Thursday, 4 March 2010

Michael Foot and the smashed watch trick

On the radio last night they played a great clip of Michael Foot in Parliament assualting Keith Joseph with typical wit and grace. He compares Keith Joseph (one of the hard men of the Thatcher cabinet at that time wandering the country in bewilderment at the industrial 'reorganisation' they had set off) to a magician he used to see in the theatre in Plymouth as a young man, who would obtain a watch from someone in the audience, carefully place it under a handkerchief and then smash it with a mallet. He would then look completely puzzled and announce he had forgotten the second half of the trick...

This made me think two things. Firstly, how the genuine the 'laugh' is when it comes, from the other MPs, and how different that is to today's yahboo behaviour in the house - although there are one or two genuine wits left, notably William Hague, perhaps surprisingly, in themain the barracking and pantomime behaviour would get MPs excluded from any decent comprehensive. Secondly, and more importantly, how relevant the story is today. As all parties try and sound both tough and magical about cuts, hearing Michael Foot's elegant scorn illuminate the real issue, I couldn't help wonder whether the second half of the trick is any better known thirty years on. If it is isn't, only those with the money to buy new watches will be laughing.

(You can hear the clip 55 minutes into the programme here for the next few days.)

Michael Foot and the value of hope

I was really sad to hear the news of Michael Foot passing - although at the ripe old age of 96. I saw him speak a couple of times in the 1980's, once in the run up to the 1983 election and once after that heavy defeat. He was as powerful an orator as I've ever seen in this country. Perhaps not unrelated, he was also one of the most cultured politicians you would find. For him politics and culture and history were not seperate categories, nor were they contained from the real world struggles of real people.

Inevitably much reference has been made to that 1983 election, although his life had been a long and distinguished one even by then, and the tributes have tended to subtly state he was, well, mistaken but passionate and committed. Even at the time of the 1983 election, I thought he was treated unfairly. (I got to vote for the first time in that election, on the day of an English Literature A level exam. We played The Beat's Stand Down Margaret through the 6th Form Common Room in a vain - in all sense of the word probably - attempt to influence voters using the school. It was 14 long years before I got to vote for a candidate that actually got in.)

Thinking about that, and what (and who) Michael Foot represented, I was reminded of something Vaclav Havel said: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Checking that quote , I came across this: “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” That seems to me what Michael Foot was about, win or lose. In that he differed from the breakaway SDP who really cost the country that election, and their spiritual progeny in all parties. Would that there were more like him still around.

(I know I'm leaving very shortly, but I suppose I should state: personal views, not Arts Council views.)