Harold Benjamin Soref was a British businessman, polemicist, and politician notable for his forcefully expressed right-wing views. “Pudgy, grumpy, brisk, Jewish” is how the journalist Andrew Roth, in Parliamentary Profiles, summed him up. It was an apt description.
Born in London on 18 December 1916, Harold Soref was the youngest child and only son (there were also two daughters) of Romanian-born Rhodesian pioneer Paul Soref, co-founder of Soref Brothers, South African shippers, and the former Zelma Goodman, English-born of German-Jewish ancestry. Brought up in leafy Hampstead, Harold attended the Hall School (a local preparatory school) before going on to one of Britain’s best-known public schools, St Paul’s School, where he was a day boy. There, with right-wing political sensibilities that awakened early, he was president of the Chesterton Society – the writer G.K. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was a former pupil of the school – and editor of its magazine. In 1934 Soref attended Oswald Mosley’s Olympia Rally as a standard bearer for the Junior Imperial League. When, however, he heckled an antisemitic speaker he was manhandled by Blackshirt thugs, and evicted.
During the Second World War he served briefly in the Royal Scots and then in the Intelligence Corps, based for much of the time in southern Africa, a region he grew to know exceedingly well: although his paternal grandparents had remained in Romania his father had family members in Bulawayo.
Soref read history at Queen’s College, Oxford, but did not stay the course, so did not obtain a degree. Nevertheless, a deep interest in history was innately ingrained in him, and he went on to contribute a number of well-researched and well-written articles on aspects of Anglo-Jewish history to various periodicals, and was very much involved, in 1956, in the commemorative celebrations of the resettlement of Jews in England. He was a close friend of the great Anglo-Jewish historian Cecil Roth.
From 1947 until 1951 he edited the Anglo-Jewish Association’s organ The Jewish Monthly. The AJA, to give the Association its accepted abbreviation, consisted of latter day “Englishmen of the Mosaic persuasion” and their attitude to political Zionism reflected that fact. Some of what Soref wrote during his years as editor now sounds reprehensible – perverse is perhaps a better word – but, with another future MP, Neville Sandelson, he visited Israel soon after its foundation, had pro-Zionist relatives, and to his credit eventually adopted a pro-Israel position. His initial opposition to the Zionist cause had as much to do with perceptions that the Jewish State would be an instrument of the Soviet Union as with his old-fashioned fears of the spectre of “dual loyalties” and all that that entailed for the comfort and status of Diaspora communities like his own.
From 1955 until 1988 he was managing director of the family firm, Soref Brothers, based in the City of London. Unusually for a professing Jew, and a heterosexual one at that, he never married. At the 1951 General Election he contested the parliamentary seat of Dudley for the Conservative Party, and in 1955 he contested Rugby. In 1969, much to his surprise, he was adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for Ormskirk in Lancashire having virtually given up hope of a seat in Parliament. There were 101 applicants for selection, and Soref was not the frontrunner. But luckily for him the man the Ormskirk Tories favoured, a member of the centre-left Conservative think-tank the Bow Group, withdrew at the last minute, leaving Soref and two other hopefuls in the race. He wowed the selection committee with a speech described as follows in The Times (29 August 1969):
‘In 23 minutes the speech comprehended a broad sweep of his distinctive personal views – with calls for a halt to post-imperial retreat and permissive advance, tougher sentences for violent crime, recognition of Rhodesia, a war on waste, an end to various “penal exactions” and a foreign policy which would “put Britain’s national interests first”. He also found time for a history of Ormskirk and its long-standing connexions with potatoes – which started when the first shipload from the New World were shipwrecked on Formby Point.’
Soref vehemently opposed post-war “coloured immigration” into Britain and favoured the repatriation of non-white immigrants. “I’ve got nothing against a man because he is black,” he is on record as saying. “I have worked and lived with more black people than 90 per cent of people in this country.” He believed that Britain had imported a “so unnecessary problem” and that racial unrest similar to America’s (the shocking Watts riots of 1965 were an example) would inevitably descend upon Britain.
