Thursday, March 4, 2010

One of the wonders of the world

I mentioned Michael Foot in my previous post - for me, the irony of hearing about his death yesterday was that, just by chance, the previous day I had been reading his legendary Commons speech from 1979 that concluded the debate on the motion of no-confidence in the Callaghan government. It has to be conceded that one of the wittiest lines from the speech was at the expense of Donald Stewart, then the parliamentary leader of the SNP, who had made a somewhat workmanlike contribution earlier that hadn't quite risen to the occasion in the way that Gerry Fitt or Gwynfor Evans had managed. Foot mischievously observed -

"However misguided the right honourable gentleman may be if he adheres to his apparent resolution to vote in the lobby with those who are most bitterly opposed to the establishment of a Scottish Assembly, honourable members who heard his speech must acknowledge the remarkable allegiance that the right honourable gentleman commands from his followers. It is one of the wonders of the world. There has bean nothing quite like it since the armies of ancient Rome used to march into battle. It is only now that we see the right honourable gentleman in his full imperial guise.

'Hail Emperor, those about to die salute you.'"

Fortunately for those of us of a nationalist persuasion, Foot reserved an even better joke for the Liberal leader David Steel, and that's the one that has been remembered from the speech down the years -

"But the leader of the Liberal Party — and I say this with the utmost affection — has passed from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever."

Given these extraordinary oratorical skills, his intellect and his humanity - in the 1990s he once threw every penny of his pension into funding a TV programme to highlight the plight of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia - it's a bitter irony that Foot was destined to be remembered as the 'worst' post-war Labour leader. Well, he may have been the worst as crudely measured by electoral outcomes, but in absolutely no other sense was he Labour's 'Iain Duncan Smith'.

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