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SUNDAY 14 APRIL 2024

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Britain should stop selling arms to Israel, but will dithering Rishi Sunak make a decision for once?

One of the vehicles in which the aid workers died

The Pope is ‘deeply saddened’, Biden is ‘outraged and heartbroken’... and Rishi Sunak? He does what he always does when he needs to buy time rather than saying the obvious. He calls for an immediate inquiry into how or why Israeli forces killed seven aid workers, three of them British ex-Servicemen, in air strikes on Gaza this week.

 

Setting aside that inquiries are never immediate, the only decision the Prime Minister should be taking — should already have taken — is to stop supplying Israel with weapons. So too, of course, should the US. But as we learned recently from ministers, MPs and Downing Street staff, Sunak’s indecision is final (as we used to say about certain Express editors.) No 10 is described as a black hole where problems enter and never exit the other end with a prime ministerial resolution. It’s where policies go to die.

 

Whatever one’s politics, this is no laughing matter which is what the Tories have become. We need a strong government capable of taking decisive action with a strong opposition grown up enough to support those actions or opposing, not for the sake of opposing, but because it really does believe differently.

 

At some time this year the Conservatives will be beaten, taught a bloody good lesson, thrashed or wiped out depending on the size of the seemingly inevitable general election victory margin by Labour. But whatever the size of the defeat Sunak will take his vast wealth, smiley boyish face, silly short trousers and indecision off to geekland somewhere.

 

And the next stage of the 190-year-old Conservative Party will be left in the hands, not of the decent, moderate MPs who are getting out before they lose their seats, but the lunatic fringe of so-called PopCons, headbangers who want a Truss-style leader to take what was once a highly respected, very successful centre-right party to the edge of extinction, fighting with Reform, led by Farage or Tice or both, before they are consumed by mutual hatred.

 

Meanwhile, the one recent decision to actually come out of Downing Street is a bill to criminalise rough sleeping with a maximum fine of £2,500. Good luck getting that, many of the homeless are army veterans with PTSD from their time in Afghanistan, who cannot afford a cup of tea without the help of passers-by.

 

The author of this brilliant initiative, opposed by at least 40 horrified Tory MPs? Take a bow my old friend, Baroness Braverman of Rwanda.

 

Footnote: I said some time ago that Netanyahu should end up in front of a war crimes tribunal. With the total dead in Gaza approaching 35,000, more than 13,000 of them children, and with famine rife and the total breakdown of any sort of civilisation, a ceasefire must now ensue with both Netanyahu and the ogres of Hamas facing justice. His callous comment following the deaths of the aid workers that ‘these things happen in war’ is evidence enough that the man is a complete shit.

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 In my previous column I wrote about the memoir of the late Andrew Cameron, managing director of Express Newspapers until he was unceremoniously dumped by Lord Hollick in 1996. Cameron died in 2015 and despite our occasional differences he was a decent man when it came to my departure a year before his own.

 

For the uninitiated, I quit as executive editor when passed over for the deputy editorship, a job promised to me by Nick Lloyd before I departed for a week in the winefields of the Cape. I finally made Nick explain his decision on the phone (‘I’m terribly sorry, it was forced on me etc, etc’) I looked out of my window of The Cellars Hotel, Hohenort, thought for 30 seconds and went to reception where I dictated my Dear Nick fax.

 

When I got back to London Cameron asked me to pop into his office. He had every right to tell me I was leaving without a penny because I had resigned. Instead he gave me two years’ salary, my Express car and other bits and bobs. To say I was grateful would be undercooking it somewhat.

 

Andrew devotes a lot of space to Lord Stevens but goes into little detail about the sad death of his second wife Melissa, she of the excruciating toe sucking instruction manual serialised by the Express in the vain hope that the Mail would ignore it. Some hope!

 

So let me tell of the extraordinary conversation I had with Stevens in February 1989, just hours after Melissa died apparently by choking on a peach skin while in the loo in the middle of the night. I was editing that Sunday and at about 10am the switchboard rang to say the chairman was on the line and wanted to speak to the editor. The conversation went something like this:

 

Stevens: I need the home number of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Me: May I ask why?

Stevens: It’s a very sensitive matter.

Me: Well, can I help?

Stevens: Get me the number as I asked and call me back.

 

Needless to say our great crime editor Owen Summers called within 10 minutes with the home number of Sir Peter Imbert and I phoned Stevens with the information. It was then he told me of the bizarre  circumstances of his wife’s death and told me in no uncertain terms that we were not to mention it in so much as a nib in the paper. I told him that would not be possible and that all the other papers would make a big show of the news.

 

‘That’s why I want to talk to Imbert, to ensure there is no mention of it in a news release by the Met.’

 

It was a forlorn exercise of course. I told Owen what I knew and we ran a single column story on Page 2 of the Monday paper. I think every other paper (except the Star of course) had it on their front page with, from memory, the Mail full of nudges and winks.  The Mirror splashed it.

 

Eleven months later Steven married for the third time.

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Dick Dismore’s splendid piece on Arnold Wesker ‘s venture into the Street of Shame brings to mind a similar episode with Jeffrey Archer. He wanted to write a play about newspapers and do his research by ‘working’ at the Express. Nick tentatively agreed and I was deputed to see what could be agreed over lunch at the Savoy Grill.

 

From memory, his list of demands included attending morning conference, having a say in what went into the paper and, believe it or not, some payment. The play, titled Exclusive, did get written with minimum help from us and ran for three months in 1989. I never saw it though I doubt it worried the makers of All the President’s Men..  

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And finally... Paula Vennells. Now that we have conclusive proof she lied to the Commons select committee it’s time to find a bolthole with no extradition arrangements with the UK.  Or pack an overnight bag. Except I trust it won’t be an overnight stay at His Majesty’s Pleasure. The sooner the better.

 

ALAN FRAME


4 April 2024