Paul Foot

Paul Foot died in July 2004. He wrote 60 pieces for the LRB – on subjects including Leon Britain, the Birmingham Six, MI5, Tiny Rowland, Neil Hamilton, Gordon Brown and (often) Shelley.

No one disputes that the British electoral system before 1832 was a mockery of representation. Members of Parliament did not want or pretend to be representative: the word ‘democracy’ conjured up in the minds of most of them the spectre of the French Revolution and the guillotine. Membership of Parliament was largely in the gift of the rich. Property was represented, not people. A...

Blood Boiling: corporate takeover

Paul Foot, 22 February 2001

For an old Red like me, bowed down by years of Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton and Blair, these two books are full of exhilaration and hope. George Monbiot writes mainly about Britain in a terse investigative style that I had feared was out of date. Naomi Klein, based in Canada, ranges all over the world and writes infectiously with verve and passion. Again and again their themes converge. Both...

Everyone knows that the great accountancy houses, ‘the Big Six’, as they used to be called, wield the most astonishing power in the business world and the economy. Not so many know how much power they wield over the Government. The story of Arthur Andersen, and its burgeoning power, is especially interesting.

Arthur Andersen is a proud survivor of the stampede of top accountancy...

I had managed only one speech against the war in Kosovo when I was carted off to hospital in the middle of the night with what I later discovered was an aortic aneurism. Hardly had the surgeons opened me up than my aorta, an artery which runs from heart to head, ruptured. Almost all such ruptures end in death, and for many weeks I lay in a coma. When I came round, expertly patched up but still without much prospect of recovery, I was plagued by hallucinations. Chief among these was the heroic speech I had made not about Kosovo but to the massed ranks of the women’s liberation movement in South Australia, from whose congress, I was quite sure, I was returning when I fell ill. It was only when I finally convinced myself a) that I had never been to South Australia in my life b) that if ever I did go there I was most unlikely to be a key speaker at a women’s liberation congress and c) that the hospital where I was lying was not, as I had thought, on a sandbank near New Guinea but in Homerton, East London, a quarter of an hour’s drive from home, that I asked about the Kosovo war. When I heard that it was still raging, supported not only by the New Labour Government but also by the Guardian and several left-wing journalists whose opinion I had previously respected, I was finally brought to my senses by that faithful old pick-me-up for sick socialists, indignation. Could the Government, I wondered fitfully, survive such a monstrous war? Indeed, could the Government survive at all? The war seemed to be a symptom of the diseases which had struck down the previous two Labour Governments: support for US imperialist adventures abroad and impotence in the face of corporate power at home. The Kosovo catastrophe was proof of the first. The reversal, in the face of the most extravagant and impertinent opposition from US power monopolies, of the Blair Government’s attempts to encourage the coal industry by curbing the growth of gas, proof of the second.

When I heard that Christian Wolmar was to write a book about the transport company Stagecoach I rejoiced that one of the great privatisation scandals of our time would at last be fully exposed. My hopes faded with the first sentence. ‘This book was written with the active co-operation of Stagecoach’s senior executives.’ After ‘initial doubts’, Stagecoach’s founder and driving force Brian Souter ‘gave his time for a series of lengthy interviews’. Souter no doubt worried that the hours he spent talking to Wolmar might prove a poor investment. He must be utterly delighted with the result. A billion pounds’ worth of advertising would not buy Stagecoach so extended and glittering a puff. The praise for Souter himself starts in the first chapter and goes on and on and on. He has an ‘exceptional business brain’, he is (passim) a ‘genius’, he is also ‘an ideas man’, a ‘pacifist’ and even from time to time has ‘socialist instincts’ and ‘does believe in public transport’ (provided, presumably, it is privately owned). ‘Hardly anyone dislikes him’; he is at the same time ‘an old trade-union hand’ and ‘a frontiersman who conquered the West’. ‘The secret of his success is built on relationships with people’ and ‘he is head and shoulders above most businessmen of his generation.’ The book ends with an excited little orgasm of flattery and gratitude. ‘His certainty, his confidence and his encyclopedic knowledge, combined with the fact that he is an affable, pleasant, charming and very agreeable man, made him into an extremely engaging fellow … he lifted my sights quite substantially.’ Wolmar imagines that Souter ‘will hate to see this in print’, so we can obviously add modesty to his talents. The genius of Brian Souter carries all before it in this ‘classic rags-to-riches tale from the frontiers of capitalism’. Each decision, each acquisition, is reported as part of the ascent to the peaks of capitalism made by Souter and his sister Ann Gloag. The reader is left with the unmistakable impression that anyone can end up, as Gloag has done, in a Scottish castle, if they have charm, genius, an exceptional business brain and a few socialist and pacifist instincts.‘

Mr Straight and Mr Good: Gordon Brown

Paul Foot, 19 February 1998

‘Happy are they,’ Hazlitt wrote, ‘for whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar.’ Judging from this hagiography, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be very unhappy. The guiding star of his youth has entirely vanished from his firmament. In 1975 the young Gordon Brown compiled, edited and published a socialist manifesto entitled Red Paper for Scotland. At 24, he had just completed a three-year term as rector of Edinburgh University and chaired the University Court in the face of continuous opposition from some of the most powerful men in Scotland. The central political problem of the age, he wrote, was ‘the sheer enormity of the gap between people’s conditions of living and their legitimate aspirations’. This gap could easily be filled by the ‘social forces of production’, but those forces were held back by the so-called free market. It had become ‘increasingly impossible to manage the economy both for private profit and the needs of society as a whole’. The solution had to be drastic: ‘a massive and irreversible shift of power to working people’ and ‘a framework of free universal welfare services controlled by the people who use them’. This was a slightly altered version of Labour’s Programme 1973, which called for FAIS, a ‘fundamental and irreversible shift of power to working people and their families’. Brown argued that a Labour government should bring under public control (without compensation) the building, food, insurance and pensions industries, energy, land, shipbuilding, textiles, banking, and all monopolies and multinationals. The undemocratic and divisive power of these organisations had to be challenged by the new Labour Government since part of the problem was the ‘accumulative [sic] failure’ of previous Labour Governments to deal with it.‘

