Soon after he became Labour leader, Michael Foot travelled to St Albans for an open air meeting for the agricultural workers’ trade union. I was its head of communications, and we knew there was to be a demonstration by the left against Foot’s Northern Ireland policy.

 I intended to meet his car and bring him to the meeting place by a back route, but he came in by a different route from the one I expected, and the first I knew of his arrival was when Val Corbett (wife of the then Labour MP Robin Corbett) told me he was in the middle of a shouting gang of demonstrators. I wriggled to the front. Thirty or so young men had surrounded him and were screaming at him and brandishing their placards, their faces a few inches from his.

And Foot? This man of almost 70 stood entirely alone, a small, frail-looking figure surrounded by tall, fit young men, many of them a head taller than he was, his stick firmly planted in the ground, taking them on, not allowing himself to be browbeaten for an instant, roaring out his arguments, shouting them down, not giving an inch.

I shouted to him, he saw me, his face changed instantly from a mask of anger and determination to a courteous smile, and he let me lead him through the crowd to the platform. They followed, and, from the platform, he took them on.

As he started his speech, he seemed old, frail, hesitant, appealing to his tormentors to allow him first to address rural affairs, promising he would not leave without addressing their concerns. They knew that they had to let him do this, or the crowd would turn against them, and they went silent. He talked about rural affairs for a while, then without warning moved swiftly onto an angry, passionate, fast, fluent defence of his Ireland policy. They were a second too slow, and by the time they started to try to shout him down, he had the initiative, and beat them over the head with his fury and his idealism. He won hands down. So much for the weak leader the press talked of.

Soon after that I was seconded to work for the Labour Party, and was with Foot in several big crowds in bye-elections and in the general election. His courage and fluency never failed, nor did his courtesy and kindness; he always appreciated anything we were able to do for him.

The 1983 election result would have been much the same whoever was leader. It’s often suggested that Denis Healey as leader might have produced a better result, but he would not, for two reasons. First, the Labour left of that time had a death wish, and no leader could have defeated that. Second, contempt for age and for history was a characteristic of the sixties, and has ensured that politics cannot, for the time being, benefit from the wisdom of older people – and Healey was only a little younger than Foot. The days had gone when Winston Churchill could become prime Minister for the first time at 69 and save his nation, or Clement Attlee at 62 and lead the greatest reforming government of the twentieth century, or Harold Macmillan at 62 to turn his party’s fortunes round and lead one of the century’s most successful administrations. This was the start of the age when a Liberal leader could be hounded out of office for being in his sixties.

Which is a great shame, became Michael Foot in his seventies would have been one of our greatest Prime Ministers.