Arthur Marwick “Leading the Labour Party”: A review of Michael Foot: A Portrait by Simon Hoggart and David Leigh.
Some snips from other sources, about some aspects of Foot’s life less remembered now.
The CPGB had hoped that Tribune – the newspaper launched in January 1937 to spearhead the Unity Campaign – might criticize the New Leader’s initial hostility to the second wave of show trials.86 It did not, but it did remain conspicuously silent – no doubt in part because Cripps, who had staked so much on the Unity Campaign, largely funded Tribune which was edited by his close colleague Mellor. Nevertheless, the absence of comment in Tribune does stand out – even in the context of the Unity Campaign. Michael Foot, who was a journalist on the paper at the time and a member of the Socialist League sitting on its London Area Committee, was clearly very disappointed. Reflecting after twenty years, he wrote that :
all papers have their Achilles heels, their blind spots, or what, less charitably, may be called their streaks of cowardice. Ours was the Russian trials. We said nothing or next to nothing on the subject …Our excuse was that we …were engaged in a unity campaign on the supreme issue of… the international crisis… Let us hope that we have learnt the moral which might be put in a maxim to be inscribed above every editorial chair : ‘Never funk the truly awkward issues ; they are the very ones your readers most want to hear about. And if by any chance they don’t, to hell with them’.
From “Orwell and the British Left” by Ian Williams (in the new edition of Logos):
There is no doubt that [George Orwell’s] experience of working for Tribune, and with people like Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan helped consolidate his support for the Labour Party. Along with the left around Tribune, he cavilled at the Labour leadership’s occasionally overcautious attitude to social change – even as he agreed with its staunch anti-Sovietism.
In his last years, unlike several of his comrades around Tribune, Orwell had little sympathy with Zionism and opposed the creation of the state of Israel, as attested by his friend and Tribune colleague Tosco Fyvel in his book George Orwell: A Personal Memoir. In 1945, Orwell wrote that “few English people realise that the Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist, for example, would probably side with the Arabs”. He and Fyvel argued repeatedly on the issue, and he complained to other friends repeatedly about Tribune’s line. He told Julian Symons – wrongly – that Fyvel, the paper’s literary editor, was responsible for Tribune’s ‘over-emphasis on Zionism’, complaining that Richard Crossman had been ‘the evil genius of the paper’, influencing it through Michael Foot and Fyvel. In fact, the paper’s enthusiastic Zionism was very much the responsibility of its editor, Jon Kimche.
The slogan “Neither Washington nor Moscow”, later taken up by the IS/ SWP, was half-coined by Fenner Brockway as editor of the ILP public discussion journal “Left”, at the end of the Second World War. It headed an article by Michael Foot, reprinted by the ILP journal from the Labour Party paper, the Daily Herald. Foot advocated that Britain (not the working class, as such) should stand apart from the two blocs, headed by the USA and Russia. (The article did not have that headline in the Herald, nor did Foot use that succinct expression in the article).
The Workers’ Party weekly Labor Action carried the idea as a front page headline in 1947, adding the positive socialist alternative to Washington and Moscow: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism”. It would become the self-defining slogan of the Socialist Review group in the 1950s.
When Harold Wilson won the 1974 general election, and waited in the Labour party general secretary’s office for the summons to Buckingham Palace, [Jack] Jones was by his side. But Jones limited his advice to the one matter that properly concerned the unions. Ray Gunter, he said, would not be acceptable at employment. “We agreed that Michael Foot would be the ideal choice,” wrote Jones in his autobiography, and Foot got the job.