Michael Foot

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When Edward Heath, the working class Conservative prime minister, was taking his plans for the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community through parliament his chief critic on the Labour front bench was Michael Foot, the privately educated future leader of the Labour Party. In 1974, the year after Heath took the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community Labour returned to government under Harold Wilson. As Employment Secretary Foot was one of the minority of cabinet members to campaign for the unsuccessful leave side in the 1975 referendum on European Union membership. When Wilson unexpectedly resigned as prime minister in 1976 Foot lost in the subsequent leadership to James Callaghan. After the general election defeat to Margaret Thatcher in 1979 Callaghan clung on as leader for a year, but in 1980 Foot won the leadership election. He fought the 1983 general election of a very left wing manifesto that included nuclear disarmament and leaving the European Union. Labour had its worst election result since the 1920s and that manifesto was blamed, although it was difficult facing Thatcher who had led the country into a victorious Falklands War and with the Social Democratic Party (formed mostly of former Labour MPs) taking many of the votes that would have gone to Labour. After that general election defeat Foot stood down as leader and Labour moved into a period of most MPs supporting the European Union that continues to this day.

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