With the death of Michael Foot, the British parliamentary left has lost one of its towering figures. Politician, journalist, campaigner, scholar, Foot was also one of my early political heroes. When I was studying British Constitution 'O' Level in the early Seventies, we went on a school trip to the Houses of Parliament. While we were milling around in the lobby, a familiar shock of white hair flitted across our line of sight, and an awed whisper passed from boy to boy - 'It's Michael Foot! (thanks to the influence of our teacher, we were Tribunites to a man). It was the first time I'd seen a famous politician in the flesh (unless you count the dreary experience of watching the local Tory MP, Norman St. John Stevas, campaigning outside the shops on our estate).
Even as my politics moved in a Marxian direction in the Eighties, I retained an affection for Foot. He was, after all, the first leading Labour politician to quote Gramsci in a party conference speech. OK, so maybe his time as Labour leader wasn't his finest hour, but the sneering at him on the Tory benches and in their lackey newspapers simply because of his dress sense was shameful.
He was one of the few major politicians of our time - and maybe the last? - who was also an accomplished scholar and intellectual. Here he is, in one of his last public appearances, unveiling a memorial stone to one of his heroes (and another of mine) William Hazlitt, in St. Anne's churchyard, Soho, in 2003: