It was sad to hear Michael Foot died earlier today, aged 96. Of all the Labour politicians of the last 30 years, Foot was probably the Labour left's best-known figure (after Tony Benn).
Foot had a long and fruitful career as a political journalist, author and politician. But there are certain defining moments of his life that will be endlessly recycled on today's news bulletins. Undoubtedly that visit to the cenotaph will be one of them (as Anton Vowl of Enemies of Reason tweeted earlier, "Let's play the Michael Foot drinking game. Every time that Cenotaph footage is on TV today, take a drink. We'll be dead by sundown").
Another of course will be the "longest suicide note in history", the 700 page Labour manifesto for the 1983 general election. Even the dogs in the street know this document, which was based on conference resolutions at Foot's insistence, is still ritualistically unearthed by the right to browbeat the left. It is blamed for the poorest showing for Labour in the post-war period and used to demonstrate the unpopularity of left wing ideas. Of course, all this forgets Thatcher coasted back into Number 10 off the back of Britain's victory in the war and the fact the Labour vote was split - its vote declined by approximately three million while the SDP took roughly the same number of voters over to the Alliance camp. Circumstances rather than the alleged centre right policy preferences of the British electorate better explain the increase in the Conservatives' majority.
Blairites and Brownites will hypocritically heap praise on a man whose unashamed social democratic ideas were a deep embarrassment to them. For socialists inside and outside the Labour party however, Foot's political career is a lesson in the limits of establishment radicalism. At best his socialism was firmly committed to the parliamentary road. At worst, he tailed establishment opinion by cheering on the Falklands War and attacked elements of the left in Labour. But for all that he was what is now that rarest of beasts - a conviction politician. If we had a few more Michael Foots today the Labour party would be a better place.