflected Foot's political values. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's charisma and confidence after victory in the Falklands War (1982), combined with Foot's clumsy leadership style and commitment to nuclear disarmament, resulted in Labour's crushing electoral defeat in 1983. Foot subsequently resigned as party leader and was replaced by Neil Kinnock.

Foot retired from the House of Commons in 1992 but remained politically active. He defended the novelist Salman Rushdie, the subject of a fatwah by Ayatollah Khomeini, and argued strongly for intervention in the Balkans against Serbia and on behalf of Croatia and Bosnia. Foot also remained active in the nuclear disarmament campaign. A distinguished author, he has written highly regarded biographies of British Labour leader Aneurin Bevan and novelist H. G. Wells.

Paul Wingrove


Further Reading
Wainwright, Hillary. Labour: A Tale of Two Parties. London: Hogarth, 1987.
 

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