INDEPENDENT 2024-02-28 16:34:02

Wonka actor breaks silence on disastrous Willy’s Chocolate Experience

A stand-up comedian hired to play Willy Wonka at a widely criticised chocolate factory experience has spoken out after furious parents demanded refunds.

Willy’s Chocolate Experience organiser Billy Coull apologised for his “vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book that didn’t come to fruition” and offered 850 people their money back before closing the Glasgow experience on Saturday.

One parent complained of arriving to find a “disorganised mini-maze of randomly placed oversized props, a lacklustre candy station that dispersed one jelly bean per child, and a terrifying chrome-masked character that scared many of the kids to tears”.

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The Wonka-esque impersonator Paul Connell, 31, spoke to The Independent about how he got the gig and how the chaos unfolded.

“I’m constantly applying for more acting jobs and comedy work, then I got a phone call on Thursday saying, ‘Congratulations you are going to play Willy Wonka, we will send you over the script and dress rehearsal is tomorrow’,” Mr Connell said. “The script was 15 pages of AI-generated gibberish of me just monologuing these mad things.

“The bit that got me was where I had to say, ‘There is a man we don’t know his name. We know him as the Unknown. This Unknown is an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls.’

“It was terrifying for the kids. Is he an evil man who makes chocolate or is the chocolate itself evil?

“They even misspelt my contract but I do have a legally binding ‘Coontract’ [sic]. But I stayed up all night learning it, thinking this would make sense in the dress rehearsal when I see all the tech.”

But at the Friday evening dress rehearsal hours before opening, he turned up to find the “immersive and enchanting” Willy Wonka experience was, in fact, an empty warehouse with a few plastic mushrooms.

“In some ways, it was a world of imagination, like imagine that there is a whole chocolate factory here,” he said. “I spoke to the people running it and thought, surely by the morning it won’t look like this, and then I turned up in the morning and it absolutely did.

“At the end of my monologue, I was supposed to suck up the Unknown Man with a vacuum cleaner. I asked them if they had a vacuum cleaner and they said, ‘yeah, we haven’t really got there yet, so just improvise’.

“So I started to cut things out, thinking that would be silly.

“All the actors were lovely people. We gathered together in the morning and said, ‘We’re probably not going to get paid for this but kids are still going to come up. Let’s make this as magic as possible for them’.

“I was making jokes but we were told to give them one jelly bean and a quarter cup of lemonade,” he continued. “No chocolate at the chocolate experience. There was supposed to be a chocolate fountain somewhere but I never saw it.

“I was told I would get a 15-minute break every 45 minutes after each group went through.

“But I ended up playing Willy Wonka for three and a half hours straight. I didn’t know where I ended and Wonka began. I was losing my mind by that point.

“The organiser came up to me, saying, ‘You’re spending too much time with the kids, we need to get them through as quickly as possible’.

“By this point, I was visibly angry. I was like, now there’s going to be a lot of disappointed kids.”

The actor said he finally managed to get a lunch break, deciding to spend it sitting in his car staring at the floor trying to avoid the sight of crying children being turned away by security.

“When I came back, that’s when everything kicked off,” he explained. “There was an angry mob at the door not being let in. I had to wedge my way through.

“I was Wonka and it’s my face everywhere. But I am just a last-minute actor, really, I didn’t organise anything.

“People were shouting, people who put on the event were crying. There were arguments, people running around everywhere – the set had been trashed.”

He called another huddle of the two other Willy Wonkas and the nearest Oompa Loompas, adding: “We decided to just walk away.

“It was actually getting quite dangerous for us. But it was heartbreaking, to be honest.

“There were kids in costume better than ours, crying. I used to be a teacher and that was triggering for me.

“One thing I want to make clear is everyone has been so nice to the actors in person and on the day, the people who were there understand we did our best.

“We didn’t take any abuse but we gave abuse to the people running it. The whole thing was disrespectful to the families and us as promising actors.

“There were three Willy Wonkas but I was the most unlucky because I went first and stayed for three and a half hours doing it through either commitment or stupidity.”

Planning a stand-up tour soon, the actor, originally from Hull, said he had moved to Glasgow to follow his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian after googling what is the funniest city in the UK.

He finished: “It’s a night I’ll try to forget. Sadly, not only will I remember it, everyone I know will remember it too.

“We as actors were brought in last minute and we just did our best for the kids.”

Stuart Sinclair, who travelled two hours to attend the experience with his family, told The Independent: “It was nothing short of shocking.

“But all the cast that were there did their absolute best. Unfortunately, they were all sub-contractor actors hired by Illuminati and haven’t been paid either.

“They were in as much shock as us. But it was probably worse for them because this is their job and made them look bad when it wasn’t their fault.”

Organiser Billy Coull, the director of immersive events company House of Illuminati, told STV News: “I’m really shocked that the event had fallen short of the expectations of people on paper.

“My vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book didn’t come to fruition. For that, I am absolutely truly and utterly sorry.”

Cleverly’s point-scoring on pro-Palestine protesters could backfire

James Cleverly says today that pro-Palestinian protestors have “made their point” and should stop their fortnightly rallies in central London calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. “They’ve made it loudly and they’re not adding to it by repeating themselves,” the home secretary told The Times.

But he is wrong. If people don’t have a moral right to protest after an estimated 30,000 deaths in Gaza, then when? The mass protests would surely end if the war stopped, and the number of arrests is relatively small given the huge numbers that turn out.

True, there are legitimate concerns about people feeling safe on the streets and the policing costs – £25m so far, which is putting pressure on police budgets, notably in London. Cleverly is right to consider forcing the organisers to give at least six days’ notice of a demonstration to give the police more time to prepare.

BA employee ‘ran £3m immigration scam from Heathrow check-in desk’

A former British Airways employee has been accused of running a £3 million immigration scam from a Heathrow check-in desk, before absconding to India after being bailed by the police.

The 24-year-old suspect is said to have charged people £25,000 to wave them through Terminal 5 and onto planes heading towards Canada without valid visa documents.

The majority of his alleged customers were Indian citizens, who were allegedly told to fly to the UK on a temporary visitor visa.

After this, they would book flights to Canada without a visa, despite this being a requirement for Indian passport holders, who are not eligible under the country’s electronic travel authorisation scheme.

Other travellers who benefitted were also UK-based asylum claimants who were at risk of being denied the right to remain and faced deportation, the Times reported.

The suspect, who was employed as a BA check-in supervisor, would allegedly direct his customers to his desk and override the system, confirming that he had seen proof of a visa.

It is also claimed he would process passengers at the boarding gate, with those passengers immediately claiming asylum upon arrival in Canada.

Suspicions were raised by officials after a pattern emerged that showed customers on BA flights to Vancouver or Toronto arriving without a visa.

The man was arrested on 6 January and bailed before absconding to India with his partner, who also worked for the airline, the Times reported.

British Airways confirmed it is assisting the authorities with their investigation, and the UK Border Force and Metropolitan Police are liaising with their Indian counterparts.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while an investigation is ongoing.”

The Independent has reached out to Interpol and Delhi Police for comment.

Inside Nirvana’s prophetic final show in Munich

It was during a power outage midway through a growling, uneasy “Come As You Are” that bassist Krist Novoselic stepped up to the microphone and, trying to fill dead air with some throwaway chatter, made a chillingly prophetic prediction. “We’re on our way out,” he told the 3,000 people in the crowd, joking that their next album would be a hip-hop record. “Grunge is dead. Nirvana’s over.”

By all accounts, 1 March 1994 at the Terminal 1 in Munich had been an inauspicious sort of gig. As the name suggests, the since-shut venue was a repurposed airport hangar with the acoustics of Somerset’s Wookey Hole. Frontman Kurt Cobain, struggling with a hardcore heroin addiction and growing paler by the show, powered through the gig’s final song “Heart-Shaped Box”, having to fight for the high notes. Though they’d found time for covers of The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”, the band left the stage for the last time, 30 years ago this week, not even having played their most iconic hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Novoselic’s tongue-in-cheek words soon rang tragically true. The following day Cobain was diagnosed with severe laryngitis and bronchitis – an ailment he’d battled all his life – and, cancelling all remaining shows, he flew to Rome for treatment. On 4 March, he slipped into a coma after overdosing on champagne and Rohypnol in what his wife, Courtney Love, would describe as his first suicide attempt. He recovered and briefly entered rehab in Los Angeles, but only a month later, on 8 April, was found dead at his Seattle home by his own hand: grunge’s ultimate tortured icon lost at 27.

His manager Danny Goldberg, author of the 2019 book Serving the Servant, was among the group of friends and associates who staged an intervention at the Seattle house in the last weeks of Cobain’s life. “He was in a bad way,” Goldberg told The Independent in 2019. “I spoke to him on the phone when I got home and talked to him one last time. I couldn’t shake him out of being depressed, I couldn’t cheer him up or get him to feel there was hope.”

