Paul Foot

Paul Foot was a campaigning journalist for the Daily Mirror and Private Eye and a political agitator. He wrote sixty pieces for the LRB, on miscarriages of justice, MI5, corrupt Tory MPs (Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton), Harold Wilson, the strange death of the anti-nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell, Shelley the revolutionary, abuse in children’s homes and his own beating at school by the serial abuser and future headmaster of Eton, Anthony Chevenix-Trench. As Mary-Kay Wilmers wrote after his death in 2004, he ‘included a standard Socialist Worker harangue in every piece for the sheer joy of watching us take it out’. Despite his indignation at the state of the world, he was a man of great energy and good humour. ‘Paul enjoyed the books he wrote about,’ Wilmers said. ‘And when he didn’t like them he enjoyed that too.’

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 George Monbiot writes mainly about Britain in a terse investigative style that I had feared was out of date.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.‘

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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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