has died at the age of 96.
The harsh truth is that the circumstances where he became Labour leader should never have come about: the ideal scenario, as I have said so often, would have been for Heath to win in February 1974 (which he was several different whiskers away from doing), Tory moderation to be vindicated and neoliberalism within the party held back, and Labour to reform but crucially without going neoliberal, ready to govern the country in the 1980s, perhaps with Shirley Williams becoming the first female PM in about 1979. Among many other things, this would most likely have prevented Murdoch from rising to his current dominance, because he built his empire largely on working-class readers in the second half of the '70s shifting from the Daily Mirror to The Sun because they felt alienated and no longer really represented by the unions, and had the unions not been given the chance to take the piss, many fewer people would have felt the Mirror no longer spoke for them.
Foot made the best of the worst possible situation - it has often been said that he was imposed on a disintegrating party partially by centrists who wanted an excuse to form the SDP, wilfully unaware that the first-past-the-post system made such a breakaway effectively unworkable. It is a great tragedy of British history that Labour was so divided at a pre-Falklands moment when it was enjoying massive public support - in contrast to Thatcher's early unpopularity - and could still have fundamentally reset the national agenda, had it been united. I would not have wished his situation - leading Labour just at the time when his strengths (intellectual debate and public meetings) had decisively declined in importance, and the crude tabloidisation of the British political sphere was really beginning to change everything - on my worst enemy.
For all the faults of time and chance which led to 1983, he was a great man on every possible level. It is one of those rare deaths, like that of Robin Davies, that - however many times you'd imagined it - leaves you feeling more spiritually alone, isolated and bereft than you'd ever thought possible. If I feel separated from something I know so well I find it hard to believe I never really experienced it, I cannot begin to imagine how those who lived through the battles where he was constantly so prominent are feeling. Many may feel a sense of victory, but at least as many will, I think, feel that bit more alone than they did a week ago. Sometimes, the passing of time affects us most when its effects have been held back the longest.