In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Michael Foot’s FathersD.A.N. Jones

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
My Life with Nye 
by Jennie Lee.
Cape, 277 pp., £8.50, November 1980, 0 224 01785 3
Show More
Debts of Honour 
by Michael Foot.
Davis-Poynter, 240 pp., £9.50, November 1980, 0 7067 6243 6
Show More
Show More

If Jennie Lee, Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot had achieved Cabinet rank together in the 1960s, the United Kingdom would be in better shape now. ‘That is my truth,’ as Bevan used to say. ‘Now tell me yours.’

What have they in common, though, this leftist Gang of Three, the Englishman, the Welshman and the Scot, Bevan, his wife and his friend, all from such different backgrounds? They have similar opinions, of course: but what of their human and moral nature, their style of writing and speaking? It may be worth noting that all three are childless and parentful: all three have been devoted to Protestant Christian parents and have (to my regret) firmly rejected the faith of their fathers.

Jennie Lee’s new book, My Life with Nye, is a valuable personal footnote to Foot’s public life of Bevan, adding some of the private matter which Bevan’s widow may publish, at this date – matter which it would have been improper for Bevan’s friend to print in the 1960s. The first part of her book is light-hearted; the later chapters reflect the pain of life – and she writes, more than once: ‘I prayed again to the God in whom I did not believe.’ She prints an alarming letter to her husband, about ‘desolation and nihilism of spirit’, adding: ‘Thank God I held on to enough sanity not to send that lettter.’ The reader may feel, quite seriously, that he is intruding upon private grief – but the grief is closely associated with a large public matter, the question of nuclear weapons. It was in this period, the late 1950s, so Jennie Lee tells us, that Foot and Bevan quarrelled deeply about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. ‘So tense was the strain on their relationship that they almost came to blows. Michael’s gifted wife, Jill Craigie, was the peacemaker. She also helped me to understand that however harsh the strains on Nye and myself, Michael and she were almost at breaking-point ...’

To the Bevan and Foot couples, ‘defence policy’ has never been merely a matter of party points and parliamentary victories. It demands a spiritual recognition (in Jennie Lee’s words) ‘of the yawning hell opened up at our feet by all that nuclear warfare could mean’. So large an argument is bound to add a new bitterness to the often agreeable pugnacities of adversary politics. ‘The stomach ulcer that killed Nye was brought on by tension and repression,’ writes Jennie Lee:

Even now the old bitterness wells up inside me when I recall the depth of his sadness during the hysterical attacks on him by some anti-bomb warriors who ought to have known better. Of course they were not all like that. Michael Foot and Nye, for instance, quarrelled violently. But there was no poison in the blows they rained on one another.

This, I suggest, is where rhetoric proves its virtue. As used by men like Bevan or Foot – or Churchill, come to that – it is the equivalent of fighting by Queensberry rules. There are some who do not like Mr Foot’s style of rhetoric, as instanced in his sonorously-titled book of essays, Debts of Honour: it is felt that he exaggerates his likings and his enmities, that he ought not to announce that his wife’s room is ‘a shrine dedicated to the cause of women’s rights’, that his father must have been ‘the happiest man who ever lived’, that Foot loved Lord Beaverbrook ‘not merely as a friend but as a second father’, that Bertrand Russell ‘became one of the chief glories of our nation and people, and I defy anyone who loves the English language and the English heritage to think of him without a glow of patriotism ... ’

‘What the hell has that got to do with it?’ howls Christopher Hitchens in a New Statesman philippic against Foot. Hitchens would rather examine Russell coolly, drily, as an international philosopher and political thinker. But Foot’s rich, exaggerative style does, undeniably, mirror his subject’s. Russell did, after all, write: ‘Love of England is very nearly the strongest emotion I possess ... ’

There is a time to be very dry and a time to let it all hang out, especially if you wish to argue without wounding. Foot tells the tale of Russell receiving the Order of Merit from George VI – who remarked: ‘You have sometimes behaved in a way which would not do if generally adopted.’ Russell wanted to reply: ‘Like your brother!’ But that would have been hitting below the belt. Instead he replied, very drily: ‘How a man should behave depends upon his profession. A postman, for instance, should knock at all the doors in a street at which he has letters to deliver; but if anyone else knocked on all doors, he would be considered a public nuisance.’ The dry general statements of philosophical discourse offer a means for taking some of the heat out of an argument while disseminating the light – and so do the exaggerations of rhetoric, the laudatory epitaphs, the ferocious denunciations.

In the 1960s, when I was working for Tribune, I went to Michael Foot’s office, to be denounced. He was in charge of the paper, that week, as Dick Clements was on holiday. I had written a front-page piece, headed ‘White as Leprosy’, about a Tory project for harassing blacks; and, for good measure, I had criticised two Labour MPs, Lena Jeger and Roy Hattersley. I felt that Mrs Jeger had supported the policy I favoured with a silly argument and that Roy Hattersley supported it with too little enthusiasm.

Foot was staring out of window, disconsolate that he had to urge me to censor my work. Turning his head, almost shyly, he said: ‘We don’t want to attack our friends.’

‘Oh, but I think we do,’ I replied, sitting down comfortably. He tried sweet reason, man-to-man argument, but I was obstinate. So he switched gear – and denounced me, rhetorically. It was the argumentum ad hominem, the tu quoque, an account of the good work that Hattersley and Mrs Jeger had done on behalf of better race relations – and the repeated refrain he thundered was: ‘And what have you done?’