During the June 1970 General Election campaign he did not resile from firmly backing Tory MP Enoch Powell, who had warned, in his so-called “rivers of blood” speech of 1968, about the deleterious consequences of Third World immigration on Britain. (Powell was no crude racist. He was a highly educated, supremely intelligent, kind-hearted classics professor who admired Indians and who during the Nazi era had campaigned to facilitate the emigration of persecuted Jewish academics to posts in Britain.) As a result of the speech, he found himself highly popular in some quarters but made a pariah by Edward Heath and sections of his own party.
Soref was among the parliamentary candidates who spoke out in Powell’s favour, and he continued to do so after he was returned to Parliament as Ormskirk’s MP. Needless to say, he was no servile follower of prime minister Heath, even though he was one of Heath’s backbenchers. Indeed, Soref was not the man to trim in order to achieve a ministerial post: he was too much of an ideologue for that.
In his maiden speech he spoke of revolutionary groups, including student revolutionaries, who were attempting to undermine society. It was a familiar and recurrent theme of his. He was good at a phrase, declaring that Britain was becoming a “Tom Tiddler’s ground for expatriate revolutionaries and troublemakers”. He told a ladies’ luncheon club in his constituency: “The new Jerusalem we were promised by the trendy communicators and agitators is nothing more or less than the old Port Said. Drug-taking and violence, gratification of personal whims and an irresponsible society are the inevitable courses of the table d’hôte [set menu] of peace and love.” He told a Monday Club conference on internal subversion: “It is increasingly difficult for anyone who holds right-wing views to get a book published. It is very difficult to get a part on the stage because of the number of communist producers at the BBC.” Perhaps he exaggerated, but it was certainly the case that leftism was seeping into certain parts of that leviathan that is the publicly-funded British national broadcaster, the bitter fruits of which we taste today.
Predictably, he was reviled, and his detractors included many within the Jewish community who considered his right-wing stance to be contrary to Jewish values. He belonged at one stage to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, whose chief rabbi, Dr John Rayner, certainly disapproved of his views. And he clashed with the Board of Deputies, on which he sat, over multiculturalism and fostering ties with other minority groups. He saw such initiatives as counterproductive, futile, even mischievous. He firmly believed that Anglo-Jewry’s place was within mainstream British society and that it should identify with the majority, and with what was best for Britons in general. Whatever others thought of him, Soref was at all times a loyal and proud Jew, and time has borne out the wisdom of his stance if not on all then certainly on most issues.
He was perspicacious in foreseeing civil unrest that followed in the wake of mass Afro-Caribbean immigration – the horrendous rioting at the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985 when policeman Keith Blakelock was mercilessly hacked to death is a case in point, not to mention the numerous muggings with which parts of London are plagued – and no less so in opposing the presence in Britain of thousands upon thousands of people from Third World countries resistant to integration and hostile to Jews and Israel. He maintained all this in the face of calumny from what he correctly called the “Race Relations industry,” with its ever-growing encouragement of non-white entitlement and denigration of the white majority. The sexual grooming and abuse of “infidel” girls; the in effect forced conversion to Islam of prison inmates afraid that otherwise they will be victimised by Islamic gangs also doing time; Islamic atrocities on the streets of London; Al Quds Day rallies in which antisemitic sentiments are voiced, the exponential growth of the Muslim electorate – subsequent events have not proved him wrong.
In June 1969, concerned at the creeping into BBC news programs of the left-wing bias which is such a hallmark of the BBC today, not least with regard to Israel, he helped to convene a conference in London on “Subversion on the Air” at which famous novelist John Braine declared that “On the BBC the truth is daily distorted” regarding items from overseas, and at which Jonathan Guinness (later the 3rd Baron Moyne) called for the setting up of a BBC monitoring service independent of the broadcaster and formed of a viewers’ council elected by the public. In May 1971 Soref told the House of Commons that “there had been undue bias and ample evidence that there was an independent foreign policy by the BBC which was at times contrary to British interests.” He was the recipient of “many letters from different parts of the world complaining of the slant of people speaking on the BBC and the sources used.”
