Socialist Worker

Tributes to Paul Foot: ‘He chose to be a traitor to the ruling class’

Issue No. 1911


Jim Nichol, solicitor

I met Paul when I was 15 years old, about 40 years ago. I begged him in 1972 to come to Socialist Worker, to leave the lucrative Private Eye work to work for virtually nothing on the paper.

The miscarriage of justice cases were only a fraction of what he did.

He was an extraordinarily humble man. He had a way of understanding oppression, and was able to translate what he saw in a way ordinary people could identify with.

He lived for today to be able to change tomorrow.


John Tipple, former seafarer

Paul Foot had a great impact on me. One story I remember is from Ipswich when a skinhead attacked him from the floor and accused him of being middle class.

He came back saying, “I’m ruling class. I choose to be a traitor to my class because they disgust me.” It was a great retort.

He came to my defence when I was up for riot after the poll tax protest. He was writing for the Daily Mirror at the time

Millions read about my case.

He was the first speaker I heard. It was 1977, during the firefighters’ strike. It caused me to leave the Labour Party and join the Socialist Workers Party.

Then, during the Ford’s strike, hearing him speak encouraged me to organise solidarity strike action among seafarers in Harwich. There’s no question I was motivated by Paul – the clarity of his arguments, his humour.

For a ruling class man to get a working class grunt to pay that much attention showed how good he was.


Ann Whelan

I’ve known Paul for 24 years. I remember his sincerity and generosity with his time.

He was such a wonderful friend. He really inspired me to fight for justice in our case. He’s left such an enormous gap. He touched many lives.

I contacted Paul about my lad Michael, one of those convicted in the Bridgewater Four case. I’d been in touch with many people. They had sympathy but nobody would touch it.

People wouldn’t touch such a thing as murder then. It wasn’t fashionable. But he believed in what he was doing.

Paul was gutsy and brought belief to the fight for justice. He could sniff it out.

I drew inspiration from him. He was my hero. I’m really going to miss him.


Tony Benn

Paul was an outstanding man in every way. I’ve known him for many years.

His integrity, ability, courage and his contribution to the public debate raised the whole level of public understanding. He had a big impact well outside the branch of the left he felt to be his home.

He was a contrast to the shallow spindoctoring and manipulation in modern parliamentary politics. He was like a beacon.

I remember the night of his first heart attack in 1999. We had been speaking together. Then he appeared the next year at Marxism in his wheelchair and got a standing ovation.

I remember teasing him, saying it was never his legs we admired, but his mind and his heart.


Mike Carden, former Liverpool docker

I remember being at a restaurant in London with him, Ken Loach and John Pilger.

It was a dream come true for a working class lad.

Paul and the SWP gave so much support, in my opinion faultless support, through the two and a half years of our dispute.

It was greatly appreciated by the rank and file dockers.

He was a great speaker with a really good sense of humour. It’s a shame to lose someone who was in a position, especially in Guardian articles, to voice the opinions others only think about.


Colin Wallace

We had a bizarre relationship. My background was in the security services in the 1970s.

Our roles were reversed. I was from a working class family but then went into the establishment. He was from a ruling class background but took up the cause of the working class.

He was known to me, as we had to collect information on protest and the left.

Then our lives changed. I met up with him in 1987. He turned up at my home after I was released from prison.

We just hit it off. Then he started writing his book Who Framed Colin Wallace?

We joked about his chaotic way of writing, which was even worse than mine. I went round to his house and the whole floor was covered with bits of paper. But he knew where everything was.

He had a phenomenal memory. Even after his first heart attack he could recall dates and names, and more of the detail of my case than I could.

He was one of the few safety valves for people with nowhere else to go, including myself.

His books and articles were stories the system did not want to look at. My conviction would never have been overturned if he hadn’t written the book.

It forced a key admission from Thatcher and three government inquiries. It was one good piece of bloody-minded journalism.


Sheila Hemingworth

When Paul was editor of Socialist Worker he asked me to write a series of articles over six weeks on everyday experiences.

It was after he had come to Leeds and taken part in our battle against the fascists.

I was really scared about writing. But he said, “Don’t worry if you can’t get the punctuation or spelling right, we can sort that. Just get writing.”

I did it, and it was a wonderful experience, even though it took a lot out of me. He gave me so much confidence. I was called a Paul Foot groupie because I used to sit in his meetings totally mesmerised!