In Cobain, the world lost not just one of its most talented rock stars but, with him, one of its most visceral, energising live bands. Many shows in Nirvana’s brief seven-year existence were true rock’n’roll riots: scenes of wild, cathartic release – not only for the punk and rock fans enthralled by Cobain’s pain-wracked strain of melodic grunge but also the band themselves, who attacked every set as if fighting their way out of a tumble dryer.

“They didn’t care much if they missed a note or chorus,” says photographer Charles Peterson, who toured with Nirvana throughout their career, and documented much of Seattle’s early grunge scene in pictures – many of which feature in his new art book Charles Peterson’s Nirvana. “That wasn’t the intention, playing these perfect, perfect songs. And so it really allowed Kurt to jump and roll around on the stage, throw himself in the audience and do whatever he felt like he needed to do.”

Peterson’s book brilliantly captures the dervish that Cobain unleashed onstage – and the chaos he inspired doing so. He’s pictured playing guitar while spinning on his head, falling through drum kits and crowd-surfing mid-solo, while fans make daredevil leaps from the top of speaker stacks. Peterson remembers one particularly feral show at Seattle’s Motorsports Garage in September 1990, a year after the release of their debut album Bleach.

“It was just epic,” he says, “almost like a [Pieter] Bruegel painting or something. There was the band and they’re surrounded by people to the sides of the stage. Stage divers left and right running past them and jumping off, almost to the point where Kurt had to grab them and stop them after a while, like, ‘Let us play!’ It was such an insane mass of people. And that was the first time that it really, really went that crazy.”

It wasn’t always thus. Peterson recalls Nirvana’s first Seattle show, circa 1988, as a restrained affair. “They just stood on stage in dark lights,” he says. “Kurt was a somewhat of a shy, introverted person. And then I think that with enough practice, he realised, ‘Oh, the stage is mine, and I can do whatever I want with it and myself when I’m on that stage.’ I think it gave him a freedom he might not have had in the other aspects of his life.”

Those early Nirvana shows, Peterson feels, were experienced by fans as deeply communal and endlessly relatable – largely due to the blank emotional page of Cobain’s writing. “With Kurt and his lyricism, it was what I call transmutational, and the music too,” he says. “It could just be about anything that you wanted. You could take it on, and it could make you happy, sad, mad whatever, in that moment, the same song. So when they played live, it was almost like a sublime release that the audience could experience because they could really just make it about whatever was going on within themselves.”

“It’s that combination of darkness, idealism, humour, compassion, cynicism,” Goldberg said. “The totality of it connected so intimately with fans they felt that they weren’t the only crazy people, somehow there were these [musicians] that were popular that understood them. That was his gift.”

UK viewers got their first glimpse of the wildmen within when Nirvana appeared on Channel 4’s flagship youth TV show The Word in 1991. Their performance began with Cobain declaring his future wife Courtney Love “the best f*** in the world” and ended in a squealing pile-up as the studio mosh pit of flailing grunge-heads invaded the stage while Cobain repeatedly screamed “Roger Taylor!” at the top of his lungs. It was a genuine next-gen televisual punk explosion; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” charted at No 7 the following week.

Almost immediately, though, we got an insight into the frustrations that overwhelmed Nirvana in the immediate aftermath of the song’s success. On Top of the Pops two weeks later, the band protested the show’s miming rules and sabotaged their performance of “…Teen Spirit” by barely even pretending to play their instruments. Cobain, who had at least wrangled producers into letting him sing for real, delivered the entire track in a baritone impression of Morrissey.

Behind-the-scenes turmoil would continue to spill onto the stage from that point on. When banned from performing In Utero’s most controversial track “Rape Me” at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, Cobain defiantly sang its opening bars before launching into “Lithium”. And at the height of the tabloid demonisation of Cobain and Love over Vanity Fair allegations that Love had used drugs while pregnant with their daughter Frances Bean (and the subsequent custody battle), Cobain mocked speculation over his physical and mental health when he was pushed onstage to headline Reading 1992 in a wheelchair wearing a hospital gown.

“He took the anguish he was feeling and the unresolved issues about custody of his daughter and the embarrassment of the way he and Courtney had been depicted and turned it into this performance art,” Goldberg said. Leaping from the chair, Cobain went on to perform one of the most blazing shows of Nirvana’s career, climaxing with the singer throwing his guitar repeatedly into a tower he’d built out of Dave Grohl’s drum kit.

As heroin took a stronger hold of Cobain and fame increasingly devoured his creativity, Peterson feels that Nirvana’s shows lost their spark. “I didn’t find it as exhilarating or enjoyable,” Peterson says.  “I somewhat mockingly call the In Utero tour ‘Nirvana with props’. They played some great shows, but the innocence was lost.” The band camaraderie, he adds, seemed to be dissolving, too. “Separate tour buses, and from what I’ve been told, from ’93 on or even late ’92, very little backstage interaction with the members,” Peterson says. “Dave is just a rock’n’roll machine that could probably tour every day of his life and it not be a hassle – but I think for Kurt, especially, having a drug habit, it was a difficult ride having to do all that.”

That final show in Munich, while still electric, saw a band noticeably diminished by their issues: an almighty bang going out with a relative whimper. They hadn’t known it was their last show, but Peterson believes Nirvana were probably beyond saving by that point anyway. “[Cobain had] such a big drug habit that it would be very difficult for them to carry on in the same way that they had been, in my opinion, unless he had gotten help,” he says.

Ultimately, it was perhaps the sense of soul-baring public exorcism in Nirvana’s performances – the way Cobain poured his pain into every show in hope of wrestling it loose – that made them so exhilarating to watch. There was real honesty in their anguish, visceral desperation in their rage. “They could have gotten the drama together and become another Pearl Jam or something,” Peterson considers. “But maybe all that drama was part of it, too.”

Harry and Meghan were ‘recklessly’ chased through New York, police say

Paparazzi did chase Prince Harry and Meghan Markle “recklessly” through New York last year, police have confirmed.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said at the time that they and Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland narrowly avoided a “catastrophic” crash while being pursued by paparazzi after leaving the Women of Vision Awards at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Ballroom on 16 May.

In a statement that was an echo of the 1997 chase through Paris that killed Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, a spokesperson for the royal couple said in the wake of the incident: “This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two [police] officers.”

But authorities gave a different account of events at the time. The New York Police Department, which assisted the couple’s private security, said the journey had been “challenging” but “there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries or arrests.”

However, in a hearing at the High Court on Wednesday, a judge revealed New York City Police did investigate the car chase and found paparazzi did display “persistently dangerous and unacceptable behaviour”.

As Sir Peter Lane ruled on Harry’s case against the British government over the duke’s security arrangements in the UK, the retired judge cited a letter sent by the Chief of Intelligence in the New York City Police Department to the Chief Superintendent OCU Commander Royalty and Speciality Protection.

The redacted version of the letter, dated 6 December 2023, outlined how police investigated safety fears raised by the Sussexes, suggesting security changes had been implemented for the couple in light of the incident.

Following a “thorough review”, the letter, provided to the judge by Harry’s barrister, read: “We did conclude that the behaviour in question was reckless.”

Explaining the conclusions of the police investigation, the judge said: “The investigation had found reckless disregard of vehicle and traffic laws and persistently dangerous and unacceptable behaviour on the part of paparazzi during the night in question.

“They had operated vehicles, scooters and bicycles in a manner that forced the security team, which included the NYPD lead car, to take evasive actions on several occasions and a circuitous route to avoid being struck by pursuing vehicles or trapped on side blocks.”

Although no formal charges were brought, the hearing heard there was sufficient evidence to arrest two individuals for “reckless endangerment”.

The incident involved half a dozen cars with blacked-out windows, driving dangerously and putting the lives of the couple and Ms Ragland in danger, according to their spokesperson. “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi,” they said.

The California-based couple had been staying at a private residence but decided against returning there as they did not wish to compromise their host’s safety.

It was understood that the pair believe the pursuit could have been fatal, with the incident said to have featured traffic violations including driving on the pavement and through red lights, reversing down a one-way street, illegally blocking a moving vehicle and driving while photographing and while on the phone.

Harry and Meghan stepped down from their royal roles in 2020 and moved to the United States in part because of what they described as intense media harassment.

The duke lost his battle against the British government on Wednesday over a change to the level of his taxpayer-funded personal security when he visits the UK – but he vowed to seek an appeal.

The duke took legal action against the British Home Office over the February 2020 decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec) after being told he would no longer be given the “same degree” of publicly-funded protection when in the country.

Sir Peter Lane rejected Harry’s case, concluding that Ravec’s approach was not irrational nor procedurally unfair. In his 52-page partially redacted ruling, he said the duke’s lawyers had taken “an inappropriate, formalist interpretation of the Ravec process”, adding: “The ‘bespoke’ process devised for the claimant in the decision of 28 February 2020 was, and is, legally sound.”

However, following the ruling, a legal spokesperson for Harry said he will appeal, adding: “The Duke is not asking for preferential treatment, but for a fair and lawful application of Ravec’s own rules, ensuring that he receives the same consideration as others in accordance with Ravec’s own written policy.”

The Independent has contacted New York City Police.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Even talk of a potential ceasefire in Gaza is a cause for hope

It is hardly a “done deal” – and disappointment may yet transpire – but the very fact that a ceasefire in Gaza, of whatever genus, is being actively negotiated and openly discussed by the president of the United States represents enormous cause for hope.

Too many people – almost 30,000 now, according to the Palestinian health ministry – have died. President Biden has indicated that an end to the fighting could be organised as soon as next week, if not the weekend. If agreed, it would, it seems, last for 40 days during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on the evening of 10 March. It is possible that such a pause in the conflict could then evolve seamlessly into a more permanent end to the war.

Such a situation, which seemed remote only weeks ago, at least creates some of the conditions for something like political progress. Part of that, as the US government has hinted, might well entail recognition of Palestine by Western countries as an independent nation state. That, as the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has made clear, would include the UK – a symbolic move given Britain ruled Palestine for three decades, its mandate ending in 1948.

That is running some way ahead of events, however. First, the ceasefire has to be signed off by enemies pledged to one another’s destruction – Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. The contribution to the process of the prospective ceasefire made by the United States (especially the well-travelled secretary of state, Antony Blinken), Egypt and Qatar has been outstanding and worthy of a joint Nobel Peace Prize.

What form will the ceasefire take? It seems the outlines of a deal are becoming clearer. Israeli and other hostages will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Humanitarian aid supplies, so urgently needed, will flow into Gaza, including the isolated north. Shelters can be built; the sick treated; and Palestinian civilians can return to what remains of their homes, bury their dead and trace lost family. The anguish of Israeli families divided from loved ones since the 7 October Hamas atrocities will start to ease.

Obviously – though it cannot be stressed hard enough – a ceasefire has to be implemented by both sides. So not only must Israel postpone, and in effect cancel, the catastrophic ground offensive planned for Rafah, so too must Hamas and its various allies desist from firing rockets at Israeli settlements from any Palestinian territory. A ceasefire logically cannot be one-sided, and so far as Netanyahu is concerned, a breach of it would be met with massive and immediate escalation, probably before the White House has had a chance to restrain him.

The longer the break in the fighting, the more tensions will ease across the region. Provided Iran, a shadowy presence throughout, also tacitly becomes a party to the ceasefire, then the Houthi campaign in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden should also subside. International shipping may then resume.

Iranian-inspired militia attacks on US bases in Jordan and elsewhere will also pause. Just as war feeds on itself, so too can peace create a virtuous circle of diminished grievances and lower levels of violence. The nightmare of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel or America will have been averted.

It also makes it that much less likely that Israel will be found in breach of the orders issued to it by the International Court of Justice, and to have committed acts of genocide.

In truth, the war, as prosecuted by the present government, was not actually destroying Hamas – and it was only going to become more counterproductive the longer it dragged on. Victory in any meaningful sense was proving elusive. It is in Israel’s own interests for the fighting to be wound down.

The consequences of peace, then, will be far-reaching, including across the West. Though hardly the most important part of the story, social democratic parties will be relieved from trying to strike a political stance that balances the right of Israel to defend itself and the need to end the loss of innocent life. The US Democrats and the British Labour Party, among others, will no longer have to contort themselves over what type of ceasefire should be called for, once the guns have gone quiet.

The debate can then turn to what kind of peace there should be, how the new Palestinian nation will organise itself, and how the two countries between the river and the sea can guarantee one another’s security.

Those will be better arguments to have.

What could happen if George Galloway wins the Rochdale by-election?

Soon the voters will go to the polls in Rochdale, in what is proving, without hyperbole, to be the most bizarre by-election in recent decades. The most striking aspect, of course, being that the Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, who had an excellent chance of holding the seat, lost the support of his party in a row over antisemitism. So now the Labour Party is not campaigning at all, and is offering its supporters no guidance as to whom they should vote for – but formally, Ali remains the “Labour Party candidate” on the ballot paper.

Theoretically, he could still get elected. The intervention of the pugilistic George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain is the other great novelty, though he has done this sort of thing before. In any case, and despite the circus, the by-election may tell us a few things about what’s going on in politics; and the result may have consequences far beyond the town…