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Paul Foot 1937-2004

This article is over 19 years, 10 months old
Socialists across Britain are mourning Paul Foot, who died on Sunday. Chris Harman looks at his extraordinary life
Issue 1911
Paul Foot
Paul Foot

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.

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

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