Obituary: Harold Soref

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The Independent Online
Harold Benjamin Soref, politician and journalist: born Hampstead 18 December 1916; Co-Editor, Equator 1945-46; Founder and Editor, Jewish Monthly 1947-51; Chairman and Managing Director, Soref Brothers Ltd 1955-88; MP (Conservative) for Ormskirk 1970-74; died London 14 March 1993.

WHEN G. K. Chesterton died in 1936, a large congregation came to the funeral; well in front, a 20-year-old youth was weeping copiously. The minister approached him to express his admiration that even the young generation was mourning Chesterton. 'Don't be daft,' replied Harold Soref, 'why should I weep for him? I suffer from hay fever]'

Harold Soref's caustic humour developed early, and he always enjoyed controversy. Chesterton had edited the St Paul's School magazine, and Soref followed in his footsteps; he, too, became a freelance journalist and a political activist - very much to the right of most of his contemporaries. He had attended Queen's College, Oxford, and on a well-publicised occasion in 1974 attacked liberal thinking in a speech which aroused a riot and forced him to flee from a meeting invaded by left-wing gatecrashers. Soref enjoyed this, since he courted confrontations, including legal battles. All the public utilities received his attention for their poor quality of service, particularly the railways and the Post Office. During his later years of ill-health, most London hospitals quailed when he entered their doors, and he did not disappoint them: his criticisms were fierce and sometimes partially justified.

There were many sides to Soref's life, even though he will be best remembered as the most right-wing Member of Parliament of his time. He was a dedicated journalist and a chronicler of the Jewish community, founding and editing the Jewish Monthly (1947-51). He could be a ruthless critic, and happily pursued gossip and scandal up to the last months of his life, sending items to the press when he was sure of his facts. He championed apartheid in South Africa and supported the Smith regime in Rhodesia, fighting against sanctions (his father had been a pioneer in Rhodesia). Part of his wartime service in 1940-45 was spent in South Africa. Aboard a troopship bound there, the lowly NCO appointed himself 'morale officer' and commandeered a cabin to run a daily newspaper. In South Africa, he set up lecture series and literary clubs, building on his old associations; he had been a delegate to the first all-British Africa Conference held in Bulawayo in 1938 to form the Africa Defence Federation.

As a Conservative politician, Harold Soref contested Dudley (1951) and Rugby (1955) before winning Ormskirk in 1970, which he held until 1974. He was a founder member of the Conservative Commonwealth Council, the Anglo-Rhodesian Society and the Anglo-Zanzibar Society, and held various posts within the Anglo-Jewish community, moving from congregation to congregation as they displeased him, until he came to the Westminster Synagogue. In his own way, he was an old-fashioned moralist, who wanted the traditional values and despised the image of the British society which he saw portrayed by the BBC which, to him, undermined British life by encouraging pornography with its permissive programming, and an Arts Council which - according to him - encouraged blasphemy and obscenity. He had been the vice-chairman and head of the Africa Committee for the Monday Club for many years until he left them for their moving away from his own approach.

There was a total consistency in all that he did and, while he did listen to others, he rarely changed his point of view. He was clear, lucid, bitter, and out of step with the world. During the last month in the hospital, a representative of John Major's office visited him. It was an amicable meeting, itself an indication that the old warrior had lost his power.

(Photograph omitted)

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