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Seven reasons why Jeremy Corbyn is not Michael Foot

28th August 2015

Seven reasons why Jeremy Corbyn is not Michael Foot,
according to Tony Benn

By Mike Phipps

Beware of Jeremy Corbyn, he’s the next Michael Foot - this has become a recurrent theme from Jeremy’s opponents in the mainstream media.

Anne Perkins made the comparison in the Guardian in July here

Jack Dromey drew the same parallel in the New Statesman a few weeks later. here

Now The Economist is the latest publication to join the fray. here

The message is clear: Michael Foot was an arch-left-winger whose radical socialism led Labour to an historic electoral defeat in 1983 from which it took over a decade to recover.

This version of events bears little relationship to the historical reality. With a little help from the contemporary Diaries of Tony Benn, we can straightforwardly demonstrate why comparing Corbyn to Foot doesn’t stand up.

1. Michael Foot opposed the democratisation of Labour’s internal structures. Even before becoming Labour leader, Foot opposed both the mandatory reselection of Labour MPs and the introduction of an electoral college to elect the leader.

2. Once leader, Foot unilaterally nominated new peers to the House of Lords, despite a National Executive Committee decision opposing this. Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, has indicated that as leader he would not appoint new peers to this undemocratic institution.

3. Michael Foot demanded Tony Benn not stand for the deputy leadership, so that the post would by default fall to right-winger Denis Healey. He further told Benn that if he stood - as he did - he would let it be known that Foot had asked him not to - an unprecedented intervention by a leader in an internal Party election. Benn documents in detail in his 1980-90 Diaries how Foot tried to muzzle him on a variety of occasions - for example, when Benn was elected to the Shadow Cabinet, Foot refused to give him a portfolio, yet still demanded he be bound by collective ministerial responsibility.

4. Michael Foot supported Margaret Thatcher on the north of Ireland, in particular her refusal to make concessions in the face of a hunger strike by IRA prisoners campaigning for political status. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn has always taken a principled stand in favour of Irish self-determination and against British imperial rule in the island.

5. Michael Foot denounced in the House of Commons the candidacy of Peter Tatchell as prospective parliamentary candidate in Bermondsey, without any prior discussion with any internal Party body.

6. Michael Foot supported the sending of a military Task Force to wage war in the Falkland Islands and later congratulated Thatcher on her victory in the conflict - “It was odious and excessive,” Benn noted in his diaries.

7. Michael Foot launched a witch-hunt against the Militant Tendency. This was extended through the 1980s and 1990s to exclude a wide range of opinion from the Party that disagreed with the leadership.

Tony Benn concluded from his own fraught dealings with his leader that “Michael Foot is a leader of the right.” There are many reasons why Labour lost the 1983 election so heavily - including the split from Labour of the right-wing Social Democratic Party as well as the so-called ‘Falklands Factor’, or more specifically Labour’s failure to lead any opposition to this war. But the idea that the root cause of Labour’s electoral defeat was that Labour MPs, in the last leadership election before the electoral college democratised the process, somehow elected too left-wing a leader simply doesn’t hold water.

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