Issue 300: 2021 11 11: Money Troubles

11 November 2021

Money Troubles

by J. R. Thomas

Dear old Oswald, how he would be laughing if he could see the trouble he continues to cause.  He was not a dear old anything, of course; of all the unpleasant, self opiniated, nasty politicians that this country has produced (and luckily we have not produced many) he stands as a colossus of evil. 
Sir Oswald Mosley, the 6th baronet of an ancient Staffordshire family that had had to reinvent itself financially after their original fortune ran out, was rather sensitive as to his source of wealth (his recent ancestor was a Manchester hat maker whose descendants bought property in and around Manchester).  Not quite an aristocrat, and Oswald proved to be not quite a gentleman either.  He married one of the daughters of that wonderfully grand snob, the 1st and last Marquess Curzon, Foreign Secretary in the 1920’s, viceroy of India and a man who would have been Prime Minister had he not taken the title.  Mosley was interested in the potential political advantages of being close to such a grandee, but even more driven by his wife’s immense fortune, derived from her grandfather’s ownership of Marshall Fields, the Chicago based department store and mail order business.  She died young after an unhappy marriage and his series of affairs which he took little trouble to hide.

Mosley was immensely politically ambitious, becoming an MP at the age of 21, having been courted by both the Conservative and Labour parties.  He was first elected as a Conservative MP but, seeing perhaps the trend of the times, crossed the floor a couple of years later and was then moved to a safe Labour seat. By the age of 30 he was a minister, but, impatient with his party’s lack of radicalism, resigned and in 1931 started the New Party, funded by his fortune and that of his deceased wife.  By now he was seriously rich and able to turn the New Party into a British fascist party, known commonly as the Black Shirts (and wonderfully satirised by PG Wodehouse as the Brown Shorts, led by Sir Roderick Spode, owner of a lady’s dress shop in Mayfair).

He never held political office again, married a Mitford sister, became a friend of Adolf Hitler, was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs during the Second World War, and after the war lived in France.  He was constantly a financial supporter of fascist and quasi-fascist causes, but such was his wealth that he still managed to leave a great deal of money on his death. 

He had five children.  The one best known to the modern public is Max Mosley, racing car driver and later promoter of F1 Motor racing, barrister, financial supporter of Blairite Labour, persecutor of the media (in revenge for what he saw as their persecution of him), protector of his father’s legacy, and thrower of rather dubious parties.

One of his sons, Alexander, predeceased him aged 39, and on Max Mosley’s death earlier this year he left £12m to his son’s former Oxford College in his memory.  Cue outrage and media storm in massive teacup.  Learned persons rose to their feet and said that such money is tainted, that the Mosley name is vile and should be forgotten and that no further educational establishment should accept funds that had come from Oswald Mosley’s legacy.  Oxford University and the two colleges which are the beneficiaries of this legacy have not especially tried to defend themselves so far, other than pointing out that the decision to name the new student accommodation block “Alexander Mosley House” after the deceased son was their suggestion, not that of the gifting charitable trust.  Alexander was a brilliant and much liked individual, widely loved and admired, and the gift is specifically to assist gifted persons from diverse but underprivileged backgrounds. What could be more moving, more generous, and more carefully targeted?

Now, “Mosley” is of course a trigger word to certain sections of society, especially when coupled with “Oswald”.  Max too had a youthful involvement with his father’s brand of politics, though later he changed and supported New Labour (also a serious crime in some eyes, of course).  He was a clever, complex, private man who was financially successful and had a distaste for the modern world in many things.  Was the money he left in his son’s memory “tainted” or “evil”?  Was it his, or as the shrill protests say, in some way the remains of his father’s money?  Is the very name “Mosley” “tainted” or “evil”?   

The latter is indeed a strange allegation; that Sir Oswald’s offspring and relatives should be for ever cursed and thrown into the pit of no redemption, simply by accident of birth.  His elder son, Nicolas, was a writer, a virulent critic of his father, and a supporter of left wing causes; other children and grandchildren have led apparently useful and blameless lives, even when called “Mosley”.  None of them have revived the Black Shirts (or indeed the Brown Shorts) or called their houses Berchtesgaden, or done anything to suggest that fascist leanings might be hereditary.   

The money point is a pretty rummy one too.  Old Oswald did not make a fortune out of fascism, far from it.  Much of the money that came down to him from hat making and Manchester property holdings and American mail order sales was blown on funding his political ambitions and no doubt vanished into the profits of leaflet publishers, shirt makers, and to a few East End thugs to be spent on beer.  Max made his own fortune out of various things but especially organising motor racing.  It is impossible to say that the Alexander Mosley gift was in any way the result of fascistic activity.  And you might think, reflecting calmly about this, even if were in some strange way the product of fascist activity, what could be more right that it should pass to a great liberal educational establishment to be used to teach and house deserving young people.

It is not often in these strange times that one finds oneself defending Oxford University, currently more famous for no-platforming and cancelling and statue removal.  But in this matter this ancient institution is surely absolutely right; stick to the money and use it to do good, name the accommodation block after the nice but unfortunate young man who died much too early; and stick a plaque up saying “Out of evil, good came forth.”

Tile photo: by Sidharth Bhatia on Unsplash

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