Prince and Pimp

Paul Foot, 1 January 1998

‘Are we all bare-faced liars?’ The question came from Jonathan Aitken, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, in January 1994. It was put to the then editor of the Guardian, Peter Preston. The words ‘we all’ referred to Aitken himself, his wife Lolicia and his faithful Arab friend Said Ayas. The answer to the question was ‘yes’. They were all bare-faced liars, but none more so than the debonair minister himself. Why did he lie? Preston’s question was trivial: who paid for Aitken’s two nights at the Paris Ritz in September 1993? The truth was that the bill had been paid, via Said Ayas, by Prince Mohammed, heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia. There was nothing especially horrific about this. Aitken’s association with the Saudi monarchy was well known. A couple of nights at the Ritz cost a thousand quid or so – a bagatelle in Aitken’s world. True, he had not declared any such benefit in the MPs’ Register of Interests, and the acceptance of Ayas’s largesse conflicted with the Rules for Ministers – but this was a minor breach, easily dealt with by an admission and an apology.’‘

Hanratty! The name which has haunted the British criminal justice system for a generation is about to hit the headlines again. Some time in the next few weeks Baden Henry Skitt, former Scotland Yard Commander and Chief Constable of Hertfordshire, now a chief investigator for the Criminal Cases Review Commission, will draft a public statement on the A6 murder, for which James Hanratty was hanged in 1962. The Commission chairman, Sir Frederick Crawford, has hinted to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that the statement will be sensational.

Half Bird, Half Fish, Half Unicorn

Paul Foot, 16 October 1997

I was a friend and devoted admirer of Peter Cook for thirty years but I never realised until I read this book how much our early lives had overlapped. We 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. At one stage both fathers were ensnared in the argument about the most appropriate capital for the West Indies Federation: an argument as vexed as it was futile since the Federation lasted only a few months. Both fathers shipped their eldest sons back to public school education in England. He was bullied and then promoted to high office at Radley, I at Shrewsbury. We both had sisters called Sarah who were sent to school in Dorset. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country, where we were both fired with a passion for hopeless football teams: he for Torquay United, I for Plymouth Argyle. We both, even, had abdominal operations in 1948. In 1956, or thereabouts, the similarities dissolved. He brilliantly avoided National Service and went early to university, where he quickly established himself as a comic genius.

Wigs and Tories

Paul Foot, 18 September 1997

If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, it follows that the enemy of Michael Howard is my hero. So awful was Howard’s long reign at the Home Office that many liberals sought democratic relief from the most blatantly undemocratic section of the establishment: the judiciary. It was the strange sound of Law Lords denouncing Howard’s preposterous insistence that ‘prison works’ and the widespread jubilation at his many snubbings in the courts that led to liberal hosannas for the judges. And the judges in turn were happy to see themselves as Supreme Keepers of the Public Liberties. On the right, Mr Justice Laws called for a ‘higher-order law’ under which judges could overrule elected governments in the interests of the people’s ‘fundamental freedoms’. On the left, Mr Justice Sedley wrote: ‘Modern public law has carried forward a culture of judicial assertiveness to compensate for, and in places repair, dysfunctions in the democratic process.’ In the centre, Lord Woolf: ‘I myself would consider there were advantages in making it clear that ultimately there are even limits on the supremacy of Parliament which it is the courts’ inalienable responsibility to identify and uphold.’ Common to all three was the notion that the judges are the obvious people to intervene wherever ‘dysfunctions in the democratic process’ emerge.

The market taketh away

Paul Foot, 3 July 1997

The Church of England has always been run by wealthy people, who could never understand why pressure was exerted on them from below to control the Church’s wealth or, worse, to share it out among the poorer clergy. But the contradiction between the Church’s gospel and its behaviour eventually became too much even for Parliament. A law of 1840 created a body of 95 Ecclesiastical Commissioners and gave it the power to distribute the revenues of the cathedrals and bishops where the clergy needed it most. This organisation very soon started to show signs of the malaise it was set up to cure. One man, Charles Knight Murray, assumed great power over the Church estates, but forgot to tell the Commissioners that he was a director of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway and an eager speculator in railway shares. To pay for his prodigious share purchases, he intercepted and converted for his own use Church money drafts to the value of nearly a quarter of a million pounds in today’s money. In 1849, he was found out. He pleaded with some justification that his speculative abilities had produced a lot of money for the Church and he was not prosecuted. But for the next hundred years Church investments were kept well away from speculative adventures. The property the Church now bought was, in the main, low-rent housing in the inner cities, where it gained a reputation as a benevolent landlord.

When did it suddenly become obvious that the Tories were going to lose the election? Was it that golden moment when Michael Portillo, that scourge of unnecessary public spending, announced that £60m of public money was earmarked for a new yacht for the richest woman on earth – even though Her Majesty had made it plain she did not want one? Was it this deranged belief in the popular devotion to the monarchy which finally sealed the Tories’ fate? Or was it the announcement soon afterwards by the once rational Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, that the answer to the mounting horrors of the London Underground is to flog it off to the likes of Stagecoach plc? Sir George timed his announcement to fit in sweetly with the news that Stagecoach, having just won the biggest of the new railway franchises, had set about balancing the books in the way they know best – by sacking train drivers. No one at Stagecoach foresaw the difficulty of running trains without drivers – and trains were cancelled all over the place, to the mounting fury of all those supposedly Tory Home Counties commuters. The prospect of Stagecoach slashing services and bashing unions on the London Underground nailed up the coffins of many London Tory MPs, including Sir George’s. Or was it the announcement the following week that everybody’s pension should be lobbed into the grateful fingers of the insurance and pension companies which had so successfully swindled four billion pounds from half a million workers in previously safe occupational schemes? Or was it the bizarre spectacle of nice Mr Major mounting his soapbox to speak up, as he put it, for the ‘have-nots’ – meaning, presumably, the income-supported poor, struggling to survive on slashed benefits or without trade unions in insecure jobs, whom Major’s ministers, and many of his supporters, had so mercilessly clobbered for the past six and a half years?’

Dear Mohamed

Paul Foot, 20 February 1997

Betty Boothroyd has called on the media to provide ‘fairer and better balanced coverage’ of the House of Commons. ‘Above all,’ she has warned, they ‘should not use the occasion for highly generalised and unsubstantiated comments against Members of the House as a whole and the Parliamentary system’. The ‘occasion’ to which she refers is the inquiry being conducted by a new officer of her House, Sir Gordon Downey, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Sir Gordon is investigating allegations of corruption made against certain MPs by the Guardian newspaper. The allegations referred to payments and relationships between MPs, lobbyists and businessmen dating back more than ten years: ten years in which the media now berated by the Speaker displayed an almost unanimous reluctance to refer in any way to these delicate matters.

