It’s the mid seventies mid week and dreich; me and a couple of others have made our way via Heraghty’s Bar to attend a political meeting in a large old municipal hall in Glasgow’s South Side who’s name escapes me. It’s a time of political turmoil as the Tories take a wrecking ball to industry and hard won freedoms for working people and Trade Unions. Arriving some 20 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to start it is not easy to get a seat; unusual perhaps but not when the main speaker is the late Michael Foot.
Introductions are made and the place is heaving, standing room only; I see many well known faces and notice with some amusement that a Paisley comrade Ian Smart has managed to scramble up on to a window ledge from where he waves down to us. The atmosphere is such that a hat thrown in the air would not come down and the excitement is tangible; Foot appears, small; frail; partially blind and walking with the aid of a stick. The hall erupts in an animal roar which gets louder and louder a standing ovation for an Englishman from Plymouth who is among his own in Glasgow’s South Side; among his comrades. Respect and love washes over him; he stands taking it all in with arms stretched out to ask for quite. Danton has entered the Assembly; this was the first time I had seen him live and I remember thinking “is this the great man? he looks likely to fall over” he didn’t of course but he knocked everyone else over that night.
He stepped up to the microphone and the gremlins started to whistle and screech through it, after a couple of minutes wrestling with it he told them to take it away; he then stepped precariously forward to the edge of the stage scaring his minders and said or appeared to say rather than shout “we have lost the microphone; can everyone hear me” astonishingly he could be heard easily everywhere in the hall I think they could hear him back in Heraghty’s bar. I will never understand how that slight frame could produce that timbre and volume it did not seem to be a strain at all it was quite astonishing.
He spoke for about an hour without notes and then took questions; his oratory was quite spell binding; his grasp of every aspect of the political landscape was absolute; he was able to stir the crowd to palpable anger and reduce them to laughter at his ease the crowd loved it and we all filed out in high spirits and more determined than ever to win the election; it was a seminal experience. Some 35 years later I have never heard a more charismatic, influential and brilliant speaker he was on fire and we were lucky to witness it he made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
I had the great privilege of meeting him once at a rally in support of Chile in Renfrew at K.G.5 playing fields; we were introduced by the late Norman Buchan MP whom I knew; his generation are fading away but we will not forget them; Foot led the party under a manifesto which included nuclear disarmament; ending the House of Lords; nationalising the banks : higher taxation ; protecting industry; withdrawal from Europe and more Socialist policies. It was a great manifesto and we will return to it someday; the media slaughtered it and him because they feared him and a Labour victory; because he and Labour were right. It was a radical manifesto which would have taken us down the road to Socialism; we need it back now.
I will remember his wit, his passion; his honesty; his unswerving commitment to peace Justice and Socialism and the fact the he was a thoroughly decent man; I will close with a story told by him in the commons as opposition leader. He was attacking the Tory Leader and Chancellor for their stewardship of the economy and accusing them of being tricksters, he said that he was regularly taken as a child to the music hall in Plymouth by his father and he remembered seeing a conjurer who asked for a member of the audience to lend him their watch; he explained that he would place it in the velvet bag which he held up and then brandishing a wooden mallet he said he would smash it to bits then cast a spell and it would go back to normal; he proceeded to bring down the mallet half a dozen times on the velvet bag containing the watch. He then stopped and looking worried he said “ladies and gentlemen I do apologise, I’ve forgotten the rest of this trick” just like the Tories with the economy said Michael.
Absolutely priceless, we have lost a Giant of the Labour Movement, Michael Foot.