Paul Foot 1937 - 2004
Paul Foot won thousands to socialism

Socialists across Britain are mourning Paul Foot, who died on Sunday. Chris Harman looks at his extraordinary life
Socialist Worker, July 21st 2004


PAUL WAS a brilliant socialist writer, a speaker more able than any other to make people see what was wrong with capitalism, a tireless campaigner against injustice, and an investigative journalist whose revelations caused the resignation of a Tory cabinet minister and exposed the corruption of businessmen, big and small.

He became a revolutionary socialist when he was a young journalist working on Scotland’s Daily Record.

He came from a privileged background. His father was governor of British-run Palestine and then British-run Cyprus, and Paul attended Shrewsbury public school, joining the Liberals when he was at Oxford University.

It was contact with the realities of working class life and the working class movement in Glasgow in the early 1960s that transformed his ideas. He was never to look back.

Within a couple of years he was editing the precursor of Socialist Worker, Labour Worker, and then went on to write three devastating books.

Immigration and Race in British Politics detailed the scapegoating of successive generations of immigrants, from East European Jews in the 1890s to Afro-Caribbeans and Asians in the early 1960s.

The Politics of Harold Wilson tore apart the record of the Labour government elected in 1964. And The Rise of Enoch Powell showed how the political establishment—including Labour—capitulated to the racism of the far right.

Meanwhile Paul was also exposing the faulty evidence that had led to the hanging of James Hanratty for murder in 1961.

In his fortnightly column in Private Eye he began an investigation into the network of corruption around the systems-building of high rise flats.

This led to the jailing of Labour’s Newcastle supremo T Dan Smith, and the resignation of Tory home secretary Reginald Maudling.

He was at the heart of the wave of struggle of the 1970s, from the occupation of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971 through the miners’ strike of 1974.

It was then that he began a six-year spell working full time on Socialist Worker.

He used his journalistic skills to bring the spirit of the struggle into the paper, to show the machinations of the upper classes, and to convey socialist ideas in a language that was accessible to people who had never come across them before.

His book Why You Should Be a Socialist took the message to thousands of people.

The book that changed  my life...

His energy did not flag with the downturn of the struggle in the late 1970s.

He was with the miners when they were driven down to defeat in 1984-5 just as much as he had been with them when they were victorious ten years earlier.

His weekly page in the Daily Mirror of the 1980s became a beacon of light in the dark Thatcher years.

It ensured that the meetings he did in all parts of the country, often two or three times a week, always got an enthusiastic audience.

When a new management purged left wing journalists from the Daily Mirror in 1992, Paul was in the forefront of those putting up resistance and lost his job as a result.

His journalism in these years exposed one of the great miscarriages of justice—the case of four men convicted of “the murder on the farm” of Carl Bridgewater.

It also brought to light the amazing story of how Colin Wallace was used by British intelligence in Northern Ireland to smear the 1974 Labour government and then framed for a killing in a south coast town.

Paul was first taken ill five years ago, and that reduced his capacity to speak at meetings.

But his commitment continued, with a fortnightly political column in the Guardian and a fortnightly page in Private Eye.

He ran for mayor of Hackney as the Socialist Alliance candidate 18 months ago, and stood on the list for the London Assembly as a Respect candidate last month.

Just a fortnight ago he was promising to resume his regular column in Socialist Worker, and just a week ago he had an audience spellbound at the Marxism festival of socialist ideas as he laid into New Labour.

He will be missed by everyone on the left, by every active trade unionist, by every opponent of racism, and by everyone who simply wants a better society.


Paul Foot, radical columnist and campaigner, dies at 66

Michael White, political editor and Sam Jones
Monday July 19, 2004
The Guardian

Paul Foot, the most seductive revolutionary socialist of his generation, died yesterday after having a heart attack en route to a family holiday in Ireland. He was 66 going on 21 and had been seriously ill but very busy for several years.
He was a campaigning journalist, orator and political radical who stood for public office, always unsuccessfully, as recently as his attempt to be elected mayor of Hackney in 2002. His life and frustrations were shared by many who also worked ceaselessly for the Socialist Workers party, for trade unions, for those wrongfully imprisoned and other unpopular causes.

What made Foot, a Guardian columnist for more than 10 years, different was his energy and character, which combined to make him a tenacious investigative reporter admired and supported by people who would never dream of endorsing his Trotskyite politics.

It was widely accepted that, come the revolution, Paul would vote against his old bourgeois friends being shot and be shot himself not long afterwards. "I'm known as a Bollinger Bolshie," he once explained, when offering to buy the champagne.

An old friend, the writer Francis Wheen, said last night: "Paul had an absolute belief in the power of the written word. That explains why he wrote for everyone, from the Mirror to the London Review of Books."

The scion of a famous family of west country Liberals, dotted with MPs and peers, Foot's father, Hugh, later Lord Caradon, was governor of Cyprus during the independence battle with Britain in the 1950s. His uncle was the former Labour party leader Michael Foot.

They enjoyed an affectionate combative relationship which combined politics and literature. When both were reduced to using walking sticks, they could often be seen outside Charing Cross bookshops, arguing and waving their sticks - "knocking the poor tourists off the pavement," another friend recalled.
Though a child of privilege, educated privately and at Oxford, Foot reacted fiercely against his own background after going to work as a trainee journalist on the Daily Record in Glasgow.

It started the long march leftwards from which he never retreated, though he mocked contemporaries who did. They thought him admirable but irresponsible "in the best and the worst ways". But few attacked him for hypocrisy, knowing that his zeal for justice and the underdog was the driving force of his life.

The list of books he wrote includes polemical attacks on mainstream politicians like Harold Wilson and Enoch Powell, exposés of miscarriages of justice, including the Carl Bridgwater murder case and the execution for murder of James Hanratty, and a biography of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the scourge of reactionary Toryism after Waterloo, who was his great hero.

Earlier this year he persuaded Private Eye, for which he had worked on and off since its inception, to publish a special FootNotes supplement, attacking Labour private finance initiative. Last year it was a scandal in the Inland Revenue.

It was the NHS at the Homerton hospital in east London that saved him when he suffered a ruptured aorta in March 1999. He was close to death, unconscious, then bed-ridden for many months. But he pulled through.

Last night Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said: "Paul came to the Guardian 10 years ago as an exile from Robert Maxwell. He pioneered the art of the investigative column, ferreting facts out of the unlikeliest places and knitting them into a commentary. He was a one-off, and we'll miss him terribly."