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Paul Foot

Posted: May 11th, 2011

A Sad Farewell

by Richard Stott

The best possible tribute to Paul Foot’s column in the Daily Mirror was paid by Kelvin MacKenzie. What do you run that stuff for, he said. You would never se a column like that in The Sun.

No indeed. That is one of the many reasons why Foot’s column was so successful. You couldn’t possibly have found it in The Sun, it was Daily Mirror through and through and why it had such an enormous following every week. It was the only column available where the poor, underprivileged and those without a voice could find redress for injustices – social, political, legal and corporate.

Even if there were no story there for publication, Paul and his dedicated staff would do what they could for those up against the heartless face of bureaucracies, dealt off the bottom of the pack by two faced politicians or ripped off by shyster spivs masquerading as City of London businessmen.

Paul Foot Reporting was introduced in 1979 by Mike Molloy who was looking for a regular investigative and campaigning column. It was to win numerous awards, but at the time the decision was remarkable and brave – there were plenty of doom merchants – because Foot’s reputation had been built on his journalism for Private Eye and Socialist Worker, neither taken seriously or considered mainstream publications by Fleet Street in spite of the Eye’s impressive list of public scandal exposures.

Yet it succeeded brilliantly, largely because Paul, unlike many stars, was not a prima donna and worked closely with the Mirror’s superb legal manager Hugh Corrie. Interestingly for a mass circulation working class newspaper, both were public schoolboys with fathers rooted deep in the colonial Establishment. Foot’s tireless investigative qualities and Corrie’s legal artistry even enabled the Mirror to accuse a man of murder, much to the understandable consternation of editorial director Tony Miles, long before Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail did it over Stephen Lawrence.

Foot had all the tools necessary to become the greatest campaigning journalist of his generation. A razor sharp, analytical brain, great compassion, a bottomless well of courage, devastating wit and pen to match. He was loyal to all yet ruled by none. His principles were there for all to see and they never changed, even Robert Maxwell didn’t take him on. He tried once – over an exposure of one of his friends – but was frustrated by a Baldric-like cunning plan. We told him the story had been watered down considerably – that we could have accused his mate of much worse. We couldn’t actually, but it worked. He never had another go.

Such a fierce spirit could take on Maxwell with ease, but it was never going to survive the Montgomery butchery that followed Maxwell’s death. The blood was on the wall for Paul when Montgomery fired me because I hadn’t “taken on those lefties in features”. Quite what else he expected to find in a left of centre newspaper features department he didn’t explain. Montgomery’s wholesale culling and rejection of all the best of what the Mirror stood for ended with Foot producing his page exposing this lunatic savagery being exercised on his own paper.

David Banks, Montgomery’s placeman as editor, not surprisingly wouldn’t publish it, demanded a substitute and Foot, equally unsurprisingly, refused to provide it. What he did was hand out free copies of his rejected page in front of the Mirror’s Holborn headquarters. Foot left after almost fourteen years with Banks suggesting he should see a doctor. It was a typically crass reaction from a regime by then controlled by a hatful of former senior Murdoch journalists.

Paul Foot stood for everything that is the best in journalism and the abrupt end of his column showed graphically the gulf between the best of the Mirror and the News International invaders who became the custodians of an ever more rapidly accelerating circulation decline. Foot was fearless, painstaking in his accuracy, passionate, principled, searingly honest and his loyalty to friends and colleagues never wavered.

He instinctively took against those who exercised power for their own benefit and had nothing but contempt for the hypocrites, fools and knaves paraded through his column. It was a unique mixture of investigation, exposure, campaigns, polemic, far left politics, controlled anger and a determination to seek justice for those unable to obtain it for themselves. He had a rare ability to make our trade feel noble.

Paul Foot was the stuff of popular journalism and all who had the privilege to work with him are immeasurably the better for it. Not something you could easily say about David Montgomery.

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