Foot was initially from a comfortable Radical rural background, which in the early part of the century still looked to the Liberal Party to encompass dissent. Many of Labour's roots in the South of England lie in this non-conformist, pro-Temperance inclination, away from the bitter sense of dispossession felt by the industrial areas. Foot was educated at a Quaker academy, at the behest of his father, Isaac.
After attending Oxford, an experience which provided a long interest with the history of Oxford, as well as Venice, Michael Foot worked for a while with Kingsley Martin at the New Statesman. After being questionably sacked from the New Statesman, Foot wrote a superb book about Munich, Guilty Men, indicating explicitly his ties with those involved in Popular Front activities. Similarly to many at the time, the 1930s were to colour much of his future political perception.
During the war, Foot edited the Evening Standard, having established a respect for the style and female entourage of newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook. This job finished after Foot commissioned an expose of Conservative right-wing links with Mussolini. Beaverbrook refused to let the Standard run the story, so Foot left.
In 1945 he became an MP for Plymouth Devonport. In 1948 - 1950 Jennie Lee and he were editors of Tribune, a journal which was then extremely loyal to the Government. However, as a writer in early 1951, he launched a massive attack on Gaitskell, sparking off a huge row. Throughout the 1950s, his journalism for Tribune was a major factor in the success of the magazine. Foot wrote prolifically across a range of issues, leading to his high-profile involvement with CND in the late 1950s. (see section on Tribune)
Supportive of Harold Wilson during the 1960s, Michael Foot has played a pivotal part in Labour governments since in establishing a dialogue with the Left of the Party. Michael Foot did protest privately at the incomes policy, attitude towards the Vietnam war and Wilson's extreme caution in changing any part of the British constitution.
However, he still refuses to write Wilson or Callaghan's administration off - and persuaded others on the left to retain an open mind as to these governments' achievements. Through much of his career, Foot has attempted to downplay and nullify the divisions between Labour leaderships and the left-wing activists who work to put them in power.
His refraining from overt criticism of the Blair regime is therefore entirely characteristic. For Foot, the enemy is always the Conservative Party.
Foot became a front-bench spokesman for the first time in 1970, after Labour had lost an election. He showed what Barbara Castle has described as an element of 'ruthlessness' as Secretary for Employment in 1974-76, then was moved, becoming Leader of the House. In the days of wafer-thin majorities, this job took on a significance that is normally lacking.
As a politician, Foot's time as leader, 1980-1983, can perhaps be best seen as a troubled epilogue for a highly principled socialist with flair and a distinctive style. He even made donkey jackets fashionable for a time, indicating the way that press attacks before and since have actually strengthened his inner resolve and enhanced the loyalty that he has inspired among people.
Micheal Foot can be seen as the antithesis of Thatcherism, representing non-material values, a thirst for knowledge for knowledge's sake and a passion for the English language. As a politician, it is possible his significance has always been more cultural than practical.
As a Foreign Secretary, Foot would have been a scholarly ambassador for a Britain, but through much of his political life, he has been negotiating between domestic factions.