Dashing for Freedom

Paul Foot, 12 December 1996

In early 1983, Rupert Murdoch, Britain’s most powerful newspaper proprietor, offered the editorship of the Sunday Times to the crusted royalty-worshipper and Tory, Alastair Burnet. Burnet refused, pleading old age, but came up at once with an alternative. ‘You should,’ he told Murdoch, ‘go for the best young journalist of his generation.’ ‘Oh yeah,’ Murdoch said,‘and who would that be?’ ‘Andrew Neil of the Economist’ was Burnet’s reply. What is our source for this extraordinary conversation? The aforesaid Andrew Neil, on page 25 of this book. Though he immediately describes Burnet’s assessment as ‘inaccurate’, Neil devotes most of the 450 pages which follow to endorsing it. Front-line journalists usually have a high opinion of themselves, but Neil’s self-regard is loud, unique, indestructible. As he plods doggedly through his 11 years editing what he describes as one of the most influential newspapers on earth, he is continually dumbfounded by the sheer scale of his achievement.’

The abject surrender of Neil Hamilton, the ‘envelope man’ who changed the law so that he could sue the Guardian for libel, deprived the nation of an exhilarating and informative court case. When the Guardian alleged that Hamilton, Tory MP for Tatton, had taken money from Mohammed AI Fayed, chairman of Harrods to lobby Parliament against a Department of Trade inquiry which eventually denounced Fayed as a liar, the cocky MP announced that he was at last going to get even with the liberal press. He sued for libel, but the case ran into the sand because any allegation in court of corruption against an MP is technically a breach of Parliamentary privilege. Hamilton untied that knot at once. Supported by Lady Thatcher, Lord Archer and the entire Parliamentary Tory Party, he conspired to force through Parliament an amendment to the Defamation Act which allows MPs to waive their privilege in order to sue for libel. Backed by his new law, Hamilton charged back into court and, a few months later, hit more solid buffers: the facts. The Guardian insisted on discovery of all relevant documents from the Government and the Tory Party. A huge flow of paper about Hamilton and his paymaster/co-plaintiff, the lobbyist Ian Greer, emerged for the first time. The decisive revelation was a tape-recorded conversation between Hamilton and the First Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Heseltine, in which Hamilton denied any ‘financial relationship’ with Ian Greer. Greer knew he had paid, and realised his fellow plaintive would be exposed in court as a liar. He told Hamilton he wanted to fight the case separately, with a new set of lawyers. The unity of the plaintiffs was broken, and the towel, plus a £15,000 contribution to the Guardian’s costs, was thrown sullenly into the ring.

Diary: The Buttocks Problem

Paul Foot, 5 September 1996

It’s rare to be able to test a book against one’s own direct experience of its subject-matter. I therefore make full use of mine, as a pupil at Shrewsbury School in the Fifties. In his Foreword to a new biography of Anthony Chenevix-Trench, one-time headmaster of Eton, Sir William Gladstone writes that Trench’s ‘interest was in drawing out the best from boys as individuals’. Another interest, not mentioned by Sir William, lay in drawing down the underpants of boys – as individuals – before ordering them to lie on his sofa while he spanked their bare buttocks. In his Introduction, the author Mark Peel pays tribute to Trench’s ‘common touch’ without referring to his most common touch of all: the sensuous fingering of his pupils’ buttocks before and during the interminable beatings. He goes on to describe Trench’s ‘contribution to the life of the school’, in this case Bradfield:’

Keeping Quiet on Child Abusers

Paul Foot, 4 July 1996

Under intense pressure from an outraged public and press, the Government last month set up public inquiries into two monstrous scandals involving serial sexual abuse of young people and children in homes in which they had been placed for their own ‘care’. The first inquiry is into abuse in private and council homes in North Wales and follows an earlier inquiry commissioned by Clwyd County Council (now disbanded) and conducted by a high-powered team of three experts led by John Jillings, a former director of social services in Derbyshire. That inquiry concluded that ‘appalling’ sexual abuse went on for years in homes throughout the area. Jillings’s report was so devastating that Michael Beloff, a QC who specialises in libel, warned Clwyd Council not to publish it in case the council received some nasty libel writs. The council’s insurers also warned against publication. Indeed, they said that if the report was published and any of the abused young people sued the council, they would not stump up any damages. Thus pressurised, the councillors kept the report secret. The Secretary of State for Wales, Boy Wonder William Hague, also refused to publish it.

Per Ardua

Paul Foot, 8 February 1996

If you’d scanned the British industrial and financial scene in the boom spring of 1988 you would not have found a more successful, cockier City gent than Gerald James. A public school education and a distinguished career as an accountant among the big names of the City (Barings, Ansbacher, Singer and Friedlander, Hill Samuel) had prepared him perfectly for his chairmanship of Astra, a burgeoning, middle-ranking arms and explosives company which he had built up since 1981 with the help of the directors of a Scottish fireworks company. Elegant, hard-working, well-mannered, with two sons in the Army and an MP on the Board, James was breaking into the big time. He was invited to dine at The Parlour, a secret club whose purpose is to introduce politicians and businessmen to intelligence chiefs. He lunched regularly at the Institute of Directors. He was even invited to attend the British industrialists’ equivalent of Mecca, the ICI golf championship at Troon. He had become, fleetingly, an honorary member of the ‘Savoy Mafia’, a group of arms manufacturers and dealers who met in the Savoy suite of Alan Curtis, a close friend of Denis Thatcher, to discuss their contracts and the chances for more of them. He had met everyone he needed to know. He had met Denis Thatcher and Mark at an arms fair. He had several times come across Stephen Tipping, Mark’s ambitious and thrusting partner in the defence business. No establishment door was shut to him.

Tearing up the Race Card

Paul Foot, 30 November 1995

Every Tory attempt at ‘renewal’ – the staged leadership election last summer is a good example – pushes the Party closer to the abyss. Every poll indicates that they are losing more heavily than ever before. There is one possible remedy. Labour may be soft on immigration. The electorate may be scared away from its obvious intention, even at this late hour, by the prospect of hordes of foreigners being seduced into the country by Jack Straw. Several ministers, some for lack of any other strategy, some out of an instinctive xenophobia, press the Prime Minister to ‘play the race card’. The hawks on this subject are the two Michaels, Portillo and Howard, whose fathers were both immigrants, and Peter Lilley, whose holidays in his house in France enabled him to break into colloquial French in the course of a ludicrous comic turn about foreigners coming to this country to partake of the social services which he is assiduously dismantling. As always when a course of action is urged on him by his enemies in the cabinet, whom he describes as ‘bastards’, nice Mr Major rolls over on his back and pants happily in agreement. The Queen’s Speech makes it clear that immigration and political asylum will be an issue at the general election. Judging from the predictions of the very right-wing Hugh Colver, who has resigned in disgust after a few months as chief Tory press spokesman, there will be no holds barred. No doubt Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney will be in close touch with his colleague Peter Griffiths, the MP for Portsmouth North, who first won a seat in Parliament in Smethwick, in the general election of 1964, by concentrating heavily on the race issue. It was in that election, without the sanction of Mr Griffiths, that the slogan first appeared in stickers, leaflets and verbal sallies on the doorsteps: ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.’’

