Paul Foot: Wikis


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Paul Foot, campaigning journalist

Paul Mackintosh Foot (8 November 1937 in Palestine – 18 July 2004 at Stansted Airport) was a British investigative journalist, political campaigner, author, and long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He was the grandson of Isaac Foot, who had been a Liberal MP, and the son of Hugh Foot (who was the last Governor of Cyprus and, as Lord Caradon, the British Ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 to 1970). He was the nephew of Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party, and was educated at Shrewsbury School, an independent school in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and at University College, Oxford.


Early life

Foot spent much of his youth at Trematon Castle, his father's home in Cornwall.[1] He was sent "to a ludicrously snobbish prep school, Ludgrove, and then to an only slightly less absurd public school, Shrewsbury." [2] Contemporaries at Shrewsbury included Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and several other friends who would later become involved in Private Eye.

Anthony Chenevix-Trench was his Housemaster at Shrewsbury between 1950 and 1955, a time when corporal punishment in all schools was commonplace. In adult life, Foot exposed the ritual beatings that Chevenix-Trench had given. As Nick Cohen wrote in Foot's obituary in The Observer:

Even by the standards of England's public schools, Anthony Chenevix-Trench, his housemaster at Shrewsbury, was a flagellomaniac. Foot recalled: 'He would offer his culprit an alternative: four strokes with the cane, which hurt; or six with the strap, with trousers down, which didn't. Sensible boys always chose the strap, despite the humiliation, and Trench, quite unable to control his glee, led the way to an upstairs room, which he locked, before hauling down the miscreant's trousers, lying him face down on a couch and lashing out with a belt.[3]

Exposing him in Private Eye was one of Foot's happiest days in journalism. He received hundreds of congratulatory letters from the child abuser's old pupils, many of whom were then prominent in British life.

After his national service in Jamaica, Foot was reunited with Ingrams at Oxford , where he read Law, and wrote for Isis, one of the student publications at the University.

Early career

In 1961 Foot went to Glasgow to join the Daily Record where he met workers from shipyards and engineering who had joined the Young Socialists. He read, for the first time, Karl Marx, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, and the biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher which was just being published. In Glasgow he met the 'Socialist Review' group, led by 'an ebullient Palestinian Jew' called Tony Cliff. Cliff argued that Russia was state capitalist and that Russian workers were cut off from economic and political power as much as, if not more than, those in the West. Persuaded by what he heard and saw in Glasgow, he joined the International Socialists, organisational forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in 1963. "Of all the many lessons I learnt in those three years in Glasgow" he wrote later, "the one which most affected my life was a passing remark by Rosa Luxemburg. She predicted that, however strong people's socialist commitment, as soon as they are involved even to the slightest degree in managing the system on behalf of capitalists, they will be lost to the socialist cause." He wrote for Socialist Worker throughout his career and was its editor from 1972 until 1978. He continued to write a regular column for the Socialist Worker until he died.

Apart from his greatly respected work as a campaigning journalist, he was also known as an extraordinarily entertaining and gripping orator. He spoke at thousands of meetings for hundreds of left-wing and socialist causes, frequently trying to persuade audiences of the relevance of revolutionary socialism.

Newspapers and magazines

In 1964 he went to work on the new Sun and into a department called Probe. The idea was to investigate and publish stories behind the news. However, the whole Probe team resigned after six months. "The man in charge turned out to be a former Daily Express City editor." He left to work, part-time, on the Mandrake column on the Sunday Telegraph. He had previously contributed articles to Private Eye since 1964 but decided, in February 1967, to take a cut in salary and join the staff of Private Eye on a full-time basis, working with its editor, Richard Ingrams and its new, sole owner Peter Cook. When asked about the decision later Foot would say he could not resist the prospect of two whole pages with complete freedom to write whatever he liked. "Writing for Private Eye is the only journalism I have ever been engaged in which is pure enjoyment. It is free publishing of the most exhilarating kind." [4] Foot got on very well with Cook, only realising after the latter's death in 1995 how much they had in common: "We both were born in the same week, into the same sort of family. His father, like mine, was a colonial servant rushing round the world hauling down the imperial flag. Both fathers shipped their eldest sons back to public school education in England. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country.[3] Foot's first stint at Private Eye lasted 5 years until 1972, when he became editor of the Socialist Worker.

Six years later he returned to Private Eye but was poached in 1979 by the editor of the Daily Mirror, Mike Molloy, who offered him a weekly "investigative" page of his own with only one condition attached: that he was not to make propaganda for the SWP. Foot stayed at the Daily Mirror for fourteen years, during which time Private Eye occasionally made fun of him, calling him 'Pol Fot' (a pun on left-wing extremist Pol Pot). Foot finally fell out with the new Mirror editor, David Banks, after the death of Robert Maxwell, and a boardroom coup that introduced a programme of "union-bashings and sackings". He left the Mirror in 1993 when the paper refused to print articles critical of their new management (in response to which, Foot distributed copies of the articles to passers-by outside the Mirror's headquarters). He then rejoined Private Eye for a third time, with its new editor, Ian Hislop. From 1993, he also contributed a regular column to The Guardian.


