Paul Foot

‘We need socialist newspapers
like never before’

(10 April 1993)

From Socialist Worker, 10 April 1993.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000), pp. 232–234.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Friends and comrades have been commiserating with me for losing my job on the Mirror, and indeed I am sad about it. But my main reaction, looking back on 13 years of Thatcher, Maxwell and Co, is that I have had it pretty good.

For a known and declared member of the Socialist Workers Party to be given a page in a mass circulation tabloid was remarkable. To hang on to it for all that time was pretty well incredible. The surprise is not so much that I was pushed out, but that it took so long for it to happen.

Ever since 1945 there has been a radical tradition in the Daily Mirror. Most of the paper of course wasn’t political at all, and the political part of it was pretty firmly controlled by right wing Labour.

George Brown, the very right wing deputy leader of the Labour Party in the 1960s was paid a retainer with the Mirror. He was a close friend and political ally of the Mirror columnist Jack Connor, who wrote under the pseudonym Cassandra.

Cecil King, chairman of the Mirror in the 1960s, was an MI5 agent who tried to lead a coup against the elected Labour government in 1968 and was sacked for his pains.

Still, there was a radical tradition symbolised by an Australian sub-editor who joined the paper in the early 1960s – John Pilger. When John turned his hand to reporting he quickly revealed an astonishingly evocative writing power. His skill as a writer was entwined with a strong socialist consciousness.

He was outraged by the divisions between rich and poor, and incensed by the violent means by which imperialism, especially US imperialism, sought to preserve those divisions. John wrote reams of magnificent reports for the Mirror which continued all through the 1970s and halfway through the 1980s until Maxwell summarily sacked him.

John turned his skills to television. His contacts with the working class, who followed his reports in the Mirror with such enthusiasm, became less frequent. As Maxwell no doubt anticipated, his sacking was a triumph for the rich.

Chinks of light in the capitalist media were a feature of the 1960s and 1970s. Almost every paper, even the most foul reactionary ones, employed socialists who, with varying frequency, could get their ideas across.

The Sunday Times, it is worth recalling, was a marvellous paper of record in those days. The very first act of Andrew Neil when he took over the Sunday Times editorship in 1983 was to sack the editor of the investigative Insight column, Christopher Hird, and disband his team.

Other chinks have been shut out as the ruling class has gained in confidence in the last decade. Even the liberal press has become almost exclusively preoccupied with its own gloom and hatred of people, which drive it to more and more reactionary conclusions.

The bitter turmoil at the Mirror over the last few months has been portrayed in the financial media as a desperate attempt to ‘restore to profitability’ a dying old carcass of a newspaper. In fact the Mirror was making good profits. At every twist and turn in the struggle I got the overriding impression that there was more to this than a greedy management determined to smash the unions.

They were out, at the same time, to extinguish the tiniest flicker of any genuine radical information which might inflame the masses. When Harold Lind, a media consultant, wrote in the Times last October that there were too many good journalists on the Mirror and that they should be dispensed with, he meant that, for the masses, any old trash will do.

This was the Wapping school of journalism in full attack, and the new Mirror boss Montgomery and his acolytes took up the challenge with a ruthless zeal.

When I started work as a journalist 32 years ago it was possible to imagine some areas where my socialist ideas would be published in the mass media in some form. Now I am not so sure. The control of the British media has always been in the hands of five or six men, but in the past they have deferred to some semblance of variety and democracy. Now they seem united in their desire to silence every whisper of dissent.

One conclusion for socialists is to hold our heads in despair. Another is more positive: to proclaim the case for socialist papers, openly declaring their socialist ideas.

Such papers by definition cannot circulate in the same market as the capitalist papers. They cannot depend on the same support from capitalist advertisers and distributors. Their economics and their circulation depend on the sacrifice and time of socialists themselves.

This is not just flag-waving for Socialist Worker. The uniformity of the capitalist press should not provide anyone with an excuse to make our socialist papers more sectarian and hysterical. On the contrary. The more uniform the capitalist papers become, the more socialist editors should ensure their papers are open, democratic and varied.

But the developments in the capitalist press, including the union-busting and censorship at the Mirror which led to my departure, make a strong case even stronger. We need socialist newspapers like never before.

Last updated on 30 June 2014