Those Suits

Paul Foot, 7 September 1995

Reviewing this book gives me a chance to indulge in my most bitterly regretted journalistic failure. In the autumn of 1987, shortly after the famous libel action in which Jeffrey Archer successfully sued the Daily Star for suggesting he’d had sex with a prostitute, a curious document arrived at my office at the Daily Mirror, where I wrote a weekly investigative column. The document was a copy of a pro forma shoplifter’s report from the Robert Simpson Company Ltd, which owns a department store in Toronto. The report was timed at 10.40 a.m. on 18 November 1975, and was in the form of a voluntary statement, as follows: ‘I Jeffrey Howard Archer do state that I took merchandise to the value of $540, the property of the Robert Simpson Company Ltd, on November 18 1975 without paying for same and without permission.’

Buying and Selling

Paul Foot, 6 April 1995

Can you spot the difference between the following passages? The first is a dissertation by a student seeking an MA degree in philosophy at a British university:

Up the Levellers

Paul Foot, 8 December 1994

‘The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he.’ This assertion by Colonel Thomas Rainborowe in November 1647 seems almost a cliché, as much part of the democratic history of England as the Magna Carta or the Tolpuddle Martyrs or Paine’s Rights of Man. Yet for two and a half centuries after Rainborowe said his piece, no one knew anything about it. The Colonel’s controversial view was expressed in the middle of a furious debate at the General Council of the New Model Army, which was meeting in Putney at the height of the English Revolution. The debate was scribbled down in shorthand by the Army secretary, William Clarke, who had a remarkable knack for appearing at and recording decisive historical events. He was, for instance, on the scaffold at Westminster 14 months later, on a cold January morning in 1649 when King Charles had his head cut off.

The Common Touch

Paul Foot, 10 November 1994

This is a story of a hero. The Times described him as the ‘first and the finest’ of all the heroes of the Golden Age of Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher had a penchant for ‘swashbuckling’ entrepreneurs, especially ones with Northern accents. When she first met James Hanson, his gentle Yorkshire lilt fascinated her almost as much as his millions. She assumed, as Harold Wilson had several years previously, that Hanson was typical of the self-made man, the hard-working puritan who started at the bottom and worked twenty hours a day until he achieved fame and fortune. Like Wilson, Hanson came from Milnsbridge, Huddersfield, but his origins were not quite as humble as his accent might suggest. ‘The same entrepreneurial spirit that led Mary Hanson to expand her transport business in 1846 – when she began to haul wool and other goods across the Pennines to Manchester on packhorses – pulsed through the veins of her great-grandsons,’ Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe write without a trace of irony.’

Licence to kill

Paul Foot, 10 February 1994

It was the patrician Alan Clark who most accurately summed up the approach of the British and American Governments to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Nothing, he reckoned, was better for business than a lot of foreigners killing one another. This has been true of all foreign wars throughout the ages, but for businessmen of the Clark mentality a hot war in the Eighties which demanded endless supplies of expensive weaponry and technology was almost too good to be true.

Taking the blame

Paul Foot, 6 January 1994

The American investigative columnist Jack Anderson has had some scoops in his time but none more significant than his revelation – in January 1990 – that in mid-March 1989, three months after Lockerbie, George Bush rang Margaret Thatcher to warn her to ‘cool it’ on the subject. On what seems to have been the very same day, perhaps a few hours earlier, Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon, was the guest of five prominent political correspondents at a lunch at the Garrick Club. It was agreed that anything said at the lunch was ‘on strict lobby terms’ – that is, for the journalists only, not their readers. Channon then announced that the Dumfries and Galloway Police – the smallest police force in Britain – had concluded a brilliant criminal investigation into the Lockerbie crash. They had found who was responsible and arrests were expected before long. The Minister could not conceal his delight at the speed and efficiency of the PC McPlods from Dumfries, and was unstinting in his praise of the European intelligence.’

Travels on the left

Paul Foot, 2 December 1993

In the 1929 General Election campaign, the Labour candidate for Aston, Birmingham issued the following leaflet:

£5 Reward!


Mr John Strachey writes: ‘It has come to my notice that Tory canvassers are making the outrageous statement that I am a foreigner. This is a most serious allegation which the Aston Tory Party, utterly beaten in political...

Still it goes on

Paul Foot, 4 November 1993

When prisoners write to me, as they do all the time, protesting their innocence, I always start with the question: ‘Why were you arrested?’ The answer usually gives some sort of clue as to whether their claims can be justified. In Judith Ward’s case the answer gives no clue at all. She was taken off the streets of Liverpool at half-past six one dark wet February morning in 1974. For several weeks she had been living the life of a drifter, sleeping in railway wagons off Euston Station. She had hitched a lift to Cardiff with a friend to spend a single night between sheets. From Cardiff she’d hitched again to Liverpool, where a police car came across her shivering in a shop doorway. She was taken in for questioning for one reason only: her driving licence was issued in Northern Ireland. Ambushed doesn’t help us much about what happened next: Judith Ward doesn’t remember. She was suffering from a serious mental disorder. One result was that she told the police anything she thought they wanted to know.

There is only one Harrods

Paul Foot, 23 September 1993

In the early Fifties the Hon. Angus Ogilvy, after National Service in the Scots Guards and three agreeable years at Trinity College, Oxford, approached his father, the 12th Earl of Airlie, with his plan ‘to do something in the City’. The old earl gruffly dismissed the idea with three monosyllables: ‘They’re all crooks.’ The Earl’s warning, which was ignored, seems to come up like a ghost at the feast throughout this remarkable book.

Diary: The Impotence of Alan Clark

Paul Foot, 5 August 1993

‘In office, but not in power’. It seemed unlikely that anything ever said by Norman Lamont would make history, but this phrase from his resignation speech struck a chord. A common charge against Labour governments throughout the century has been that they have been at the mercy of other people’s power; that the combined influence of hostile bankers, businessmen, judges and media moguls ‘blew them off course’, as Harold Wilson put it. When the Tories are in office, all those bankers and businessmen and judges are their friends. There’s no need or inclination to blow them off course. Then suddenly comes Norman Lamont’s shock claim, greeted by prolonged and fervent ‘hear, hear’ from the Tory benches.

