49 days to go
SOMETIMES you have to accept that a story on your patch is so global that you can’t compete for the front page. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s beaming face as she flew home from Iran – at last! – was one of those and rightfully led every national this morning.
A return through Brize Norton must have been the most dizzying experience, so too the cuddles in front of a lens – moments we’ve all probably wondered at some stage would ever happen.
For those who were asking about our own ‘page one’ this morning, hardly anybody would have been unaware that Nazanin had been released by the time they picked up a copy of the local papers. There’s no point us doing the same front page as the Standard the night before.
You’d also have to be on pretty strong sedatives not to notice Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq on the television at every turn.
At one point she praised foreign secretary Liz Truss’s role in the negotiations. Actually this seemed like a less than coded way of saying the prime minister did nothing but make it worse; Boris Johnson having served in the role before.
Surely it would be astounding – and gross negligence that it hadn’t been done sooner – if all the UK had needed to do to get Nazanin home all along was simply to call Ms Truss away from her Instagram collection.
More likely, the sudden timing of the release is linked, not to a shuffling personnel change in Mr Johnson’s cabinet or a petition or a banner, but the government’s fast-changing global priorities since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this month.
I don’t want to become one of those conspiracy theorists you hear about but the tank payment debt to Iran – what seems like the obvious key driver in this case – goes back to the 1970s. It’s hardly a new bill that was put off until a final reminder.
There’s been plenty of time to resolve it, and yet six years of that delay has been spent by Nazanin serving the whole of her dubious sentence and more.
These unique circumstance and changing world events that suddenly made her return home more likely, doesn’t mean Ms Siddiq didn’t provide important help. Some people see her as a magpie for the cameras, but she knows how to press the accelerator on issues we can all broadly agree on, even if it’s less clear what she thinks of more divisive topics.
In Nazanin’s case, the MP regularly – really regularly – stood up in the House of Commons and asked for progress reports from cabinet members and scolded those who had nothing to say and seemed to be doing very little.
She ‘outlived’ prime ministers, foreign secretaries and many reporters who had turns picking up the case, all promising to make it their next big thing but not being around for the conclusion for one reason or another. Life has ticked on – wait til Nazanin sees what the land and buildings around West Hampstead stations look like now.
And Ms Siddiq has clearly formed a bond with “my constituent”, her husband Richard and daughter, almost acting as a press secretary for the campaign as she delivered updates on Twitter.
Then there is Richard – whose remarkable resolve helped him through two hunger strikes. Who knows whether the sight of him on the floor with no food pricked any consciences in government there and then, but it did help amass support way beyond Camden and he was showered with well done messages yesterday, some of which came from people he’s never even met.
Perversely perhaps for a journalist to say, but maybe they need a bit of space now to be a family. Let their reunion be sweet.