LONDON // Michael Foot, a bookish intellectual and anti-nuclear campaigner who led Britain's Labour Party to a disastrous defeat in 1983, died this morning, officials said. He was 96. Mr Foot died at his home in north London following a long illness. Mr Foot personified the socialist tendency in the Labour Party, which Tony Blair successfully erased when he won power at the head of a business-friendly, interventionist "New Labour". Yet Mr Foot remained a respected, even revered, figure.
"A great man has died. He was the heart of our movement," John Prescott, deputy Labour leader under Mr Blair, said in a Twitter message. Prime minister Gordon Brown, Blair's partner in creating "New Labour", praised Mr Foot as a "man of deep principle and passionate idealism". Mr Foot, a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, led the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983 at a time when it was split by factionalism and had lurched to the left. Labour, running on a platform which advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament, abolition of the House of Lords and leaving the European Economic Community, won less than 28 per cent of the vote in 1983, barely holding on to second place, as Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives won a second term in office.
Labour politician Gerald Kaufman memorably described Labour's manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history". Mr Foot first made a mark as a writer, as the anonymous co-author of Guilty Men, published in 1940, which attacked the Conservative Party's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. In Parliament, he soon emerged as a leader of the party's left wing. He spoke against the rearmament of Germany, the British invasion of Suez and nuclear weapons. As employment secretary, he was a major figure in the Labour government of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in 1974-1979.
The justice minister, Jack Straw, told the House of Commons as he announced the death: "I'm sure that this news will be received with great sadness not only in my own party but across the country as a whole. He was held in very great affection in all sections of the House and across the country." * AP