A Damned Good Investment

Paul Foot, 25 February 1993

Everyone knows that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, that diamonds are for ever, but where do the diamonds come from? It’s a question that Keats asked, and he was pretty indignant about the answer.

Dirty Money

Paul Foot, 17 December 1992

When the Bank of Credit and Commerce International was closed down on 5 July 1991, a million people throughout the world lost their deposits. Many of the losers were from the Third World; small businessmen who had struggled to make a living in countries other than their own, and who had been impressed by BCCI’s multilingual staff and its often-trumpeted concern for the starving millions.

‘No view on it’

Paul Foot, 22 October 1992

Mordecai Vanunu is starting his seventh year in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail. He is convicted of treason and espionage and his sentence is 18 years. The few members of his family who are allowed to see him have doubts about whether his mind will last that long. Already there are signs that the remarkable coherence and determination which he showed during the first years of his ordeal are on the wane. If he does go mad, the authorities in Israel will be delighted. They have always presented Vanunu to the world as a misfit, a wayward semi-loon who, in the interests of his country, is best kept locked up.

I jolly well would have

Paul Foot, 20 August 1992

Did Shelley have sex with Claire Clairmont? I first heard this central question debated with great solemnity at a meeting of the Byron Society in Albemarle Street way back in 1978. I went with three fellow Shelleyans, Geoffrey Matthews, Claire Tomalin and Judith Chernaik, to hear Marion Stocking talk about Claire. Marion Stocking’s beautifully-edited Journals of Claire Clairmont had just come out, and she knew more about Claire than all the brains of the Byron Society put together. This did not stop those brains from working away at the Central Question – the sexual relations of Shelley and Claire. The Byron-worshippers were torn between those who were quite certain that anyone who had had sex with Byron (as Claire unquestionably had) could never settle for anything inferior, and those who regarded Claire as an impudent trollop who had dared to seduce the great genius, and then pester him about the consequences. On and on the debate rumbled, until Beatrice Haas, then in her late seventies, rose to rebuke the academics. ‘If I had been with Shelley at Byron’s villa at Este in the spring of 1818,’ she said, ‘I jolly well would have slept with him.’’

Not bloody likely

Paul Foot, 26 March 1992

‘If today,’ writes Eamonn McCann, ‘the Lord Chief Justice were appointed as a one-person tribunal to inquire into a major political problem affecting Ireland, there would be a rattle of empty laughter throughout the land.’ That, he says, is a ‘measure of how far the British judiciary has fallen in esteem over the last twenty years’. There was absolutely no laughter twenty years ago when Lord Chief Justice Widgery was appointed to investigate the killings by the British Army of 13 demonstrators on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972. Most people in Derry probably regarded the appointment of the very top judge as a sign of respect. They were impatient with sceptical references to the fact that Widgery was a former Army officer, not to say a Freemason, that he arrived in Derry in an Army helicopter and stayed in Army barracks. He was, to all appearances, a kindly old gentleman, well-versed in the law, listening courteously to the civilian witnesses who flocked to tell him their story. The analysis and narrative in this, Eamonn McCann’s second book, is interweaved with interviews with relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead. But the book’s central thrust is a clinical and almost embarrassing demolition of Lord Justice Widgery’s report.

When did the Irangate scandal start? The official answer is late 1985. The Tower Commission report, a slovenly document which does not even boast an index, starts its story in that year. Col Oliver North, the man who, according to the received version, thought up the idea of selling arms to secure the release of American hostages in Beirut, tells us: ‘My own operational involvement began … on the afternoon of 17 November 1985.’ The BBC’s Panorama journalist Gavin Hewitt, who is not an admirer of the Colonel, seems to back him up at least in this important detail. ‘Oliver North,’ he assures us, ‘hadn’t been party initially to the arms deals with the Iranians.’ So there were ‘arms deals with the Iranians’ even before North was involved. Or were there? A closer reading of North’s apologia gets us a little closer to the truth.

Right as pie

Paul Foot, 24 October 1991

In Melbourne prison, Australia, in November 1906, Tom Mann, socialist agitator, aged 50, was visited by J. Ramsay MacDonald, newly-elected Labour MP for Leicester, aged 40. Nothing is recorded of what was said. Macdonald may have expressed his enthusiasm at the advance of the Labour Party. He had trebled his vote at Leicester, and the Party now had 29 MPs. He may well have looked forward to the ‘century of the Great Hope’ which so many new social democrats believed was certain to follow the triumph of socialist ideas at the polls. Tom Mann, who was in prison for ‘obstructing the police’ by speaking at a socialist meeting in a Melbourne suburb, would certainly have put his visitors at their case. He had a natural gaiety about him and an unquenchable sense of humour, especially when in prison. But it is unlikely that Ramsay MacDonald left without at least one of Tom Mann’s celebrated jibes at Parliament ringing in his ears. At any rate, Mann did not forget the visit.

Lunchtime No News

Paul Foot, 27 June 1991

Can you tell the difference in principle between these two leaks? In 1983, a young civil servant at the Ministry of Defence was so outraged by her Secretary of State’s plans to head off a demonstration against Cruise missiles that she copied the relevant document and delivered it in an anonymous envelope to the Guardian newspaper. In 1986, if Bernard Ingham’s book is to be believed, during the crisis about the Westland helicopter company, Leon Brittan, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, allowed his head of information, Collette Bowe, to read out to the Press Association a letter from the Solicitor-General to the selfsame Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Heseltine). Neither the Solicitor-General nor Heseltine knew of the leak. The letter, like the document about the Cruise missiles demo, was entirely secret. Though neither document was a threat to national security, both were plainly covered by the terms of the Official Secrets Act which was then in force.


Paul Foot, 7 March 1991

Those of us who seek to publish uncomfortable facts about our fellow human beings are constantly being plagued by the law of libel. That it is a law which most of us detest and fear should not, however, blind us to the fact that we could not do without it altogether. If no one had any redress for libel no one would ever believe a word we wrote. I cannot count the number of letters I get from people who have read my column in the Mirror and say, ‘We simply couldn’t believe your article about X and wonder if you could tell us whether he is suing you’ –or something of the sort. When I worked for Private Eye, this reaction was even more common. Private Eye, one of the very few genuinely free publications in the country, is always falling foul of the law of libel, but if there were no law of libel at all, no one would believe a word in Private Eye, and as a result some of the great scandals of modern times would not have been exposed.’