Sounds familiar, and all too relevant today, doesn’t it? Like the BBC’s contemporary critics, Soref “would not want to see a slant to the right-wing either. People are entitled to expect unbiased, balanced coverage of the news.”
Soref demanded the accelerated expulsion from Britain of alien agitators and the barring from entry of potential troublemakers, including American “Black Power” advocates and the German student radical Rudi Dutschke. In April 1974 he denounced an amnesty to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India (the Home Office admitted it could not give figures, “exact or estimated,” of the numbers involved!) as “making retrospectively what was a crime a legal act. Many of those who are guilty of illegal acts will now be afforded the vote and will be eligible to benefit from the welkfare services to which they have contributed nothing.”
He opposed Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) fearing for Britain’s national interests, a stance vindicated by the grotesque erosion of the rights of the Westminster Parliament and national sovereignty engineered by the abhorrent bureaucratic entity into which the EEC developed, the European Union.
In a letter published in The Times (14 May 1971) he inveighed against “such self-appointed and myopic watch-dogs of freedom as the National Council for Civil Liberties and other bodies and personalities with a selective interest in human rights”.
Clearly, nothing has changed in that respect. Left-wing hypocrisy and double standards are rampant. Thanks to an alien court in Strasbourg, the “human rights” of jihadists who pose a real and present danger to Britain trump the will of Home Secretaries who wish to deport them. Truly, the country could not sink much lower into the mire unless it were to become, Heaven forfend, a state governed by sharia.
In the summer of 1972 he tabled a motion in the House of Commons deploring the abysmal Heath government’s loathsome decision to allow the PLO to open an office in London. Addressing the national conference of the right-wing Tory pressure group the Monday Club, of which he was for years a leading member, he declared: “The decision to allow the Palestine Liberation Organisation to operate in Britain puts them on a par with the African guerrilla and terrorist bodies which are already safely installed in London and working closely in cooperation with the IRA, whose activities are also permitted, and other revolutionary organisations.”
The nexus between support for the IRA and the anti-Israel cause in Ireland, which is still so manifest today, further bears out Soref’s perspicacity.
In January 1975, addressing the Jewish Society at University College, London, he referred to an allegation by the so-called Committee for Justice in the Middle East that money raised by Anglo-Jewish charities was used “to support the Zionist war machine”. He asked whether it could be assumed that the Committee was equally opposed to the vast sums Oxfam and War on Want collected and sent overseas. And he made the point that if the Committee believed that British money should remain in Britain, “it should oppose the millions wasted in overseas aid and seek to prevent money being raised to promote civil war at home and support our enemies overseas.”
He was a signatory to the following letter that appeared in the London Time (22 October 1973):
“We, members of the Council of the Anglo-Jewish Association, express our distress at the violation of the ceasefire by Egypt and Syria. With our sympathy for Israel reinforced by a shared historic experience, we believe that this onslaught sustained by Soviet equipment must inevitably damage the strategic interests of Britain, the country of our allegiance. We therefore call on Her Majesty’s Government not to persist in an embargo on arms for Israel, which will inevitably unfairly injure Israel in her struggle to survive.”
This referred to the Heath government’s despicable refusal during the Yom Kippur War to supply Israel with spare parts for British-made Centurion tanks – it even refused to allow American planes en route to Israel to refuel on British soil. Granted, the letter used very careful language, befitting some of the Anglo-Jewish patricians who signed, but Soref further proved that he had left his old anti-Zionism behind him when he crossed the Commons floor to vote with the Labour opposition on the issue, defying a two-line whip.
The World Council of Churches, which time and again has proved itself so anti-Israel, was also in his sights. For example, in a letter published in The Times (22 September 1972) he asked: “Why is the WCC not concerned with black racism” – here he was thinking of, among others, Idi Amin – “which is in its most acute form in those areas where the Europeans no longer exercise power, in an inevitably increasingly divided and anarchic world? Is the Soviet persecution of Russian Jewry not an odious display of white racism and if so what is the WCC doing about that?” Needless to say, no answer was forthcoming.
