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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Foot's passion burns brightly at 90

By Patrick Hannan
Political correspondent

As he celebrates his 90th birthday, the former Labour leader and south Wales MP Michael Foot calls for the Welsh assembly to be given the same powers as the Scottish Parliament.

At Michael Foot's house in Hampstead, my coffee was brought in a mug specially produced to celebrate the centenary six years ago of Aneurin Bevan.

Well, of course it was.

Michael Foot and Tony Blair
Tony Blair invited Michael Foot to No 10 for his birthday
The two men were bound together in politics and friendship both in life and remain so even today, more than 40 years after Bevan's death.

Between them they represented the Ebbw Vale constituency (later Blaenau Gwent) at Westminster for more than 60 years.

Foot was Bevan's political disciple and successor, and his conversation is still constantly punctuated by references to him.

Maybe we'll have to teach the English how to run these things
Michael Foot on devolution
People today are increasingly reluctant to vote, I said. What had happened to the passion that Foot himself famously brought to politics?

"The biggest thing now," he says, "is to restore a zest for politics that Aneurin Bevan had."

Unswerving loyalty

This continuing regard for Bevan, the persistence of Bevan's influence, is above all an illustration of what is perhaps Michael Foot's most striking quality.

Michael Foot and 90th birthday football shirt
Michael Foot has spent 90 years on the left wing
That is the unswerving loyalty he has always given to people and ideas that have won his support.

And loyalties have persisted at times when it might have suited his political purposes better to abandon them.

That's not to say that he never changes his mind.

When, in 1975, there was a referendum on Britain's continuing membership of the Common Market (as it was then called) he was one of the most vociferous campaigners against it. Now he takes a rather different line.

"I think we have got to play a bigger part in Europe," he said.

"The time will come when it will be right to join the Euro.

"Some of the people who are keen to keep us out are rabid nationalists who are not fit to be in charge of anything."

Compelling and funny

In comments like that you can still hear, on the eve of his 90th birthday, the vigour of thought and expression that made him perhaps the greatest orator of his generation, compelling and often very funny.

Michael Foot and Patrick Hannan
In Hampstead: Michael Foot and Patrick Hannan
You didn't have to agree with him to know he was good. And one of the best writers in politics too, an occupation that is not yet over.

As he answered a question in our television interview, he picked up his latest book of essays and waved it at the camera.

"I've written about that in the book I'm having published for my birthday," he said, making sure the title was prominently displayed.

And, as he also pointed out, it was being printed in Ebbw Vale. You bet.

Of course age has brought infirmities to Michael Foot, he moves slowly, his grasp of dates and names is a little uncertain. He's impatient with the way words sometimes won't come.

"Stumbling all over the bloody place," he grumbles about his performance, but at the same time he is as forceful as ever about ideas.

He's opposed to the war against Iraq; he nevertheless admires Tony Blair's willingness to lead; he thinks that some important figures in the Labour Party don't understand the trade unions properly.

And, as the man who in the 70s was in charge of the first devolution proposals, he thinks the Welsh assembly should have the same powers as the Scottish Parliament.

"Maybe," he says, "we'll have to teach the English how to run these things.

"At the greatest moments in history, occasionally with the assistance of the Scots, the Welsh have had to tell them how to do it."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Patrick Hannan
"Even now he remains a campaigner"



SEE ALSO:
Foot's message of hope to left
14 Jul 03  |  Politics
Michael's Foot Notes
06 Oct 02  |  The Westminster Hour
Foot in the devolution door
29 Jul 02  |  Wales


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