‘Bye Bye Baghdad’

Paul Foot, 7 February 1991

The Sun (15 January) announces on its front page: THE SUN SPEAKS FOR EVERY MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD IN BRITAIN. This would normally be a joke, a fantastic flight of fancy to prove that editor Kelvin Mackenzie had at last gone mad. But when, the next morning, the Sun devotes its entire front page to the Union Jack with a good old British Tommy in its centre, and the rubric up above SUPPORT OUR BOYS AND PUT THIS FLAG IN YOUR WINDOW, thousands of people do so! The Sun has its best morning for years. The Star, the ailing tabloid from the Express group, has a good time too, starting with its headline (16 January): GO GET HIM BOYS over a picture of a Tornado jet skimming across the desert ‘to blast the evil dictator Saddam Hussein out of his bunker’. ‘War is seldom had for business,’ says a leader in the Times Business and Finance Section, which goes on to hope that a war in the Gulf will ‘pull Britain out of the recession’. Such optimism seems deranged. But as the circulation figures rise, and as the ‘key targets’ in Baghdad fall victim to allied air power, so caution is thrown to the winds and the papers stoke up the war fever they helped to create in the first place.

So what if he was

Paul Foot, 25 October 1990

Here are two more spy books from authors who worked long ago for British Intelligence. George Blake was very left-wing, and is now slightly less so. Anthony Cavendish has always been very right-wing. Both authors write of their profound respect for one of their former bosses, George K. Young. Young, who died recently, was deputy head of MI6 until he joined the merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson in 1961. One of the very few revelations in George Blake’s book is a memorandum which George Young circulated among his admiring agents in the mid-Fifties. It starts by castigating the ‘ceaseless talk’ about the ‘spread of democratic processes’. ‘The reality,’ it went on, ‘is quite the opposite.’ There then followed this illuminating passage:

Changing the law

Paul Foot, 26 July 1990

Whoever thought up the title for this book must have wished it ill. The notion of a radical lawyer in Victorian England is profoundly distasteful. The word ‘radical’ is used both by revolutionaries and reactionaries to pretend that they are not what they are. Comfortable, distinguished and pompous lawyers are apt to describe themselves as ‘radical’ when they take time off from earning their enormous fees to flirt with a little prison reform on the side. Such people flourished hugely in ‘Victorian England’. Common to all of them was the belief that the judicial system handed down through the ages was a guarantee of fairness and justice, and that legal ‘radicalism’ needed to be securely confined in the law courts. Most of these gentlemen were not worth an obituary, let alone a biography.


Paul Foot, 19 April 1990

So excited was Captain Fred Holroyd by his new posting to the city of Armagh in Northern Ireland as a fully-trained officer in military intelligence that he took great care to maintain his ‘cover’. He grew a rough beard before travelling across the Irish Sea, and dressed up in suitably scruffy clothes for the journey. He slunk into his ferry cabin without arousing anyone’s suspicion and locked the door. His first test as an active intelligence officer had been passed. No one had rumbled him or questioned him. He lay back on his bunk in relief. Suddenly the tannoy blared out a message: ‘Will Captain Fred Holroyd please report to the Purser’s Office as he has been chosen to be the military families’ officer for the journey.’

Late Developer

Paul Foot, 22 February 1990

For nearly a century, Labour MPs have been going to Parliament to change the world, but have ended up changing only themselves. Tony Benn is unique. He went to Parliament to change himself, but has ended up determined only to change the world. This extraordinary conversion has taken place not on the backbenches, where a young socialist’s revolutionary determination is often toughened by being passed over for high office, but in high office itself. Indeed, the higher the office Tony Benn occupied, the more his eyes were opened to the horror of capitalist society, and to the impotence of socialists in high office to change it.

Inside the system

Paul Foot, 7 December 1989

One of the first traditionalists to complain when Home Secretary Douglas Hurd referred the case of the Guildford Four to the Court of Appeal was Ivor Stanbrook, Tory MP for Orpington. Mr Stanbrook was worried about the effect on British justice of all this questioning of verdicts in celebrated criminal cases. Yet when the Guildford Four were freed after the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to sustain their conviction, Mr Stanbrook hailed the decision as a ‘vindication of British justice’. The freeing of the Four, he said, showed how British justice could correct its own mistakes. Inside the system, he exulted, the faults of the system had been ironed out.

Whitehall Farce

Paul Foot, 12 October 1989

Hardly a week goes by without the enemies of official secrecy having good cause to sing the praises of James Rusbridger. From his Cornish retreat he sprays the correspondence columns of newspapers with volleys of good sense and good humour. This bluff, meticulous man spent much of his youth as a British businessman in Europe, where he worked in a dilatory sort of way for MI6. Since his ‘retirement’ (he is a prodigious worker who never seems to be at rest) he has become a journalist whose main ambition is to put to flight the sycophantic writers who make fortunes from what he calls the ‘intelligence game’.

Almighty Godwin

Paul Foot, 28 September 1989

Don’t be deceived by title or subtitle. This is not the biography of a family and it is not about the Godwins and the Shelleys. Perhaps the publishers persuaded William St Clair against his better judgment to downgrade his hero in the title and to include the Shelleys, who are more famous. This rich, glorious book is, however, a biography of William Godwin – no more, no less. St Clair himself is described on the dust-jacket as a ‘senior Treasury official’, a horrifying disclosure which emerges elsewhere in the book only in parenthesis (the French monarchy was forced to appeal to the Third Estate, St Clair tells us, because it failed to ‘control the public sector borrowing requirement’ and the philosopher Malthus discovered in the early 19th century what HM Treasury has discovered in the late 20th – that the ‘great economic answer to social misery is to make it worse’). How St Clair gets on with his Malthusian colleagues at HM Treasury day by day is a perpetual wonder to the reader of this book, where, like his subject, he emerges as a genuine Whig, a creature not so much of the French Revolution as of the Enlightenment.’

At the end of this book there is a story about apples (which I repeat as inconclusive proof that I have fought my way through its five hundred pages). An Inspector from a Northern Police Force is musing on the number of people who long for the ‘good old days’ of the local Bobby. ‘Everyone always tells me how they remember being cuffed around the ear by their local Bobby for stealing an apple.’ The Inspector reflects that ‘the streets of this city would be littered with apples, it would be a forest of trees, not just an orchard, for all the people that have said that to me.’ Yet he has never met a single policeman who remembers stopping anyone for stealing an apple. Like Dixon of Dock Green, the cheerful Bobby who was always around the place when any trouble broke out, and whatever the temptation was fair, even-handed and cheerful, it is part all a mirage of the good old days – which were, in fact, bad.’


