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Michael Foot, The Role of Ideology and The Labour Leadership Elections of 1976 and 1980

By Andrew Crines


The orthodox interpretation of Michael Foot's election as Labour Party leader in 1980 is that it resulted from a left-wing surge within the broader Party throughout the 1970s. This thesis challenges this assumption. It does so by presenting a contextualised analysis of Foot, the Labour Party and the leadership elections of 1976 and 1980. This thesis argues that it was Foot's reputation and loyalty in government that enabled his political evolution to accelerate towards becoming a conciliatory figure during his leadership.\ud \ud \ud To undertake this reconsideration of the orthodoxy, this thesis has adapted a previously\ud illuminating research approach as utilised by Timothy Heppell. Heppell has produced a number of analyses upon ideological compositions of the Conservative Party during leadership elections, and, more recently, the Labour Party. This research approach was initially devised to consider only ideology. The approach has been improved by this thesis by including non-ideological considerations in order to draw out Labour specific factors in this analysis, because the extent to which the approach can be transferred to a different party at a different time required scrutiny.\ud \ud \ud It is also necessary to acknowledge the need for a re-categorisation of the ideological factions within the Labour Party in order to gain a more complete understanding of Labour's ideological eclecticism. The social democratic right, the centrists, the inside left and outside left demonstrate that the simple assumption of 'left' and 'right' conceals a more complex Parliamentary composition.\ud \ud \ud It is important to contextualise the analysis with a philosophical and historical discussion\ud which places Michael Foot within Labour history. This enables a greater understanding of why he became the Labour leader to emerge. Foot's appropriateness as leader can only be fully appreciated by considering those who influenced him and his career in the Party along with the divided nature of the Labour Party over the period prior to his election.\ud \ud \ud Through these discussions it becomes clear that Foot was able to secure the leadership because of his loyalty to the Labour Party, his record in government, and his Parliamentary interpretation of socialism which separated him from the outside left. This enabled him to be a leader the mainstream of the Party were able to broadly accept at a time of extreme division. His increased appropriateness as leader becomes more evident when contrasted against the likelihood of destructive divisions had a more ideologically dogmatic candidate such as Denis Healey or Tony Benn secured the leadership. The prevailing circumstances as well as the man must, therefore, be considered.\ud \ud \ud This thesis also evaluates Foot's leadership with a view to demonstrate his ability to navigate the Labour Party following his election. The conclusion must be drawn that Labour's ability to prevail without disintegrating illustrates Foot's success as leader, and that the simplistic view that his leadership was simply the result of a left-wing surge is inadequate

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