He unsuccessfully fought the Birmingham Stechford by-election in 1977 for the SWP and was a Socialist Alliance candidate for several offices from 2001 onwards. In the Hackney mayoral election in 2002 he came third, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate. He also stood unsuccessfully in the London region for the Respect coalition in the 2004 European elections.

Awards and campaign journalism

Paul Foot was named journalist of the year in the What The Papers Say Awards in 1972 and 1989 and campaigning journalist of the year in the 1980 British Press Awards; he won the George Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1995 with Tim Laxton, won the journalist of the decade prize in the What The Papers Say Awards in 2000, and the James Cameron special posthumous Award in 2004.

His best known work was in the form of campaign journalism, including his exposure of corrupt architect John Poulson and, most notably, his prominent role in the campaigns to overturn the convictions of the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four, which succeeded in 1991 and 1997 respectively. Foot claimed that the former British intelligence officer, Colin Wallace had been framed, in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, and the collusion between British forces and Loyalist paramilitaries. [5]

Foot took a particular interest in the conviction of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, firmly believing Megrahi to have been a victim of a miscarriage of justice at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.[6]

He also worked tirelessly, though without success, to gain a posthumous pardon for James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder. It was a position he maintained even after DNA evidence in 1999 seemed to confirm Hanratty's guilt.

Death and memorials

Foot, a resident of Stoke Newington,[7] died of a heart attack while waiting at Stansted Airport to begin a family holiday in Ireland. He was 66 years old.

A tribute issue of the Socialist Review, on whose editorial board he remained for 19 years, collected together many of his articles. Private Eye issue 1116 included a tribute to Foot from the many people whom he worked with over the years.

On 10 October 2004 — three months after Foot's death — there was a full house at the Hackney Empire in London for an evening's celebration of Foot's life.

He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London, a few yards from Karl Marx's tomb.

In 2005, The Guardian and Private Eye jointly set up the Paul Foot Award, with an annual £10,000 prize fund, for investigative or campaigning journalism.


“Only the working masses can change society; but they will not do that spontaneously, on their own. They can rock capitalism back onto its heels but they will only knock it out if they have the organisation, the socialist party, which can show the way to a new, socialist order of society. Such a party does not just emerge. It can only be built out of the day-to-day struggles of working people.” –Why you should be a socialist (1977).

See also


  1. ^ Paul Foot obituary from Daily Telegraph newspaper
  2. ^ Introduction Words as Weapons ISBN 0 86091 527 1
  3. ^ a b Cohen, Nick (25 July 2004). "The epistles of Saint Paul". The Observer. Retrieved 22 October 2009.  
  4. ^ Words as Weapons Paul Foot, Introduction page xii
  5. ^ See Who Framed Colin Wallace by Paul Foot, Pan 1990, ISBN 0330314467, and, also by Paul Foot, The final vindication, The Guardian, 2 October 2002, and "Inside story: MI5 mischief", The Guardian, 22 July 1996
  6. ^ Paul Foot "Lockerbie's dirty secret", The Guardian, 31 March 2004
  7. ^ Tim Webb (Summer 2004). "Paul Foot". N16, Issue 22. "Paul Foot, campaigning journalist and one of Stoke Newington’s best-known residents, died on 18 July, aged 66."  


  • Immigration and Race in British Politics, (1965), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • The Politics of Harold Wilson, (1968), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • The Rise of Enoch Powell: An Examination of Enoch Powell’s Attitude to Immigration and Race, (1969), London: Cornmarket Press, ISBN 0-7191-9017-7.
  • Who Killed Hanratty?, (1971), London: Cape, ISBN 0-224-00546-4.
  • The Postal Workers and the Tory offensive, (1971?), London: International Socialists.
  • Workers Against Racism, (1973?), England: International Socialists.
  • Stop the Cuts, (1976), London: Rank and File Organising Committee.
  • Why You Should Be a Socialist: The Case For the New Socialist Workers Party, (1977), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-01-4.
  • Red Shelley, (1980), London: Sidgwick and Jackson, ISBN 0-283-98679-4.
  • This Bright Day of Summer: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, (1981), London:Socialists Unlimited, ISBN 0-905998-22-7.
  • Three Letters to a Bennite, (1982), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-29-4.
  • The Helen Smith Story, (1983), Glasgow: Fontana, ISBN 0-00-636536-1, (with Ron Smith).
  • 'An Agitator of the Worst Type': A Portrait of Miners' Leader A.J. Cook, (1986), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-51-0.
  • Murder at the Farm: Who Killed Carl Bridgewater? (1986), London: Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 0-283-99165-8.
  • Ireland: Why Britain Must Get Out, (1989), London: Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-3548-4.
  • Who Framed Colin Wallace?, (1989), London:Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-47008-7.
  • The Case for Socialism: What the Socialist Workers Party Stands For, (1990), London: Bookmarks, ISBN 0-905998-74-X.
  • Words as Weapons: Selected Writing 1980-1990, (1990), London: Verso, ISBN 0-86091-310-4/0860915271.
  • Articles of Resistance, (2000), London: Bookmarks, ISBN 1-898876-64-9.
  • The Vote: How It Was Won and How It Was Undermined, (2005), London: Viking, ISBN 0-670-91536-X.

Further reading

External links



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