The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today responded with great sadness to the news that one of its key founders, Michael Foot, has died. Michael helped launch CND at its founding meeting – attended by thousands – at the Central Hall, Westimnster on 17th February 1958.
From CND’s earliest years, Michael Foot held the view that the way forward for nuclear disarmament was winning the policy in the Labour Party. Speaking in 1958, he stated: ‘Only through the election of a Labour government and the political pressure which we may exert afterwards can we succeed.’
As leader of the Labour Party in the 1980s, Michael Foot continued to back nuclear disarmament. When Labour lost the election in 1983, critics rushed to make his defence policy responsible for the defeat. In fact, the bulk of the party was committed to disarmament and there were clear majorities in public opinion polls against cruise, Trident and US nuclear bases in Britain The key factor in the defeat was the Social Democratic Party split from Labour, which massively cut the Labour vote and split opposition to the Conservative Party. So although the Conservative vote fell and they were outpolled by Labour and SDP combined, they won the election.
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said “Michael Foot’s principled position on nuclear disarmament has long been used to explain Labour’s defeat in 1983, and justify pro-nuclear policies from the Labour Party leadership. But the 1983 election was not an endorsement of Mrs Thatcher’s nuclear policy. We deplore the dirty tricks campaign carried out at that time against Michael, designed to undermine his campaign. Opinion polls show that his views on nuclear disarmament are today shared by the majority of the British electorate across the political spectrum – a fact that our politicians would do well to recognise as they head into a general election. We send our deepest sympathy to Michael’s family and friends.’