Paul Foot, 2 March 1989

Many years ago, I was one of many journalists who set sail with high hopes in search of an undiscovered country called Wilsonia. It beckoned from afar across mighty oceans of investigations and tip-offs. The lucky journalist to reach it first would be rewarded with arguably the greatest political scoop of our time: he or she would finally reveal why Harold Wilson, to the astonishment of the entire political and journalistic world, suddenly took himself off to obscurity.

The great times they could have had

Paul Foot, 15 September 1988

A great many books and articles have been published recently about the possibility that a former head of MI5 was the agent of a foreign power. Could there be anything more horrible, more unthinkable? Well, yes, according to Charles Higham’s extraordinary biography, there could. He suggests that not long ago the most dangerous agent of a foreign power was the King; and the second most dangerous was the King’s lover. Both were sympathetic to, and possibly active agents for, Mussolini and Hitler at a time when the British Government was about to declare war on Italy and Germany.


Paul Foot, 4 August 1988

When something awful or unexpected happens in public affairs, we are usually referred to the ‘cock-up theory of history’. This is preferred by realists to the ‘conspiracy theory of history’. That strange or shocking events should be ascribed to mistakes, accidents or coincidences is very much more comforting than the notion that they are part of some sinister plot. Take the example, familiar to readers of this paper, of Hilda Murrell. In 1984, Miss Murrell, a 72-year-old rose specialist who lived in Shrewsbury, was taken out of her house in her own car, driven to a field outside the town and systematically, apparently ritualistically, stabbed. She was left unconscious in the field, where she died of exposure. The Shrewsbury Police announced that the murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong. Their suspect, they were convinced, was a ‘common burglar’. He had, we were told, been surprised by Miss Murrell returning to her home, and had panicked. This was perhaps the first common burglar in the history of petty crime who ‘panicked’ in such a way that he took his victim out of the house, where he and she were relatively unobserved, and in broad daylight drove her through crowded streets to a place where he carried out a ritual murder. There were those at the time who challenged the police assumptions. There were even some conspiracists who observed that Hilda Murrell had been an objector to the proposed new nuclear power-station at Sizewell; that the surveillance of all such objectors had been put out to contract by a high-powered London security firm; and that the contract had been won by an Essex private detective, Victor Norris, whose main credentials were that he was a Satanist, a fascist, and had been sent not long previously to prison for six years for hiring out his own small daughters for the sexual gratification of his associates. Norris wasn’t Hilda Murrell’s murderer – who, everyone agrees, was a man half his age – but the choice of someone like him to carry out this kind of surveillance is an interesting indication of the characteristics required of a nuclear spy.’

Diary: Two Views of John Stalker

Paul Foot, 3 March 1988

In the autumn of 1982 three policemen in Northern Ireland were killed by a landmine planted by the IRA. At once, the Royal Ulster Constabulary plotted their revenge. Acting on information provided by one of their informers in the IRA – who has been paid many, many thousands of pounds – they identified five Republicans who were said to have been responsible for the landmine, and a hay shed which was, according to the informer, used by the IRA to hoard weapons. There is a lot of evidence that the informer’s information was incorrect, and that he himself ‘set up’ the shed as a possible arms store by planting in it two old rifles, without ammunition.’

Diary: Disaster Woman

Paul Foot, 7 January 1988

You can’t blame Thatcher for the October hurricane, but you can blame her for pretty well all the other disasters which have blighted 1987. ‘Disaster Woman’ might be an appropriate nickname for a prime minister who has for so long managed to avoid one. On the whole, she performs quite well at the scenes of the disasters. At Zeebrugge in March and at King’s Cross in November, she hurried to the scene of the tragedy and paraded her unsentimental regrets on television screens. She cannot keep this up for long. Alan Reynolds, whose only son died on the Herald of Free Enterprise, went to the service for the bereaved in Canterbury Cathedral. There was tea for everyone afterwards, but not much sympathy. Alan says he approached Mrs Thatcher and asked her about the miserable terms of compensation which were then being offered by the ferry company, Townsend Thoresen. Thatcher exploded, ‘I don’t think we really ought to be talking about money now, do you?’ and turned on her heel. Alan Reynolds, a building contractor, Tory by nature and tradition, was shocked. By contrast, incidentally, he found Neil Kinnock uncharacteristically willing to listen. Indeed, he said Kinnock brushed aside aides who wanted to take him off somewhere, and listened without interrupting for three-quarters of an hour: quite the best thing I have heard anyone say about Neil Kinnock, ever.

London Lefties

Paul Foot, 17 September 1987

The Greater London Council was set up by the Conservative Government in 1963 because the old London County Council was redistributing wealth of every kind from the London rich to the London dispossessed. A ‘new London’ was created, which extended well into the safe Tory areas in Surrey, Kent and Essex. The new authority seemed certain to be Conservative in perpetuity, but just in case it didn’t turn out that way, the Government stripped the London County Council of most of its more crucial functions, control over which passed to the new borough councils. Although the plan immediately went wrong, and Labour won control of the firstever Greater London Council, the Conservatives were happy with their handiwork. In 1967, they won control of the GLC in a massive swing. In 1969, the Labour Government transferred the bureaucratically-controlled London Transport to the new, elected Greater London Council. There was no complaint from the Conservative Party. Its two transport frontbenchers in the Commons, up-and-coming young hopefuls called Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine, welcomed the transfer, and specifically stated that this would enable the Council, if it felt like it, to hold transport fares down with a subsidy from the rates. Labour won back the GLC in 1973, but lost it to the Tories in 1977, when the new Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, described the GLC victory as the ‘jewel in the crown’. All sorts of ambitious Tories showed an interest in and support for the GLC. Kenneth Baker wrote a pamphlet demanding that the GLC become more of a ‘strategic authority for London’. Patrick Jenkin wrote in favour of the new Tory creation, and its expansion.

