Michael Foot

Date of birth: 
23 Jul 1913
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
03 Mar 2010

One of seven children of Isaac and Eva Foot, Michael Foot was born in Plymouth in 1913. He attended a Quaker school and there, shaped by the liberal politics of his family, became involved with the League of Nations and the peace movement. He went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at Wadham College, Oxford. He was an active member of the Lotus Club, an Anglo-Indian dining club comprising fifty English and fifty Indians, founded by G. K. Chettur to counter the impression that Indians did not participate in mainstream university life. He was President of the Liberal Club in 1932 and President of the Oxford Union in 1933. He also became friends with the Indian writer D. F. Karaka, who succeeded him as President of the Union.

Foot joined the Labour Party in 1935 while working in shipyards in Liverpool’s docks. In the same year he stood unsuccessfully as Labour candidate for Monmouth. His socialism was, from the start, ‘framed…in an international context’ and he had ‘a special affinity with India and the Indians’ (Morgan, p. 45). V. K. Krishna Menon was a significant influence on his political development. Foot contributed to Menon’s collection of essays by recent Oxford graduates titled Young Oxford and War, and admired Menon’s work as chairman of the St Pancras Education and Library Committee. He campaigned for the Socialist League with Menon, and joined his India League, heading, in the early 1940s, a campaign for the inclusion of India in the application of the principles of freedom set out in the Atlantic Charter, and speaking at numerous League meetings. He was, however, disturbed by the links between the India League and the Communist Party of Great Britain, forged by Menon, and opposed to the radical politics of Subhas Chandra Bose, advocating, rather, gradualism in the campaign for Indian independence and encouraging Indian nationalists to cooperate with authorities.

In the late 1930s, Foot began his career as a journalist, working on a range of magazines and newspapers, including, the New Statesman, the Evening Standard, the Daily Herald, and the Tribune. A ‘doer as much as a commentator’ (Morgan, p. 94), he was simultaneously involved in a range of protest movements and organizations in addition to the India League, including the League for the Rights of Man, the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Anglo-Palestine Committee, and remained close to the world of literary protest that revolved around the Left Book Club, Searchlight Books, and Horizon, among others.

In 1945, Foot stood as a candidate for the Labour Party for Devenport in Plymouth, and this time he was successfully returned. Throughout his career in the Labour Party, he was associated with its left wing, and at times his views made him unpopular with its leadership. He served as Secretary of State for Employment from 1974 to 1976, leader of the House of Commons from 1976 to 1979, and finally leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983, when the party was heavily defeated in the General Election.

In 1949, Foot married Jill Craigie who died in 1999. He died on 3 March 2010.


Mulk Raj Anand, Aneurin Bevan, Dr P. C. Bhandari, H. N. Brailsford, Ritchie Calder, Barbara Castle, Stafford Cripps, Rajani Palme Dutt, Victor Gollancz, Keir Hardie, Professor J. B. S. Haldane, D. F. Karaka, George Lansbury, Harold Laski, Kingsley Martin, V. K. Krishna Menon, Indira Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, J. B. Priestley, Reginald Sorensen, H. G. Wells, S. A. Wickremasinghe.

1941 Committee, Independent Labour Party, Labour Party, League of Nations, League for the Rights of Man, Liberal Party, National Council for Civil Liberties, Socialist League.

Involved in events: 

Numerous India League meetings

General Election, 1935

General Election, 1945

Published works: 


Armistice, 1918-1939 (London: Harrap, 1940)

(as ‘Cato’, with Peter Howard and Frank Owen) Guilty Men (London: Gollancz, 1940)

(as ‘Cassius') The Trial of Mussolini (London: Gollancz, 1943)

Brendan and Beverley: An Extravaganza (London: Gollancz, 1944)

Un Inglese Difende Mussolini (Milan: Edizioni Riunite, 1946)

(with Donald Bruce) Who are the Patriots? (London: Gollancz, 1949)

Chapters in:

Menon, V. K. Krishna (ed.) Young Oxford at War (London: Selwyn & Blount, 1934)

Cripps, Stafford, et al., The Struggle for Peace (London: Gollancz: Left Book Club, 1936)

Crossman, R. H. S., A Palestine Munich (London: Gollancz, 1946)


(with R. H. S. Crossman et al.) Keep Left (New Statesman, 1947)

If the Tories had Won (Labour Party, 1947)

Still at Large (Tribune pamphlet, 1950)

Full Speed Ahead (Tribune pamphlet, 1950)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Art Quarterly

Daily Herald

Evening Standard


Hampstead and Highgate Express

Les Lettres Europeennes

Llafur (Journal for the Society for the Study of Welsh Labour History)

New Left Review

New Statesman


Tribune (sometimes under the name of ‘John Marullus’)

Secondary works: 

Karaka, D. F., Then Came Hazrat Ali (Delhi: Popular Press, 1972)

Morgan, Kenneth O., Michael Foot: A Life (London: HarperCollins, 2007)



L/PJ/12/453, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 11


This Indian Political Intelligence file contains documents relating to the activities of V. K. Krishna Menon’s India League during the period 1940–1. The extract below is from a New Scotland Yard Report, dated 27 November 1940.


Michael Foot was in the chair and the speakers were: V. K. Krishna MENON, H. H. ELVIN (secretary, National Union of Clerks), Dr. Maude ROYDEN, S. S. SILVERMAN (Socialist MP for Nelson and Colne), H. N. BRAILSFORD, R. SORENSEN (Socialist MP for Leyton), Mrs Charlotte HALDANE, R. Palme DUTT and F. W. ADAMS (National Council for Civil Liberties).

Michael FOOT opened the meeting and said that it had been called to demand the release of NEHRU and others detained in India for making anti-war speeches and to obtain support for the Indian demand for independence and self-determination. He then read a resolution incorporating these terms. The speakers, he announced, represented all shades of political opinion and it was testimony to the large section of opinion in this country that was opposed to the Government’s policy in India. 


This extract underlines Michael Foot’s commitment to the campaign to free India from colonial rule, and highlights the connections forged between Indians and the British Left in this key period of mobilization for independence.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/453, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras