I hurt myself laughing at this:
Desmond's Nazi tirade at Germans embarrasses the Tories
By George Jones and Tom Leonard
Conservative delight at receiving the endorsement of the Daily Express turned to embarrassment last night after Richard Desmond, the newspaper's proprietor, said all Germans were Nazis.
The outburst came as the newspaper abandoned its support for Labour, accusing Tony Blair of losing his way and no longer offering the nation decisive leadership.
Mr Desmond delivered his extraordinary tirade at a meeting with executives from The Daily Telegraph to discuss the printing plant the newspapers jointly own.
stream of abuse
In an apparent reference to the interest shown by Axel Springer, a German publishing group, in bidding for the Telegraph, Mr Desmond - who has dropped out of the race to own the paper - delivered a litany of negative remarks about Germans that lasted for three or four minutes.
People at the meeting said Mr Desmond strutted about the room pretending to be Hitler and giving Nazi salutes. He also ordered his executives to sing Deutschland uber Alles.
The Telegraph executives walked out of the meeting. Jeremy Deedes, the Telegraph chief executive, said it was a "grotesque outburst of slander and racism".
Before the outburst, Liam Fox, the Tories' co-chairman, welcomed the newspaper's backing for his party.
But there was an embarrassed silence when Mr Desmond's remarks were put to party officials. "We don't get involved in private disagreements, which are nothing to do with us," a spokesman said.
Mr Desmond's tirade could have commercial repercussions. His takeover of Express Newspapers was helped by a £95 million loan from the Frankfurt-based Commerzbank, with which he is understood still to have links.
A bank spokesman called the incident "an extraordinarily bizarre outburst".
The remarks will also embarrass Michael Howard, whose Jewish father came to Britain from Romania in 1939 to escape the Nazis. The Tory leader has made much of his immigrant background.
Downing Street refused to comment, though many Labour MPs will be relieved that Mr Desmond has severed his links with the party. They were unhappy that a man who has made a fortune from pornography should be a Labour donor.
A party spokesman said it was not surprised by the decision. "I do not understand why anyone who has read the Daily Express for the last few months can possibly believe it has been a Labour-supporting newspaper."
At his monthly press conference in Downing Street Mr Blair sidestepped questions on the Express about-turn.
Asked whether he regarded it as "more of a hindrance or help" to Michael Howard, Mr Blair said: "No doubt they can do their own publicity."
Maj Gen Patrick Brooking, the chairman of the British-German Association, said he was "utterly disgusted" by Mr Desmond's outburst.
"It's undermined a lot of good people have done. It seems like the outburst of someone who is deranged."
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said Mr Desmond was "a proprietor without propriety".
"The British public deserve a press owned by people who may have strong views but abide by recognised standards of taste and decency."
Goosesteps and Nazi salutes in the boardroom
By Tom Leonard and Matt Born
Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express, brought a business meeting to a standstill yesterday after he goosestepped around a boardroom and accused all Germans of being Nazis.
On the day his newspaper announced that it was switching its support from Labour to the Conservatives, Mr Desmond indulged in a display of behaviour described by a witness as the "most grotesque outburst of slander and racism" he had ever seen.
The incident took place at 9am yesterday at a routine monthly meeting of the finance committee of the board of West Ferry Printers in east London. The company is under joint ownership of Express Newspapers and the Telegraph Group, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph.
Upon the arrival of four Telegraph executives - led by Jeremy Deedes, the chief executive - Mr Desmond and the three Express executives greeted them in bad German accents, saying "guten morgen" and "sehr gut" - "good morning" and "very good".
The Telegraph team assumed they were referring to the German Axel Springer group's bid to buy Hollinger International, the Telegraph's owner.
Mr Deedes responded by good-naturedly congratulating Mr Desmond on "seeing the light" over its new-found support for the Tories.
Mr Desmond insisted the decision had had nothing to do with him, adding that his editors were independent.
He then criticised Conrad Black, the embattled former chairman of the Telegraph Group, before reverting to faux German, asking if the Telegraph members of the West Ferry board were looking forward to being run by the Nazis. Mr Deedes said: "That's not very helpful." He pointed out that Axel Springer made the reconciliation of Germans and Jews a publishing principle and that the group's staff were required under their contracts to support the state of Israel.
Mr Desmond replied angrily: "They're all Nazis."
Mr Deedes said the remark was "thoroughly offensive" and asked him politely to sit down so that the meeting could start.
Mr Desmond told him: "Don't you tell me to sit down, you miserable little piece of shit." Witnesses said his voice rose and he became enraged, launching into a stream of abuse - both personal and general - peppered with four-letter expletives.
Mr Deedes eventually managed to make himself heard and said: "I'm not sure this meeting is going to be productive." Witnesses said there was a moment of calm before Mr Desmond renewed his attack with more references to the Nazis.
He goose-stepped up and down the room, holding two fingers to his upper lip - in a Basil Fawlty parody of Hitler's moustache - and giving stiff-armed Nazi salutes.
When Mr Deedes remonstrated with him, Mr Desmond asked him if he wanted to "come outside and sort it out".
Mr Deedes decided to abandon the meeting and as the Telegraph team stood up and packed away their papers, Mr Desmond ordered his Express executives to sing Deutschland uber alles.
Martin Ellice, the managing director, Rob Sanderson, the finance director, and Chris Haslum, the publishing manager, did as they were asked, adding further Sieg Heil - hail to victory - salutes.
A spokesman for Express Newspapers declined to comment on the incident.
However, the Telegraph board now believes that it is only worth reconvening the meeting if there are third parties present. From now on, it will confine its attendance to the wider board meetings that also involve other publishers who use the plant.
The two publishers co-own the printing works, one of the biggest in Europe, since Mr Desmond bought the Express in November 2000. Insiders say the partnership has been difficult.
At Express Newspapers, Mr Desmond is notorious for conducting meetings in what could charitably be described as an eccentric manner. When someone comes up with what he regards as a good idea he has a bell rung, but if he hears a bad idea, he orders one of his cronies to blow a duck hooter.
Mr Desmond tried to institute the practice at the West Ferry meetings but it was not met with enthusiasm.
It is not the first time Mr Desmond, who is Jewish, has accused others of being Nazis.
His newspapers have repeatedly dredged up the support that the Daily Mail showed to Hitler in the 1930s.
Last year, he infuriated Lord Rothermere, the paper's owner, by wrongly accusing his grandfather of supporting Hitler's anti-Semitism.
Yesterday, as the Express announced its support for the Tories, the paper mentioned the dictator again, claiming that only he could have dreamed of the monster that Europe has become in the 21st century.
Although his circulation figures show no sign that he will ever succeed, he has claimed that defeating the Mail is his life's mission.
"I don't want to sound like Jesus," he said last year, "but this is what I was born to do. They [the Mail] are everything I hate and I am everything they hate." In an interview last year, he complained about the press coverage he received. "It's not nice being constantly vilified and attacked," he said.
More serious allegations have dogged his career. He was accused of links with the America mafia - Philip Bailey, his former right-hand man, was allegedly tortured by associates of the Gambino crime family in New York after the collapse of a phone sex line deal. Mr Desmond has always denied the story.
Industry insiders predicted yesterday that Mr Desmond's latest outburst was "beyond the pale".
A source said: "He genuinely doesn't know when to stop. He's an idiot.
"The Labour Party is going to have to explain why they gave him permission to take over the Express in the first place."
Copyright: The Daily Telegraph 2004. http://www.telegraph.co.uk