Labour and the Bouncers

Paul Foot, 4 June 1987

Bernard Donoughue records something said by James Callaghan, then Prime Minister, just before the 1979 General Election, as the two men were driving home to Downing Street in the official Rover:

An Enemy Within

Paul Foot, 23 April 1987

Which is the more subversive: a group of senior people in the security services who are giving secrets to the enemy, or a group of senior people in the security services who are working systematically to bring down the elected government here? The question would worry most democrats, but for the authors of books about the security services it is no worry at all. To a man, they are absorbed with the first danger. The second danger, they protest, does not exist. Or rather, if it does exist, it is best not to mention it.

Harold, row the boat aground

Paul Foot, 20 November 1986

Since this is such a sad book, let us start with something cheerful. One evening in March 1966, on an assignment to cover the general election campaign in the West Midlands, I found myself at the back of the Birmingham Rag Market, surrounded by what seemed like millions of people. The thousand seats in the front had been taken up long before the start of the meeting. The huge amphitheatre was covered with people standing, jammed together, craning their heads forward so as not to miss a word.

Come here, Botham

Paul Foot, 9 October 1986

The first chapter heading of this book asks: ‘Is Botham in?’ The answer is yes, he is – just. He was selected for England in the last Test against New Zealand, but only grudgingly. Mike Gatting, England’s captain, explained that the real problem was Botham’s bowling. Botham took a wicket with his first ball, another the next over, another soon after that. Then he scored an astonishing 59 not out in 32 balls. Before long, he was having a row with Somerset County Cricket Club Committee, which sacked his two friends Richards and Garner. The row seemed to inspire him. He ended the season with the most sustained display of boundary-hitting in the history of the game. Cricket lovers everywhere rejoiced – not just, I think, at the glory of the stroke play but because every Botham six and every Botham wicket cocked a mighty snook at the gentlemen of the MCC and the Test and County Cricket Board.’

The Card-Players

Paul Foot, 18 September 1986

For several weeks after 21 November 1974 most Irish people in Birmingham took cover. Even the most respected and entrenched felt unsafe. Outrage and grief overwhelmed the city and spread far beyond its boundaries. Twenty-one people had been done to death. Another 162 had been injured, many of them maimed for life. Most were young and working-class. Many were of Irish origin. Not a single one of them could by any stretch of the imagination be held responsible for or even sympathetic to British government policy in Northern Ireland.

The scandal that never was

Paul Foot, 24 July 1986

Profound embarrassment has greeted the publication of R.W. Johnson’s book on the shooting-down of a Korean airliner over Russian airspace. Even its serialisation in the Sunday Telegraph showed signs of embarrassment, as though the editors had not realised what they were commissioning. ‘Experts’ with strong connections with the Central Intelligence Agency have been hired to ‘dispose of’ the book in important people’s newspapers, and most of the media have responded with their most deadly weapon: silence. This embarrassment is not surprising. It is a tribute to the blow which Mr Johnson has struck at the heart of the politics which have dominated the 1980s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Westland Ho

Paul Foot, 6 February 1986

It was the end of a Cabinet meeting and Mrs Thatcher was cross. It was all so silly, so unnecessary. She was half-way through her second term as prime minister – a bad time for most governments, but hers was doing surprisingly well. Earlier in the year, the most dangerous of all the ‘enemies within’, the miners’ union, had been thoroughly beaten in a tough fight. The trade unions everywhere else were humbled and split. The Opposition was fighting itself, and was unconvincing. For a brief moment, almost incredibly, the Conservative Party had established a small lead in the polls.’

All through his short life Shelley loved bizarre happenings and unpredictable human behaviour, so he would have enjoyed himself a lot at Windsor Girls School on 22 June. About a hundred and fifty people came together to celebrate his work. Was this an academic gathering, a place where scholars could show off their latest pedantry to their peers? Not at all. It was organised by Val Price, who works in computers, and Brian Edgar, a secondary-school teacher, on behalf of the Windsor and Maidenhead Labour Party. The idea came to Val Price about a year ago. Shelley, she knew, had lived at Marlow. Should not the Labour Party organise a function there to celebrate his contribution to British radical ideas over nearly two centuries? A committee was promptly set up. They couldn’t find a suitable room in Marlow, so they settled for Windsor Girls School, and fixed on 22 June as the anniversary of Shelley’s drowning at the age of 29.

Smoking for England

Paul Foot, 5 July 1984

Some time in the late 1960s the then prime minister Harold Wilson started using a new phrase to describe the world we live in: ‘pluralist democracy’. The word ‘pluralist’, which had been hanging around for a long time without doing any harm to anyone, meant, I think, ‘accepting many interests and ideas, rather than one’. In pluralist democracy, government plays the role of wise and benevolent chairman, holding the ring for the great interests which ‘jockey’ for power, rather than controlling them. The power of these interests, notably the big corporations, was controlled, it was argued, not so much by government as by the ‘jockeying’ of all the other interests. Government is always there, of course, to check any excess: but those who suggested any extension of government over the great corporations were ushering in a dark age of bureaucratic tyranny. This theory later became the central slogan of the Thatcher-Reagan reaction of the Eighties.


Not that often

15 September 1988

In answer to Diana Mosley’s letter (Letters, 27 October), I quote from Charles Higham’s Wallis, pages 343 and 344: ‘Much of 1952 and 1953 was absorbed in work on the two houses. During this period the Duke resumed and the Duchess acquired a warm friendship … The Mosleys dined at the Mill twice a week, and the Windsors almost as frequently at the Temple de la Gloire.’...

In the bright autumn of my senescence

Christopher Hitchens, 6 January 1994

If there is one term that illustrates the rapidity with which historical truth can degenerate before one’s very eyes, that term is ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. According to those who...

Read More

Radical Democrats

Ross McKibbin, 7 March 1991

When historians come to account for the dégringolade of modern British politics both Tony Benn and Paul Foot will find a place: Benn as actor, Foot as an observer. The two have much in...

Read More

Paul Foot has a shocking story to tell, the story of Colin Wallace. It is, quite literally, a story of gunpowder, treason and plot. The fact that Foot’s publishers have had to rush the book...

Read More

Who didn’t kill Carl Bridgewater?

Stephen Sedley, 9 October 1986

The legal process, at least in English law, is a quite inadequate instrument for arriving at the truth about a crime. This is not necessarily an adverse comment. There is justification for...

Read More


Malise Ruthven, 2 June 1983

Lawrence was attracted to Arabia by what he called ‘the Arab gospel of bareness’, as well as by his desire to play the Middle East version of the Great Game. The present generation of...

Read More

Death in Greece

Marilyn Butler, 17 September 1981

We can know Byron better than anyone has ever known him. Leslie Marchand’s edition of the Letters and Journals, which is far more extensive than any previous collection, has now covered...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences