Michael Foot was much more than an outstanding parliamentarian. He was writer, broadcaster, journalist, biographer and literary critic. Above all he was a brilliant orator. His speeches in the Commons and beyond were some of the finest you will ever hear, often made without notes.
On “The Night the Government Fell” in March 1979 he delivered, without notes, the wind-up speech that was one of the finest of its kind. It wasn't one of his greatest, but for a 23 year old lucky enough to be sitting in the public gallery that night it was memorable.
Jack Straw paid tribute to Foot in the Commons and quoted from a speech he made, again without notes, in 1980:
In my youth, quite a time ago, when I lived in Plymouth, every Saturday night I used to go to the Palace theatre. My favourite act was a magician-conjuror who used to have sitting at the back of the audience a man dressed as a prominent alderman.
The magician-conjuror used to say that he wanted a beautiful watch from a member of the audience. He would go up to the alderman and eventually take from him a marvellous gold watch. He would bring it back to the stage, enfold it in a beautiful red handkerchief, place it on the table in front of us, take out his mallet, hit the watch and smash it to smithereens.
Then on his countenance would come exactly the puzzled look of the Secretary of State for Industry. He would step to the front of the stage and say "I am very sorry. I have forgotten the rest of the trick.
That is the situation of the Government. They have forgotten the rest of the trick. It does not work. Lest any objector should suggest that the act at the Palace theatre was only a trick, I should assure the House that the magician-conjuror used to come along at the end and say "I am sorry. I have still forgotten the trick.
Note: Secretary of State for Industry that Foot refers to is Sir Keith Joseph.
Foot should never have become leader of the Labour party, but that is another story.
He was a giant of the 20th century and his death will bring great sadness to all of us who have been connected with the Labour party over the years.