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EDITIONS
Labour centenary Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 11:06 GMT
Michael Foot: The battle with the SDP
Foot: Wanted Callaghan to stay on as party leader
Michael Foot was Labour leader from 1980 to 1983 - a period which saw the party suffer its worst election performance since the war.

Writing for BBC News Online, he says that while the 1983 defeat was the most defining moment of those years, there was much to take hope from for the years that followed.


The Labour government of 1974-1979, of which I was a member, was I believe a good government that has never been given the credit it deserved.

When it left office after Margaret Thatcher's general election victory in 1979, more people - men and women - were in work than at any other period of our history.

It has long been said that our main problem in 1983 was the manifesto - but the manifesto did not really play a part in the general election - our defeat was also partly down to the atmosphere of the Falklands War

It was for reasons such as this that I urged and pleaded with James Callaghan to stay on as the party leader.

He always had a very special appeal to the electorate, something that he was much better at than me.

I believe that if he had stayed on, Margaret Thatcher may not have had the victory that she went on to in 1983.

But at the same time, part of Labour's trouble came with the emergence of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 which took away a great chunk of our support - this proved to be the absolute number one reason why our vote fell so low and could have spelt the end of the party.

When Callaghan said that he was determined to go, I was asked to stand and take over as leader.

Ridiculed by the press

A number of people asked me to stand and they came to my house and said that they believed that I had a better chance of holding the party together than many of the others.

While the Social Democrats broke away at a most difficult time in 1981, others stayed within the party - and I believed that it was essential that they did so because without them, if key right wingers including John Smith had gone to the SDP, then the party would have been bust.

My time as leader of the Labour Party would be best characterised as being about keeping the party together.

I did everything that I possibly could to keep those people in the party: John Smith, Denis Healey, Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock. Without them, the party would never have been in power today.

One of the other problems that we had to contend with was our treatment by the press. I don't think that they were any worse towards me than any other Labour leader - but they did try every kind of method of ridicule or poison.

For instance it has long been said that our main problem in 1983 was the manifesto - but the manifesto did not really play a part in the general election - our defeat was also partly down to the atmosphere of the Falklands War.

My time as leader of the Labour Party would be best characterised as being about keeping the party together.

Despite the 1983 defeat, we emerged with a whole range of people who represented both the left and the right wings of the party.

Labour has always got to be a party of the left and the right - and some leaders are better at holding it together than others.

See also:

22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
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