10 November 1980: Michael Foot elected Labour leader

On this day in 1980, Michael Foot won the Labour party leadership election, steering the party into its worst-ever general election defeat.

Michael Foot and wife Jill
Michael Foot with his wife Jill after being elected
(Image credit: © Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

A disastrous general election defeat followed by a hard-left' politician being elected to lead the party, it's not hard to see why Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party of 2015 has been compared so often to Michael Foot's of 1980. Both have been charged with being too left-wing, and of making Labour unelectable. But is the comparison really fair?

On 10 November 1980, 35 years ago today, Michael Foot beat the favourite, Denis Healey, to take the reins of the Labour party. It had recently been dumped out of government by Margaret Thatcher's Tories, and now found itself in opposition. But it was worse than that. The party was tearing itself apart.

Tony Benn and his Bennites' were on the left of the party; on the right were the social democrats. Michael Foot was the compromise candidate at least in the context of the Labour party. "Foot's greatest success was ensuring there was a party to hand over to Kinnock after 1983. He was not elected to win power", writes Dr Andrew Crines for The Huffington Post blog. "He was elected leader to guide the party through a time of civil war".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

And he didn't have to wait long for his first big battle. In March 1981, the Gang of Four' Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams broke away to form the Social Democratic Party. The Labour Party was plunged into crisis. It was fighting to stay alive, never mind win an election.

In the run-up to the 1983 general election, Labour published its manifesto a list of promises and aspirations that proved to be its undoing: massive state spending to the tune of £11bn, sweeping nationalisations, a state oil company, a national investment bank' to manage the wealth coming from North Sea oil, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and withdrawal from the European Economic Community (EEC). It was, as Labour politician Gerald Kaufman famously put it, "the longest suicide note in history". Labour has returned to a many of these policies under Corbyn.

It was the most catastrophic election for Labour since 1918, with Mrs Thatcher being returned to power. It was also, incidentally, the election that saw a young Jeremy Corbyn enter Parliament. Foot resigned the leadership a few months later.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.