Farewell to a Man of Courage and Conviction
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
This afternoon in London, hundreds of people, friends, family and other soul mates will gather for the funeral of the former Labour leader, writer and campaigner, Michael Foot. I have been asked to speak, and this is what I will have to say.
SEEING THIS HUGE CROWD GATHERED HERE TODAY, COME TO SAY ‘GOODBYE’ TO MICHAEL, WE CAN ALMOST FEEL HIS DISAPPOINTMENT NOT TO BE STANDING RIGHT HERE. MICHAEL WAS AT HIS BEST ROUSING THE FAITHFUL, AND A MORE FAITHFUL CROWD GATHERED HERE TO CELEBRATE A MOST REMARKABLE AND DEEPLY LOVEABLE MAN, IT IS DIFFICULT TO CONTEMPLATE.
JOHN, TOM & MATT FOOT SAID ‘KEEP IT SHORT’, SO THE BEST TEMPLATE I COULD COME UP WITH WAS OLIVER CROMWELL’S MASTERFUL BREVITY AS HE DISMISSED THE RUMP PARLIAMENT IN 1653 – A SPEECH THAT SHOULD HAVE A HAD A FEW AIRINGS IN RECENT MONTHS. BUT SINCE MICHAEL’S SYMPATHIES LAY WITH THOMAS RAINSBOROUGH AND THE LEVELLERS, I WILL SPARE YOU THAT.
INSTEAD I BRING YOU MICHAEL’S UNPROOFED COPY OF HIS 1957 POLEMIC ‘GUILTY MEN’. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE EARLIER EDITION OF 1940 THAT ATTACKED THE APPEASERS OF HITLER’S GERMANY. HE COULDN’T FIND A PUBLISHER FOR THAT. MICHAEL TOLD ME THEY HAD TO PUBLISH IT THEMSELVES AND TAKE IT TO TRAFALGAR SQUARE IN BARROWS. IT SOLD LIKE HOT CAKES – PRINCIPALLY BECAUSE PLENTY OF FURTIVE MEN TOOK THE PLAIN COVERED ‘GUILTY MEN’ TO CONTAIN SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
NOW MICHAEL WAS A LIFE LONG OPPONENT OF TOTALITARIANISM. ALTHOUGH HE WAS, IN HIS OWN WORDS AN ‘INVETERATE PEACE MONGER’, HE WASN’T A PACIFIST. HERE ARE HIS WORDS, RINGING DOWN THE DECADES FROM THE TIME OF THE SUEZ DEBACLE; THEY HAVE A PRESCIENCE AND CLARITY THAT DEFY THOSE WHO WOULD DEFINE HIM AS A HOPELESS ROMANTIC;
‘THE TROUBLE IS, IN SO MANY INSTANCES FORCE CAN NO LONGER BE EFFECTIVELY EMPLOYED. IT CANNOT BE USED BY BRITAIN TO SUPPRESS NATIONALIST MOVEMENTS. IT CANNOT BE USED BY BRITAIN IN DEFIANCE OF WORLD OPINION EXPRESSED THROUGH THE UNITED NATIONS. IT CANNOT BE USED BY GREATER POWERS THAN BRITAIN TO IMPOSE THEIR WILL ON THE WORLD – FOR THE PRICE OF USING IT IS WORLD ANNIHILATION.’
MICHAEL WAS DRIVEN BY GREAT CAUSES THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. CAREER POLITICS HAD NO MEANING FOR HIM. HE SPRUNG FROM THE RICH VEIN OF WEST COUNTRY NON CONFORMISM, AND IMBUED THE RADICAL SOCIALISM OF THE SOUTH WALES VALLEYS. HE TOOK HIS CUE FROM AMONGST OTHERS, S.O. DAVIES, ARTHUR HORNER AND OF COURSE ANEURIN BEVAN. IT MUST BE SAID IN PASSING THOUGH THAT PLENTY OF EFFORT WAS PUT INTO STOPPING MICHAEL FROM INHERITING BEVAN’S SEAT OF EBBW VALE, (WHICH JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE).
OF COURSE MICHAEL WILL ALWAYS BE ASSOCIATED WITH TRIBUNE, FROM ITS INCEPTION IN 1937 TO THE PRESENT DAY, WITH EDITOR CHRIS MCLAUGHLAN SHOWING US HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE. WHEN I WAS EDITOR, MICHAEL NOT ONLY SHARED HIS TAKINGS FROM RUPERT MURDOCH, AFTER THE ‘DIRTY DIGGER’S’ SUNDAY TIMES HAD HILARIOUSLY ACCUSED HIM OF BEING ‘AGENT BOOT’, HE AND JILL, TYPICAL IN THEIR GENEROSITY, OFFERED UP THEIR COTTAGE IN TREDEGAR, WHEN YASMIN AND I HAD OUR HONEYMOON. A NUMBER OF THE WEDDING GUESTS MISSHEARD ‘TREDEGAR’ FOR ‘ANTIGUA’ AND WERE AMAZED THAT A TRIBUNE EDITOR COULD AFFORD SUCH A THING. EACH MORNING, MICHAEL WOULD THOUGHTFULLY PHONE BRIGHT AND EARLY TO SEE WHAT WE WERE UP TO.
MICHAEL’S PASSING HAS DEEPLY MOVED SO VERY MANY PEOPLE. AND WHILE THERE IS A LAMENT FOR WHAT WE HAVE LOST, AND FOR WHAT IN PART WE HAVE BECOME, HE, I THINK, HAD HOPE FOR WHAT WE COULD BE AGAIN. HE WOULD BE WILLING LABOUR ON TO WIN. AND NOW MICHAEL HAS BROUGHT US ALL TOGETHER AGAIN, WE MUST HONOUR HIM BY TRYING TO LIVE UP TO THE INSPIRATIONAL EXAMPLE HE SET.
TO MICHAEL’S WONDERFUL FAMILY, TO JENNY, OUR HEARTFELT COMMISERATIONS.
BUT BYRON HAS THE LAST WORD;
“YET FREEDOM. YET THY BANNER TORN, BUT FLYING, STREAMING LIKE A THUNDERSTORM AGAINST THE WIND.”
MICHAEL, WE SALUTE YOU!
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