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Former Labour leader Michael Foot dies

Former Labour leader Michael Foot has died, aged 96, Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced today.

Mr Straw told MPs he had been told of Mr Foot's death and went on: "I am sure that this news will be received with great sadness not only in my own party but across the country as a whole."

He added: "He was held in very great affection in all sections of the House and across the country."

Labour former deputy prime minister John Prescott said in a message via Twitter: "So sad to hear about Michael Foot.

"A great man has died. He was the heart of our movement."

Tony Benn, who stood against Denis Healey for Labour's deputy leadership in 1981 despite Foot's appeal for him to avoid a divisive battle, also paid tribute.

Mr Benn told Sky News: "He was a very formidable writer and a very powerful speaker, electrifying audiences.

"He was a great credit to the Labour movement. I know he did not win the election, but the fact that he became leader and fought the election puts him in the top list of figures in the history of the party."

Mr Straw told MPs: "Those of us who knew Michael Foot well, have a great many memories of him.

"I simply say that I have one particular memory of Michael Foot - I was a new backbencher sitting on one of the benches over there in November 1980 and there was a run-off competition between Denis Healey and Michael Foot for the leadership of the Labour party."

The Justice Secretary told of how Mr Foot had made a speech which "suggested to me that he had a line into the Almighty".

Mr Straw said: "I witnessed this speech and so did the rest of us with the same incredulity that I witnessed the imagination behind a Mozart concerto.

"He just held the House, he'd got no notes, just a couple of newspaper cuttings."

David Cameron said Mr Foot had been a "remarkable man".

"He was a brilliant speaker," the Tory leader told talkSPORT radio. "I'm obviously not old enough to have been in the House of Commons at the same time, but reading some of his speeches (they) were incredibly powerful."

Mr Cameron added: "He was a very intelligent, witty, amusing and thoughtful man.

"Obviously it is very sad news that he died today.

"He had an extraordinary life but they will be mourning the death of a remarkable man."

Mr Foot died shortly before 7am this morning at his home in Hampstead, north London, sources said.

He had been ill for some time with fading health and had been receiving 24-hour care.

Lord (Denis) Healey, who was defeated for the Labour leadership by Mr Foot in 1980 then served as his deputy leader until 1983, said he was "very, very sorry to hear of his death".

Lord Healey said: "I was a great admirer of Michael's. He was a brilliant speaker.

"Although we disagreed very much over policy, I was very glad to serve under him as deputy leader.

"I don't think he should be remembered only for the 1983 election defeat, because he made a tremendous contribution to the Labour Party when its future was on a knife edge.

"I think I will remember him for supporting the party in all circumstances."

Mr Foot first became MP for Plymouth Devonport in 1945, before becoming MP for Ebbw Vale and Blaenau Gwent.

He was Employment Secretary in the 1974-76 Labour government under Harold Wilson and went on to become Leader of the Commons between 1976 and the 1979 general election.

In 1980 he became leader of his party, defeating Denis Healey to win the prize, but led it to disastrous defeat at the 1983 election - with Labour's manifesto being dubbed the "longest suicide note in history".

Mr Foot was famously derided for wearing what was characterised as a donkey jacket at a Cenotaph remembrance ceremony, although he always insisted he had sported a smart car coat.

Although his appearance was often mocked, his oratory inside and outside the Commons was famed.

He was succeeded as Labour leader by his prodigy and fellow Welshman Neil Kinnock, who took on the hard left and sowed the seeds of New labour.

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