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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 09:23 GMT
First 100 days: Michael Foot
It could scarcely have looked worse for Michael Foot as he contemplated his first 100 days in charge of the Labour Party.

MICHAEL FOOT
Michael Foot
Elected leader: Nov 1980
Age when elected: 67
Defeated rivals: Denis Healey, John Silkin, Peter Shore
The veteran left winger had been elected as a peacemaker by a party that was in the process of tearing itself apart.

With the hard left growing in strength and influence, a group of senior figures, the Gang of Four - Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rogers and Shirley Williams - were getting ready to form their own breakaway Social Democratic Party.

The future survival of the Labour Party was in the balance.

But Mr Foot's first attempt to seize control of the situation and assert his authority had ended in disaster, as he lost a battle with the unions over the selection of future Labour leaders.

A special conference voted to give Labour MPs just a 30% say over who would lead their party with the majority of power going to the union block vote.

'Boxer flattened'

Worse, for Mr Foot, the party leader would face the prospect of being thrown out by conference every year if he was not measuring up.

There has been a kind of hectic feebleness about his every move which is beginning to awaken pity rather than anger
London Evening Standard

"If the Daddy of the left cannot control the extremists, who can?," wrote Geoffrey Parkhouse in the Glasgow Herald following the decision.

"Mr Foot today is like a boxer flattened in the first round not by his opponent but by his seconds. Any other party leader would throw in the towel right now."

Elinor Goodman, in the Financial Times, said: "The majority of Labour MPs, their morale badly shaken, appear determined to close ranks in a common front against those on the far left and the far right who are threatening to split the party.

"It means that Mr Foot, who was elected to unite the party, is on a collision course with the far left and that the party is in danger of continuing what, in the words of Peter Shore, the shadow chancellor, described last night as 'the Roman spectacle of a great party tearing itself to pieces'."

Mr Foot, who backed withdrawal from the then EEC and unilateral nuclear disarmament, had promised a crusade against unemployment, brought about through the "socialist transformation" of Britain.

'Disaster'

But his attempts to push this policy agenda were drowned out by his battles with the hard left and what were seen as his ineffective and stumbling performances on television and in the Commons.

"There has been a kind of hectic feebleness about his every move which is beginning to awaken pity rather than anger," wrote the Evening Standard, beneath the headline "Let's Admit It: Foot's a Disaster".

"If the Social Democrats get their timing right, in an electoral pact with the Liberals, they could well not only smash Mr Foot's Labour Party at the next election but provide a formidable challenge to the Tories at the election after that. And if that happens, Mr Foot will, I am afraid, go down to Labour Party history as the Ramsay Macdonald of the left," the paper added.

Veteran commentator George Gale gave an equally withering verdict on Mr Foot: "Age wearies him. His years condemn him. The fire has gone out of his belly. He did not become Labour leader to preside over its liquidation. But he may yet end up doing precisely that."

What happened next: Michael Foot led the party to a disastrous 1983 General Election mauling, where they got just 27.6% of the vote compared with the SDP/Liberal Alliance's 25.4%. Mrs Thatcher's Conservatives won a majority of 144.



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