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Paul Mackintosh Foot (8 November 1937 – 18 July 2004) 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 Jamaica 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.
Foot was born in Haifa, Palestine, during the Britsh mandate. He spent his youth at his uncle's house in Devon, in Italy with his grandmother and with his parents (who lived abroad) in Cyprus and Jamaica. He was sent to what he described as "a ludicrously snobbish prep school, Ludgrove [near Wokingham in Berkshire], and then to an only slightly less absurd public school, Shrewsbury, in Shropshire."  Contemporaries at Shrewsbury included Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and several other friends who would later become involved in Private Eye.
Anthony Chenevix-Trench, subsequently the Headmaster of Eton College, was Foot's 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."
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 University College at the University of Oxford, where he read Law, and wrote for Isis, one of the student publications at the University.
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, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and the biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher which had just been 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, Foot joined the International Socialists, the 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. 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.
In 1964, he went to work on the new The 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." Foot 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 the magazine 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."  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. 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 the Khmer Rouge Cambodian dictator 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.
Foot was an expert on the poet Shelley, and wrote a pioneering book (Red Shelley) which exalted the radical politics of Shelley's poetry. He was a bibliophile, following in the steps of his grandfather Isaac and uncle Michael. He also wrote books about the radical union leader A J Cook and a detailed study of parliamentary democracy in Britain, published posthumously, entitled The Vote.
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 also asserted that a former British intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, had been framed for manslaughter with a view to suppressing Wallace's allegations of collusion between British forces and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
Foot took a particular interest in the conviction of Abdelbaset 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.
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 confirmed Hanratty's guilt.
A tribute issue of the Socialist Review, on whose editorial board Foot sat for 19 years, collected together many of his articles, while issue 1116 of Private Eye included a tribute to Foot from the many people with whom he had worked. Three months after his death, on 10 October 2004, there was a full house at the Hackney Empire in London for an evening's celebration of his life. The following year, The Guardian and Private Eye jointly set up the Paul Foot Award for investigative or campaigning journalism, with an annual £10,000 prize fund.
Paul Foot was married twice, to Monica Foot and Rose Foot and had a long term relationship with Clare Fermont. He had three sons and a daughter from these three relationships. His eldest son John Foot is an academic and writer, Matt Foot is a lawyer, Tom Foot is a journalist while Kate Foot is at school (2011).
He was a great fan of West Indian cricket (he used to say that George Headley, no less, had taught him to bat) and a faithful follower of Plymouth Argyle FC. He was also a classy opening batsman and a passionate golfer.
“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).
|Editor of Socialist Worker|