In 1974 radical elements within the National Union of Students pledged to prevent “fascists” addressing student audiences. On 10 May that year Soref became a victim of this manifestation of left-wing intolerance that is so alive and well today when he spoke on immigration at Oxford University. In his own words:
“I spoke for forty minutes without any trouble. Then I heard a howling mob screaming and shouting outside, trying to break into the place. Thanks to a couple of resourceful undergraduates who smashed the padlock of an adjacent room, I was able to escape to the back of the building, over a six-feet wall and away in a fast car, with this mob coming screaming and shouting after us.” (There were reported yells of “Death to Soref!”)
He lost only a jacket button in his escape: “I did not want to be responsible for anyone being hurt. I am against demonstrations of any sort and I accepted the invitation to speak at the union as a challenge in defying a threat to democracy.”
Two students were arrested and charged with criminal damage (they had smashed a window in order to access the building). (I wonder what they and their cohorts are doing today. Reporting for the BBC, perhaps? Rallying against Israel? Acting as apologists for Islamo-fascism? Ah, if only we knew!)
As Soref and a colleague stated at the time in a letter: “There is nothing new in university terrorism by the far left and the craven failure of authority to take disciplinary action.” (Times, 3 June 1974).
In November that same year he narrowly escaped assassination. He did not drive – he had never bothered to sit the driving test, realising that driving was not for him – and often took a minicab between his home in Beaufort Street, Chelsea, just off the King’s Road, and his City office. A neighbour of his, returning home in a similar car, was gunned down on the pavement and later died of his injuries. The assailants were never caught, and police believed that the real target of the killers – believed to belong to the IRA – had been Soref himself, and that this was a case of mistaken identity.
By that time Soref was no longer an MP. He lost his seat at the February 1974 General Election which returned Labour to power. His defeat was not unexpected, for boundary changes affecting the socio-economic composition of parts of his constituency had foreshadowed it. He never served in Parliament again, but remained as politically active, peppery and controversial as ever.
In 1968, Christian Action was awarded £1000 plus legal costs for libel in a lawsuit brought against the authors (Soref and Ian Greig) and publisher of a book called The Puppeteers (1965), which concerned subversive activity in southern Africa. Soref won undisclosed damages against the satirical magazine Private Eye in 1977 over allegations that his firm contravened trade sanctions against Rhodesia. He won undisclosed damages against Penguin Books in 1984 over an allegation in Gordon Winter’s Inside Boss (1981) that when he was an MP he had been a “tool” of the South African security service.
He died on 14 March 1993. There was a memorial service for him at Westminster Synagogue, at which Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander officiated and Enoch Powell gave a eulogy.
Soref was an interesting and accomplished man. In my view, he deserved an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Indeed, I proposed him for one. Outrageously, the book Jewish Parliamentarians (2008) by Derek Taylor and the late Lord Janner of Braunstone – the Labour life peer who managed to elude trial over long-standing allegations of the sexual abuse of children – contains a scathing value judgment regarding Soref unworthy of such a work, as well as politically-loaded factual inaccuracies.
Yet for me, and I suspect for countless others, Soref was a prophet whose views are very largely vindicated by what has come to pass in Britain since his death. Perhaps there is no better indication of this than, in a sense, the political evolution of his Labour opponent at both the 1970 and 1974 elections, Robert Kilroy-Silk. The Times (21 July 1972) reported that Mr Kilroy-Silk had said of Soref “The views of my opponent represent all that is savage and mean in our society” and that he had told the magazine Lancashire Life that he viewed Soref with “vehement distaste”.
Kilroy-Silk subsequently renounced the Labour Party – he is said to have had a scuffle with Jeremy Corbyn – and in 2004, having enjoyed years in the limelight as a talk show host, joined the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). He was later condemned by the Commission for Racial Equality and others for Islamophobic statements, and was apparently defended by a friend who said: “He is not a racist at all – he employs a black driver”.
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