He showed concern for people like myself and for the plight of the miners’ wives. He always remained a revolutionary socialist despite the background he came from.


Barry White, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and NUJ

Paul Foot was unique, combining the best in investigative journalism with a wonderful ability to analyse complex situations and ideas, presenting them in an understandable and often humorous way.

A master of the polemic, a great orator and lover and writer of great literature, above all, he never lost the socialist vision that a better world was possible—a task we have to continue in his memory.

I have shared many hours, some frustrating, and many uplifting, especially in the last few years, watching with him the changing fortunes of Plymouth Argyle. Sadly he will miss their return to Division One in a few weeks time.

Paul lived a good and great life. He will be sadly missed, but never forgotten.


Balwindar Rana

I was most shocked and saddened to hear about the untimely death of Paul Foot, who I saw only last week give a most informative talk about the Chartists at Marxism.

I first met Paul almost exactly 30 years ago at the demonstration against the National Front march in Leicester in 1974. Later on that year I invited him to address a rally of more than 1,000 people in Gravesend to mark Indian Independence Day, organised by the Indian Youth Federation, whose president I was then.

At first Paul was a bit anxious as he was not sure how he would be received, as the audience were mainly Asian families. But he got an almost immediate and tremendous response from the listeners when he attacked the racists in the most humorous way.

Afterwards he said to me that he was very pleased and he would be happy to address any more such rallies, which he did a number of times.

No matter what type of audience, Paul was always very informative and inspiring.


John Rees

Paul Foot was the greatest campaigning journalist, socialist writer and orator of his generation.

Only one other contemporary politician, Tony Benn, shared his ability to communicate socialist ideas so directly and convincingly to working people.

Paul’s popularity deceived many in the political mainstream.

They thought that it came in spite of his revolutionary convictions, not because of them.

But the very root of Paul’s politics, and his great personal generosity, flowed from his lifelong belief in socialism from below.

On this issue Paul will have the last word. His best, last book is still with the publishers.

When it comes out, the abiding theme of capitalism and democracy will reveal that Paul Foot was as determined to turn the world upside down in his last years as he had been in his youth.

I have lost a great personal friend, working people everywhere have lost a great champion, and the Socialist Workers Party has lost one of its greatest advocates.


Jo Benefield

He was our voice. He conveyed all of our experiences, our triumphs and defeats with so much passion and humour.

The first time I heard him was when I travelled over in a minibus to Darlington. I didn’t expect to go to a political meeting and hear people laughing out loud.

I also remember his speeches on Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Chartists.

A lot of us end up resorting to certain phrases. But he had his own individual voice and a turn of phrase.

He put both at the service of our movement.

Once when he came to speak in Bristol he was involved in a dispute while working on the Daily Mirror. He was so excited about it.

I am so proud to be part of the same party he was in.


John Pilger

Paul Foot was one of the greatest journalists, not only of his generation, but of many generations. He was also a great socialist.

The combination is very natural. Great journalists have a regard, above all, for humanity.

And Paul’s unerring principles were applied to the betterment of his fellow human beings.

His great triumphs in journalism are well known. But I knew him as a very close friend, and his compassion, total loyalty and wit were things I shall always treasure.

He was both a friend and a comrade, or if I can speak personally, a brother in arms, and I miss him and salute him.


Hugh Kerr , Scottish Socialist Party

I knew Paul Foot for over 40 years. Paul was a great speaker, a wonderful writer, and a socialist who always retained optimism and humour in the cause of socialism.

Scotland was always important to Paul. It was here in the early 60s as a trainee reporter he became educated in the ideas of revolutionary socialism that guided his life.

He was very supportive of the Scottish Socialist Party, and was delighted when the comrades in the SWP in Scotland decided to join us.

He will be greatly missed in Scotland, and I know he will want us not to mourn but to organise for socialism.


Alice Greenlees

I remember hearing Paul Foot speak on the poet Shelley at the Skegness annual event we had many years ago.

I hadn’t heard him and people said, “You must go. He’s really inspiring.” It was just as people said it would be.

It transformed the whole way I thought about the poems. Then I heard his voice again on the radio this week when they replayed an interview he had done.

It was nice to hear him celebrated and get a bit of recognition.

His meetings made you feel like you weren’t completely mad to believe in socialism, that it is possible.

Paul Foot’s funeral will take place next Tuesday, 27 July, at 4pm at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, off Finchley Road (Golders Green tube)


Article information

Obituary
Sat 24 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1911
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