The denunciation echoed through the thin-walled Tribune offices (none of your thick-doored New Statesman plotting rooms!) and one of the secretaries offered me consolation, afterwards, remarking: ‘He’s kept your headline.’ But I needed no consolation, having thoroughly enjoyed the way the man had made his sound points: I felt like the Tory front bench – or perhaps like Widmerpool having received a banana in the face, from the First XI. It would have been pleasing to say (as Churchill said to Bevan after his maiden speech): ‘Permit me to congratulate you. It is so seldom that we hear a real debating speech nowadays.’

We may well feel that Michael Foot, whether denouncing or laudatory, is inclined to overstatement, that in Debts of Honour, he exaggerates the Leftness and rightness of Swift and Defoe, Disraeli and Beaverbrook: but these essays should be read as debating speeches, countering, for instance, Lord Blake’s disparagement of Disraeli, supporting Bewick’s joyful exaggeration of Hazlitt’s merits – ‘the Prose Shakespeare of our time’. Foot delights us (as Hazlitt and Priestley do) with his delight in great men of the past – and great women, too: until I read Foot’s essays on the Duchess of Marlborough, Defoe and Paine, I had no idea that the author was so strong a feminist.

In the essays about his contemporaries, he is emulating Hazlitt’s collection of profiles, The Spirit of the Age. There is Isaac Foot, of course, the father whom he knows to have resembled both Hazlitt’s father and Isaac D’Israeli; besides Beaverbrook and Russell, we are reminded – in fact, educated – about the rather neglected Brailsford and Silone (respectively, ‘the Knight-Errant of Socialism’ and ‘the New Machiavelli’), about Vicky, the cartoonist, and two delightful eccentrics, Randolph Churchill and Bonar Thompson, the Hyde Park orator. No one in the Labour Movement disparages Michael Foot as an ‘intellectual’ (the way Crossman and Crosland were disparaged): he is seen rather as everyone’s favourite English master who can win us to new reading, to new ideas of tradition, to the modernity of the past.

Bevan, surprisingly, had a similar ability. Michael was brought up in Isaac Foot’s great library, he went to a university – so did Jennie Lee – but Bevan had to make his own discoveries among books and writers. One of his discoveries is a South American philosopher called Rodo, impressively quoted in My Life with Nye and in Foot’s life of Bevan. This sort of statesman needs and appreciates philosophers. Barbara Castle, gleefully broadcasting about Foot’s recent assumption of Labour Party leadership, announced: ‘Michael will be setting his decisions within a philosophic context – which appeals to the soul of the Labour Party.’ It was almost the same with Churchill. Jennie Lee recalls that Churchill, after praising her maiden speech, lent her an American book about economics, hoping to change her philosophy. The bookish will be inclined to seek out Churchill’s man, Garrett, as well as Bevan’s, Rodo.

Jennie Lee is interesting about the relationship between Bevan and Churchill. She reprints a cartoon of the two of them sitting in the Commons, smiling upon each other, as two giants among pygmies. Neither Mrs Churchill nor Jennie Lee liked their husbands going out to see their hoodlum friend, Max Beaverbrook (though Jennie Lee liked working with him, when it came to the crunch, in the Ministry of Aircraft Production). Michael Foot defends his own friendship with Beaverbrook, most spiritedly, in his essay, ‘The Case for Beelzebub’. But to call Beaverbrook his ‘second father’ seems bold. It depends on one’s philosophy about fathers. John McGrath’s first play was called A Man Has Two Fathers – based on the idea that a man with a worthy, authoritative father must find a roguish, wastrel father as well.

There is a book by Tangye Lean called The Napoleonists – about the kind of man who, for good reasons (like Hazlitt’s) or bad, leans over backwards to praise a foreign potentate, a king-over-the-water, a Napoleon, a Stalin or even a Hitler. Such a man is often the son of a worthy, religious and left-wing father; the son cannot rebel against him easily, because the father is himself a rebel against authorities. So the son rebels yet more strongly against the English Establishment, the Court of St James, as substitute for a tyrant father, and then overpraises a foreign potentate, as an alternative father.

It is a pretty theory. I remembered it when talking with Malcolm Muggeridge recently about Kim Philby. Muggeridge was asserting that Philby’s treason had no philosophical or rational basis, but was merely a response to an anti-Establishment father. When I mentioned Tangye Lean’s theory about the ‘psychological type’, Muggeridge said: ‘Like me !’ He was thinking of his own father, a Labour councillor, and (I suppose) of his own criticism of the monarchy, his own youthful readiness to applaud Moscow Communism.

Can we fit Michael Foot – son of much-loved Isaac, pious and left-wing – into Tangye Lean’s pattern? We know Michael Foot’s irreverence toward what some of us call due ceremony and others pomp and flummery. (In fact, on a wall of Buckingham Palace, a mural by Topolski portrays Michael Foot expressing scepticism at a coronation.) But where is Foot’s Napoleon, his king-over-the-water, his diabolical alternative father? Beaverbrook of New Brunswick fits the bill rather well, if the Tangye Lean theory takes your fancy.

This is ‘reductionism’. We might play a similar game with Michael Foot’s taste for Disraeli, explaining it away as fellow-feeling for a rebellious and literary young politician with a bookish father called Isaac, or as a mirror of scruffy Hazlitt taking a delight in dandies (Brummell, Janus Weathercock).

Can we see a touch of agreeable dandyism about Bevan and Jennie Lee in the Thirties? As young MPs they seem très chic, presque snob: the miners’ children move among actors, artists, bohemians, like characters in a film series starring Loy and Powell, or Hepburn and Tracey. Photographs carry the message no less than Jennie Lee’s anecdotes: she reminds us of Jessie Matthews. The Bevans do not come over as bumpkins, but more like an Empsonian pastoral of working-class people behaving the way aristocrats should, the best people using the best language, with no money and high hopes.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.